What matters most for the learner’s experience–and what I care about most–is the development and promotion of voice and exploration. I feel just as strongly that the one item missing in that statement is the cultivation of faculty voice and exploration.
If a school wants to be moving from good to great; if a school wants to tap into the vitality of its people; if a school wants to be a 21st century school that is truly on the cutting edge—this is what is needed: the faculty’s voice, vision, imagination, and creativity must be sought and embraced.
Not an easy trait to develop in schools—schools that don’t have a prominent sense of the eclectic mix of their teachers’ talents and interests and risk-taking on display or in the air, are schools that typically have their work cut out for them. The administrative approach in the schools that lack faculty creativity are marked by hierarchy, inwardness, and defensiveness, where admin staff are issuing a lot of directives, reminders, and subtle and not-so-subtle reprimands. Where there is little or no creativity or no risk-taking among teachers, there is fear and protectionism.
I confess that I am very uncomfortable being in a school where the faculty voice is not being cultivated, heard, and factored into the decision-making. Lots of ways to move the needle forward on this key aspect of developing a healthy faculty culture. Get faculty going on short-term task forces—this could be about anything: discipline approaches, advisory overhaul, lunch room dynamics, carpool procedures, homework policy. Each day in a school can yield a number of different topics that would be best tackled with some small team faculty input. But even beyond the problem-solving on topics and issues that never have an end to them, faculty can play a huge role in mentoring, teaching, coaching, and training each other. Every school has a number of faculty who could use a brushing up on social media usage or website creation or google docs. How about connecting student and teacher hobbies/interests as a way to do the lunch room seating arrangement once in a while. I heard about a school who conducts an inventory of interests and talents and hobbies from their faculty at the outset of the year, and one of the office staff members culls through the list in order to create these beyond-the-classroom teacher to student correspondences at particular times during the year.
The best contribution from the faculty is of course in the arena of curriculum construction. The real task, however, is in making the curriculum relevant, revitalizing, and fresh each and every year. Getting to this type of educational excellence means there must be a culture of trying new things, stretching oneself, discarding old and repeated ways. You don’t have to ask teachers to tear everything up from the past and begin anew; instead, just start with small, baby steps. Try this poem rather than that one; go to an untried experiential lab for that science concept; offer a different assessment approach rather than pulling from those old tests in the file cabinet—just do this a few times in a semester, and see if it works and if it ignites further exploration.
And for administrators and principals, go with the recommendation of that faculty team—why not? If you think it might fail, go ahead and let their approach fail. The school may still gain a big benefit by boosting morale and giving the faculty a stake in their school’s success, engendering greater investment in their ideas and creativity. Students can sense that a lesson that derives from faculty passion and interest is far superior to a lesson that is filtered down through district mandate.
It all starts with faculty voice.