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Empowering Teacher Voice and Choice

STRATEGY: Model effective professional learning by offering choice and voice when leading teachers and empower teachers to lead throughout the process.

Successful school leaders model effective professional learning by offering choice and voice when leading teachers; they also empower teachers to lead throughout the process. Teacher choice and voice are essential characteristics of a school’s professional development framework. Both are critical to promoting self-directed learning as well as a bias toward action. In a system designed to advance choice and voice, teachers enjoy and benefit from driving their own learning in response to students’ needs. When school leaders support teachers with exercising choice and voice, they accelerate development of competencies through professional learning that lead to high-quality teaching. In addition, they lay the groundwork for collective teacher efficacy, a powerful contributor to student success.

Never has it been more important to model effective professional learning that offers choice and voice than now. Given the complex combination of knowledge, skills, understanding, values, and attitudes of teachers coupled with evolving needs of learners in terms of social, cultural, economic, and technological changed, choice and voice in professional learning is critical. By extending choice and voice to teachers as part of a professional learning framework, teachers’ professional judgment is honored, their adaptive expertise is developed, and students benefit. When teachers exercise choice and voice, more relevant, student-centered professional learning results, thereby leading to improved student performance and enhanced teacher commitment and job satisfaction.


Choice in professional learning allows teachers opportunities to derive a course of action and to adjust that course of action based on students’ needs. It also affords teachers opportunities to choose topics and formats that fit their preferences and their students’ learning needs. Voice in professional learning acknowledges learning as leading and accelerates the transformation of culture and practice to positively influence students and expand the scope of teaching beyond the classroom. Choice and voice in professional learning not only allow school leaders to differentiate professional development, they also honor teachers’ ability to independently and creatively identify, generate, and implement solutions to problems of practice that elevate teacher engagement, and therefore, student achievement. Teachers become more empowered as they exercise choice and voice.

First Steps to Consider

To offer both choice and voice in an effective professional learning framework—and one that empowers teachers to lead throughout the process—school leaders must explore a range of methods, systems, and pathways to advance opportunities for teachers’ choice and voice to improve student outcomes. Quick wins

  • Promote a culture of continuous learning.
  • Champion teachers as agents of their own professional growth.
  • Schedule time to listen to and leverage teacher voice in relation to professional learning.
  • Involve teachers in selecting, planning, and implementing professional learning choices.
  • Allocate time for teachers to share outcomes from professional learning choices.
  • Leverage teachers’ individual learning goals to navigate professional learning choices.
  • Align professional learning choices with school improvement plans.
  • Trust teachers’ professional judgment related to professional learning choices.
  • Extend professional learning choices that address development of teachers and their aspirations.

First steps

  • Conduct a needs assessment to determine how professional learning priorities currently are being met as a starting point for exploring how choice and voice will enhance or evolve those opportunities.
  • Explore how choice can be extended through job-embedded professional learning.
  • Identify areas of expertise among teachers that can be leveraged to extend choice.
  • Incorporate choice and voice into a professional learning framework.
  • Align professional learning choices with school improvement goals.
  • Determine what levels of choice will be allowed to meet federal, state, and local professional learning requirements.
  • Explore learning designs to identify formats that invite and advance choice and voice.
  • Find balance between too much choice and not enough.
  • Assign priority to quality, not quantity, in terms of professional learning choices.
  • Coach teachers to support professional learning choices based on student learning goals.
  • Determine if professional learning choices will allow for both independent and collaborative learning or collaborative learning only.

Complexities & Pitfalls

The evidence is clear that a one-size-fits-all professional learning framework challenges even the most dedicated teacher. However, the alternative, a professional learning framework that can respond to any combination of teacher and student variables, is no less daunting. The complexities of implementing choice and voice into a professional learning framework are in direct proportion to complexities of the learners the framework is designed to serve. School cultures, individual dispositions, and varying contexts also contribute to the complexity of modeling professional learning that offers choice and voice when leading teachers. Common pitfalls

  • Lacking a shared vision.
  • Promoting fixed mindsets over growth mindsets.
  • Promoting a passive learning culture over an active learning culture.
  • Promoting compliant-oriented learning over self-directed learning.
  • Lacking a commitment and passion to ongoing learning.
  • Lacking a functional school culture.
  • Limiting choice based on the belief that a stage-by-stage progression of professional learning is necessary to meet the needs of students.
  • Allowing varying levels of quality within professional learning choices.
  • Interpreting professional learning narrowly to only mean face-to-face, which inadvertently limits choice.
  • Lacking time and funds.
  • Offering too much choice.

Guiding Questions

  • What vision guides implementation in relation to choice and voice? What opportunities or resources are available to realize that vision? What are barriers to that vision?
  • What philosophy or rationale will underpin the professional learning framework, specifically regarding establishing choice and voice as prominent features?
  • What do choice and voice look like in a successful professional learning framework? What are key components? What practices and strategies amplify teachers’ opportunities to exercise choice and voice?
  • When implementing choice and voice in a professional learning framework, what types of parameters are required?
  • What channels of communication or protocols will be implemented to invite teacher voice? To what degree will teacher voice inform the professional learning framework? What structures lend themselves to amplifying teacher voice?
  • How will schools leverage choice and voice in a professional learning framework to build strong, supportive, and sustained relationships among teachers?
  • To what degree will the professional learning framework allow for choice and voice in state and locally-mandated learning?
  • To what degree will choice and voice be differentiated by teacher groups (i.e., first year teachers, experienced teachers, struggling teachers, etc.)?
  • To what extent do teachers’ professional learning experiences need to be coordinated and supported within a framework of choice and voice?
  • How will teachers document outcomes realized from their professional learning choices? How will school leaders leverage documentation of outcomes to inform learning walks?
  • What are the most effective ways of involving teachers in school-based or school-sponsored professional learning so that choice and voice are expanded?
  • How will the professional learning framework be continually reviewed to sustain and evolve choice and voice for teachers?