Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


A lone voice isn’t as important as a collective voice

By TEA President Beth Brown

As a high school English teacher, I have always operated under the philosophy that every student loves to read: reluctant readers simply haven’t yet found what it is they like. In my effort to spark their love of reading, I spend countless hours and innumerable conversations trying to discern exactly what it is that my students care about.

The same is true for most educators, I think. When planning learning opportunities for our students, we search for ways to connect students’ learning with their experiences, values, and interests. 

As association leaders, we must do the same thing. Margaret J. Wheatley, a writer who specializes in theories of change, leadership, and organizing, said, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” The 2019-2020 school year is upon us, and our association is quickly approaching the date by which we hope to accomplish two important goals: eliminating high-stakes decisions based on standardized tests and increasing student funding to at least the southeast average. In order to accomplish these goals by 2020, we must ask ourselves, “What’s important to our communities? How are their priorities connected to our 20/20 Vision goals?”

A new school year brings new communities: new groups of students, new colleagues, new parents, new members of your local association, and new elected officials. Of course, there are some communities in our lives that are more constant, such as our faith communities, civic and Greek organizations, and—not to be forgotten—our friends and family members. Do these communities care about standardized testing? Do they care about education funding? I would daresay that the answer for most of them is a resounding yes. So how do we get our communities involved in helping us reach our 20/20 Vision goals?

First, we must realize that our efforts to influence legislators’ and policy makers’ decisions about public education in Tennessee cannot be limited to the duration of a legislative session, the halls of the statehouse, or the offices of the Department of Education. Moreover, we must acknowledge that some decision-makers don’t prioritize what we, the educational experts, have to say about Tennessee’s public schools. 

With that understanding, we must work to have strong local associations, with strong ties to our various communities. Just as I helped my students fall in love with reading, we need to work at the local level to help the members of our various communities fall in love with advocating for their public schools.

Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel said, “A lone voice isn’t as important as a collective voice.” Colleagues, we cannot be the lone voice for our students. We need our communities to join us in our ongoing fight: a fight that will last until we can say that all students have a great public school that prepares them for success in a diverse and interdependent world. 

TEA, we are fighting for the schools our students deserve. Thank you for what you do each day for your students and for our great profession. 

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