Not everyone who talks about teacher voice really wants to hear it. Take a peek into many schools and this is what you might see.
A veteran teacher shares an idea she has about improving school policy or curriculum. Leaders smile and nod because she’s using her teacher voice. After all, that is what’s valued in this school. However, her voice brings no real change or reflection. What she said is forgotten before she leaves the room.
Teacher voice is en vogue. A quick search will bring about many articles and perspectives on why it is absolutely crucial for school improvement. Teachers hope it will be the catalyst for change in their schools and surrounding communities. However, teachers’ thoughtful ideas can often be heard as mere muffles and squawks. Yes, we heard you, teacher leader, but what did you say?
Until teacher voice is truly sought as the tool for change it could be, it is necessary to amplify it, to increase the volume, to become a choir of voices that remains steady, persistent and clear with notes that administrators can use as they make positive shifts within the school.
Here are some steps that you can take in your school to ensure that your voice is heard:
Teacher leaders should not work in isolation. Finding other educators who are positive and respected by administrators is a critical first step. Keep the group small, but try to invite multiple perspectives. Is there an academic advisor who should be a part of the group, a counselor or social worker? Encouraging participation from those who have insights into various corners of the school is vital in ensuring multiple voices are representing the faculty and student body.
Set Some Goals
If there’s no purpose, this group can quickly become a venting session filled with coffee, comradery and complaints. What are the things your group has identified as needing improvement? Are there issues of inequity in the school? Are there problems with the curriculum or resources? Are there problems that students have highlighted? Know why the group is being formed and frequently remind yourselves of those goals.
Set a Recurring Meeting Time with School Leaders
No principal wants to show up to school in the morning to find a group of angry teachers outside the office ready to chat. The likelihood of being heard is slim in this case. While there is urgency in solving pressing issues, administrators deserve to know that there is an organized group that has been formed for the purpose of helping improve students’ and teachers’ experiences in school.
It has to be communicated that it isn’t a griping group or a “gotcha” group. Mutually agree on a recurring meeting time with the principal, and make it clear that the group has clear goals for improvement.
Have an Agenda and Offer Solutions
Teachers have been in countless meetings and wondered, “Why am I here?” If your group shows up to meet with your principal without an agenda, he or she will wonder the same. Have no more than a few items to address, and give your principal the courtesy of reviewing the agenda in advance. What things are going well in the school? In every meeting, call them out. The meeting should not be just a declaration of all things that are bad.
What is your “So what?” This thing that we are doing in school is not good for kids. So what? What is the better thing that can be done?[pullquote position= "right"]Be willing to listen to any constraints that an administrator might have. And be willing to offer some solutions.
Pick Your Battles
Is your group upset that the principal decided to repaint the cafeteria in that awful green color? That is not the thing to add to a once a month meeting agenda with the principal. The group should prioritize ahead of all meetings the issues that are most pressing for school change. No meeting should be a laundry list of problems and complaints. A principal is more likely to listen to two or three vital concerns than a list of inconsequential issues that don’t affect student learning and teacher growth.
Ultimately, the hushing of teacher voices is one of the most frustrating things about education. That hushing might occur due to lack of teacher respect or because those voices are shining a light on some change that should be made.
Because change can be uncomfortable, teacher leaders have to be purposeful, prepared and organized in order to help implement the changes they know need to occur. Until one voice in the school is loud enough, the rest of us have to join in on the chorus, using the same songbook and the same tune.
Monica Washington is an instructional coach for BetterLesson. Previously, she taught English III and AP English III teacher at Texas High School in Texarkana where she served as department chair. She has been in education for 20 years and has taught grades 7-12. She has served as adjunct professor at LeMoyne-Owen College and Texarkana College.
Monica became Texas State Teacher of the Year in ...