Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Teacher Voice and Agency

So, I'll never be mistaken for a professional photographer, but I share this picture of Russ Quaglia because I learned something very valuable from him last week: there is no student voice without teacher voice.
"We have been encouraging teachers for years to foster student voice—to guide students in using their voice to build relationships, become engaged in learning and life, and develop a sense of purpose and responsibility. We have come to understand that this cannot be fully realized without teachers themselves experiencing the very same thing: opportunities to develop and utilize their own voices in an environment that respects and supports the process. It is like asking someone who has never been under water to teach someone how to scuba dive!... It is being able to speak openly about your opinions, ideas, and suggestions in an environment that is driven by trust, collaboration, and responsibility. Teacher voice is about listening to others, learning from what is being said, and leading by taking action together." (Quaglia & Lande, 2017, pp. 12-13)
Wow. So, how much are we promoting teacher voice? As with many things, it likely varies on time and place. But it did get me thinking about if/how we support teacher voice in our district.

For those of you outside of our district, a little history: in early 2016 we decided to leverage the professional knowledge and skills of our teachers in a new way, based on overwhelming teacher feedback received after a day of learning with Kenneth C. Williams, represented here:

"Teachers are leaders. It is our responsibility to continue to seek best practice, and in that, evaluate the result of implementing the practices - is it working?"
"I would like to work with my department to identify the standards that all students will meet."
"Collaboration is key. We need to support and help each other and also can learn new things from one another."
"I am looking forward to sitting with my team to discuss standards, create assessments and analyze student learning and teacher practice."  
"It's important for teachers to discuss the essentials. I also liked that Williams emphasized that you have individual creativity in how you approach teaching those essential items." 

Through our contract negotiations, we established a handful of 1/2 day "teacher collaboration" times for this work, and many principals were able to re-work schedules to fashion common planning times for their teams. Two of our three high schools use bi-weekly one-hour delays for the work to supplement monthly team meetings. Once thing is certain, though -- there never seems to be enough time for all of the great work teachers want to do.

Our principals engaged in two full days of learning and planning once school was out, and in fall of 2016, they launched a multiyear professional learning and inquiry cycle journey in their schools, encapsulated here around the DuFour Four Questions:

We didn't label it "teacher voice," but is it teacher voice in practice? 

And I'm really asking that question -- if you are reading this blog and teach in our district, is this inquiry cycle promoting and supporting teacher voice? If yes, share your story. If not, why not? How else might we do it?

If you have experiences with other environments that promote teacher voice, I'd love to hear about them, too.


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