Policy Enactment in Ontario Schools: Teacher Professionalism in Practice


Funding Program:

SSHRC Insight Grant

Funding Amount:


The idea of "professionalism" is at the core of education practice. It underpins professional self-governance. This 5-year, critical policy sociology study examines how teachers, interpret laws and policies that regulate their professionalism, why and how they adopt/resist policies and how they translate professional expectations set out in law and policy into their daily practice. Set within the context of the regulatory regime that has governed teacher professionalism in Ontario between 1995 and 2017, the study will focus on the translation of professionalism policy into teaching practice using policy enactment theory. Employing critical textual analysis of key law/policy documents, combined with interviews of educators, school leaders and policy-makers this project will identify the "official" narrative of teacher "professionalism" in Ontario, establish the range of regulation around teacher professionalism and document teachers' interpretations, translations and enactments of professionalism.

During the period under study education policy development was extensive, and in a number of instances, unprecedented and controversial. Educators saw a rapid expansion of the legal framework that governs teachers' professional practice. Numerous education laws and policies were passed that set out multiple expectations for teachers in terms of their professional conduct and relationships. Statutory and case law emerging over the last two decades has extended the scope of teachers' duties and clarified the educators' standard of care, particularly in the age of internet and social media, with a deepened sensitivity to human rights and a heightened emphasis on risk management.

However, little is known how Ontario educators' have responded to, managed, interpreted, and translated into practice numerous and often conflicting laws/policies regulating their professionalism within this time period. The implications of this expanding regulatory and policy regime on teacher's professional practice have yet to be systematically studied. The central questions driving this study are:

  • How do teachers enact their professionalism in the changing legal context of education?
  • How do the laws and policies that regulate teachers' conduct construct "teacher professionalism"?
  • What philosophical conceptions of the "professional teacher" are embedded in Ontario's regulatory regime?
  • How do Ontario educators understand and interpret expectations for professional conduct contained in education statutes, case law and policies?
  • How do Ontario educators translate and enact these expectations for professional conduct in their daily practice?

Answers to these questions will contribute to our understanding of the ways in which teachers interpret and enact professionalism in practice. The findings will contribute to our understanding how legal/policy obligations translate into the real, school life of teachers which will inform public policy-making and professional governance in this area. This study will provide teacher educators, professional governing bodies, professional associations, teacher federations, and public policy-makers, across Canada, with data on the uncertainties and complexities of professional teaching practice. As well as making an original scholarly contribution to the study of education policy and professional governance during a particularly dynamic period of policy-making in Ontario, this project will shed light on the implications of the expanding education regulatory regime for educator's professional practice, for professional governance and for teacher education.