There’s no lack of education “experts” out there. Almost every one of them claims to have the secret to transforming America’s K-12 schools.
New education technology, personalized learning, social-emotional learning, the list of silver bullets is long and mostly uninspiring. That’s because, as any educator knows, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fixing what ails America’s schools.
Much of today’s political rhetoric paints a bleak picture of America’s “failing” K-12 schools—a narrative school choice advocates have used to their advantage. Conspicuously absent from much of that conversation is the vital perspective of teachers. Though not necessarily by choice.
In a recent survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy, nearly half of classroom teachers surveyed felt their opinions were not considered in school decision-making, and only 1 percent felt that their voice was heard on the national policy front.
With teacher attrition at historically high rates across the country, schools and school districts ignore the opinions of classroom educators at their own peril. So, what can administrators do to re-engage faculty and staff, and to ensure their opinions are consistently factored into critical school decisions?
Treat teachers as experts
No one knows more about the art of teaching than actual teachers. It sounds obvious. Yet, many school leaders and community members still don’t look to teachers for subject-matter expertise or advice on classroom strategy. School, state, and national leaders need to do a better job of soliciting insight and advice from those in classrooms every day. The task doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of leadership. Teachers, too, must see themselves as experts and actively contribute to important conversations. This is easier said than done.
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New York City school teacher and education advocate Jose Vilson says that humility and a commitment to life-long learning sometimes make teachers hesitant to label themselves “experts,” or to insert themselves into complex policy conversations. But, he says, it’s vital that they do. As Vilson writes in a recent post on Medium:
“Part of that is the way that teachers are built. If we’re doing the work, then we see ourselves as learners along with the students. Expertise is often foreign in that framework because we’re neither confident nor settled in that One Truth…When given a platform, the best of us can look at the rest of the society eye-to-eye, feet firmly planted, and let truth sprout from within. That’s the work, and if a teacher’s already there, then they should take a mic and pump up the volume. Shake the corridors.”
As school district leaders look for new ideas and strategies to improve their schools, they need to cultivate teachers as experts and use their insights and ideas to inform critical school conversations.
Expertise starts with confidence
To be an expert in any field, requires the confidence to try new approaches, master proven strategies and, occasionally, to fail. But too many classroom teachers often lack such confidence, writes former Florida Teacher of the Year and education thought leader Megan M. Allen in a recent blog post:
“I work with teachers, supporting them and helping them develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to lead the profession (from in or outside the classroom). I see tons of brilliant ideas from masterful expert teachers. But these ideas stay in the concept form for far too long, with a lack of confidence acting like a dam to a river.”
To encourage confidence in today’s classroom leaders, Allen says administrators and fellow teachers must first encourage collaboration in their schools, and understand that failure leads to learning and improvement. Only then will more teachers feel confident enough to speak out.
What steps are you taking to empower stronger teacher voices in your school or district? Is employee engagement a priority in your schools? Tell us in the comments.