How to get Involved in Education Policy

Have you ever wanted to get involved in education policy, but don’t even know where to get started? I feel you. Before my fellowship with Hope Street Group, the world of politics was overwhelming, but know that I know a few basics and have made several networking connections, I know how to get my voice heard. If you are wanting to learn about ed policy, and dig deeper into ESSA (every student succeeds act) I would recommend taking this free online training from Teach Plus. Content includes:

  • Teachers as Policy Influencers  What are the pathways for teacher impact in policy and what does it take for teachers to become bilingual in practice and policy? Understand the obstacles to making change and the strategies to succeed.
  • Policy 101 What is policy, and how is it made and changed? Who makes it, and how can teachers play a role in shaping it? Explore why policy matters and what levers teachers have to influence policy.
  • Storytelling How can teachers develop the voice needed to influence policy? Learn the power of storytelling and public narrative as tools for effective advocacy.
  • Advocacy 101 How do teachers make things happen in the complex world of policy and politics? Understand the importance of goals, relationships, root cause analysis, and power mapping.
  • ESSA How will the Every Student Succeed Act impact education?  How can teachers advocate for a smart accountability system, teacher leadership opportunities, and the reduction of duplicative assessments through this new law?

Educators everywhere are elevating the profession by sharing their expertise with policy makers. Increase your professional knowledge, by taking the time to learn about the laws, policies, and state level rules that define your career!



School Ambassador Fellowship

The US Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship is the fellowship of all fellowships. There are opportunities to work from DC for a year, or complete the fellowship while still residing and working at your current location. I am lucky to have met several Ambassador fellows, and even had the chance to serve with Anna Baldwin as a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, before she moved to the big leagues as a USDOE ambassador (you go girl!).


The mission of the USDOE fellowship :

The School Ambassador Fellowship is designed to improve education for students by involving educators in the development and implementation of national education policy. The Fellowship seeks to:

  • Create a community of teachers, principals, and other school staff members who share expertise and collaborate with leaders in the Federal government on national education issues.
  • Involve educators who work daily with students and teachers in developing policies that affect classrooms and school building.
  • Highlight practitioners’ voices and expand educators’ critical leadership at the national, state, and local levels.

Throughout their Fellowship year, School Ambassador Fellows collaborate as a team and with Alumni Fellows to:

  • Learn about federal education policy and ED
  • Reach out to teachers and schools in the field
  • Reflect with ED staff on the knowledge gained

This year I am happily engaged with teaching, my HSG fellowship, and grad school so I will not be applying for the USDOE ambassador program, but it is definitely on my bucket list.



Another Hoop for Utah Teachers

Have any of you read the article “Lawmakers consider creating board exam for teachers in effort to keep standards high” posted on KSL over the weekend? While I like the idea of holding all teachers to a high standard, it is seeming less and less like traditional teacher prep programs are valued. Having all teachers be board certified does make me feel better about the recent   Academic Pathway to Teaching rule, but it doesn’t increase the value of completing a college degree in education. With so many alternative ways to become a licensed teacher, getting a degree in education seem like a very pigeon holed emphasis that limits career opportunities. The newest generation of potential teacher candidates may feel it is a better use of their time, money, and effort to get their degree in a broader category, since they can always decide later to become a teacher by completing a 6 week program or passing a couple of tests.

I can speak to the benefits of becoming a Board Certified Teacher. In 2014, I pass my National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and became a National Board Certified Teacher. I am a better teacher because of this process and would encourage any teacher to pursue National Board Certification whether it becomes a Utah rule or not.

The teaching crisis is real. We are in a drastic shortage of teachers requiring creative solutions such as the APT rule, yet at the same time we are expecting all teachers  to be highly effective and have struggled to find a consistent way to measure to teacher effectiveness. Attempts to measure teachers have come in the form of extensive evaluations, using student scores on standardized tests, teacher portfolios, and now additional testing and certification. Everyone is trying to find the silver bullet to fix the education system and right now teachers are the target. If teachers are tired of felling like rules and initiatives are happening to them, it is time to speak up. I know so many quality teachers who are effective! These are the voices lawmakers need to hear. These are the stories that need to be shared.



Letter from USDOE Secretary King

Sometimes as a teacher I feel so small, and that my one voice can’t make a difference in the large world of education policy. Over the past year, as I have worked as National Teacher Fellow for Hope Street Group, I have learned that I, yes little ol’ me, can make a difference. Today I received the following email in response to a group letter I submitted:

Dear Educator, 

You may recall signing this letter from Teach Plus to U.S. Secretary of Education John King earlier this year.  The letter urged the Secretary to ensure that federal Title I dollars are used in ways that will do the most good for the students they are intended to help. To do that, federal funds need to supplement (rather than replace) state and local funds for high-need schools.  

We wanted to let you know that Secretary King heard you and he regulated on this issue in ways that are aligned with your request.  More information is available here. We also wanted to let you know that a leading member of Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, was compelled to insert your letter and signatures into the official hearing record when the U.S. House of Representatives looked at this issue at hearing this morning.  Thank you again for making your voice heard on behalf of students!

Teach Plus Policy Team

P.S. If you haven’t done so already, please continue to make your voice heard by taking this Flash Poll about what you think should be included in the new State Report Cards that will inform parents, policymakers, and the public about progress in schools. Teach Plus will share the findings with leading Governors.  

I strongly believe that if we unite as educators we can start to change the tide of the current education climate. We can empower teachers and empower our students.



It’s Thursday- Thank a Teacher: Audryn Damron Edition

Of course I think all (well most) Utah teachers are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, but Audryn Damron is truly one of my favorite educators. I am slightly biased because Audryn was a para-educator in my class during my beginning years of teaching. Since then, she has become a Special Education teacher and recently finished her Masters in Special Education.  She is now ready to tackle National Board Certification. She is amazing! Here is a little more about her educational journey:

Where did you do your teacher prep? Brigham Young University: Bachelor’s degree (2011), Master’s degree (2015)

Where have you taught in your teaching career?
Centennial Middle School in Provo District, starting my 6th year in the same classroom (and still loving it).
What is the funniest thing a student has ever said?
Out of the blue, I had a student look at me very seriously and say, “You know what’s not fair? Girls get to wear make up. So if they’re ugly, they can just cover it up. If boys are ugly, they have nothing to help them.”
On a more serious note, I had  a student tell me once that he wished he could be put in a body that could read well. I thought that was a profound statement. This teenage boy knew he was different. He felt different. He looked at others as people that could read better than he could and he wished he could be like them. That statement opened up my eyes to what it is like to be a child with a learning disability.
What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers?
Talk to other teachers! Ask questions. Share stories. Get lesson materials and ideas. Talk to your neighbors, your PLC, your administrators, your mentor, etc. Don’t go through hard times alone! Most importantly, do not talk to negative people. They will bring you down and make you question why you chose education. Surround yourself and find comfort from people who still believe in education and love what they do.
What is your favorite teacher resource?
TeachersPayTeachers is fantastic. I love that teachers have put so much effort into their lesson plans and are willing to share them with others. Yes you have to pay for most of the materials, but it’s worth my time to pay a few dollars to not have to make them myself! Those teachers also get paid for their hard work, which I fully support.
Describe any experience you have had in education policy?
I haven’t had any experience in education policy, but I am interested in changing that. I do receive updates from my PEA (union) representative about laws and changes that affect me. I know I could do a better job being more involved. I follow our state superintendent, UEA, and a few other forums on Twitter. That helps me stay up-to-date and involved.
What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education?
I would like to see teachers treated and viewed as professionals. Teachers in Utah seem to get the short end of the stick for just about everything. Recently, a law was passed that says any individual who passes a content exam can become a teacher. That seems like a slap in the face to those of us who have worked hard (or are currently working hard) on a collegiate education program or alternate licensure program. I understand that Utah is desperate for teachers, but please respect the process it takes to become an educator.
I would like to see Utah Board of Education recognize teachers as professionals by increasing our pay, providing solid benefits and retirement, and recognizing our value through reasonable expectations and frequent celebrations for progress and growth in schools!
Thank you Ms. Damron for all you do for students in our state, and for elevating the teaching profession by being such an incredible educator!

Letter from the Utah State Board of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction

If you couldn’t tell from my previous post on Syd Dickson, I am a big fan. Today she sent out a letter to all the Utah educators. If you aren’t are her mailing list, you should be! Here is what she had to say:

Dear Education Colleagues,
As the school year begins for most of you, I want to take the opportunity to thank you for your dedication to ensuring Utah students are prepared for their future.  The work of teaching and leading in schools is both daunting and joyful.  I can think of no other profession that is as impactful as that of teaching and am proud to be counted among you.  The Utah State Board of Education and their staff want to personally thank you for choosing this profession.
Much attention has been given to the recent Board passage of the Academic Pathway to Teaching (APT) license.  The intention of this license is to respond to education leaders in the field who want another tool to be able to fill hard to staff positions, as well to create a way for potential effective teachers to enter the profession having come from other professions.  This is not meant to be a slight to those of you who have come through a traditional route.  The hiring and support of APT candidates is left to local discretion.  We expect the hiring district or charter to support APT candidates by working with teacher preparation programs, professional development providers, and local experts to provide professional learning opportunities targeted at the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be effective in the classroom.  Effective mentoring is critical for all new teachers and we have to find better ways to support mentors with time and resources.
The Utah State Board of Education will be establishing a task force to study educator licensing and determine policies to improve licensure practices for all educators.  In addition, we are engaged in the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation (NTEP) project.  This is a three-year project, working with education preparation programs, to impact recruitment, preparation, and retention practices.  Focus groups with educators have been held around the state to get input and ongoing stakeholder engagement will inform these Board projects.
Educator voices are very important to me.  One of my personal goals is to promote your positive stories about public education.  I specifically want to ensure your classroom success stories are being heard while getting clear about the conditions that make your job more challenging than it needs to be.  To aid in this process I will have an interactive corner on the State Board website at  There you will find social media accounts and an email address where you can reach me directly.  I wish you the best for a successful year.
With appreciation,
Sydnee Dickson, Ed.D.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Utah State Board of Education
250 E. 500 S.
P.O. Box 144200
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4200

I think this letter was much needed, as many teachers are feeling undervalued in the state. I have had the chance to participate in the NTEP focus groups in Utah and can attest to the good work happening in our state. Diana Suddreth the State Director of Teaching and Learning is a champion of quality teachers and has been collaborating with stakeholders in Utah and nationally to make need improvements to teacher preparation. I know our State Superintendent is fighting the good fight and will make sure the students AND teachers are successful in our state.




It’s Thursday- Thank a Teacher: Amy Merritt Wood Edition

I am excited to feature Mrs. Amy Merritt Wood this week and thank her for all her hard work. I admire Amy for all of the work she does in Utah for National Board Certified Teachers. If you are looking to take your teaching practice to the next level, I would recommend becoming a National Board Certified Teacher. Becoming a Board Certified Teacher was a game changer for me. Adding NBCT to my signature opened many professional doors and has allowed me to further my influence in the world of education. But enough about that–this post is about Amy!


Where did you do your teacher prep? I did my BS in Elementary Education at BYU-Idaho. I then completed my ESL and Masters of Education with Southern Utah University. I also earned a National Board Certification in the Early Childhood Generalist Category. I have completed a reading endorsement with BYU and I am currently working on an administrative certification with Utah State University.

Where have you taught in your teaching career? I have taught in Jordan School District my whole career. I taught for first grade at Foothills Elementary in Riverton, UT for 8 years. I have worked 3 years for the Curriculum Department in Jordan School District as a Mentor Teacher Specialist. I am currently on sabbatical this year to complete administrative internships.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? Teaching first grade, I have had many. One of my favorites was during a lesson on chunks. We were studying the -ell pattern and I had a student raise their hand and say “hell” for our list we were generating. We talked briefly about the word, that hail–like the ice chunks, has a different ending -ail. We briefly mentioned there’s another version of the word that we don’t talk about at school. As I was trying to move along, a student raised his hand and said, “Miss Merritt, it’s like the song (and he began to sing)… ‘Highway to Hell…’ ”

What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? It is never to late to retrain your students on a routine or procedure. Routines or procedures make or break your classroom. If something isn’t working, reflect on it. You are the teacher–you can make changes! The kids will adjust just fine!

What is your favorite teacher resource?  I can’t think of just one! I read so much–staying on top of current learning and trends is important to me. Most recently I have been reading a lot on instructional coaching. One of my favorite sites for information here is the Teaching Channel. I also love studying Arizona K-12.
Describe any experience you have had in education policy: I have worked with the Utah National Board Coalition as the VP of Policy to host a Hill Day each year for the past 5 years up at the state capitol building. At this event, we present new teachers to the House of Representatives and the Senate. It’s an honor for these teachers to be recognized for their hard work. I have also worked with UEA and NEA on their Teacher Leadership Initiative and have been involved with helping to spread National Board Certification in the state of Utah.
What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? The biggest change I would like to see is a more positive outlook on education. It seems that education stories hit the news when bad things happen. My desire would be that teachers would be brave and share more of the positive things that are happening in their classrooms because they are seeing miracles everyday. As educators, we have the power to create change by sharing our stories of why we teach and the little miracles we see.
Thanks Amy for all you do for the students and teachers in Utah. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!
And because she looks so beautiful in this photo- I had to share:

How to Make a Public Comment on the Academic Pathway to Teaching (APT) Rule


Attention teachers and community members, this is your call to action. The Academic Pathway to Teaching will become a rule on August 30th unless the board hears enough compelling comments from the public on why this is a rule will negatively affect education in our state. You can read the rule in its entirety here.

There is so much more to teaching and the idea  that anyone who can pass a content test can teach completely minimizes the training teachers received in their teacher prep program. Those who are pro APT teachers argue that principals and district hiring teams will still ultimately have the say on who they hire, and can chose not to hire  Academic Pathway to Teaching teachers. However, I fear that the incredible damage to current teacher morale will be irreparable. The message will have been sent that teaching is easy, training isn’t needed, and there is no need to focus on educational pedagogy. With already low enrollment in Utah’s 10 current teacher prep programs, I worry that college students will stop choosing education as a college major altogether. You can read my full thoughts here.

Teachers- your voice can be heard and can make a difference. If you are like me, you may not have made very many public comments, but I promise it is easy. Simply submit your comments to



It’s Thursday- Thank a Teacher: Gay Beck Edition

Another Thursday, another teacher to recognize for all her amazing work! Mrs. Gay Beck is a great teacher, in fact she is an incredible teacher. That’s why she was the Utah State Teacher of the Year in 2011.


Here are Gay’s answers to a few questions I sent to her:

Where did you do your teacher prep?  I graduated from BYU in early childhood education and elementary education.

Where have you taught in your teaching career? I have taught kindergarten in Washington County School district and also worked with the district as an early childhood specialist. I have taught 2nd grade and kindergarten in Alpine School District. I am currently a full time kindergarten teacher at Highland Elementary.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? I love teaching 5&6 year olds.They always amaze me. I have had several funny responses in kindergarten especially during show and tell! Recently during it a student told the other kids to give her a call during the summer and handed out her mother’s business cards for them to contact her! I loved her creativity!

What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? I was recently talking to my husband about all the demanding aspects of my job and then I teared up and said “,but it’s only July and I am already excited to meet my new batch of kinders and bond with them and make a difference in each of their lives”. So, my advice is to always remember why you choose this profession and enjoy your students. Laugh with them, get to know them and be present in the moment! I love this saying- “When you question your decision to Go On Teaching, look into the eyes of a student who needs you, that’s where you’ll Find Your Passion Again” . It’s the relationships we build with them and the time we invest that makes the difference!

What is your favorite teacher resource? My favorite teacher resource is other teachers!! I always find I get the best advice from other educators. I learn the most from visiting their classrooms. Just this week I met with 4 Kindergarten teachers and we went through our new literacy program. We all shared resources and it was so helpful. Talk to colleagues and find out what they are reading, what classroom management they use etc. Follow educators on twitter! I also get ideas from teacher pay teacher. It saves valuable time.

Describe any experience you have had in education policy- I have had some great experiences in education policy this past year. I have learned we cannot just stay in our classrooms, we must let our teacher voices be heard where policy is being created.  Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the Senate Education Committee hearing on a Kindergarten bill. One Senator said it was the most compelling testimony he had heard in all his time on the hill. I realized I must speak for students who cannot speak for themselves. I also spoke along with 3 other educators to the House Education Committee on another bill concerning teacher evaluation. This bill ultimately passed and I realized we made a huge difference for all educators in our state. I was even invited to the signing of the bill with Governor Herbert! I believe teacher voice is needed to make the necessary changes in education. I love being a teacher leader and hope I can make a difference for the students of our state.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? I would love to see lower class sizes, more aide help for student interventions and more time for professional development!

Mrs. Beck, you are the best! Thank you for all you do for the students in Utah.



The USOE is Now the USBE

As all teachers know, there are many education acronyms. In order to talk to talk, it’s important to keep up with the professional lingo. The most recent change in terminology comes straight from the State. The Utah State Office of Education, also known as USOE, has officially changed its name to…drum-roll please…. the Utah State Board of Education or USBE.


So, as you’re casually talking with your friends about SAGE and IEPs, and how your PM is due by COB, make sure you don’t slip up and call the USBE the USOE, that’s just so passé.