Isn’t it time we spoke up for ‘teacher voice’?
A few years ago I started a thesis that was aiming to support SEN learners with communication needs in expressing their ‘voice’. Over time my thesis shifted to a different focus: teacher voice.
Pupil voice has been high on the agenda within schools since New Labour encouraged a focus on ‘voice’ and ‘choice’ in the 1990s focusing on those marginalised silenced voices of which pupils were deemed to be a part. Over time, this movement has seen pupil voice become an education buzzword that has often developed into a tokenistic approach that ticks the box for Ofsted but has little to do with empowerment. However, even in its most tokenistic form, there is still an underlying awareness that it is needed and that it is beneficial.
Has Anyone Seen Teacher Voice?
I am not debating here the benefits of pupil voice, but I am raising this question: where is teacher voice? Social media has been liberating for some teachers in being able to talk professionally about their role and share knowledge and experiences, yet we all know of colleagues who would be fearful about having an online presence in case it led to issues at work. Teachers have also spent many years filling out the Ofsted questionnaire debating just how truthful they can be and wondering if their anonymity is real. Could the deputy head easily work out who in the history department expressed their unhappiness? Are either of these truly ‘teacher voice’?
Authentic Teacher Voice
What could ‘authentic teacher voice’ really look like?
Authentic teacher voice should be a professional dialogue by teachers with others involved in education. It should be a means of teachers having involvement in shaping local and national policy based upon their knowledge, skills and experience. Authentic teacher voice shouldn’t just be an excuse to let off steam and rant about education; it should be purposeful and ultimately benefit staff and students alike.
Authentic teacher voice should be ongoing and not a one off event but a continual process. Authentic teacher voice should be part of how school leadership engages with staff on a daily basis. We should learn from the problems encountered with pupil voice and strive to stop it being tokenistic and a box ticking exercise.
With One Voice
Now I am aware that this may seem too idealistic and unachievable but why should it be? Yes, I would agree that this utopian vision is not easily achievable but there are simple ways that schools can implement teacher voice which would be a positive start.
For example, I have often wondered why some professions get timetabled supervision (educational psychologists and school counsellors do) but a teachers’ encounter with leadership at a professional level is often only to do with monitoring and evaluating their work. Surely, the chance for teachers to meet and have an open professional dialogue in a safe and supportive atmosphere would prevent the likelihood of some staff struggling.
Then there is the issue of staff sharing good practice outside of their classroom as teacher voice could be as simple as staff leading workshops on good practice, feeding back from CPD or even having time set aside at staff meeting to discuss new and innovative ideas.
The biggest hindrance to teacher voice is fear. Fear that we will be judged. Fear that what we have to say won’t be listened to. Fear from leadership that they might lose control of the staff. I am aware of the implications for schools, especially at a leadership level, but surely we should aim high?
I think we should and I hope to always think so as I journey through my career. Surely developing teacher voice is better in the long run than classrooms full of teachers screaming at the whiteboard?