Teacher Leadership

3-Step Method to Increase Teacher Voice

How do you make sure educators have a place at the table? Learn these three steps that school and district leaders can take to ensure teacher voice is represented in decision-making.

June 9, 2016
A side profile closeup of a female teacher sitting at a table in a classroom. A bookshelf behind her, and she's talking to someone. She's wearing a red shirt, a long, beaded necklace, and circular earrings.
Photo credit: US Department of Education via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Teachers Are Frustrated

A new survey from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) reveals just how frustrated educators are with the state of their profession. One startling headline that came from its release: "Nearly half of teachers would quit now for a higher-paying job."

Although that survey found that 49% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agree with the following statement, "If I could get a higher paying job, I'd leave teaching as soon as possible," it's not very informative.

Why Are America's Teachers so Frustrated?

It turns out that the most significant challenges that teachers report facing are systemic -- number one being "state or district policies that get in the way of teaching," followed by, "constantly changing demands placed on teachers" and "constantly changing demands placed on students." These challenges far outweigh the issues we talk much more about in education, including the need for more collaboration with families and opportunities for professional growth.

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What Most Teachers Believe

So perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey also revealed important findings about whether teachers perceive that their opinions are factored into decision-making. In general, they don't. Just one percent of teachers felt their opinions impacted decision-making at the national level; just two percent did at the state level; and nineteen percent did at the district level.

The school level fared better -- 53% of teachers felt their opinions were factored into decision-making at their school. Unfortunately, that means that nearly half of teachers did NOT feel their opinions were considered. And the survey also found that teachers' perceptions of whether their opinions are factored into school-level decisions appear to be related to job satisfaction.

This is not the first survey to note this connection. The Teacher Voice Report 2010-2014 found that the exact same percentage of teachers (53%) agreed with the statement, "I have a voice in decision-making at my school." That report also found that teachers who are comfortable expressing honest opinions and concerns are four times more likely to be excited about their future career in education.

And it found implications for students. When teachers have a voice in decision-making, they are four times more likely to believe that they can make a difference and three times more likely to encourage students to be leaders and make decisions. Other research has found that compared with lower-achieving schools, higher-achieving schools provide all stakeholders -- including teachers -- with greater influence on decisions.

How to Increase Teacher Voice

So how do we ensure that more of our educators have a voice in decision-making?

It starts with school culture. Both teachers and administrators have to be willing to move past the us versus them mentality that characterizes some schools and districts. Both parties also have to be willing to put in the time necessary to build the relationships and trust that will allow educators to feel safe in voicing opinions and administrators to feel comfortable sharing control.

3-Step Method

In addition, Russell Quaglia, president and founder of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, and Lisa Lande, executive director of the Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center, have recently proposed three steps that school and district leaders can take to ensure teacher voice is represented in decision-making:

1. Listen

Seek out the opinions of all teachers on a regular basis (not just during staff meetings or an annual survey); and make sure you're not only connecting with those who speak the loudest or most often. Also, provide alternatives to face-to-face communications. For example, set up a Google document for brainstorming solutions to a particular concern. Personally invite the individuals whose voice tends to be missing to join the conversation. Do not wait for teachers to come to you, and do not identify a few teachers as token representatives for the entire staff.

2. Learn

Be prepared to learn from others and expand your comfort zone. Trust your teachers, and be willing to adopt an idea different from your own. Do not dismiss opinions you disagree with or do not understand, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

3. Lead

Spend less time directing and more time facilitating. Provide teachers the support and time they need to be successful both in the classroom and in the leadership opportunities that emerge when they are asked to share their input and generate solutions to school- and district-level problems.

What are strategies that you've used to increase teacher voice in your school or district? Share with us in the comments section below.