Why It Matters
Teaching has historically been a profession which granted practitioners some degree of autonomy in their classrooms, but larger institutional decisions affecting their work were still controlled by administrators and policymakers. Everything from hiring, budgeting, scheduling, textbook and technology selections to professional development and curriculum is often in the hands of others.
The importance of teacher empowerment in key education areas cannot be underestimated. A belief by teachers that their knowledge of teaching and learning (and the very students they teach) matters and is considered a valuable factor in decision-making can connect them to their schools and districts in powerful ways. This connection can help improve the retention of those teachers in their classrooms and, ultimately, the success of the students they teach.
A member of the Teacher Leaders Network, an online community of accomplished teachers, wrote the following about whether having more influence over school-wide decisions would make her feel more satisfied and invested:
If I had more impact I would feel more invested! That is the erosion that occurs over 38 years of teaching. That is what eats away at some of the classroom fulfillment . . . I must convince each new principal that I am a professional because so many decisions are ‘out of the hands of teachers’ – even though I am a department chair. Think how the beginning teacher must feel! I try not to allow this to erode my pride and feeling of professionalism.
What We Know
As noted by Richard Ingersoll, in his 2003 book Who Controls Teachers’ Work? Power and Accountability in America’s Schools, “Those who are entrusted with the training of this next generation are not entrusted with much control over many of the key decisions in their work.” He goes on to say the result of this disenfranchising of teachers will be schools that “deprofessionalize and demotivate teachers.”
Ingersoll attributes problems with recruitment and retention in part to the way schools are organized and to a lack of respect for the teaching profession. These factors must change for the quantity and quality of the teacher workforce to improve. In many schools, key decisions are made with minimal input from teachers, but in schools where teachers are more empowered in decision-making, he says there is “less conflict between staff and students and less teacher turnover.”
Empowerment can include a variety of levels of teacher involvement in decision-making – from simply providing feedback on options being considered by someone else, to making the final decision themselves. Specifically, education stakeholders should consider:
Providing teachers access to resources (financial, time, opportunity, etc.) to identify and solve problems related to their classroom in order to ensure they can help all students learn.
Creating opportunities, both formal and informal, for teachers to influence, design, create, and implement school and district policies and procedures.
Encouraging the inclusion of teachers in community, school, district, and state level discussions related to the welfare and ability of all students to academically achieve at the highest levels.