Institute for Learning Sciences & Teacher Education

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The 21st Century Teacher & Their Work


Dr Anne Looney, Professorial Research Fellow, LSIA

Dr Anne Looney is currently Chief Executive of the National Curriculum for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The NCCA is responsible for curriculum and assessment from early childhood to upper secondary education in the Republic of Ireland. Since September 2014, she has been a visiting Professorial Research Fellow in the Assessment, Evaluation and Student Learning research program in LSIA. In September 2015, Dr Looney returns to NCCA to continue in her role as Chief Executive. She has written on curriculum, assessment, school ethos, and teachers’ work. In 2013, she delivered Ireland’s inaugural World Teachers’ Day lecture.


More than a decade ago, Andy Hargreaves (2003) suggested that as “the knowledge society” emerged as the defining metaphor of the first decade of the millennium, teachers found themselves caught in a triangle of competing imperatives that positioned them as catalysts, as counterpoints and as casualties of what he called a “defining moment in educational history” (p. 2).

Since then, most developed education systems have established new expectations for teachers through the generation and dissemination of codified representations of teacher work. In many countries and states, initial teacher education has been reviewed, and in some places, reviewed again. These codes and reviews have arisen from and have generated very different views of the 21st century teacher and their work. What has emerged across all of them has been described by some as a new “taxonomy of teaching in which the word ‘teaching’ has been spot-welded in policy texts to the word ‘quality’” (O’Neill & Adams, 2014, p. 1).

While this new taxonomy underpins public and professional representation of Teachers and Their Work, for most of the population, understandings of Teachers and Their Work are created in more personal narratives. Such narratives are complex and powerful – bound up with stories of childhood, family, friendships, success, failure, memory, independence, inquiry, religion, rites of passage and community. Everyone begins a study of teachers’ work from the moment they toddle into kindy, and they continue to develop that expertise through the education of their children and grandchildren. Teaching is unique among the professions for this reason; it is the most public of the professions, and the most contested.

This seminar will consider whether the apparently benign “new taxonomy” of quality teaching and the 21st century teacher has delivered catalysts, counterpoints or casualties, and whether, to misquote Hargreaves, we are now at a defining moment in the history of Teachers and Their Work.

Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society. Education in the age of insecurity. New York: Teachers College Press.

O’Neill, J., & Adams, P. (2014). The future of teacher professionalism and professionality in Teaching. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 11(1), 1–2.

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