There seems to be an appreciation day (or week or month…) for anything and everything with a pulse. For example, October is National Squirrel Awareness Month. There are even acknowledgements for inanimate items. Did you know that January is National Oatmeal Month? Yes, oatmeal. But let’s stick to living things for the time being…
The first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week. Perhaps teachers should feel honored to get a full week. After all, presidents only get a single day! However, we would argue that teachers should be appreciated every day, of every week, of every month—all year long! There is no other profession that has a greater, more consistent impact on human beings. Every day teachers enter the classroom bringing the greatest gift of all… themselves. They guide us in learning. They coach us in life. They inspire us to challenge ourselves and accomplish more than we could have ever imagined.
Take a moment and think about one of your own teachers who was exceptional. Literally sit still and just think about that person, remembering what he or she looked like, acted like, and cared about… Only continue reading when you have fully pictured and remembered this individual. Now ask yourself: What was so special about this teacher? Were you in awe of his or her intelligence and ability to challenge your own thinking? Was he or she so caring that you could envision this person as your parent or aunt or uncle? Were you in awe of how this teacher was so genuinely kind to so many people, all the time? Was it a combination of all these things, or something completely different that was important to you?
Teachers indeed have a profound impact. We constantly meet individuals, of all ages, who eagerly tell the story of how their lives were influenced by a teacher. In addition to countless anecdotal stories, our research at the Quaglia Institute reveals the importance of the impact teachers have on students: Students who feel supported by their teachers are 8 times more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not believe their teachers support them. During focus groups, students frequently share with us that they work harder for teachers they believe care about them, and that they withhold their best effort from teachers they think do not care (QISA, 2014).
Teachers make a difference in the lives of their students every day. We must keep in mind that teacher voice matters far beyond the classroom walls.
Why Does Teacher Voice Matter?
We believe that student and teacher voice must be at the core of any meaningful education reform effort. Why this deep-rooted belief? Over thirty years of commitment to amplifying voice—every positive step forward and each setback— has confirmed that we must listen to students and teachers, not just out of respect (although that is important!), but because they have something to teach us. Anyone who is truly committed to improving the school experience must listen to the voices of those who actually have firsthand experience! At each and every school, the students and teachers know the intricacies of their school — the positive and the not-so-positive — better than anyone else. They are the experts, the ones who are best poised to inform meaningful change at their school.
Teacher voice matters in this endeavor for several reasons. Most notably:
- Teachers should feel valued as human beings and as professionals in their own right.
- When teachers’ voices are valued, their students also benefit.
Our research has shown that when teachers have a voice in decision-making, they are 3 times more likely to encourage students to be leaders and decision-makers in the classroom (QISA & TVAIC, 2015). In order to effectively promote the voices of students, teachers must first feel their own voices are valued in the school community. And so the ripple effect of modeling takes hold: When leaders model a genuine appreciation for the voices of teachers and involve them in decision-making, teachers will in turn model this for their students and encourage them to become leaders. When all stakeholders are encouraged to have a voice, everyone feels more invested and engaged in their school.
· Provides an “insider’s” perspective on the state of the school
· Establishes a sense of belonging within the school community
· Advances collaboration and continual school improvement
· Facilitates mutual engagement between students and staff
· Encourages a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of the school
· Promotes curiosity and creativity
· Stimulates innovative problem solving
Unfortunately, effective teacher voice is not yet a natural occurrence in schools. Even though teachers may be comfortable talking throughout the day to students, it would be faulty thinking to assume they are inherently at ease and effective when communicating with adults. In fact, only 48% of teachers report that they have the skills to effectively communicate in their school. And when teachers do communicate, they are frequently under the impression that no one is listening anyway: Only 60% of teachers believe their principal is willing to learn from them (QISA & TVAIC, 2015).
For school leaders to foster teacher voice, they must support the development of teachers’ communication skills, and simultaneously demonstrate that they are willing to listen to and learn from teachers.
When teacher voice is valued in schools, teachers report that the positive impact on their practice is significant:
- When teachers have a voice, they are 3 times more likely to value setting goals and work hard to reach those goals.
- Teachers who are comfortable expressing their honest opinions and concerns are 4 times more likely to be excited about their future career in education.
- When teachers have a voice in decision-making, they are 4 times more likely to believe they can make a difference (QISA & TVAIC, 2015).
It all boils down to this: Teachers and students are the fabric of our schools. If students are the heart, then teachers are the lifeblood—the critical element that keeps everything alive. Not surprisingly, student voice and teacher voice share similarities and are inherently connected. We believe that when student and teacher voices are valued and work collaboratively, there will be a shift in how educational communities work, and there will be a profound impact on the personal, social, and academic development of students and teachers alike.
Taking Action to Value Teacher Voice
You are likely nodding your head (at least we hope you are!) in agreement with the idea that teacher voice is valuable. But agreeing on and acting upon are two different things. We hope the former leads to the latter! While the path of implementation will vary depending on your role in the school community, the key is for all stakeholders to share responsibility for valuing teacher voice. You can start by taking action from your current position in your school:
- It is amazing how valued teachers feel when simply asked for their professional opinions. Colleagues can ask one another for feedback on lesson plans. Leaders can seek teacher input in the development of new or revised school policies. Community members can ask teachers what they can do to better support them. (To all the teachers out there, keep in mind that the “asking” is a two-way street! Teachers should consistently be asking school leaders and community members for their insights and seeking ways to support school and community efforts!)
- Provide Decision-Making Opportunities. In addition to asking teachers for their input, give them meaningful opportunities to make decisions. Provide a wide variety of teachers (not just one teacher selected to represent the school) with the chance to serve on influential committees. Trust teachers to implement a course of action, even though it may be different from the path you would suggest. Support teachers through their successes as well as their adjustments to failed efforts.
- Encourage Authentic Recognition. Praise is an interesting thing. Some people thrive on it, while others are made highly uncomfortable by it, particularly when done publicly. But regardless of the comfort level, there exists an overall appreciation for the recognition. It is important to authentically recognize the hard work and accomplishments of teachers in a variety of ways, ranging from personal notes to public accolades. (Certainly positive recognition in the press within the community and through social media is meaningful to teachers in an era when negative headlines often prevail.) This responsibility of recognition does not fall solely on the shoulders of leadership. Peer-to-peer praise is just as meaningful and appreciated.
- Learn the Hopes & Dreams of Teachers. Each person reading this blog post is surely acquainted with at least one teacher. But how well do you really know teachers? Make it a goal to learn the professional hopes and dreams of at least one teacher during the next week. Then look for opportunities to encourage and support teachers in achieving their hopes and dreams.
By all means, when the official Teacher Appreciation Week rolls around each year, celebrate every teacher you know! Send a sincere note of thanks to teachers from your past letting them know how they impacted your life. Bring a current teacher a cup of coffee and tell them you appreciate everything they do to support students every day. Share with a colleague the specific aspects of his or her teaching that you admire. Write a letter to the editor recognizing the amazing work of the teachers in your community. Do everything you can to let teachers know they are valued. But do not save it all up for that earmarked week.
One week of appreciation is simply not enough. (Think about it – even oatmeal and squirrels are recognized for an entire month!) And teacher recognition must be more than a token appreciation. Teachers need to be valued for what they do and who they are as professionals all year long. Their voices should be an integral part of all school improvement efforts. We must listen to teachers’ ideas and insights, learn from what they share, and lead together.
Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations. (2014). My Voice National Student Voice Report (Grades 6-12). Retrieved from: http://www.qisa.org/dmsView/My_Voice_2013-2014_National_Report_8_25
Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations & Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center. (2015). Teacher Voice Report 2010-1014. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.