New Coalition Member Finds Inspiration at Annual Education Summit

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.

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