Saturday, May 27, 2017

Advocating for Teacher Voice and Choice

March 2018 Update: Note that this post was written one year ago since that time the new superintendent in our system has made transparency and communication a priority. Now all stakeholders are learning of initiatives, questions, and priorities in a much more inclusive fashion. Also the new superintendent makes it a priority to respond to emails, ideas, and questions with honesty and respect. He doesn't always agree, but he shares his rationale and further ideas. This is a wonderful, positive step in the right direction. 

Recently, in the teaching/learning community, there was a lot of struggle over teacher voice and choice. In a couple of areas where teachers were asked to voice their opinion and make choices, they were later not supported with regard to their research, vision, and will to teach well. Instead they were asked to do as they were told. This whole affair took a lot of time out of teachers' effort, energy, and autonomy, and was very discouraging. In fact it left me in tears yesterday afternoon.

In a number of areas, in the teaching/learning community, there is little to no voice and choice. I am spending more of my own money than ever to support the classroom with regard to materials, special events, and professional learning. The only good supports that honor teacher choice and voice are the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and the local grant organization. However, to submit a grant, the system administration has to sign off on it, and often they say no to my grant ideas so I often cannot submit grants to that organization due to the fact that administrators will not sign and submit my grant ideas. I expect that this happens to other educators too.

This is all very disconcerting as I am a teacher that believes in collaborative work. I hate to see large amounts of money spent on classroom supplies and materials without good process or teacher voice and choice. Over the years I have seen money wasted when this happens. Kits and other materials have sat dormant and never used because teachers were never in on the decision making from the start.

The best way to remedy situations like this is to create dynamic distributive leadership teams--the kinds of teams that do not solely exist on paper, but instead teams of teachers, students, family members, managers, and community members that truly work together to make wonderful teaching and learning happen. Yesterday we had a good meeting about an initiative like this, however, it appears that to make the idea happen the educators will have to finance the idea themselves--it will be expensive, and I will look for grants outside of the system to support it, but no administrator is willing to do the extra leg work to support the financial end of this idea, yet they are ready to agree with its rationale and result as they, like us, know it's good work.

The same is true for professional development. The best ideas I've brought back to the school house have been ideas from dynamic national conferences where really great people present and work with teachers, yet our system won't support my attendance at these conferences. A year ago my team received the honor of acceptance of our proposal and ability to present at a national math conference, but the system would not support the costs of attendance at the conference. We would have been able to present our good work, meet with dynamic math educators throughout the country, and bring back significant ideas, but this was not supported.

I am disappointed with the learning community's unwillingness to work with teachers to build greater choice, voice, and distributive leadership. Our management team is large in numbers and the way it works makes information distant from the daily work in classrooms and the needs and ideas of teachers and students. In many ways the information is like a game of telephone since by the time a teacher hears about an initiative, it has been passed down via multiple managers without any written reference so often no one hears the same information and everyone is confused. I have started watching the school committee meetings online to learn of initiatives and choices made for teachers, otherwise I would not know what is happening or going to happen as there is little to no transparent, inclusive share of information. Further, requests and questions, are often met with silence or derogatory responses which leave the impression that questions and share are not welcome.

Fortunately our union has just voted in a new structure for the implementation of new ideas, a structure that supports educators and administrative leadership collaboration and conversation. I look forward to the start of this new structure and know that if it is done well, it has the potential for significant change.

Choice and voice are essential to dedicated teacher/administrative/student/parent/community members teams. This kind of collaboration builds trust and results in really good modern work with students. When teachers lack choice and voice, communities are challenged when it comes to best possible teaching and learning. I will work with colleagues and my local union to support positive development in this regard. I look forward to the potential change this holds for me, my colleagues, and the work we can do with and for students and their families. Onward.