A year ago I was gearing up to start my Policy Fellowship at the D.C. State Board of Education. As with most new opportunities I felt waves of excitement followed by small pits of nervousness. Today is my last day with the State Board, and similar feelings are coming up as I think about the transition to my new position as an Instructional Aide for a moderate/severe special education classroom. This blog is a reflection of my one year at the State Board, but it’s also a letter to incoming Policy Fellows who may be wondering what to expect.
This fellowship was one of my most transformative work experiences. Apart from the vast professional growth, I also learned so much about D.C.’s complex education landscape. My goal from the onset of this fellowship was to gain a better understanding of the education policy process and learn how government agencies were advocating for and implementing improvements for all students. I had big questions like:
- What’s being done to make schools more equitable in the D.C.?
- Who has the decision-making power for schools in D.C.?
- In what direction are D.C. schools headed?
- What hurdles remain keeping the State Board from advancing its goals?
Then I started the Policy Fellowship, and at first I felt like an observer, taking in as much information accessible to me. I read a lot of the reports and memos released by the State Board; I took diligent notes at different D.C. Council hearings and roundtables, as well as State Board working sessions and public meetings. My most significant takeaways came as I listened in and took notes at D.C. Council hearings—it was interesting to hear from D.C. residents and government witnesses, but it was even more interesting to see what resulted from these meetings. A new piece of legislation? More accountability from a specific government agency? Policy may move slowly, but it surely does move when enough people continue advocating for a cause and making their voices heard.
Patience and perseverance are necessary when working in the policy-world. In simply observing, I learned so much and started forming answers to my initial questions. Then, something changed a few months into the role and I started getting more leadership opportunities. I got research requests, led trainings and meetings, assisted with the policy fellow hiring process, and was asked for my input on State Board agenda items. New questions started forming, and my momentum to continue this policy work grew.
Which leads to another takeaway: Education and policy have more overlaps than one might think. Although I’ll be in the classroom this upcoming school year working as an instructional aide, I understand that my role as an educator holds political influence. Educator perspective is desperately sought out by government actors and is critical to properly influence education policy. Knowing how to get involved in policy can be intimidating and confusing to an educator, but this fellowship opened my eyes to the different avenues available for educators to have their voices heard.
As my time at the State Board ends, I can confidently say that this fellowship exceeded my expectations. I learned so much, and felt that my input and ideas were valued. I leave this fellowship knowing that I will devote my career to education, both in policy and in the classroom.