Teachers of the Year urge political involvement

Advocating more engagement by teachers in the policy-making process, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year have published a white paper entitled “Engaged: Educators and the Policy Process.”


Trust is imperative when you let a barber shave your face. (Michael Blann / Digital Vision)

The paper is one of several in a series that purports to collect the voices of a number of our nation’s best teachers, our state and National Teachers of the Year, and finalists to revitalize the discussion of important issues through the lens of outstanding educators, building upon research already conducted.

“Engaged” demonstrates how teachers have successfully taken part in and influenced the policy-making process. Important takeaway lessons from these narratives include:

  1. Intended policy outcomes are more likely to be achieved and unintended consequences avoided when expert teachers are part of policy development and implementation planning.
  2. Policy will more effectively address the diverse set of PK-12 student needs when expert teachers are part of the policy process.
  3. Explicitly designed initiatives and structures can generate effective partnerships between policy makers and expert teachers

For #3, “hybrid” teachers can help bridge the gap between state legislatures and schools by serving part of the time as teachers and part of the time as consultants to state legislators.

“Including teachers in the development of policy is as important, if not more important, for gaining buy-in as asking teachers to weigh in on the value or effectiveness of a policy after it has been developed,” writes the professional network. “Most of the state Teachers of the Year interviewed reported constructive interactions with legislators.”

We note here, Voxitatis has included teachers on our board of directors since the first foundation was incorporated in 2002. Most recently, a math teacher from Anne Arundel County, Md., served on our board in what ended up being much more than a consulting role. As we move forward, we plan to engage more teachers in the planning phases of our development, not just to get teacher buy-in but to make effective decisions about our website and create more powerful ways of sharing positive stories between schools, students, and communities.

In order to be effective hybrids, either with a corporation or with a legislature—or have any influence on policy at all—teachers must also be open to listening to legislators’ points of view. This respect for the role state legislators play, we believe, is the counterpart of trust legislators must have in teachers and the teaching profession.

For their part, teachers can grow into effective leaders only by sitting at the policy table, and that necessarily includes taking into account views that may differ from their own—in fact, they must often embrace ideas they can bring into their classrooms, making those classrooms better than would be possible if teachers were the only ones involved in making policy decisions.

Rebecca Mieliwocki, California and National Teacher of the Year 2012, wrote about how we as a society might establish a living culture in which teachers are regularly consulted in policy decision-making at the local, state, and national levels. This is what she wrote:

For teachers to grow into true leaders, they need a community of support starting with a great principal who says “yes” more than he or she says “no.” Teachers need collaborative, positive, passionate co-workers who believe we are all a work in progress and that the school’s mission is to grow kids into great people. Finally, we need supportive communities of parents and stakeholders who spend time and money supporting not just their own children in the schools, but providing funding and experiences for ALL kids and teachers in and outside of school.

Those three things grow great teachers who become de facto leaders. From there, it is incumbent upon the teacher herself to seek out a strong personal understanding of the issues facing her profession, from who’s in charge to who’s leading the changes, to how to connect with both groups to make the right kinds of impact. We must get and stay connected and do the work we need to do to make sure our profession grows and is supported in the proper way.

My rationale for this thinking is twofold: First, many people assume that the way to leadership is paved by someone else’s actions or by being granted permission from some outside authority. Not so. Most great teacher leaders started with a dogged passion all their own and were tireless about making things happen in their classrooms, at their schools and in their communities. This purposeful professional work is us building ourselves into leaders, not because someone gave us a green light, but because we wanted it on our own. Part of that work, though, is being tied to people who are supportive and allow us chances to shine. Without like-minded collaborators, it’s a slow slog. When people are in sync, though, the sky’s the limit.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.