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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do Teachers Have More of a Voice Than They Think?

By Peter DeWitt — May 19, 2015 3 min read
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In Disconnected Leadership: 3 Areas of Concern, I focused on how faculty meetings, teacher observations and school climate were problem areas in schools. My friend Don Bartalo commented

As far as faculty meetings go, the question should be when are face-to-face meetings absolutely necessary? Teachers are not always in the best position to know the answer to that question, but should have input into the decision. Faculty meetings are not intended to be professional development sessions. Teachers have never been crazy about being evaluated. It has been my experience that some of the most accurate, valid, honest, and to-the-point evaluations are the ones teachers dislike the most."

Clearly, faculty meetings were not originally developed to be professional development sessions, but that needs to change. We all need to make sure we are focusing on learning, especially in places where we all come together. It doesn’t mean we can’t go over some important dates, but we should have meetings together where we can discuss, debate, and dissect learning. ,

Unfortunately, many faculty meetings are still controlled by building and central office administration. 85% of respondents on a recent survey answered that their school leader doesn’t co-construct faculty meetings with them, which means it’s another venue in this era of high accountability that adults are showing up to a meeting about them or their school and have not had a say in any of it.

Do Teachers Have More Say Than They Think?

In Speaking Up For Better Schools (Educational Leadership. ASCD. 2015), Frederick Hess writes about how teachers should push for better PD. Hess interviewed a few hundred teachers over 2 years and in his article writes,

Teachers often respond to obdurate administrators, inane work rules, and ham-fisted policies by taking refuge in their classrooms. Terrific teachers can grow so used to the way things are that dysfunction comes to seem normal and hardly worth worrying about."

What Hess is referring to is something we can all understand because we have been dealing with it from state and federal policies for years. School leaders and teachers get so used to the noise from these policies and policymakers that they say they try to just get through the policies so they can do what they really want to do.

Hess goes on to write,

This approach might pass muster if teachers were independent operators. But classrooms are part of a larger system, and what happens beyond their door has a profound effect-for good or ill- on what happens in their classroom. If teachers don't do something about that, the good things that happen in their classroom will stay in their classroom-if they're even permitted to happen there."

Hess goes on to suggest a few options for teachers which you can read further about here. He suggests teachers should:

  • Be concrete and offer solutions
  • Make your principal a great principal
  • Ask, “How can we do this?”
  • Push for better PD
  • Know what to say if they say “Yes - Teacher voice is one thing, but knowing how to say it is another. For a deeper report about Teacher Voice and suggestions how to move forward, read the Teacher Voice Report by Russ Quaglia and the team at the Quaglia Institute for Students Aspirations (QISA).

Teacher Voice in Action

In another recent survey I asked whether the formal observation process is beneficial to the teacher. 45% of the 217 respondents said “No,” 9% said “Yes” while 29% said “Sometimes.” 17% didn’t give an answer but wanted to explain.

One teacher responded,

In the charter school where I worked previously we were "Over observed" and they would find at least one thing I did wrong in each observation. In my new public school we are observed the state minimum. For the most part the conference is all lollipops and lullaby's. What I used to hate about my old school I now miss here. Telling me I am doing great and keep up the good work does little to help me grow as an educator. It is great to be appreciated but I would prefer a happy medium that gives me something to take away and work for or towards. During one Observations this year my vice principal left her running thoughts she had recorded on her notes on the sheet that I saw. I LOVED it. Lots of good feedback but she also spoke about what she wished I had done. I have asked her to leave those notes on my observation forms from now on" (5/12/15).

Many school leaders answered that they couldn’t provide beneficial observations because of a lack of time. There is no doubt that principals are being asked to do more with less time. However, there is still a disconnect between school leaders and teachers, because if time were the only factor more of the written responses would have been positive toward the school leader. More of those written responses would have been empathetic to the principal.

The interesting thing about the responses by school leaders, which are pictured below, and those suggestions by Rick Hess, are that teachers may have more power in the conversation than they think.

If the observations and faculty meetings are one-sided, perhaps teachers can ask for more. They can use blogs, articles or videos to share ideas with their school leader to inspire something more fulfilling with those disconnected settings, or as Hess suggests, “Terrific teachers can grow so used to the way things are that dysfunction comes to seem normal and hardly worth worrying about.”

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Got a Minute? What do you think?

  • If you are a teacher, do you feel comfortable making suggestions about better observations and faculty meetings to your school leader? Please answer here.
  • If you’re a school leader, do you wish your teachers would make suggestions for improvement of teacher observations and faculty meetings? Please answer here.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Demi-Brooke.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.