The power of activating teacher voice, choice and agency

How administrators can empower teachers to make the best digital decisions for their schools.
By: | June 29, 2021
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Michelle Cummings is Vice President of Content at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Michelle Cummings is Vice President of Content at Teachers Pay Teachers.

School and district leaders who activate teacher voice, choice, and agency have led through the pandemic in a way that fosters innovation and effective collaboration. We know from decades of research that administrators who engage in shared leadership with their teachers get better results for students and higher retention rates for teachers. This needs to be a top-of-mind strategy not only for instructional decision-making but also for the recruitment and retention of educators during a national teaching shortage.

All too often teachers’ voices and ideas are muted – or even silenced – as school priorities shift to the burning issues of the day. While these issues are important, administrators must put teachers at the center of their schools’ biggest decisions. This is especially true when it comes to selecting digital tools for the classroom.

According to a recent Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) poll of 1,000+ PreK-12 teachers, 77% of teachers believe that they should have a great deal of influence over selecting the digital learning tools they use. Yet, only 46% believe they currently have that level of influence. It’s incumbent on educational leaders to create structures to amplify teacher voices.

To do that successfully, administrators must start by building collaborative teams. School and district committees with diverse representation create the strongest decisions, especially when it comes to selecting the best digital learning tools for students and supporting teachers to implement them. Tisha, a Tech-Integration Specialist in Oregon facilitated such a team that resulted in the selection of a handful of digital tools as well as an innovative model for professional development (PD) through gamified and differentiated modules. This fall, teachers in her district will choose their own PD adventure in a day of synchronous and asynchronous sessions led by teachers, extending voice, choice, and agency to professional learning.


Related: Inform the future of education by listening to teacher voice


Additionally, it’s well-known that administrators have a unique leadership challenge: they must hold a powerful, shared vision, and sustain improvement efforts toward vital goals, while simultaneously providing parameters for teachers to exercise choice. Educators and Professional Learning Community (PLC) consultants, Rick and Becky DuFour, referred to high-performing school cultures that are simultaneously “loose and tight,” acknowledging that educators can maintain shared accountability for results while allowing for the choices that teachers should make. What does this look like as it pertains to the selection of digital instructional materials? It means that teachers, administrators, and tech departments must work together to determine the criteria for instructional tools, and then the subject matter experts (the teachers) can exercise choice in selecting the tools that best meet the needs of their students. TpT found that 75% of teachers said they are more likely to adopt a digital learning tool that they had a role in selecting.

This was evident in an Illinois school district where Mark, the superintendent, gave significant latitude to teachers in selecting the digital tools that worked for their classrooms. He looked on in awe as a third-grade teacher seized upon this opportunity, using multiple screens, instructional tools, her iPad, and document camera to choreograph a lesson for her hybrid classroom. As educators invest public funds in digital tools, it’s imperative that teachers find them valuable in order to get the most out of them in the classroom. After all, nobody knows better about the efficacy of digital tools in the classroom than the people using them every day. At the close of this historic school year, it’s clear that tech-integrated learning is here to stay and that teachers engaged in decision-making are key to realizing the potential of these powerful tools for learning.

Another certainty is the need to recruit and retain the next generation of teachers to the profession. In the face of a national teacher shortage, we know that creating school environments where personal expression and collaboration thrive is key. Sarah, a second-year math teacher, said it this way, “It’s important to have autonomy while still having support, resources, and trust from administrators.” Leadership that values teacher voice, choice, and agency will attract Millenials and Gen Zers to the field of education and create work environments where these generations will want to teach and where students flourish.

Michelle Cummings is the Vice President of Content at Teachers Pay Teachers, a platform that provides a marketplace for teachers to exchange instructional materials and access easy-to-use digital tools. Michelle had a thirty-year career in education as a teacher, school principal, and district administrator and participated in District Administration’s National Superintendent Academy’s 2019 cohort.

LinkedIn: mcummings365           Instagram @teacherspayteachers          Twitter @tptdotcom

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