Stephen Gniel, MBA, BEd FACEL
ACEL is going from strength to strength and it is a wonderful time to be a member of this great organisation. I feel extremely proud and grateful to be writing this message as the new President of ACEL.
At certain times in the history of any organisation it is important to reflect on and restate its purpose. The Australian Council for Educational Leaders purpose is to continue to inspire, recognise and advocate for excellence in educational leadership. As the incoming president I am committed to ensuring that our organisation continues to deliver on this purpose.
ACEL has a proud history. As our Patron, Prof Frank Crowther reminded us during his conference keynote, it began with a vision to gather together as professionals, in this case educational leaders, to share, collaborate, challenge and improve in a way that we would now describe as a community of practice. Those pioneers who started ACEL knew decades ago that there was significant value in collaboration – both in the sharing and challenging of ideas. It was the recognition that “Educational administrators had virtually no tradition of working together or of a professional association; unlike doctors and psychiatrists, they had not formed any such significant professional group” (Walker, n.d) that eventually resulted in the formation of what we now know as ACEL. We now know from a solid research base that the best performing schools and education systems embrace a collaborative approach. ACEL supports this through our many different offerings including research and practitioner based publications, conferences, professional development sessions, networking events, award celebrations, online resources and bookshop and partnerships with education professionals and like-minded organisations.
However, ACEL is much more than this. ACEL is a professional organisation for the education profession and for education professionals. The repeated use of the words profession and professional is deliberate; our organisation embraces education as a profession, one of society’s most important professions. It was this focus on education as a profession that first connected me to ACEL as a young teacher hungry to do the best that I could for my students, colleagues and the broader community. I was fortunate that I had mentors and leaders who valued the profession and made sure that there was always a copy of Australian Educational Leader in the staff room to peruse at recess or lunch times.
As I have progressed through my career, from teacher to principal and to my more recent roles in system leadership, I have continued to refer to myself as an education professional. It is a term that binds all of us that are dedicated to providing the highest quality education for all. In its simplest form a profession is defined as “A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification” (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.). However, when I consider our education profession, this definition feels incomplete and facile for the professionalism I expect of myself as an educator and for the many educators that I have worked with and continue to work with. It does not describe the expectation of families of children and young people I have taught or had responsibility for as a school or system leader. Their expectations are more consistent with what I would associate with the expectations I have for other professionals. The expectations of teachers and other education professionals, ACEL members, include the broader definition of a profession to include elements of the social contract between the education profession and society that we serve (Cruess, Johnston, Cruess, 2004).
The education profession is most certainly better described more broadly, as “a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others” (Professions Australia, n.d.).
It is this profession that ACEL serves. It is this professional that Prof John Hattie describes in his research and speaks of with such passion with the ability and opportunity to have such a significant impact on student outcomes. It is also key to the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership teaching standards and principal standard which capture a far more complex profession and insist upon the continual improvement of practice as part of maintaining the highest levels of the profession.
I am fortunate that in my current role as Regional Director for South Eastern Victoria I interact on a daily basis with education professionals who embody this true identity of our profession. In my visits to schools with our wonderful teachers, support staff and principals, regional teams, policy makers and researchers their commitment to continual improvement shines through.
ACEL is a non-sector specific organisation, blind to unhelpful categorisations and focused on serving all those who work within the education profession, particularly its leaders now and into the future. The recent ACEL conference included all those involved in the professions; teachers, school leaders, future leaders, principals, system leaders and was a wonderful demonstration of delivering on our purpose. This world class event included the best education minds from around the globe challenging our profession to continue to innovate in the face of change and improve in response to new challenges. This is an important quality foundation, however, the conference is more than its speakers. It is, as our immediate past President, Dr Jim Watterston put it, ‘an annual gathering of the ACEL family’, a coming together of education professionals from around Australia, our New Zealand colleagues and increasingly others from around the world.
As our professional organisation continues to grow and build, I would like to personally thank Dr Jim Watterston for the foundation of strength that his leadership over the past six years delivered. I also thank Kevin Richardson, a fellow ACEL Independent Director who alongside Jim worked tirelessly on the board over the same six year period and contributed substantially to the organisation that ACEL is today. I would also like to recognise the contribution of our CEO Aasha Murthy, the ACEL National Office team and the determined efforts of professionals working in our state/territory branches. Finally, I would like to congratulate and welcome Diane Joseph and Ross Fox to the Board as incoming independent directors.
As ACEL goes from strength to strength and continues to innovate in the way we serve our members and the education profession, I look forward to working with the ACEL Board, our CEO and national team as well as our state and territory branches in my role as President of this proud organisation.
Cruess, SR, Johnston S, Cruess, RL 2004, “Profession’: a working definition for medical educators’, Teaching and learning in Medicine, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 74–76.
Oxford Dictionaries, available at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/profession
Professions Australia, available at http://www.professions.com.au/about-us/what-is-a-professional
Walker, W in, How It All Started: The History of ACEL, Dr M Jansen FACEL (Ed), available at http://www.acel.org.au/acel/ACELWEB/About/Comprehensive_History_of_ACEL.aspx.