Thursday, June 25, 2015

Teacher Voice: The Secret Ingredient in Successful Schools

As a singer who loved music so much that I majored in it, I have never had a problem making my voice heard.  It takes very little muse for me to share my gift with others.  All I need is a tune in my head and the opportunity to let it out.  No matter how large or small the audience, I am perfectly comfortable making my voice heard.

Teachers' voices are not that much different than a singer's voice.  Every teacher has a song in their heart or a passion if you want to call it, but there are varying degrees of confidence that each teacher possesses to share their voice with others.  Some are shy or uncertain, while others are extremely confident of themselves and have no problem sharing their voice with others.  Then you have those in the middle that wait for just the right time to share their thoughts. The problem is that in this business of educating all kids, every teacher's voice MUST be heard, and the conditions must be right to make their voices heard.

Nothing is more frustrating than having an opinion and not feeling comfortable enough to voice it.  Some teachers feel inadequate but are scared to speak up for fear of being viewed negatively by their peers or leaders.  Veteran teachers see problems that need to be fixed but don't voice their concerns because they don't want to give leaders the impression that they're negative nancies or cynical.  Leaders are like music directors, and they must create a culture where all teachers feel comfortable as well as compelled to share their voice with their peers and their leaders.

Teacher Voice:  The Secret Ingredient to Success
If you want teachers to grow, they have to have their voice heard, and that can only occur when these 5 components of teacher voice are not only present but nurtured by the leader.

Teachers must feel valued as people first, and second they must feel that what they say matters before they open their mouths.  No value; no voice.

If teachers are going to share their voice, they have to know that the school culture values openness.  Leaders must model openness in their appreciation of diverse ideas, expertise, and opinions.  Teachers must also feel safe being open and honest with their leader and with one another when they are frustrated or have concerns.

This is a big one but gets to the heart of teacher voice.  When teachers feel insecure, they will choose to either withdraw or seek support.  The culture created by the leader makes that decision for teachers.  If a leader creates a culture that doesn't support teachers when they're vulnerable, that leader doesn't support teachers.

Growth can only occur in a culture that values curiosity.  All teachers must know that challenging the status quo and asking "what if" and "why is that" questions helps them grow personally grow and helps the culture as a whole.

Once teachers know that their voice is heard, they know that they are valued.  Once teachers know that they are valued, they take ownership of not only the learning space that they create for kids.  They take responsibility for making the school a better place for all staff and students.

What Song are your Teachers Singing?
So do all of your teachers feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts?  Are they afraid to show their shortcomings?  Do they feel comfortable enough to step onto the stage and share their voice with the world?  The song of school culture is most harmonious when all teachers raise their voices.  Teachers can also create a song of deafening silence (see video of John Cage's 4' 33" below) when they feel like the school or the leader or both do not value their voice. If we want to accelerate our efforts to create a culture that saves every kid, then we must make sure that we create the same environment that values every teacher's voice first.

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