To the Editor:
Tennessee Teacher of the Year Derek Voiles recently wrote a blog post ("Want to Improve Schools? Look to Teacher Leaders," Teacher-Leader Voices blog, September 18, 2018) about teacher leadership. In Mississippi, we've learned a lot about how to elevate the voices of teachers from our neighbors in Tennessee—and from our own teachers who have played a major role in shaping the policies leading to unprecedented academic growth.
Anna Morris, a 2nd grade teacher at Oak Grove Lower Elementary in Hattiesburg, Miss., and our 2016 Teacher of the Year, spoke on the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) podcast. She believes teachers "should have a foot in policy and a foot inside [the] classroom door" because "what [teachers] create becomes [their] students' reality."
Since I became state superintendent, we have worked to engage teachers in policy decisions. We expanded outreach to teachers and partnered with Chiefs for Change. The bipartisan network of state and district education leaders introduced us to teacher leadership models from Tennessee, Louisiana, and New Mexico, and this helped us develop our own strategy.
We created a teacher advisory council that's partnering with us to overhaul professional development programs and build resources to help teachers identify high-quality instructional materials. Recently, we announced two other exciting teacher leadership initiatives: a fellowship to support teachers in promoting policies they believe best meet their students' needs and a pilot in which outstanding teachers will coach other educators and mentor those who are new to the profession.
The impact of empowering teachers can be seen in our state's latest NAEP results. Mississippi is one of only several states that demonstrated significant growth. I'm pleased with our progress and am glad to see state school chiefs engaging teachers in policy decisions. When we give teachers opportunities and support, they're willing and ready to lead—and when we listen to teachers, we realize just how much we can learn from them.