In mid-July, educators from across Tennessee gathered for the first convening of SCORE’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship (TEF). Through this yearlong program, fellows strengthen their capacity to advocate on behalf of their students at the local and state levels. As an educator from out-of-state, this convening offered me a unique opportunity to learn about the history of Tennessee education policy and its impact in the classrooms of exceptional educators. 

This summer, I have been linked with SCORE through the Urban Leaders Fellowship, a split program focused on both policy and practice. In the mornings, I have worked with SCORE to strengthen programming for and determine the impact of TEF on participants. Feedback from previous TEF members paints a clear picture: Fellows feel more comfortable and prepared to advocate in every context after completing the program. 

Educators are in a unique position; not only are they directly impacted by education policy, they are also experts on another affected population: students. Teachers across the board, especially those who are part of TEF, have a student-centered mindset. With every decision they make, large or small, teachers consider its impact on students. This perspective and expertise, when adopted by policymakers, can create positive, lasting change in education. The question is: How is that expertise being capitalized on? 

SCORE, and a number of other organizations, are dedicated to lifting the voices of teachers at the local, state, and national levels. The Tennessee Educator Fellowship was intentionally designed to provide teachers with the personal development and collaborative experiences necessary to achieve this goal. As more teachers increase their capacity to participate in legislative processes, Tennessee will hopefully move toward attaining one of SCORE’s key objectives: an excellent education for all students. 

This summer has allowed me to see just how many programs, initiatives, and organizations are dedicated to the goal of providing an excellent education for Tennessee students. I have had the opportunity to speak to people working all across the city of Nashville, with all different demographics of families. Across the board, the message was the same. Everything we do, every decision we make, should benefit our students. Given the number of individuals and groups focused on our kids, I have no doubt that Tennessee will continue to make positive strides in the education space moving forward.

Elena Hamilton is an Urban Leaders fellow.