By Jamie Meade
Have you ever pushed on a door, only to realize what’s needed is a pull? We can all likely recall one of those moments, coming to a dead stop, bumping into the door, looking around embarrassingly to see who noticed our self-inflicted dose of humility, laughing at our well-intended effort to simply get through the door. After all, we may be really excited about what’s on the other side!
I started my teaching career in the 1980s. I recall how excited I was to get out of college, to get on the other side, to experience my own classroom as a first year teacher, to begin contributing to the power and promise of education. What’s clearly evident in my journey: my own education was—and still is—a real door-opener for me.
Now, thirty years later, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of pushing on education reform. I get it. The research is clear and compelling: the needs of today’s learners are unique and ever-changing in the 21st century. We must rethink and redesign our schools and how today’s students experience learning. We must move beyond the education models envisioned during the Industrial Age to ensure today’s learners are highly engaged, deep thinkers, acquiring rigorous skills, knowledge, and dispositions to be ready for a dynamic, even uncertain, future.
So, the why we must change our schools and our approach to learning in the 21st century is clear. But, after more than a decade of pushing education reform, it’s also clear that we are off the mark on the how. A real door opener for sustainable, impactful education reform requires a pull—a good, strong pull from teachers, those who have dedicated their careers in service to children in our schools every day, deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of their students. We’re spending so much time, energy, and resources on pushing reform, and then pushing back on reform. It’s exhausting and drains us of our energy to be at our best. It’s time to redirect that energy, getting teachers on the other side, informing the way, pulling reform forward through pioneering practitioners.
In Teacher Voice: Amplifying Success, authors Quaglia and Lande (2017) make a strong case for elevating and empowering teacher voice,
“When teachers have a voice in decision-making, they are four times more likely to believe they can make a difference. They are also three times more likely to encourage students to be leaders and to make decisions.”
This means, if we want to empower students to thrive in the 21st century, we must elevate the voice of their teachers. These are indeed parallel tracks. In today’s ever-changing world, students must be prepared to take ownership of their learning and aspire to envision and then act upon their future goals. To achieve this goal for every child, we must seriously consider how, or even if, we are actively listening to their teachers, those in the best position to cultivate hope, engagement, and 21st century learning experiences.
There’s power and promise in the pull from teachers; it means we empower teachers, cultivating their own sense of agency, giving them a seat at the decision-making table, to inform the redesign, the way forward in improving education for every child. When we elevate the voice of teachers—when we actively listen to their ideas, solutions, and strategies—we promote respect for the profession, and we empower educators with a sense of collective agency for redesigning and implementing new, effective models of learning in the 21st century. What’s clear from this body of research: when teachers believe they can make a difference, they do!
Collective teacher efficacy is the shared perceptions teachers have about their collective ability to influence the academic performance of their students. Based on Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (1997), this sense of collective agency, or efficacy, is connected to the way people exert some level of control over their own lives, or to the beliefs in their own capacity to produce certain action. What’s most exciting about this approach forward is that academic development of students is related to collective teacher efficacy, as well as to satisfaction at work and to confidence in colleagues (Bandura, 1997). Further, Professor John Hattie’s research reinforces this notion, ranking collective teacher efficacy as the number one factor influencing student achievement (Hattie, 2016) based on a meta-analysis by Rachel Jean Eells (2011). Fostering collective teacher efficacy requires skillful leaders committed to developing teacher leaders through distributive, shared, leadership practices. While promoting teacher leadership is not a simple solution for transforming education in our country, it is an essential component for moving in the right direction toward meaningful, sustainable change.
We simply can’t miss the opportunity to leverage the power of a teacher’s sense of deep purpose, dedication, and calling to the profession—while we still have it. Reflecting on the past decade of pushing on education reform, we must consider all drivers of transformation. On behalf of our shared aspiration for all children, we must strike the right balance in designing thoughtful accountability systems; connecting and engaging local school systems and communities; and leveraging the internal responsibility felt by so many dedicated teachers as they inform and pull change forward. At Battelle for Kids, we are really excited about what’s on the other side: the power and promise of education!
Jamie Meade is Chief of Staff at Battelle for Kids. Connect with her on Twitter at @meade_jamie.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.
Eells, R. (2011). Meta-analysis of the Relationship Between Collective Efficacy and Student Achievement. Doctoral Dissertation. Loyola University of Chicago.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge. New York, NY.
Hattie, J. (2016). Fostering teacher efficacy: Three enabling conditions. Retrieved from http://corwin-connect.com/2016/07/fostering-collective-teacher-efficacy-three-enabling-conditions/
Qualigia, R. and Lande, L (2016). Teacher voice: Amplifying success. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.