“But without my voice, how can I—” –Ariel, The Little Mermaid
In Disney’s animated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, our plucky heroine, Ariel, has many struggles. Rebelling against her father, standing up to peer pressure, and navigating the trials of first love all establish Ariel as the quintessential underwater teen. Stressful as these challenges are, the most traumatizing plot twist occurs when villainous Ursula offers Ariel a deal: You can have everything you want, but you must give me your voice.
Too often in the workplace, that’s the bargain: If you want to stay out of trouble, play along, and keep your mouth shut. The problem is that voice is central not only to our level of happiness in our work, but also it has important consequences for students.
In this week’s video clip on the Partnership Principles, Jim Knight focuses on voice. An environment that values teacher voice demonstrates a culture that values the expertise of its employees. Giving teachers voice in reform not only engages them more deeply in change; it also ensures that the school is drawing on all of the wisdom and intelligence it can to benefit students.
For years, teachers have been encouraged to give students more “choice and voice.” Russell Quaglia’s research shows that voice begins not in the classroom but in the central office. When teachers have voice, students have voice. And students who have voice achieve 7 times greater than in school cultures where they have no voice.
Ariel’s dilemma is symbolic of the daily struggle of educators everywhere: Speak my mind or surrender my voice in the name of harmony with the boss. Teacher voice need not be viewed as disruptive or subversive. Rather, we should all view teacher voice as the element of reform that it is—one that is absolutely necessary for student success.