Educator Autonomy: Honoring Teacher Input Leads to Investment and Innovation


Educator Autonomy: Honoring Teacher Input Leads to Investment and Innovation

It's a shame whenever an educator—especially one who has just learned an exciting, effective teaching technique they know their students will love and benefit from—suddenly pauses and thinks:

But I won’t be able to do that in my classroom because…

  • it doesn’t fit into my district’s instructional pacing plan
  • it will take time away from test prep
  • I don’t think my administrator will approve it
  • I don’t have the resources/technology to implement it properly
  • I’m not supposed to deviate from the textbook/mandated instructional program

Talk about having your teaching passion hamstrung! Situations like these are why educator autonomy is closely linked to a teacher’s ability to provide inspiring student engagement.

The Teacher-Powered School

According to Blake (2015), “A teacher-powered school, also sometimes called a teacher-led school, is just what it sounds like: teachers have the autonomy to make decisions usually reserved for principals or district administrators.”

These areas of teacher autonomy can include:

  • Hiring and mentoring colleagues
  • Selecting teaching methods and learning materials
  • Creating and facilitating professional development
  • Making student discipline policies and decisions
  • Setting budgets
  • Creating class schedules

Imagine how empowering working at such a school would be for a dedicated, creative teacher! Of course, with great freedom comes great responsibility. If teachers truly want an influential stake in what goes on in both their classroom and their school, they must be prepared to rise to the occasion and prove themselves worthy of such trust.

And so it is with your students. Cultivating a class of wonder and worth isn't solely a teacher’s job. A classroom filled with active engagement requires the students themselves to also rise to the occasion as their learning environment moves from being teacher-centered to student-centered.

Still, this transformation from students being passive consumers of information to becoming active producers of ideas, insights, and opinions must be initiated and maintained by a teacher who has the freedom to create a classroom that is alive with learning.

Freedom Requires Responsibility

When we as educators speak of academic freedom and professional discretion, we are not selfishly demanding to do whatever the heck we want—standards be damned! We, based on our talent, education, experience, and integrity, are instead stepping up to dutifully assume responsibility for what we know works best for the kids we alone know better than anybody else. A respectful amount of self-governance should be returned to teachers, and this must no longer be viewed as a recipe for disaster.

A respectful amount of self-governance should be returned to teachers, and this must no longer be viewed as a recipe for disaster.

Today’s relentless push towards total educational standardization (as opposed to broad content standards which are inarguably a necessary and helpful common teaching objective) often leaves many students behind, especially when they find that one size does not in fact fit all—neither all students nor all teachers. Standardization also leaves teachers totally out of the picture.

Thinking Critically

Here's my four-step process for critically thinking about the next "latest and greatest" idea and for practicing informed teacher autonomy:

1. Does it make sense?

If the program or pedagogy being pitched to you doesn't seem sound and practical, no matter what the data may purport, respectfully voice your concerns.

2. Does it fit within my teaching style and philosophy?

Just because something makes sense, this doesn't mean it's the right fit for every teacher. If the idea does not personally and profoundly resonate with you, let those who love it run with it while you stick to what stirs your teacher's soul.

3. Is it a good fit for my students?

Just because something is right up your alley, doesn't mean it suits your students' needs and proclivities. Striking the appropriate balance between what the majority of your students need to move forward and what strikes their fancies is a delicate decision that requires a teacher to know their students thoroughly.

4. Are my students and I ready to try this now?

Here is where you must scrutinize how prepared your students are socially, emotionally, and academically for this new lesson or format. Similarly, you must frankly confront how adept you yourself are to develop your students' self-control, self-confidence, and self-efficacy necessary to find success with this new method or material.

Practicing reason and restraint works well for those inside and outside of the classroom when considering major changes or additions to the current instructional program. Healthy debate, pilot programs, and teacher review ensure that we do not yet again throw the baby out with the bath water.

We rightly value student input, individuality, and autonomy. Shouldn't we extend the same respect to our teachers?

About the Author

Robert Ward is a public middle school English teacher in Los Angeles enjoying his 26th year in the classroom. He is also an award-winning blogger and the author of three books for educators that advocate for honoring the needs of the whole child. Robert embraces a teaching approach that attends to each student's social, emotional, soulful, and academic needs. Since all four aspects of child development are equally important and inextricably intertwined, teachers must daily capture their students' hearts, hopes, minds, and manners. This crucial balance creates a classroom of willingness, wisdom, wonder, warmth, and worth! Learn more about Robert on his website.

Valuing Critical Thinking in Teachers

One of modern education’s top goals has been to imbue our students with critical thinking skills, yet teachers aren’t encouraged themselves to think critically about the curriculum and pedagogies.According to Ruenzel (2014) writing in Education Week, “. . . too much of the discussion about the common core has focused on what students are going to have to do [...]

Read More »


3 Halloween Science Experiments

Halloween is the perfect time to spark an interest in science with spooky and creepy experiments. Whether it’s observing how pumpkins rot or using chemical reactions to create real-life ghosts, implementing hands-on activities in your classroom will not only capture your students’ attention but also yield long-term benefits such as higher standardized test scores and project management and communication [...]

Read More »


Lesson Plan: Learning a New Language

How is a foreign language like an unknown math term or symbol? Help students in grades 5-8 figure out the language of math, which includes words or symbols that must be analyzed to understand their meaning. This lesson plan includes several activities and helpful math vocabulary lists.Speaking the Language of MathOur popular course The Language of Math teaches students to [...]

Read More »


Lesson Plan: Ready to Hit the Target

Personal goals are essential in nearly every aspect of life. Help your students in grades K-8 understand that value as they apply it to PE. This lesson plan includes specific learning activities and a chart for students to chart their progress.Teaching Students to Go for Their GoalsOur popular course Game On! Getting Kids Pumped in P.E. Class shows how [...]

Read More »


Lesson Plan: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Verb!

Your students will feel like verb superheroes after participating in some fun activities and games. Use Superman and other superheroes help your students in grades K-5 identify and interact with action verbs. The lesson plan includes an action verb chant, vocabulary lists, and more!Get Students Actively Engaged in Learning Grammar Our popular course Writing Well or Good Writing? An Educator’s Guide [...]

Read More »


Lesson Plan: Kindness Counts

Engage students in grades K-5 with the critically important topic of kindness. What is kindness and what does it look like at school? This lesson plan includes interactive activities, including questions, scenarios, and more to reinforce students’ awareness and application.Can You Create Kindness in the Classroom? Our popular course Kindness: Can It Be Taught? explores how to help students build the [...]

Read More »


Lesson Plan: Meet the Planets

Are planets in our solar system alike or different? Test your students’ knowledge and critical thinking skills in this lesson plan for students in grades 5-8. It includes several discussion- and hands-on-based learning activities. Exploring SpaceOur popular course Understanding Our Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy helps you get students to look away from their screens and up toward the stars. They’ll [...]

Read More »


Lesson Plan: Tell Me What You Really Think

Becoming an active reader is essential to understanding and applying written content. Help your students in grades 5-8 develop a greater awareness of what you read aloud in class. This lesson plan includes step-by-step activities and supplementary materials.Read Alouds That ResonateOur popular course Read Out! Building Students’ Literacy and Love of Reading Through Read Alouds helps you choose the right [...]

Read More »


Supporting LGTBQ Students in Your Classroom

Being a teenager is tough, but being a teen who identifies as LGBTQ is even tougher. Not only do LGBTQ students face the challenges of young adulthood like the rest of their peers, but they also experience higher risks of bullying and more difficulties sharing their feelings and experiences.According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), [...]

Read More »


Select A Catalog Below:
Grad-Level Credit & Non-Credit
(All Regions)
Illinois Grad & PD Credits Michigan Grad & PD Hours Missouri Grad & PD Contact Hours NYC P Credits New York State Grad & CTLE Credits Pennsylvania Grad & Act 48 Hours