Real change is coming to Tennessee, and I am excited to be a part of the movement.- Matt Cheek, Instructional Coach for Gifted & Talented in Knox County
I found my voice. That is the phrase that keeps running through my head in the days and weeks since the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition’s Summit. I’ve sat through many conferences, professional developments, and seminars but for the first time, I felt that I walked away energized and prepared to advocate for real change in the state of Tennessee. The complexity of the educational issues facing students of color can be overwhelming in many situations. These are big issues, and more importantly, real people whose lives are impacted by the disparities in our education system. The Summit transformed the way that I view my role in this fight. There were three BIG wins that I will carry with me as I move forward professionally.
- Now, more than ever, I feel connected to a broader network of passionate individuals who want the same things for students as I do.
- I’ve been empowered to use my voice to advocate for change in my community and state.
- This work is replicable no matter where I take the next step in my career.
When I think back to my time in the classroom, it was never my students that gave me the most trouble; instead, it was the feeling of being isolated in the struggle and feeling powerless to the macro-problems that can plague education. On the first day of the Summit, I connected with education leaders from across the state who shared the same passions as me. During this time, we heard from a variety of organization who are currently working to address the issues of educational equity for students of color. In each session, we engaged in discussions about these issues and made action plans to organize our next steps. Getting to hear the stories of others reminded me that I am not alone in this effort. It also left me inspired to tap into the already existing network of game-changers in Tennessee. Together, we are stronger than we ever could have imagined.
Before attending the Summit, we were emailed a schedule of events for the two days. One event on the schedule that specifically stood out was the Legislator meetings that would take place on Day 2. I am new to this type of advocacy, and I struggled to believe that my voice would make an impact in this type of meeting. What could I say of value that would influence the thinking of our state’s policy-makers? I was unsure of how to organize my thoughts or even how to approach these conversations. Fortunately, Summit organizers planned an informational session that inspired and prepared us for communicating with legislators. During this time, we devised a plan for our meetings and developed ways to express the priorities of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition. The transition from the Capitol to the legislative offices was a smooth one due to the fabulous logistics and planning of the organizing team. Each group was given a folder containing our Representative’s name, office number, meeting time and a one-pager organizing our messaging. The events leading up to my meeting equipped and empowered me to speak confidently about issues facing students in Tennessee. My student’s stories are important and using my voice to speak out is critical to this work. Change doesn’t happen in silence. As someone who is most comfortable with leading conversations with teachers and students, I found the day’s events invaluable in preparing me to advocate for change on a higher level.
As is true for students, the most effective learning is replicated again and again. I didn’t want to walk away from my experience at the summit without a game plan for the future. There was a focus at the Summit to take the learning and take action. With a new-found passion for advocacy work — I have continued to engage in equity discussions since the conference. Most recently, I went back to the Capitol to shadow a Senator. During the shadowing, I was able to call up the knowledge and skills acquired at the summit in my conversations with him. This act would have been unimaginable had it not been for the Equity Summit. Previously, I believed that formal training was needed to be an effective advocate. Now, I know that my experiences provide enough expertise to influence policy decisions. As I look towards the future, I am eager to use my voice to effect change for students in Tennessee.
As a result of the new connections and empowerment that I gained from the summit, I am now hopeful for the future of education here in Tennessee. I highly encourage anyone who is looking to broaden the scope of their impact to consider attending future coalition events. I am forever grateful for the members and leaders of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition for providing such a meaningful few days of programming. No matter your background, you play a critical role in this work. Real change is coming to Tennessee, and I am excited to be a part of the movement.
If you are interested in learning more about connecting your classroom, school or district experience to policy, sign up for our upcoming legislative webinar. We will go through education bills that have been filed to date and show you how you can use your voice and experience to help ensure education legislation in Tennessee is to the benefit of historically underserved populations in our state. Register here.