The voice of the teacher is one of the most important in education. Unfortunately, in many school systems across the country, it is not being heard. However, in Corona-Norco Unified School District, teacher opinions and ideas are valued and sought out by administration. In part one in a new series highlighting the Corona-Norco school system, it is shared how that change has led to an important transformation. As the teachers are empowered as leaders, there has been a transformation in the relationship between teachers and administration, as well as a transformation in how teachers approach students and their learning.
We’ve been through a phase of about 15 years of I think fairly good-willed attempts to make this profession more successful. But when you have a series of layers of non-teacher voices doing what it is they think should make it better, you slowly but surely lose the voice of the person who does the work. Dr. Dolan’s description makes complete sense to me. It really has been a top-down approach, and teachers want to use their expertise, but they're not always given an opportunity to do so. If teachers don’t feel valued, you’re going to see that in the classroom. A lot of things that they're asked to do don't have anything to do with teaching and learning. The message is that teachers are too stupid to know how to do it well, or they can’t be trusted to do it well. Corona Norco - we’re an interesting place. We are the 8th largest school district in the state of California. We are considered an urban school district, but yet we’re kind of rural. It’s certainly got that feel to it. This community here has been very much Latino. This was a citrus community originally. It was the lemon capital of the world. That’s what Corona was known as. The most important person in education is that teacher in the classroom. They see how the policies and decisions affect the kids and the school climate firsthand. So think about it just from that simple kind of perspective. How can teacher voice not be accounted for? There’s definitely more teacher buy-in when you know that you are being listened to. They just want to me more a part of the conversation when we create new programs for our students. You need that teacher voice constantly saying to you, "this is what I’m doing. This is how I’m doing it, and this is the right way to measure how far I’m getting." In terms of empowering teachers and giving them the ability to focus in on the areas that they know will improve student achievement… I think in terms of sustainability I think it’s key. At the end of the day, we want our kids to do well. We discuss some controversial stuff in Environmental Science and there's students who don't agree with my opinion and vice versa. But I still respect their opinion and I think that means a lot to them. And as a teacher, I want my admin and my district to value what I have to say. They don't have to agree with it, but they should listen. Because we get to have a say in decisions that are being made, we work harder. We stay longer. We put in more effort because we know that we are going to see those results. I think a good principal is someone who shares the leadership role. For me as a teacher, it was never about what my administrator wanted per se. I was in it for the children and for what I really believe education is all about. Our leadership here at school is not just one person. It truly is all of us. If I approach administration with something that I want to lead, they fully support me in it. I have definitely felt that our voices have been heard more. I’m really honest when I say, "I want you to be involved." It's not just about me. It's not any longer where, well, we'll just wait to hear what the school principal says. I feel like our school is definitely on board all together at what we’re doing to make the best difference in our students' lives. It’s amazing to see what happens on a campus when the whole staff feels like they are involved. As a teacher, you know that there’s a contractual agreement but there's also an agreement that you're going to do the best job that you possibly can. Michael’s line: “In the education business…” was one of my favorites in the video. I’d love to bring it back somehow. But maybe this is one of those ‘kill your babies’ moments? Michael Lin: In this education business, it's much more than just a job. You got to really invest in what you do. So I think good leaders do that. They understand that. And they're vulnerable enough to trust people and also trust people that they will make a mistake in order to grow. The union has traditionally been an industrial union. I think we need to become a deep professional organization. You've got to move the teachers so that they say to their union leadership, “We want you to write more language that gives us professional time, professional practice, and ultimately control and accountability for this work, because it's our work.” Our profession's changing, but I think it's changing for the better.