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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

What ‘Teacher Voice’ Is and Isn’t

By Peter DeWitt — November 12, 2015 4 min read
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We can’t say we want teachers to feel empowered at the same time we’re taking away their voice.

Don’t teachers talk enough?

Sounds like something the union is behind?

What about the students?

Teacher voice.” The words certainly evoke some interesting reactions. When I talk about the work of Russ Quaglia and Lisa Lande from the Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center (TVAIC), I get questions about what exactly teacher voice means. Teachers get excited about the concept. Many feel like they have a voice in the classroom (and sometimes they don’t), but feel as though they lack a voice in building and district decisions.

They’re told to change and not given much of a reason why. No wonder why they feel as though they lack a voice.

Others times the reactions to the words teacher voice don’t come in words at all. People sitting in the audience share their reactions through their body language. Folding of the arms, pursing of the lips...and yes, those reactions are often from building and district leaders.

Principals want to know why we care about teacher voice when they feel as though they don’t have much of a voice in decisions either. Being a principal is tough because they have to move forward to with decisions they may not always believe in, while trying to inspire staff to embrace them.

What Teacher Voice...Isn’t

Teacher voice isn’t about stating an opinion or an idea with the desire to get their way on most decisions. That would be very one-sided, and if we don’t want principals and superintendents making all the decisions without input, then teachers shouldn’t have the final word either. It’s supposed to be about collaborative leadership, where all voices are shared, and we accept responsibility for the solution.

Teacher voice isn’t about the unions. Unions play a strong role in some school districts, while in other schools they play a more collaborative role with principals and district leaders. It’s important to remember that just like when unwanted decisions are blamed on the “district” the “union” is often blamed as a reason for conflict in our schools as well. Teacher voice isn’t about a strong union...as much as it’s about a staff of teachers that work in collaboration with leaders, parents and students.

Teacher voice isn’t about monopolizing the dialogue in the classroom. That wouldn’t be dialogue at all. It would actually be considered monologue, and too much of that happens in our schools now. Quaglia and Lande write,

The type of teacher voice we are advocating for is utilized for the benefit of others. When used effectively for this purpose, teachers listen at least as often as they speak, put more energy into learning than trying to convince others, and lead by taking action with the best interest of all concerned in mind."

What Teacher Voice...Is

For those of you who are hooked on NBC’s “The Voice” you understand it’s about giving someone the opportunity to shine. On The Voice there are people who have never performed in front of an audience, and when they’re given the opportunity, they raise their own bar and find something within them that they hoped existed...and sometimes they never had a clue how good they really were until someone on the outside tells them so.

We have the same issue in schools. We have teachers who have this incredible gift that lays dormant because they don’t want to stick out...or they work in a culture that favors compliance over creativity in oneself. They work for a principal that doesn’t always want to hear from them...or when they do get the chance to talk the leader isn’t really listening.

Teacher voice is about inspiring the silent to speak up and offer their gifts.

In the graphic below, which was provided courtesy of the Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations (QISVA), you can see that teacher voice is about providing the opportunity for everyone to have a place at the table. Perhaps that’s through the use of building-level teams, where people actually feel comfortable to share or at faculty meetings where there is true dialogue rather than principal monologue.

In the End

Teacher Voice is not about getting one’s way, or the collective power of the union. It’s not about talking at students, nor is it about controlling the dialogue in the classroom.

Teacher Voice is a movement that is centered around building collective teacher efficacy. “Efficacy expectations are a major determinant of people’s choice of activities, how much effort they will expend, and of how long they will sustain effort in dealing with stressful situations” (Bandura, 1977, p. 194).

Rachel Eells (2011. p. 36), who I have quoted a few times before, writes that Ashton et al found,

Teachers with low teaching efficacy don't feel that teachers, in general, can make much of a difference in the lives of students, while teachers with low personal teaching efficacy don't feel that they, personally, affect the lives of the students (Ashton & Webb, 1986).

According to the Teacher Voice Report, teachers with voice are three times more likely to believe they can make a difference in the world. Teacher voice is about getting those teachers who feel as though they don’t have the ability to affect a student, understand that they do. It’s about building a collaborative culture so they understand that they can be an important part of the change process, which isn’t happening enough in schools.

We can’t say we want teachers to feel empowered at the same time we’re taking away their voice.

If you want to get involved with teacher voice, click here.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Katie Tegtmeyer.

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.