Thoughts On Listening, Voice and Empowerment

When I started working in Lufkin, one of the first things that I did, before any decision was made, was getting to campuses to listen and talk to teachers. I remember feeling so nervous but I also knew, from being a voiceless classroom teacher, that this step was an important one. It was during a meeting with our high school teachers that I learned about some of our digital infrastructure issues. They could tell you exactly where in the building one could connect and the places where connectivity was weakest. These statements are what drove more in depth research and action into changing that.

Our teachers were also quite open about how they wished to learn professionally or even be acknowledged for the learning that they were already doing…learning that is often ignored in districts because of its non-traditional means. It was in those moments that my plan for our “district PD plan” was affirmed. Whatever we did, it needed to be driven by our teachers as there is honest truth to the fact that if we want our students to have the agency to think and have a voice in their learning, our teachers need this for themselves.

Our teachers also needed to know that their ideas were framing what we do. This was critical.

A few months ago, during a conversation at Educon, Zac Chase tweeted a statement that has been with me since the day that it flew across my feed.

There are so many realities of school that teachers have no choice or voice in and I often wonder how much people really get that. It’s easy to talk about what we want to see in classrooms and how schools should function differently but it’s an entirely different idea to be at the forefront of those decisions…to have a voice in the fundamental work that we do…work that is not just absent of teacher ideas but also students.

The fact is, that somehow our traditions of who gets a seat at the table are limited to those with the titles to do so and not enough to those who are impacted most.

While we are far from perfect in my district, there is effort given through student leadership meetings, cross-cultural parent cohorts and teacher collaboratives like our digital ambassadors. It’s a start, but ideally I hope that we can get to the point where one doesn’t need to be in a special cohort to question the norm…to add their ideas to the pot and to be central in decision making. This is my greatest hope and why I found great comfort in reading books like Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need because it illustrated through the eyes of SLA that is certainly possible.

I will admit to struggling at one point with which decisions needed to be mine and when they needed to be community driven. Ultimately, my own clarity came from thinking of times when I wanted to have a voice and didn’t. I remembered what it felt like to have everything from the curriculum that we used to language in which we expressed it and the “common style” from which we had to teach designated by someone else and it sucked.

I also remember what it felt like to be a student in classrooms with teachers who were so “programmed” by the traditionalism of school that they often did not see me as a person beyond the scribble in the gradebook.

Opening the door to teachers and their ideas changes the trajectory of the decisions being made. The same applies when including students…especially when they realize that the world is different outside of their walls and zip codes.

Information is power. As my friend Zac Chase said, power can be empowering.

This is what changes schools. It isn’t a brand new curriculum, new technology or hiring that person you admired from social media EDU. It is about creating a culture of openness that embraces our differences, realities, passions and curiosities. It’s a community of learners with voices, not defined by job titles but by the common desire to help students create the world through their own curiosities.

I’m often accused of being too idealistic…much like a teacher brand new to how “school” works.

Please…let that always be the case.

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