I had a classroom with three walls when I first started teaching. A bookshelf separated my classroom from the neighboring one. My students ranged from 14- to 18-years-old—and I was 21. Things were interesting, to say the least.
During my first years of teaching, I often caught myself comparing how I was teaching and what my students were learning to my own experiences taking high school math. I couldn’t understand why the material I was tasked with teaching was less rigorous than what I learned when I was in high school. For example, I didn’t understand why geometry standards in D.C. didn’t require my students to write proofs—something that was a big component of my geometry class in high school—to help build a foundation of understanding logic, which can translate to constructing a persuasive essay or developing an argument in a trial.
I began to think about how great would it be if all students were provided with rigorous academic curricula. I felt passionate about improving academic standards, but I didn’t know how to advocate for that needed change. Fortunately, others did—and much has changed in D.C. schools and schools across the country since then, including our expectations for what students will know and be able to do.
I’ve since transitioned out of the classroom and joined America Achieves, where my colleagues and I work to empower teachers to elevate their voices and leverage their expertise to drive positive outcomes for their students. In my early work at America Achieves I supported teachers and principals in New York as they raised awareness about the importance of maintaining high academic standards and advocated for new and high-quality resources to support implementation. More recently, I’ve worked with educators in Louisiana and Colorado to develop career exploration curricular resources and supported them as they advocated for improved career readiness in their communities.
Recently, we released "Leveraging Educator Expertise: How You Can Use Your Voice for Change," which showcases nearly a decade of our work in this field. The multimedia resource provides an overview of America Achieves’ experiences in educator engagement, several success stories and lessons learned from leading educators and tips for how educators like you can elevate your voices to foster the changes you know our students, staff, and communities deserve.
We often hear educators say that achieving their desired outcomes would likely entail policy change, and this can seem like a daunting endeavor. As detailed in "Leveraging Educator Expertise," though, policy change is only one of many possible approaches you can enlist to create change at scale. In fact, you can achieve a lot just from your desk! For example, you can build a personal brand by making more visible the areas you’re passionate about and setting yourself up as a go-to expert in the field.
Once a personal brand is established, advocacy efforts can grow from there. By writing and publishing opinion pieces like blogs and op-eds, you can control the message, put forward a persuasive argument and have something tangible to share with stakeholders to drive your work forward.
Forming partnerships with local businesses, industry, community leaders and organizations is another effective way to develop and advance your initiatives on behalf of students.
We share the many approaches to creating change at scale, along with guiding principles, tips, stories, and resources to support you in the "Leveraging Educator Expertise" paper. Make sure to click the videos, PowerPoint decks and other resources embedded throughout!
When I think back to my time in the classroom, I think how hungry I was for the type of professional learning experiences that would allow me to engage in policy, and avenues to speak up on behalf of my students. In that classroom with the three walls, it was important for me to share what my students and I were experiencing.
I did a lot of reflecting and journaling and wrote a series of mini blog-like emails that I sent to my family and friends. I wrote about how I believed a more rigorous curriculum would push my students to excel and what teachers like me needed to be successful. I expressed my hopes for raising the bar for all students. But I didn’t share these things with a larger audience—I didn’t know how to, and I didn’t think my voice mattered.
I know now that my voice did matter—and your voice matters too. As an educator, you have a practical understanding of the issues at hand as well as in-depth knowledge about the specific context of your school and students. You deserve a seat at the table, even if you have to create one yourself.
As the new school year progresses, I hope that you won't find yourself discouraged by low expectations for students or policies, programs or practices that you don't believe in or can’t effectively execute, and that, unlike my younger self, you'll speak up. And I hope the tools and experience, examples and advice of other educators in "Leveraging Educator Expertise" will help guide you in this effort.
Sheri Rodman joined the America Achieves team in 2014. She currently serves as the director of data and operations where she provides strategic leadership in building networks of educators and regional pathways for high school students and adults to access good jobs. During the course of her career, Sheri built the New York Educator Voice Fellowship at America Achieves, provided leadership ...