School systems are filled with educators who possess a wealth of experience and expertise.
Educator voice refers to the meaningful incorporation of their values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, knowledge, and expertise into education decision-making. It is essential that educators are at the table in these decision-making spaces.
The research is clear: The lack of educator voice is a contributing factor to teacher dissatisfaction, and efforts should be made to increase teachers’ say in decision-making processes, which would result in increased teacher retention.
While there isn’t a strong research base for other categories of school staff, we know that anecdotally this holds true for them as well. Ensuring all educators have an authentic place in decision-making spaces is critical.
Solutions to help increase educator voice, respect, and professional autonomy include the following:
Establish and/or Expand Collective Bargaining Rights
Providing education employees with the right to engage in collective bargaining ensures that they have a legally guaranteed voice at the table to determine their terms and conditions of employment. In exercising that right, educators can improve the conditions under which they work and their students learn.
Include Educators in School Transformation Efforts
Respecting the knowledge and opinions of educators to help regulate and improve the profession in which they work is a sign of respect and a necessary step to ensure that transformation efforts are long-term solutions and not short-term, feel-good activities.
Utilizing proven models that require authentic and comprehensive stakeholder engagement, such as community schools, activates change in a system that is not currently designed to provide an equitable education for all students or supportive working conditions for educators.
Ensure Professional Autonomy
Educator autonomy occurs when their professional expertise and opinions are respected and listened to in their classrooms and worksites.
For example, working with educators to create learning objectives and guidelines for classrooms and then allowing educators to adapt lessons to meet the students’ needs in their classrooms is autonomy; grade-level teams working together to make professional decisions about the needs of their students while working toward school and grade goals is autonomy.
Unfortunately, most educators report that they have little influence over such basic decisions as curriculum, instructional materials, the content of professional learning opportunities, discipline policies, and educator hiring practices and evaluation.
Schools that allow autonomy have higher job satisfaction among their educators, while teachers that do not have significant roles in setting curriculum and determining what they teach in class are more likely to quit.
Improve Working Conditions Through Educator Surveys
Although research is limited, some states have found success in utilizing surveys to capture teacher and staff perspectives on how to improve school and working conditions.
The Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning (TELL) Survey is widely used to understand educator concerns. After receiving feedback from TELL,
- North Carolina implemented statewide initiatives that increased weekly planning hours and professional development funding.
- Massachusetts school districts were able to gauge teacher satisfaction and career intentions related to working conditions.
Using surveys can increase retention rates by helping districts understand and directly address problems that may cause teachers to leave and creating a collaborative environment in which teachers and staff can use their voices to impact change.
Solutions in Action
Richmond Education Association worked to make Richmond the first school district in Virginia to reinstate collective bargaining rights after 43 years.
Greeley Education Association in Colorado successfully fought for the district to switch to a K–5 literacy curriculum called EL Education.