Over my first twelve years of schooling I managed to attend five separate schools in Raleigh, North Carolina. I had the unique opportunity to attend many different types of schools with many different educators, but one in particular made a significant impact on my life. Dr. Wesley Kirkpatrick (Dr. K)—the dean of studies, college-placement expert, and counselor extraordinaire at my high school—always had a knack for student advocacy and support.

Dr. K made an effort to sit down with every student at my school to make a postsecondary plan, regardless of their supposed interest or his omnipresent lack of time. He inspired me to reach for greatness as I continue my education at Vanderbilt University and gave me the confidence to go into the field of education. Always eager to push me towards excellence, Dr. K was the drive behind my decision to apply for an internship at SCORE, and he remains the one of the most important educators in my life.

Dr. K reminds me of the educators I’ve had the honor to meet through my internship at SCORE. Working with the Tennessee Educator Fellows has given me a better understanding of what it is like to be an educator in Tennessee. SCORE brings together talented and diverse educators who are specifically passionate about student-focused policy to be a part of our fellowship, and they all seem to have one thing in common—behind the professionalism and prestige of the fellowship are 37 educators from across the state who want all Tennessee students to succeed.

I have been privileged enough to experience both the final convening of the 2017-18 Tennessee Educator Fellowship and the first convening of the 2018-19 Tennessee Educator Fellowship. It was not until I attended both convenings that I fully understood SCORE’s first priority in Excellence For All: Make Tennessee the best state to live, work, and grow as a teacher. To meet the goals of this priority, it is critical that we assist educators in developing the skills to confidently use their voices to advocate for students across the state.

The fellows I met at their first convening were excited but nervous—unsure what the expectations of the fellowship would be, but eager to get started. Not yet fully confident in using their voices as advocates, the first convening was full of questions about advocacy projects, communication, and statewide priorities to ensure student success across Tennessee. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm that the 2018-19 fellows exuded as they departed from their first convening, ready to take on both the challenges and successes that their fellowship year will bring.

The 2017-18 fellows I met at their final convening in May were intensely passionate about their student advocacy and constantly ready to tell anyone, especially education stakeholders, about their work. As they reflected on their advocacy projects from the fellowship year, it was clear that their voices had been heard across the state by thousands of students, parents, school leaders, community partners, and state lawmakers.

It was only when I attended the first convening of the 2018-19 cohort that I finally understood the growth I had witnessed at the final convening of the 2017-18 cohort. By supporting our fellows in using their voices, we had given them the tools to become the absolute best advocates they could be. In taking this small but powerful step towards making Tennessee the best state to live, work, and grow as a teacher, fellows worked to improve outcomes for students in districts across the state.