For years, Learning Forward has advocated with federal policymakers for a definition of professional learning that aligns with what we know about effective professional learning, a definition that puts into action the Standards for Professional Learning in schools, districts, and states.

We’ve pushed for such a definition in federal law because we believe that policy influences practice. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law in December, we celebrated that it included an improved definition of professional learning (see “New Bill Offers a Good Start on Defining PD”), even as we asked educators to create professional learning systems that see that definition as necessary but not sufficient.

Not only do we believe that policy influences practice — and, in turn, that what policymakers do influences what practitioners do — we also believe the reverse — that practitioners influence what policymakers do. In the case of ESSA, practitioners have an opportunity to help policymakers shape how the education law translates to what happens at the state and local level.

No one knows educators’ learning needs better than they do themselves. Just as important, their understanding of their students’ learning needs is critical information to shape professional learning in the future. That’s why Learning Forward is partnering with the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future to offer the Agents for Learning Competition.

In the course of this competition, teams of teachers will offer their visions and insights for how allowable uses of funds under ESSA can support the kinds of professional learning systems that will help them continuously improve. You can read more about the competition here and find links to an application and a list of wonderful partners who join us in this effort. Finalist teams will have present their visions to a panel of judges in Chicago. Their work will be disseminated to policymakers at all levels to influence ESSA implementation.

Why should teachers spend precious time to articulate how ESSA can best support them? We can think of several reasons, and we’d be curious to hear why it matters to you.

  • As the law of the land, ESSA will be shaping what happens in schools. The complexities of policy implementation shouldn’t stop teachers from vocalizing what makes a difference in classrooms. Everyone engaged in this process has good intentions for schools, so why not use this time to inform policymakers about your world?
  • The very process of articulating a vision for what professional learning can do in schools and districts is valuable for educators. This is particularly true when the vision is created in collaboration with colleagues. A vision for the future is essential to improvement in schools.
  • When teachers raise their voices and share their expertise, they elevate themselves and the profession. They demonstrate that they hold themselves accountable to their students, peers, and communities, and that they hold high expectations for policymakers to do the same.

How will you raise your voice? How will you help others to do so? Why do you believe it is important?

Gather your team to enter the Agents for Learning Competition. The deadline for applications is June 10. Learn more here.

This post originally appeared in Learning Forward’s PD Watch