Teachers: How to Use Your Voice for a Positive School Culture

November 6, 2017

The use of voice in collaboration, coaching, facilitation and leadership is a piece of what each leader and teacher does daily.

Moving from the classroom into the role of a teacher leader and a coach was a transition, to say the least. I recognized I was credentialed in teaching students English language arts, but didn’t have a credential in communicating effectively with adults. I took workshops and courses on facilitation and coaching, but the idea of being a professional in a learning community who was an effective group member as well as a leader continues to be something I am growing into everyday.

The Use of Voice

The use of voice in collaboration, coaching, facilitation and leadership is something I focus on in my consulting work and is a piece of what each leader and teacher does daily. If we are lucky to be in schools and offices where we have time to learn in community, we spend that time learning more about our content and pedagogy. That’s understandable, since classroom practice and student growth are our primary foci.

However, if we don’t spend enough time learning the skills, dispositions and mindsets of becoming and being a professional learner in a community, it can hurt us and our students.

Collective Efficacy

Collective efficacy, the “collective self-perception that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities,” (Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004, p. 190) presupposes that teachers collectively can make an educational difference. And collectively means together.

At the 2016 Visible Learning Conference, John Hattie revealed that collective efficacy is the number one factor influencing student achievement, more than other important factors such as student expectations, feedback, or teacher-student relationships. (Read more here.) The bottom line: this is essential. The faculty must work together to make this difference, and communication at the level of impact implies a sense of trust and belief in the competence of the others who work with you.

How do we create this climate of trust? Many authors from Peter DeWitt to Anthony Muhammad speak to school climate and culture and, like psychologist and author of The Dance of Connection, Harriet Lerner, I believe that how you use your voice determines the quality of our relationships, who we are in the world and what that world can be and might become. Clearly, a lot is at stake here.

So, a few ways to use your voice to create quality relationships:

  • Don’t use your voice. Use your ears and listen more.
  • Consider how you respond once you do share your voice. Do you go ‘autobiographical’ and talk all about you? Do you immediately ‘go to solution’ and not allow the person to find his or her own solutions? Or do you listen, paraphrase and let your colleague come to his or her own decisions?
  • Watch your tone. Some mothers suggest this when communicating and they aren’t wrong. Being too cold or coming off as judgmental with tone can hurt relationships. Many relationship experts agree.
  • Consider how you ask questions when you do ask one wait for the person to respond. We often are more generous with our students regarding wait time, and that is wonderful, yet our colleagues need us to hold the same container for them as they think and respond.

Becoming a learning culture in which student growth is the focus requires the adults to spend time thinking about how they are using their voices when communicating with each other. Because a lot is at stake.

This post was originally published as the first in a new column Jennifer writes for eSchool News. In her column on ‘Personal Development’, Jennifer focuses on tangible takeaways, tools and teachings that all those working in schools can use to develop their leadership. Read more about the column and browse future content here.

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's latest book is Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her previous publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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Praise for Jennifer

Decades of Experience

A thousand things are unspoken, implicit, buried in our educational lives. The invisibility of issues enforces the ineffective status quo. Change–personal, educational, institutional–requires that we speak OUT LOUD about what we know and believe. Jennifer Abrams brings decades of experience and years of training across the world to this usually overlooked essential act of finding our effective voice about what matters around learning.

Eric Booth, renowned art educator and author of Tending the Perennials: The Art and Spirit of a Personal Religion and The Everyday Work of Art: Awakening the Extraordinary in Your Daily Life