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How teachers can influence policymakers

2 min read


Teachers need to do a better job of making their voices heard in policy discussions, said several teacher leaders on a panel at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Conference.

The panelists — all National Board Certified Teachers, several of whom have been on the ground in Washington, D.C., through fellowships at federal agencies — shared what they’ve learned in their efforts to initiate policy change at all levels of government.

Jenay Leach recommended that teachers narrow their focus and start at the local level. In her case, she focused on curriculum in an effort to move the focus away from testing to inquiry-based learning.

Leach, who had a fellowship at NASA, said a lack of classroom teachers at the federal level should encourage teachers to get involved and that officials are eager to listen.

“They don’t know what’s going on in today’s classrooms,” she said.

Patrick Ledesma, a 2010-2011 fellow at the Department of Education, suggested that teachers appreciate the multiple and complex voices that are invested in schools. For instance, the business community views education as a workforce issue.

“We know our classrooms, but education is much larger than that,” he said.

Ledesma also recommended constructive dialogue and learning to speak the language of policymakers. He said teachers often rely on telling stories about their students — a tactic used by many other educators visiting officials.

Steve Owens, an active National Education Association member and a former fellow at the Department of Education this year, acknowledged that taking on leadership roles takes a toll on personal time and family life, but teachers must do so to inform policymakers.

To influence top leaders, Owens recommended finding that person’s top advisers and sending positive messages regarding initiatives you favor. He also said many officials don’t hear from constituents or other stakeholders and that any information can be influential.

Nancy Flanagan, a blogger, consultant and retired educator, told teachers to be proactive and not to wait for an invitation to the table. She also recommended that teachers turn to social media to relay their message.

“There are no filters online,” she said.