Kenan Fellows Policy Summit Aims to Strengthen Teacher Leader Voice

Kenan Fellow Patricia Coldren delivers a session on effective communication with policy makers during the Education Policy Summit in Raleigh.

RALEIGH ‒ More than a dozen Kenan Fellows from across the state attended a two-day intensive Education Policy Summit June 14-15 in downtown Raleigh. The Biogen Foundation, the Lead Champion for the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership’s Professional Learning Institutes, made the summit possible.

Kenan Fellows who attended the summit represented a wide cross-section of grade levels, disciplines and districts. The teachers gathered to learn more about education policy and the legislative process. The inaugural event – an optional professional learning workshop for Fellows ‒ provided the educators with plenary sessions on how to build relationships and communicate with policy-makers, navigate complex state and federal education issues and discover effective ways to advocate for policies that support teacher leadership and benefit students.

Over the two days, the Fellows had the opportunity to meet with members of the NC General Assembly, the NC Department of Public Instruction and other stakeholders in education including LaTanya Pattillo, the Teacher Advisor to Gov. Roy Cooper. Pattillo, a 2013-14 Kenan Fellow, spoke with the Fellows about the importance of increasing teacher voice outside of the classroom.

“Make sure you share your story so that policy makers know the kinds of issues you face as educators,” said Pattillo, who credits her Kenan fellowship along with other achievements in her professional career for helping her become the teacher advisor to the governor. “Kenan Fellows is a fantastic program for you to gain support and identify areas that are important to you. I’m here because of people who have supported me and motivated me to embrace my leadership skills and my ideals about education.”

Lena Deskins, a 2015-16 Kenan Fellow, said the summit has encouraged her to be more outspoken. “In the past I have considered myself a passive advocate. I like to write letters,” said Deskins, who teaches middle school science in Durham Public Schools. “My biggest takeaway is the importance of establishing that relationship with legislators and having more face-to-face interactions.”

Kenan Fellows pictured with NC Superintendent Mark Johnson at NC DPI headquarters in Raleigh

Vance Kite, who is working toward a doctorate in STEM Education at NC State University, said his biggest take away was learning how educators could help shape policy by sharing their expertise with policy makers. “I feel motivated that teachers need to be advocates because there are legislators who do not have a background in education but are open to ideas and want to learn,” said Kite, a 2012-13 Kenan Fellow. “Who better to teach them than educators.”