A group discusses education policy.
Leadership Insights

The Teacher Effect: How Teachers Can Impact Education Policies and Initiatives

By Mary Jane Pearson, PhD August 10, 2018

It has been known for decades that teachers can have a profound effect on the students they teach. Education policies can make a significant difference in a teacher’s work, which in turn affects their students. When expert teachers are actively engaged in the development of education policy and initiatives, achieving the intended outcomes and avoiding unintended consequences is more likely.

As a teacher, your voice is absolutely critical to policy conversations, whether that’s within your community or on a broader scope. When it comes to designing policies related to teaching and learning, Brandi Hinnant-Crawford, PhD, states that ignoring teachers’ voices and expertise is “a recipe for disaster”. So here are some ways you can get involved on a local, state, and national level.

Local leadership opportunities

If you are interested in getting involved in local educational policy, such as in your school or district, consider the groups that are actively engaged in decisions. One place to start might be working with (or leading) your grade- or department-level team that consults with the school administrators on school-wide policy decision-making.

Another option is working with the committee that establishes the curriculum or recommends school policy for the school’s code of conduct or, now especially, the team that is charged with making recommendations for safe school policies.

You may also be interested in volunteering to represent your school on district-wide committees that set policy.

Statewide leadership opportunities

If you want to have an impact on your state’s education policy, check out the examples below and then see what your state has to offer.

Arizona Special Education Advisory Panel: Teachers are included in the appointed members of the advisory panel that provides policy guidance regarding special education and related services for children with disabilities.

California’s State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care: This specific council is charged with helping to develop future state policy for children ages birth to kindergarten. Teachers can participate in upcoming meetings of the California early learning body.

Louisiana’s Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education: Established in 2017 by Louisiana’s Department of Education, this fellowship’s goal is to connect teachers, counselors, principals, and district leaders with state leaders and industry experts. By doing so, they can learn about the changing skills, knowledge, and preparation that students need in order to be successful in future jobs.

Oregon Advisory Committee on Safe and Effective Schools for ALL Students: Teachers and other educators have the opportunity to recommend policies that help ensure that every student in Oregon has the support needed to thrive.

Washington DC Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet: A yearlong program that gives DC teachers a monthly voice at the table on important policy decisions.

National leadership opportunities

Educators4Excellence: Founded by public school teachers, this organization has chapters around the country. Teachers come together to drive policy issues and solutions. Additionally, they offer teacher member leadership training related to education policymaking. You can also check out state-by-state education policy papers from topics selected by its local membership.

Teach Plus: This is a nationwide network of teacher leaders in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas. They advance education policy and practice through the engagement of thousands of teachers nationally in becoming a voice for change in their profession. A flagship of Teach Plus is their Teaching Policy Fellowship, an intensive program for highly effective teachers in policy and advocacy.

Teachers Leading Discussion Forum: Sponsored by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), this forum is a way to join the discussion on great teaching. And, if you are a State Teacher of the Year or a finalist, you are a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). Through the expert teacher leadership represented by its members, a focus is placed on professional practice, policy, and advocacy.

The Federal Commission on School Safety: This commission is charged with “quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school.” It provides an opportunity to offer your views on the extremely critical subject of improving school safety. The commission held its second listening session on June 26, 2018 and will continue to host formal meetings, field visits, and listening sessions. You can start by emailing the Federal Commission School Safety team at safety@ed.gov. Or contact Monica Bates at safety@ed.gov for information on upcoming meetings, field visits, and listening sessions.

The U.S. Dept. of Education’s School Ambassador Fellowship: Open to teachers and other leaders in education, this fellowship is designed to improve education by involving educators in national education policy development and implementation. This program involves a yearlong paid position that begins each fall, and you can bring your expertise to the department and expand their knowledge regarding the national dialogue on education. There are two separate yearlong tracks. The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment in which teachers, principals, and other school staff members are based in residence at the department’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The Campus Fellowship allows educators to collaborate with the department on a part-time basis while maintaining their regular school responsibilities in their home communities. The next application cycle begins in December 2018.

Inspiring teacher leaders

Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, taught social studies in Connecticut and was a member of the National Education Association’s state and local chapters. Hayes was recognized for her advocacy when it came to working with students living in poverty. She was the lead teacher for her district’s after-school mentor program for seven years and is now running for Congress to make an impact on a national level.

Launch Michigan is a new statewide initiative involving teacher leaders from across Michigan. They are coming together to improve public education. Statewide leaders in business, education, and philanthropy formed a partnership and announced the Launch Michigan campaign in June of this year. They’re focusing on teacher development, a full accountability system, and raising public awareness. “Education is not a partisan issue,” said Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association. “We are 100 percent committed and proud to be part of this effort to help front-line educators, who are experts at teaching and learning, provide answers and inform this partnership about what’s needed to help every student learn and succeed, regardless of the zip code they live in.”

Vicki Davis is a teacher and IT Director from Georgia who is an influential leader in educational technology with a robust Twitter following of over 156,000. She’s written articles for Edutopia, and the Washington Post, and shares best practices around the United States and abroad in countries like India and China.

Warren Mize, a music teacher from Texas, saw a need to expand his district’s music education program. So he developed a two-year Music and Business Industry course that can be replicated. He was nationally recognized for his work through the Innovation in Music Education Award, which is presented by the Give a Note Foundation through the Country Music Association (CMA) and the National Association for Music Education. “Through vertical alignment of the fine arts in our district, I believe we will make a significant impact on all areas of student academic achievement,” Mize said. Mize is currently earning his EdD in Transformational Leadership from Concordia University-Portland.

Advancing as a leader

Earn an EdD to enhance your leadership position and impact education policies and initiatives through the knowledge and skills developed through an advanced degree program. The Doctor of Education Transformational Leader program at Concordia University-Portland is uniquely designed to achieve this very goal. The program is offered online, on campus in Portland, Oregon, or a hybrid combination. Each candidate can select the area of leadership expertise that aligns with and supports their professional and personal goals.

Network and explore other opportunities by connecting with local leaders in your community. This sampling should be seen as a starting point. Seek out positions and organizations that align with your passion and expertise.

Your input as a teacher is essential. Without it, the closely connected policy-to-practice approach will continue to dominate with the sometimes limited participation of the most important education advocate, the classroom teacher.

Dr. Mary Jane Pearson collaborates with and provides academic and faculty support to Concordia University-Portland. One of her notable accomplishments in support of the Concordia partnership is the design of the highly successful model of support and mentoring for online faculty, which has resulted in a 90% retention rate for online faculty, and an overall average of 4.5/5 faculty rating from student end-of-course evaluations. Dr. Pearson’s unique credentials as a teacher educator include chairing the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC), the largest educator licensing agency in the U.S., during which she co-authored the research on beginning teacher support and assessment that has become the worldwide standard for the support of new teachers, known as the Beginning Teacher Support & Assessment Induction Program (BTSA Induction). In addition, Dr. Pearson was appointed by the U.S. President to serve as the Regional Representative for the U.S. Department of Education. In recognition of her service to education, Dr. Pearson was named California Teacher Educator of the Year. Dr. Pearson earned her PhD from the University of Kansas.

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