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Follow-Up: Making Teacher Voice Purposeful

Sarah Brown Wessling

Each time I participate in a Teaching Ahead Roundtable discussion, I find myself digging deeper into the issues because of the way the conversations evolve. And it's usually when I'm in the midst of commenting on comments that I find some of my most interesting thinking unearthed. Here are three "ah-ha" moments I had throughout this week of thinking about teacher perception.

1. Everything is political. As I was responding to David Cohen's first piece, "Four Ways for Teachers to Engage", I was reminded me that everything we do is political. Saying or doing nothing at all can be just as political as lobbying Congress. So, perhaps the discussion isn't always about cultivating teacher voice, but about realizing that we're always using it, always sending a message, and sometimes a quiet voice makes the loudest statement.

2. We don't know what we don't know. As I read and responded to the comments in my own post, I was reminded that not only are we all on a continuum of learning, but that continuum is populated just as much by the absence of what we know as it is by the presence of what we do understand.

3. Teacher voices need purpose. And as I read Sandy Merz' first post and kept thinking about the ways he's always teaching, I realized that in the same way my students need a clear purpose for learning each day, teachers, too, need a concrete purpose for using their voices. As teachers who have been given 30,000 foot views, we have to find ways to make that relevant for the ones on the ground.

So, taken together, my meanderings through my colleagues thinking have given me a purpose: Figure out what voice means to the teacher who hasn't been given the panoramic view. Because they're using it every day; whether through silence or boisterousness, it's being heard. And is that the message we want to send?

Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, is a high school English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. She is also serving as TCHr Laureate for the Teaching Channel.

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