Several years ago, when I was teaching high school English, I received an invitation to an event connecting classroom educators to their legislators, and I knew I had to go. I had experienced firsthand the power of the new (at the time), more rigorous standards, so I was surprised when soon after they were implemented, conversations about abandoning the standards started to pick up. My teaching had become more focused on the depth of student learning, and I had seen students thrive under higher expectations. I felt strongly about the importance of rigorous academic standards for all of my students, so I prepared to attend the event and share my story with policymakers.
I stepped pretty far outside my comfort zone that day to advocate for my students. I traded my typical daily uniform of a cardigan and khakis for something a little more polished. Instead of heading south on the beautiful country roads of my rural district, I headed north through Nashville rush hour, all the while practicing what I would say. Once there, I made my way through the hustle and bustle of the legislature and held one-on-one conversations with my state representative and state senator. The conversations weren’t necessarily easy, but I kept the focus on my students and persisted in sharing my story.
The experience was powerful. I realized I had a voice and a perspective worth sharing and that others needed to hear from me, a classroom educator doing the daily work of educating students. I also learned that I had a lot to learn. My understanding of policy was limited, and my perspective from my classroom was limited too. However, my experiences were important—and those experiences were worth sharing—but equally important was learning that my experiences were part of a much larger ecosystem of policy and practice.
Now, for the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of serving in roles focused on helping educators who are navigating the intersection of policy and practice. Currently, I support SCORE’s educator engagement initiatives, including the Tennessee Educator Fellowship. The fellowship is an opportunity for educators to learn about timely policy priorities and lead their own student-centered advocacy. The fellowship provides educators the opportunity to share their voices, but it is also focused on deep learning. We believe the best work happens for students when policymakers learn about practice—and practitioners learn about policy.
The fellowship is just one way to learn about policy—and if it interests you, stay tuned for the application window in early 2020. However, we believe it’s important to provide even more educators the opportunity to learn about policy. With that in mind, SCORE will host a new event, the SCORE Policy Institute for Educators, on December 14 in Franklin.
The Institute is designed for current public school teachers, instructional coaches, school leaders, and district supervisors interested in learning more about student-centered education policy. We’ll begin the day by reflecting on the policy progress we’ve made as a state, and then participants will dive deeper on timely priorities, such as high-quality instructional materials and early postsecondary opportunities. Participants will learn from both policymakers and educators who have informed and advanced student-centered policy in Tennessee.
Leigh Cooksey is educator engagement manager at SCORE.