Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

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

Teacher Voice: 8 Conditions That Are Harder Than You Think

By Peter DeWitt — March 24, 2015 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Recently, Russ Quaglia and his group at Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center released the Teacher Voice Report. It was a 4 year study which consisted of surveys that have been collected from 2010 to 2014. According to the study,

A total of 8,053 staff members completed the Teacher Voice Survey between 2010 and 2014. Seventy-three percent (73%) were classroom teachers; 14% were certified support staff and 12% were support staff. Twenty-two percent (22%) were male and 78% were female."

As you may understand, the past 4 years brought monumental changes for teachers, students, schools and states. There were statewide curriculum changes, drastic budget cuts and an increase in accountability and mandates. Teacher voice is an interesting study, especially when teachers feel as though they have no voice in their schools. Read the full report here.

Quaglia and his group, which I am now a member, believes there are 8 conditions that make a difference when it comes to teacher and student voice. All schools need the 8 conditions to meet the aspirations they create together. Perhaps that is the first mistake we make...that stakeholders in a school co-construct an aspiration together.

I’m not referring to negative naysayers that always get in the way. Recently I saw a post on Facebook that said “Beware of negative people. They find a problem for every solution.” However, I’m not referring to them. I’m referring to a guiding coalition made up of diverse thinkers, because we know that in order for students to have a voice in their classroom and school, teachers need to have a voice as well. It’s difficult to have one without the other.

The 8 conditions that Quaglia believes are vital to every school climate are belonging, heroes, sense of accomplishment, fun and excitement, curiosity and creativity, spirit of adventure, leadership and responsibility, and confidence to take action. At first blush they sound as though they are easily addressed and accepted in schools. However, as the report shows, some conditions are easier to come by than others, and opinions often conflict with one another.

A little more about the conditions.

Belonging - It entails establishing a sense of community and participation, and believing that all participants in the educational process are valuable members. Administrators expect all employees to be fully active, contributing participants in the life of the school. Staff are recognized and appreciated as members of the school community as a whole, and also for their individual contributions.

Heroes - We have found that school employees who are highly motivated to set and meet high aspirations form meaningful relationships with others in the school and in the profession. Heroes are our trusted guides. Mutual respect and commitment to one another are the hallmarks of a staff dedicated to system-wide school improvement. Too often in today’s schools, adults become isolated from one another in a culture dominated by individual competition rather than collaborative support. The Condition of Heroes reminds us that what happens in schools ought never be a solitary enterprise.

Sense of accomplishment - is about recognizing and appreciating effort, perseverance, and citizenship. Meeting performance goals in one’s job is only one indicator of success. Highly dedicated employees make contributions beyond the “call of duty.” In schools that exhibit a Sense of Accomplishment, reward systems encourage effort as well as end products. When staff are recognized for their effort, they are more motivated to persevere through difficult tasks and to create a healthy work environment through hard work and dedication.

Fun and excitement - is about being interested and engaged in one’s work; enjoyment improves one’s effectiveness. When staff are excited, they are eagerly engaged, actively involved, and they contribute more. If we expect all employees to be enthusiastic about coming to school, we must provide diverse, interesting, challenging and enjoyable work experiences.

Curiosity and creativity - Allowing and encouraging all the participants in the school building to question and explore fosters this Condition. Staff should be encouraged to trust and nurture their own Curiosity and Creativity. One of the greatest obstacles to learning in schools is the mundane routine that can set in day after day, term after term, year after year. All staff members in an educational institution should be open to the same growth and change we expect of students.

Spirit of adventure - is about being supported so that one can take healthy risks, trusting that it is all right to make mistakes and knowing there is something to be learned from any consequence--positive or negative.

Leadership and responsibility - deals with giving every member of the staff a voice in the school--letting them know they matter and are trusted to make decisions. If all personnel are expected to be responsible members of the school community, they must be trusted enough to have a voice in their classrooms, departments and in the building as a whole.

Confidence to take action - Schools that foster this Condition encourage all members to believe in themselves, trusting that they can be successful and are making a difference. Though society’s expectations of schools are high, the confidence needed to meet those expectations must be internal to each employee. Awards, accolades, and other external recognition for success are welcome, but the intrinsic desire to provide the best service one is capable of must drive effective employees.

In the report, each condition comes with some unique findings. Some of the findings are very positive, while others leave a bit to be desired. The thing I like is that Quaglia and his team offer action steps at the end of each explanation. Too often we come across reports that provide us with date but do not go far enough to provide actionable steps that can be done in school.

The 8 conditions provide leaders and teachers with a mindset to move forward with as they try to create or co-construct an aspiration for their school. However, there are obstacles to each one. If you were to guess which conditions were hardest to come by in your school...or your child’s school...which ones would you pick?

Connect with Peter on Twitter

Creative Commons photo courtesy of JR.

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.