5 Ways to Empower Teachers to Build a Positive, Innovative School Culture

This article originally was written and published by Angela Watson and appears below in its original entirety including the image.

How can administrators, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders help build a culture of innovation in our schools? What can we do to support teachers in getting connected and pursuing meaningful professional development opportunities?

Teachers standing in the front of a class teaching in front of a white boardThese are issues I’ll be exploring next month in Washington, D.C., in a Future Ready Schools workshop. The Alliance for Excellent Education is holding the event to celebrate effective teaching and learning practices powered by technology as part of Digital Learning Day.

I’m super excited to help support the Future Ready Schools initiative, which provides districts with resources and support for aligning technology with instructional best practices, particularly in under-served schools and communities. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ideas we’ll be talking about that day so you can spread the message in your school: in order to create a positive, innovative school culture, teachers must be empowered! Here are 5 ways to do just that:

1. Ask for Teacher Input Around Purchasing Decisions

When teachers have a voice in selecting new tools, they have increased ownership over those tools and are empowered to use them well. Find out what teachers want most for their classrooms before allocating grant money to devices and programs that won’t be fully utilized. Whenever possible, allow individual teachers or grade level/subject area teams to choose how to spend their designated funds, rather than purchasing the same tools for all staff members regardless of need.

2. Provide Self-Selected Professional Development Options Which Feature Classroom Teachers as Experts

Just as teachers strive to differentiate student learning and provide choice in the classroom, schools can provide opportunities to differentiate what and how teachers learn. Instead of requiring every teacher to attend the same training on the same topics, why not offer a range of options and allow teachers to choose sessions that best meet their needs? Hold an EdCamp-style PD day in which teachers can move freely between sessions throughout the day, both leading sessions as topic area experts and contributing their ideas through interactive, discussion-based sessions.

3. Give Teachers Opportunities to Share What’s Working in Their Classrooms, and Celebrate Them in the Community

Many teachers don’t feel empowered to share the great work they’re doing with students and hear feedback only on their shortcomings. Support teachers who doubt their own abilities, worry about criticism or don’t have a venue or time to talk about their ideas. In addition to encouraging teachers to lead in-school PD, provide informal opportunities for faculty to talk about their daily practices. Ask teachers what’s going well in their classrooms, and take detailed notes and photos of their successes during observations. Celebrate teachers’ innovations publicly during staff meetings and on the school’s website and social media accounts. Let the community see the amazing things that are happening in teachers’ classrooms!

4. Remove Tasks from Teachers’ Workloads to Make Time for Personal Growth and Innovation

Critical tasks like lesson planning, exploring new teaching ideas, collaborating, and self-reflection are often squeezed into whatever time is remaining once other obligations are met. Send the message that innovative teaching is valued by providing dedicated time for planning it! Schedule assemblies and co-teaching events to create an extended planning period for teams of teachers to reflect on their work and problem solve together.

5. Model Vulnerability, Reward Risk-Taking, and Embrace the Possibility of Failure

Any teacher would be reluctant to innovate when a lesson flop could lead to a poor evaluation or loss of employment. Give implicit and explicit permission for teachers to take risks and consider what worked and what didn’t. Share mistakes freely and talk about strategies for resilience and growth. Re-frame mistakes as learning opportunities that are a crucial element for later success, and demonstrate the same infallible belief in teachers’ ability to teach as they have in their students’ ability to learn. Innovation is a journey!

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