Leadership Policy Professional Learning
Once a Fellow, Always a Fellow
June 22, 2017
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Diarese George

What’s my next move? What are my options? Are there opportunities for growth beyond the classroom? In the classroom? This time last year, these were questions that I had asked myself. At the time, I had just completed my fourth academic year of teaching and wondered what my professional trajectory looked like in the coming years. I transitioned into education after working in business for six years after college. In business, there was always an understanding that if you came into an entry-level role, depending on the company, you should be preparing for upward mobility within 2-3 years. Having surpassed that timeframe in the classroom, I was anxious to see what my next steps in the profession would be. That’s when I came across teacher education fellowship opportunities after reading Commissioner McQueen’s monthly Educator Update. (See past updates and sign up to receive them here.)

I decided to apply to Hope Street Group’s State Teacher Fellowship, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship, and Education Pioneers Summer Fellowship. I was surprised to be accepted to each of them! At the conclusion of this year, I have completed each fellowship. Reflecting on them, I see they each offered unique experiences that have equipped me to be a better educator.

My Education Pioneers Fellowship placed me at the Tennessee Department of Education in the Office of Licensure and Educator Preparation. Last summer I worked on a project that explored the opportunities and challenges of school districts collaborating with education preparation programs to create partnerships. Working at this level helped me to see education from a broader lens, especially regarding an initiative like that. That experience helped me to reframe my thought process and view situations from different perspectives. It also gave me access to executive directors across various departments, professional development with the Commissioner, and a chance to view the Department’s five Education Priorities at work in real time.

I participated in both the Hope Street Group and SCORE Fellowships at the same time during the 2016-2017 academic year. The Hope Street Group Fellowship connected me with other teachers and local and national policymakers to give feedback on critical education policy issues, while serving as a spokesperson for positive change in the profession. I also was able to provide feedback to the Department of Education regarding professional development, chronic absenteeism, and RTI2. Additionally, Fellows convened throughout the year to receive advocacy training to aid in our roles. Three of the most helpful things that I learned are how to utilize Twitter for professional development, how to participate in and host Twitter chats, and how to conduct a meaningful focus group.

The SCORE Fellowship selects teacher leaders from across the state to train them to advocate and elevate their voices to support and advance student-focused education policy. SCORE provided the historical context of education policy in Tennessee, including where the state started and how it became the fastest improving in the country. This Fellowship connected me with key individuals and policymakers who played a role in the state’s improvement. It also equipped and empowered me to lead my own advocacy project, which centered on supporting educators of color in Tennessee. SCORE convened Fellows four times throughout the year to provide both advocacy training to support our projects and opportunities to meet key stakeholders, including Commissioner McQueen, executive directors from national education reform organizations, state legislators, and gubernatorial candidates.

My participation in each one of these fellowships has left me feeling enlightened, equipped, and energized to continue to engage in the policy work that I have begun. As my fellowships concluded, I remind myself that the work is just starting. We need more educators involved in education policy and engaging policymakers. When highly effective educators inform and shape education policies based on their practical knowledge and experience of excellent teaching and learning, the results are better for students. I highly recommend any of these fellowships to any educator who is looking to advocate on behalf of students and make an impact in the policy space. Each one of these fellowships proclaim once a Fellow, always a Fellow. For that, I will forever be connected to these organizations, their ongoing work, and the future Fellows who participate in them.

Diarese has taught Business courses at Clarksville High School for the past three years. In that time, he has served as a lead instructor for the school’s career Academy, member of the Instructional Leadership Team and an Academy lead in cross­-curricular collaboration for project­-based learning. He is a graduate of his district’s Leadership Development course, and a district­-wide Professional Development facilitator for Microsoft Excel training. Diarese holds a BBA in Marketing and Management and M.A. in Corporation Communications from Austin Peay State University, MBA from University of Phoenix and an Ed.D. in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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