I will never forget the feeling as I walked off the stage toward my seat.  A lovely lady behind me reminded me to take a deep breath after I had given, for the first time ever, a 30-minute keynote speech in front of over a thousand educators.  They were all standing on their feet offering a grand applause of appreciation.  I was just grateful that they had listened to stories about my beloved students.  I think I was supposed to inspire them, but after their many hugs, hand-shakes, and high fives, I was the one who left feeling encouraged.

That cool February morning was one of the many opportunities that I have had this school year to share my teacher voice.  I have represented dedicated, determined, extraordinary teachers from all across our state in front of numerous audiences filled with community leaders, business people, politicians, and parents.  This year I am temporarily leaving the classroom to serve as the SCORE Educator Fellows Coordinator.  I am excited to work with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) on behalf of lifting up the voices of teachers in Tennessee.

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SCORE recognizes that there is a gap in teacher voice, so the organization just launched the Tennessee Educator Fellowship Program to create a clear and consistent voice from those in the classroom in order to ensure all students in Tennessee graduate high school prepared for their future.  In addition, the program will engage educators in important policy conversations, ensuring that input from teachers is front and center.

The fellowship grows from the recognition of the value of consistently engaging teachers for their feedback and input. The program will give 20 classroom teachers from varying grade levels and all three geographic regions across Tennessee the opportunity to provide a student-focused perspective on policies, practices, and systems that impact educator effectiveness and student achievement.  The fellows will convene online and in person several times throughout the 2014-2015 school year. They will learn about education policy, write blogs, create videos, and represent Tennessee educators at community and state events. The fellows will remain in the classroom and receive a $5,000 stipend for their work with the fellowship.

If you are a classroom teacher with at least three years of teaching experience in a Tennessee public school who is passionate about learning, sharing, and providing a student-focused voice on education policy, then I encourage you to apply.  The application deadline is 5 p.m. CT on July 18.  Finalists will be notified on July 22 with interviews on July 23-25 in various regions of the state.

I never imagined that I would have a school year like this with so many occasions outside the classroom to challenge thinking, inform about policy, and make a difference simply by using my voice.  I am changed because of my experiences this year, and thrilled about supporting my colleagues as they have some of the same remarkable experiences learning, sharing, and providing a voice for classroom teachers across the state.  The teacher voice is powerful, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to encourage teachers as they amplify that voice through the SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellowship.