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Monday / November 20

It’s Time for Teachers to Seize the Day

Searching for a good movie to watch can be quite a daunting task these days with endless choices available via Red Box, Netflix, Hulu, etc.  After agonizing over the many options (yes, I am working on my decision making skills) I recently settled on the 1989 classic Dead Poets Society.

As I watched the story unfold, I narrowed in on the character of Mr. Keating, an impassioned English teacher whose unconventional methods rocked the world of Welton Academy prep school. In his opening lesson Mr. Keating instructs the students to literally rip pages out of their textbook, declaring that their opinion and analysis mattered more than an arbitrary formula created by a scholarly author to measure the greatness of poetry. Mr. Keating provided his students with voice; but was the same gift afforded to the master teacher?

Valuing Teacher Voice

While Mr. Keating’s voice had a profound impact on his students, the leadership and policies of his school did not demonstrate value for his voice. Teachers today are expressing a similar belief that their voice does not matter within the education profession. The Quaglia Teacher Voice Survey (QISA & TVAIC, 2016) that reflects the voices of over 12,000 teachers across the country has produced some concerning results:

  • 57% of teachers are confident expressing their honest opinions and concerns.
  • 47% of teachers believe they have the skills to effectively communicate in their school.
  • 56% of teachers think principals are willing to learn from them.
  • 48% of teachers report having a voice in decision making at their school.

Teachers are telling us that current structures and policies are not providing room for their voices to be valued and heard, something that must change if we are serious about education reform that makes a difference. We should be promoting professionalism and capitalizing on what teachers have to say as an invaluable resource in creating education policy that matters. We believe a system that authentically demonstrates value for teacher voice:

  • Creates a safe and trusting culture in which teachers can share their honest opinions and concerns.
  • Provides opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful decision-making.
  • Shares responsibility with all staff in the school community.

When schools embrace these practices, an environment is created in which teachers can achieve their professional aspirations, and in turn better help students achieve theirs. This is indeed a huge responsibility, but just as Mr. Keating’s students rose to the expectations set before them, we are confident that given the opportunity, teachers will use their voice to change the world.

ESSA: Potential to Amplify Teacher Voice

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of U.S. education legislation, includes a number of measures that have the potential to significantly impact opportunities for teachers to exercise their voice. The federal government has declared teacher leadership as a key priority and for first time is allowing school districts to utilize federal funds to support teacher leadership programs and innovative teacher leader positions. Specifically, the legislation (ESSA, 2015) offers:

  • Training and support for teacher leaders and instructional leadership teams.
  • Opportunities for building the capacity of teachers to lead.
  • Authority to make staffing decisions that include new teacher leadership roles.

Teachers will also be called upon to testify during at least three congressional hearings during early implementation of ESSA. We are hopeful that school district leaders will capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity to grow teacher leaders to amplify teacher voice for all.

When teacher voice is alive and well in a school, we observe increased innovations in learning, meaningful professional development opportunities, building administration that is engaged and willing to learn from staff, and ultimately an improved learning experience for teachers and students alike. Additionally, our research (QISA & TVAIC, 2016) shows that:

  • Teachers who are comfortable expressing honest opinions and concerns are 4 times more likely to be excited about their future career in education.
  • When teachers have voice they are 3 times more likely to value setting goals and work hard to reach those goals.
  • When teachers have a voice in decision-making they are 4 times more likely to believe they can make a difference.
  • When teachers are encouraged to be creative they are 5 times more likely to be excited about their future career in education.
  • When building administration is open to new ideas teachers are 14 times more likely to report having a voice in decision making at school.

With policy now supporting increased voice and leadership opportunities for teachers, the potential impact is limitless.

Teachers Taking Action

Policy makers have opened the door to increase teacher voice and leadership, a door through which teachers must now walk. As teachers exercise their voice and take on new leadership opportunities, we encourage the following practices:

  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Learn from what you hear.
  • Lead in partnership with others.

Back to Mr. Keating…

Sadly, Dead Poets Society does not include a champion for the voice of Mr. Keating. However, the key message he shares in his 1959 classroom of “carpe diem” still rings true today. Momentum is building for meaningful reform of our education system. But this change cannot be done to teachers; it must be done with them. Teacher voice must not only be heard, it must be an integral driving force in the continued evolution of education policy. ESSA lays a solid foundation for this dream to become a reality with new opportunities for teachers to utilize their voice and engage in meaningful leadership. It is now time to “seize the day.”

References

Every Student Succeeds Act (2015, December).  Retrieved from: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114s1177enr/pdf/BILLS-114s1177enr.pdf

Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations & Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center. (2016). School Voice Report 2016. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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Written by

Lisa Lande has dedicated her professional endeavors to advocating for teachers and students around the globe. It is her aspiration that every classroom in every school be one that she would want her own three children to learn in—a lens through which she continually measures her research, writing, and professional development efforts. She still considers herself to be a teacher at heart, and finds it a great privilege to partner with amazing educators around the world who are hard at work creating conditions where teachers and students can achieve their dreams.

She is the Executive Director of the Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center (TVAIC), an outgrowth of the Quaglia Institute for Student Voice and Aspirations. The mission of TVAIC is to amplify teacher voice to enhance the aspirations of all.

Lisa is the co-author of Teacher Voice.

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