23 SES 07 D, Teacher Professionalism
The aim of this paper is to discuss the professionalization policies of Sweden's teachers' unions in relation to - and in the context of - national and international education policy reform initiatives. Drawing on the tradition of organizational institutionalism, the paper argues that the teachers' unions focus on strategies of professionalization may have as much to do with questions of legitimacy in the eyes of the public, as with any specific effort at transforming the practice of teaching in a 'professional' direction.
International trends stressing the need for educational effectiveness as a key factor of national competitiveness has not only had great influence on the education policies of most nation states and the way education systems are managed, but also - on a larger scale - on the meaning of 'professional' work in general and its application to teachers and teaching. From having been a concept describing a kind of occupational value, arising from within certain occupational groups based on autonomy, discretion and collegiality centered in high-trust relationships with state officials and clients, professionalism has - in the world of today - been high jacked by managers wishing to use its seductive powers for the implementation of reforms based on opposing values. This kind of 'professionalism' is imposed from outside occupational groups and is centered on values such as transparency, effectiveness and accountability coupled with massive systems of external inspection. In this latter case, the high-trust relationship between professions, the state and clients is replaced by notions of risk and doubt leading to a transformed relationship between professionals, their clients and new kinds of managers in public service organizations transformed in a corporate direction.
In Sweden, research into the ways that notions of teacher professionalism have been effected and developed in relation to the developments sketched above have primarily focused on one or more policy reforms at a macro-level of analysis, or on the experiences of individual teachers at the micro-level. However, Sweden’s teachers’ unions – the only organizations of teachers of any political significance – are interesting, in this respect, as facilitators of Swedish teachers’ professional projects, but also in their role as formal organizations within the context of the Swedish public sector. Starting from discussions of organizational isomorphism and its consequences within institutional theory the paper aims to focus on this meso-level in order to understand the way that organizational pressures (national as well as international) may affect the way that the unions construct such professional projects and shape their policies for the future development of the teaching profession in Sweden.
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