Education Nation: Teachers Want a Voice as Decision Makers

There is a school in Washington State where the teachers decided what they wanted education to be like for their 650 kindergarten through 6th grade students. The staff collaborated as a group on what they believed constituted good teaching. Many of their group decisions continue to guide learning in every classroom at their school.

They began by redefining their teaching relationships with their students by deciding they would stay with the same class for two years instead of one. AND, they included students with special needs in their classrooms instead of segregating them out. They decided to be guides for their students allowing the students to direct their own learning. They did this through “inquiry based projects”. Several times a year these teachers helped their students develop questions in subjects that the students were interested in and wanted to investigate. The teachers then integrated reading, writing and communication skills into long-term projects.

Instead of giving all the answers to their students these teachers guide them in searching for responses to their own questions by assisting to help in research and identify and sort through information resources. These teachers have created a climate of collaboration not only between their students, but also the with the school staff, who supports their changed role in the classroom.

In their daily conferences with team partners, teachers encourage each other to make changes and try new things. One states, “Because we stay with our students for two years, we can’t use the same ideas with the class the next year, so we are always coming up with new projects.”

When teachers have a voice in their curriculum and a chance to be decision makers in formulating learning in their classrooms, learning is improved for each student. When teachers encourage a heterogeneous population in their classrooms, students become more involved in helping others to achieve and succeed. Everyone has a need to give and help those who are disadvantaged. When we segregate our population of students from each other they lose their sense of compassion for those who are unlike them.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, and an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation, presented at the November 2011 TEDx London conference. He states that education must be Personalized for the student, which improves motivation for teachers; that education must be Customized to students to their place within their community; and that education must include Diversity instead of requiring teachers to subscribe to conformity. Sir Robinson strongly recommends that learning involves local community partnerships where students are exposed to the world in which they live and become community participants.

When teachers have a voice in their classrooms and the curriculum they teach; when they have a chance to be decision makers in their profession, they become motivated and inspired. Their classrooms become learning centers where students accept responsibility for themselves and others. They are invested in producing and collaborating for the success of all. None are left behind because all are involved.

For the above to happen educational leadership must be supportive of creative teacher innovation within the classroom. They must trust their teachers and advise rather than dictate. Of course it takes secure leaders to pass on creative responsibility to their teachers. Secure administrators are a rare breed. Their penchant is to control rather than relinquish.

What an amazing torrent of creative energy would be unleashed if teachers had a voice in decision-making within their classrooms and supportive educational administrators!

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

Post Script: Yes Rob, the teaching example I give at the top of this post is simple in its approach. I know that many teachers live and work in small communities throughout this great nation. Their school budgets limit funding to basic concepts. This is written for them. Innovation in small districts across our country depends on the educator’s imagination and ability to engage their students in meaningful and passionate intellectual exploration. It does not take money to develop creative minds; it takes commitment. Sir Ken Robinson writes about getting back to basics. To me, getting back to basics means organizing learning experiences for children which develop inquisitive minds with tenacious curiosity. Once those minds are set into motion it is essential to then teach children how to use their knowledge and curiosity in their own life applications. What good is knowledge if we are unable to solve the mysteries in our own lives? What good is knowledge if we are unable to apply it to expanding our own horizons. Yes, simple approaches develop amazing innovation.

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