Many new teachers are surprised to discover how much of their daily work is impacted by new policies, whether they’re enacted at the federal, state, or local levels. A new educational policy can have a significant impact on the day-to-day work of teachers. For example, changes in curriculum or assessment requirements can require teachers to alter their lesson plans and instructional materials. Similarly, new initiatives such as school reforms can also change how teachers do their jobs.
How can appropriate education policy decisions be made without consulting the stakeholders who will feel the most impact? Teachers are the end users of educational policies, with the greatest knowledge and insight into how these policies impact students and their learning outcomes.
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Why include teachers in policy decisions?
Historially, teachers have often been undervalued and underappreciated for the work they do. As a result, it’s not uncommon for educational leaders to overlook them when making policy decisions. Leaving them out of the conversation when discussing educational policy suggests that their input isn’t being considered as much as it should.
Who better to speak to the needs of students than the teachers that work with them daily? Teachers have valuable insights to offer on their students’ learning needs. When policies are implemented from the top down without adequate context, they’re more likely to fail. On the other hand, when teachers are involved in developing new educational approaches, policies are more likely to be realistic, practical, and ultimately successful in the classroom.
Relationships are everything. When you include teachers in writing policy, you demonstrate trust and respect for their expertise. It’s essential to get input from teachers before introducing new policies — not after — to avoid creating untenable and unrealistic policies in practice.
Improving teacher buy-in
When you listen to teachers and address their concerns, they’re more likely to buy into new educational policies. Teacher buy-in is essential for the success of new policies, and they are more likely to buy in if they have a voice in the process. Conversely, when teachers are left out of the process of developing policies that impact them and their students, friction and resistance against initiatives is bound to occur.
Ways to give teachers choice and a seat at the policy table
When policymakers seek data to inform the development of new policies, teachers are an indispensable resource. While it may be true that most teachers don’t have specialized policy-making experience, they are uniquely situated to provide insights into the real-world impacts of existing policies. Moreover, from their vantage point, teachers can offer a window into how policies can affect the student experience.
Let’s look at ways to include the voices of teachers in policy discussions:
Open door policy
When it comes to collecting data to inform new educational policy, keeping an open-door approach with teachers is vital. Encourage a two-way flow of communication between those who make the policies and those who implement them. Open communication ensures that those closest to the students have a say in what goes on in the classroom, and it builds a foundation of trust and respect between all parties involved.
Collecting teacher data to inform policy discussions
While keeping a line of communication open between teachers and administrators is essential, you can also use more structured methods to solicit and gather teacher feedback. One-on-one discussions and surveys are great places to start.
When making policy, feedback from teachers and other stakeholders helps administrators make wise decisions. One way to collect relevant information from teachers is through one-on-one discussions. These meetings are likely already happening in your school as part of your strategy for managing teacher performance. Set aside time during these meetings with individual teachers and solicit their opinions and insights into what is and is not working. You’ll find that most teachers are overjoyed to be asked, and they will provide you with practical insights that can be very helpful to include in your policy discussions.
To collect even more information from teachers, you can use occasional informal surveys to ask them their thoughts on how educational policies could be improved. Likewise, administrators can use informal surveys to get quick feedback on various topics. For example, they might want to know how teachers feel about a new policy or initiative. They might also want insights into what approaches work well and what could be improved.
Informal surveys can be conducted in several ways, such as through email or an online survey tool. They’re typically shorter than formal surveys and can be completed quickly by teachers. Distributing brief surveys monthly or quarterly can reveal trends and shine a light on the evolving needs of your school community.
Overall, informal surveys are an excellent way for administrators to collect feedback and insights from teachers. In addition, they offer a quick and easy way to gather the information needed to improve educational policies and initiatives.
Offer professional development opportunities
Teacher education programs may touch on policy development, but most teachers focus on developing their instructional skills. By providing access to policy-focused professional development opportunities, it’s easier to help teachers develop a deeper understanding of how policies are written so they can be stronger educational leaders.
Another aspect of professional development is keeping teachers informed on the trending conversations about policy. By broadcasting relevant news about changes in education, from the federal to local levels, you can support the ongoing education of teachers, thereby preparing them to engage in policy discussions in substantive ways. Staying current on trending educational issues is especially important in the context of today’s increasinly polarized political climate.
Administrators can help teachers stay up to date on current affairs impacting education by offering workshops or facilitating conversations about sensitive issues. Preparing teachers to discuss these critical issues equips them to advocate effectively for their students.
Allow teachers to participate in policy-making groups
It isn’t always possible or practical to invite all your teachers into the room when discussing new policies. For these high-level discussions, you should enlist the help of an experienced group of high-performing educators who can represent the interests of teachers. National, state, and local groups already exist to help teachers develop policy-making experience, including the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship. This fellowship places STEM teachers in federal offices or agencies where they can be involved in policymaking efforts.
Some states sponsor teachers to work as advisors on educational policy. For example, the Teachers Advisory Council in Kentucky comprises 40 highly qualified teachers from across the state. This council works together to make recommendations for policy to the Kentucky Commissioner of Education.
The critical role of teachers in the development of educational policy
The expertise of teachers and their centralized role in the classroom make them critical to developing relevant, effective educational policies. Unfortunately, when administrators fail to include teachers in educational policy discussions, they exclude the voices of people who, aside from students, have the most relevant insights to offer. While it isn’t always realistic to include all teachers in these decisions, educational policymakers must consider the knowledge and skills that teachers bring to the classroom and their observations on the real-world impacts of new policies.
Much of today’s educational policy is driven by research — however, there can be a significant gap between the knowledge of researchers and the firsthand experience of teachers. This gap weakens our education policy and can even lead to bad policy decisions. As we tackle the very real problems impacting teachers and schools today, we all need to work together to develop policies that empower teachers and ensure that teachers and administrators have the tools they need to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Photo Credit: Google Education