While flying home from a meeting other educators at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I find myself looking down over the snow-capped mountaintops and fluffy clouds thinking about teachers and voice.
I am filled with empathy for voices recently and violently snuffed out – teachers, a principal, and 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut. This hits very close to home. I am a teacher and a principal. My life is filled with students, those with whom I work and my own children.
This is also taking me back to the horrible days following the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, where I live. It is true that I cannot truly understand the pain of losing a child or a parent to gun violence. But I can understand how deeply a community is injured by this type of act. The violence of January 8 remains an enigma to me, as I am sure the violence of these past days will be to the community of Newtown, Connecticut.
So, the question becomes: How to respond? My answer, at least a part of it, is using my voice.
I have been fortunate to have had a number of chances lately to use my voice. Through VIVA Teachers, two presentations at national conferences, and on the local news, I have been able to make sure my voice is heard.
Promoting Student Voice
When thinking about the students and teachers with whom I work, I often find myself wanting to create opportunities for them to use their voices. I certainly hear this phrase frequently around the education community. Nevertheless, my thinking keeps going back to the idea that every one has a voice of his or her own.
It is not up to me, as a teacher, to give students a voice. Instead, it is up to me to make sure that I do not silence the voices they already have. To paraphrase the words of one of my educational inspirations, Louise Rosenblatt, it is important for us as teachers to make sure we are creating opportunities for students to imagine beyond their lived experiences. That means getting them to read both deeply and widely, to think critically, to use their voices. All of those are necessary for them to evolve into the kind of thinking, empathetic, participatory citizens we all need to make our democracy work.
Speak Up to Make a Difference
I continue to learn that it is important to introduce my voice as a teacher into the conversation frequently and with purpose. This is true whether I am in line at the grocery store and hear people talking about teachers, students and schooling or representing VIVA Teachers when meeting with policy makers.
Much like our students, our voices are ours. Our voices need to be part of the larger conversationn happening around education in a way that is real, experienced-based and practical.
There is nothing preventing us, except perhaps the belief that it won’t make a difference. I don’t know that our voices will always make a difference; but, I know for sure that standing silent ensures that will be true.