In many schools across the country, summer vacation is winding down. But for most educators, the work of supporting their students, and their profession, never takes a break—and often calls for them to speak out, extending their voice far beyond the classroom walls. Perhaps more than ever before, in 2018 teachers have been sharing their voice, showing up in their state capitols, and even running for office.
Advocates across the PIE Network have long appreciated the value of including teachers and principals at the policymaking table. However, the current momentum behind educator voice presents new opportunities to meaningfully engage with educators, ultimately resulting in stronger advocacy efforts and deeper long-term impact.
Recently, leading educator voice advocates shared their thoughts on new developments, challenges the movement is facing, and what they’re most excited for in the year ahead. Read on for insights from Educators for Excellence-New York, Educators for High Standards, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, Teach Plus California, and Texas Aspires Foundation.
A Moment to Reinforce Educator Voice
After an off-year for the state legislature, advocates at Texas Aspires Foundation are looking forward to diving into their first session with a robust teacher engagement strategy, while continuing to build out their first cohort of Educator Board members. According to Molly Weiner, director of policy for the Texas Aspires Foundation, the upcoming session will present several key opportunities to bring educators together around specific advocacy campaigns—an important factor since recent developments have emphasized the need for the “views of teachers to be spoken directly by teachers.”
“Giving individual teachers the skills, but most importantly the platform, to share their perspective first-hand is critical,” Weiner said.
“Educator voice must mean educators leading the way at every point in the policymaking process on issues that affect their students and classrooms.”
In Delaware, advocates are excited to build on the 2017-2018 success of the Rodel Teacher Council and continue their work to advance policies supporting student-centered learning, including areas such as social-emotional learning, personalized professional development, and open education resources (OER). While the state continues to invest in teachers and this year adopted its first differentiated compensation policy, Rachel Chan, senior program officer at the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, says it’s clear from both local and national headlines that the voices of educators are a crucial ingredient in the creation of sound education policy—including an apparent groundswell of teachers running for political office this year.
“Whether it’s EdWeek’s analysis that at least 135 current teachers across the country are candidates for state legislature, Jahana Hayes’s Congressional primary win in Connecticut, or the educators (new and incumbent) currently seeking political office in Delaware, this movement of teachers wanting to add ‘policymaker’ to their already-lengthy list of professional responsibilities is inspiring,” Chan said.
“No matter your political views, there’s no doubt having more people with an understanding of today’s schools and students will be a benefit when it comes to creating smart policy, and we see teacher voices continuing to get stronger and be more impactful in shaping education policy in Delaware.”
Another important aspect of current educator voice efforts is the response to the recent Janus v. AFSCME decision. Educators for Excellence’s recently-released survey of teachers nationwide found that teachers were generally supportive of their unions and understand their value. But teachers also noted that they don’t necessarily feel that their unions are always truly reflective and representative of their membership. As such, the coming years will be pivotal moments for teacher unions across the country to take necessary steps to listen closely to teachers, find out what’s important to them, and to fight for the things that their members believe are worth fighting for, said Princess Lyles, managing director of outreach at Educators for Excellence-New York.
“While the Janus decision provides a level of uncertainty, it also provides an opportunity for unions to renew grassroots efforts to connect with their members in authentic ways,” Lyles said. “At Educators for Excellence, we will be helping our members be more active in their unions and ensure the issues that they care about are being elevated.”
Elections & Sessions: Challenges and Opportunities in the Year Ahead
In many states, the rest of 2018 and beyond will present opportunities for educators to engage with the large-scale implementation of significant education policies, including state ESSA plans.
Educators for High Standards recently launched a summer cohort of Teacher Champions and will also launch a fall cohort of Teacher Champions. Located across 13 different states, these educators are empowered to write about the need for high quality standards and assessments in order to achieve success for all students and will be particularly engaged with ESSA implementation when state report cards start rolling out later this year. In addition, many states are in the process of challenging high quality assessments and the upcoming election season will bring about many changes in governors’ offices and state education leadership.
“No matter the outcome, it will be important for Educators for High Standards to amplify teacher voices about the importance of high standards and quality assessments in the classroom,” said Kari Patrick, current teacher and senior advisor, teacher outreach & innovation, for Educators for High Standards.
In California, advocates see a great deal of potential for teachers to make a difference as the state implements a system of continuous improvement (as part of the Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control and Accountability Plan) aimed at closing opportunity and achievement gaps.
“We believe that with teacher leaders at the table both helping to design this system of support for struggling schools and leading its implementation, there is a greater chance of sustained change, building collective teacher efficacy and addressing the needs of historically underserved students, particularly the 1.4 million emerging bilingual students in California,” said Sarah Lillis, executive director of Teach Plus California.
As both the school year and state legislative sessions unfold, advocates are eager to partner with educators in pursuit of the challenges ahead. In states like Texas, some challenges will be geographic in nature.
Because Texas Aspires Foundation’s Educator Board represents the geographic diversity of Texas, most of its members are located far away from each other, and from the state capital. Given the value of teachers directly interacting and learning from one another, Weiner said they are excited to leverage technological solutions to help build community within the cohort.
In Delaware, advocates look forward to the yearly challenge of supporting educator leaders through providing thoughtful policy analysis and expertise, building their advocacy capacity and elevating community voices, and providing exposure to new research and ideas in their quest to address some of education’s most pressing problems. This year in particular, Rodel will prioritize integrating parent and student voices with those of their teachers, specifically in line with the Rodel Teacher Council’s advocacy efforts.
“Teacher council members recognize the power of genuine community voices and perspectives, and we are looking forward to working with our teacher council to find meaningful and authentic ways for students and families to be part of this work,” Chan said.
Across the country, advocates are facing a time of change and uncertainty across many areas of policy. At the same time, they’re also recognizing valuable opportunities to tap into energy for educator support, and ultimately deepen their advocacy work by finding new ways to partner with educators. Learn more about various educator voice opportunities via PIE’s updated resource, including advocates’ notable accomplishments and advice for other organizations thinking about engaging educators in policy.