One June morning this summer, I found myself sitting at a table, surrounded by smiling faces beaming with excitement and a sense of “Finally, I’m understood!”  I was in Shelbyville at one of SCORE’s focus groups held across the state each year, witnessing talented educators making connections with each other, as well as with us SCORE representatives.

Whenever people ask me to explain SCORE’s work or what I do as a SCORE intern, I find it virtually impossible to give a complete answer without using the term “making connections.”  Whether it’s helping coordinate the mailing of one of our publications, talking with a principal from rural Middle Tennessee, sitting beside students learning to use imagery to illustrate personal life stories in a Common Core-aligned English class, or even calling business leaders from across the state to ensure a meaningful dialogue with our partners, I feel I have truly witnessed the importance of making and fostering connections in the world of public policy.

It is so intriguing to me the way a simple effort to reach out ultimately shapes recommendations for policy that can improve an entire population.  Emails and phone calls to educators and business leaders turn into meetings, or meeting places for immense ideas to be shared and innovations created.  These ideas and innovations, or qualitative data, are then transformed into quantitative data through the tracking of the frequency at which different thoughts are mentioned.  This data is then analyzed and turned into policy initiatives, which are then brought to legislators in the form of public policy recommendations.  When it comes down to it, however, these recommendations are only as strong as the connections made at the start of the process.

In order for these recommendations to be strongest, the connections must be very diverse.  In education policy, reaching out to educators and lawmakers is of course essential.  But connecting with business leaders is necessary as well, as they have a very personal stake in education.  Without high-quality and effective education, the next generation of their employees will be ill-equipped to contribute to their business success.  Parents must be engaged, as they also have a personal interest in wanting their children to enjoy successful futures.  Students, themselves, must be connected with so that they may take pride and ownership in their education.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s the value of diverse connections in the making of good public policy.

As a hopeful future legislator, I will always remember the value of these connections.  I will never forget the excitement I felt from the educators in Shelbyville when we gave them an opportunity to collaborate with each other and how that excitement is currently being transformed into policy recommendations to better the lives of students across Tennessee.  I could easily wonder how a Chicagoland native like myself ended up meeting some great educators one June morning in rural Middle Tennessee, but the answer is obvious: it all started with a few simple connections.