1. Teacher Life

Beyond “Voice” to Contribution

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
Mother Teresa

I was having an intriguing conversation with a group of educators on the idea of the importance of “voice” in the classroom related to the concepts shared in “The Innovator’s Mindset” and in the image below:


Here is how I discussed the concept of “voice” in the book:

VoiceLearning is social, and co-constructing knowledge empowers learners. Students should have the opportunity to learn from others and to share their learning with others. In our world today, there are many opportunities to share one’s voice. As we empower students to speak up, we must teach them to use their voices effectively. If left to figure it out on their own, they will definitely struggle.

I still agree with the above statement. What I am starting to rethink is the term “voice” in a way that expands beyond the idea of simply sharing thoughts and ideas.  

First of all, we must have the opportunity to share our thoughts with the world, but it is also important that we have the ability to listen effectively.  If everyone is talking, but no one is listening, then we lose a lot of learning from others’ experiences and wisdom.  

Secondly, I would like to expand the term “voice” to the word “contribution.” 

In education, if we are honest, we can use the term “voice” and “choice” together because they rhyme and seem to go really nice together.  It is also why people often talk about the “3 R’s” (only one of the “R”s actually starts with an R, but that is a whole other conversation), or we often try to find ideas that fit nicely into acronyms because that is an easy way to remember. 

I am not saying voice doesn’t matter, but I was thinking about a term that might encompass the different gifts we bring to the table.  The term contribution seems to be more holistic. 

For example, one of the things that I watched so many great teachers do wonderfully when they transitioned to remote learning was that they created spaces where students felt that if they were not able to attend, the entirety of the class would lose out on their presence and what they added to the classroom. (Thom Gibson has a great video on “Student Jobs” for Distance Learning which focuses on helping students find different ways to contribute to the classroom environment.)

So as I thought about that, perhaps it is an idea to shift from the term “voice” to the idea of “contribution.”  I know that the term “voice” doesn’t symbolize only a vocal version of sharing ideas. Still, the idea of “contribution” and adding something of value as an individual that would benefit others goes beyond just sharing ideas.  

It almost seems like this idea of “contribution” was actually sitting in front of me and was put into my mind by a student. In “The Innovator’s Mindset,” I also shared the story of an educator that shadowed a student for the entirety of the day to see what their experience was in school and realized that it wasn’t one we would want for ourselves as adults.  They shared the following from a student perspective:

One quote from the blog post about a student’s perspective of her class really shook me. “I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said, ‘No.’”

If you went to a place that you felt your contributions didn’t matter, would you want to be there?  

Not only that, aren’t we better when we emphasize valuing the differing contributions of others as well?  This is not only about valuing but others to make them feel better, but doing so in a way that makes us all better.  

I still believe that voice is important; I am shifting to think that is only a part of what others and myself can add to any space. 

As I shared at the beginning of the post, the quote attributed to Mother Theresa is something that we have to bring to fruition in our learning spaces so that others can know they are valued for what they bring to our schools every day.

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