When teachers call the shots, they make engagement and motivation central

October 18, 2012 • Kim Farris-Berg

How would our education system be different if we empowered teachers to make decisions that influence the entire school? A provocative new book asserts that this approach would create the schools that many of us profess to want.

Released earlier this week, Trusting Teachers with School Success examines the designs and cultures of schools where teachers already call the shots. Authors Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager found that teachers encourage colleagues and students to be active, ongoing learners in an effort to nurture everyone’s engagement and motivation. Both Farris-Berg and Dirkswager are associates of Education Evolving.

The following is excerpted from Chapter 6:

With accountability for school success, autonomous teachers collectively decide to place a strong emphasis on encouraging students’ engagement and motivation. These teachers realize that students choose to learn—adults can’t make them—so they need to find means of adapting to students’ individual learning needs. . . They design innovative learning environments in an effort to find the best means of encouraging students to be active learners, not passive learners whose job it is to receive and memorize information from teachers. They seek to accommodate students’ varying levels of readiness, aptitudes, interests, and rates of learning. . .

Adapting to individual needs requires teachers to be open to the idea that conventional tools and training may not be sufficient. They come to see themselves as unfinished learners rather than experts who know all there is to know about teaching students.

Karen Locke at EdVisions Off Campus (EOC) said, “We’re always learning how to teach in new ways. We are so challenged to try new things that will keep students interested, especially in our online setting. We have to be innovating all the time.” Stephanie Davis at Tailoring Academics to Guide Our Students (TAGOS Leadership Academy) reported, “I shifted from [a focus on] teaching to [a focus on] learning when I came here. I’m constantly learning new things and [broadening] what I consider to be my responsibility to help students learn. I’m not planning lectures and grading papers.”

Almost 98 percent of the teachers surveyed rated their collective commitment to continuous learning and improvement as excellent (57.5 percent), very good (26.4 percent), or good (13.8 percent). And about 89 percent said their attitude that they are not experts whose role is to impart information to students was excellent (41.4 percent), very good (32.2 percent), or good (14.9 percent).

Teachers said that autonomy greatly increases their willingness to take on a learner role. Some had been involved with improvement efforts where teachers had input, but no real authority. Without authority, they said, it wasn’t worth the time investment required to learn new things and innovate. It was almost impossible to sustain their changes, they said.

James McGovern at Mission Hill K–8 School (Mission Hill) said, “We’re all learners here. That’s because of [the autonomy]. At my previous school there was no culture of learning among the staff. It wasn’t the people. It was the structures preventing any real change. We had a progressive principal, but we couldn’t move ahead. People didn’t want to create something that would just be pulled back.”

Trusting Teachers with School Success has been highly touted by experts from a diverse range of education backgrounds. To order the book and receive a 20% discount, click here.