It’s no great revelation that there is a disconnect between what happens in schools on a daily basis and the policies that directly impact these schools. This is simply a product of the system: teachers and principals dedicate their time and focus to their students, and policymakers often have limited access to school experiences beyond their own or their children’s.
But this year, 35 teachers and principals from across the state of New York want to bridge this gap. They are participating in the New York Educator Voice Fellowship, an advocacy program that selects highly-effective public school educators to complete a year-long residency. In the program, these expert educators will learn how to elevate their voices, connect with policymakers and impact education policy in New York.
“Legislators and policymakers are excited and eager to hear from educators,” said Michele Cleary, a middle school teacher in Manhattan. “This is the time to be involved in policymaking—the next 24 months might be the most important in the history of public education [due to state flexibility around ESSA].”
These educators, who hail from both charter and traditional public schools and represent districts across the state of New York, traveled to Albany on August 1 to attend a four-day training institute, where they learned advocacy skills such as writing op-eds, crafting a pitch, testifying and had open conversations with policymakers and notable thought leaders from around the state.
“This organization has found a great way to tap educators to not only improve practice but also to shed light on the positive efforts and hard work of teachers and administrators,” said Mike Carlson, a principal in Long Island.
He adds, “After sharing these training days with these educators and hearing the diverse needs of each district and school, I realize that my voice can and should be shared for the greater good, so that I can help increase equity among all students.”
While the New York Educator Voice Fellowship supports educators in advocating for policies and issues of their choice, it does focus on four core areas: advancing the teaching profession, equity and access for students, accountability and assessment, and high academic standards.
During their residency, teachers and principals fellows will publicly advocate for issues they are passionate about and host legislators at their schools to give them an insight into the day-to-day happenings.
“A big takeaway is knowing that I do have a voice and that I now have a way to share it with so many others,” said Deborah Mabey, a science teacher from Hoosick Falls.
Adds William Quintana, a Bronx principal, “We can have a real impact on the policymaking process only if we choose to actively participate.”
The New York Educator Voice Fellowship is part of America Achieves, a nonprofit organization that strives to ensure every young person in the U.S. gets access to a world-class education and has the opportunity to lead and succeed in a changing world.