When I was invited to represent my school district in Shanghai, China, for the Global Cities Education Network (GCEN) meeting in April of this year, I was ecstatic. City teams from Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Toronto, Houston, and Seattle were gathering to trade insight and stories on scaling up 21st-century teaching—and I was going to be a part of the action.

We met in Shanghai with the hopes of better understanding why students from that city achieve consistently high rankings on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The PISA is a test administered every three years that aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students (OECD).

This was the fourth time policymakers and education leaders from these six cities had come together to discuss global education. But I was a first-timer and one of only two classroom teachers in attendance—most attendees were policy leaders and researchers. So for me, the learning curve was steep. I had to elevate my classroom-based ideas and engage my brain towards systems thinking. I knew I would have to look beyond my classroom and think at the district/national level in order to make comparisons to global education policy.

In the weeks before Shanghai, I tried to push my thinking at every meeting I attended. I listened carefully to comments and questions and asked myself: How does this feed into district/national education policy? What impact has district/national policy had on this person’s classroom?

It was a worthwhile exercise that expanded my thinking. Here are some questions that arose out of this process:

  • How does/could the district’s professional development plan address this need for ___?
  • How could the district support collaboration between teachers from different schools to leverage expert teacher knowledge?
  • What relationship does our district have with pre-service teachers? How could we better prepare teachers in training?
  • What support systems exist at the district level to support and mentor new teachers?

In addition to this thinking, I read every paper previously published by the GCEN group, watched countless hours of YouTube videos, had conversations with local policy leaders and stakeholders, and consumed as much research as I could on 21st-century teaching. It was a living literature review—all in an effort to familiarize myself with the conversations that I would encounter in Shanghai.

The experience of preparing for the GCEN meeting brought some common sense to the forefront for me: education policy leaders and classroom teachers need each other. We have so much to learn from one another.

I learned a few things about how teachers and policy leaders can prepare themselves for collaborating with one another:


  • Know the audience: Who is in the room? How can you anchor your idea to their work?
  • Think systems: There are many possible conversations that could occur when discussing education. Make sure that you’re having the right conversation with the right audience.
  • Conduct a Lit review: Be well-versed. Research, read, and ask for help from experts (hello, CTQ).

Policy leaders:

  • Know the audience (Part 1): What teachers are in the room? How can you leverage their expertise? What impact do these educational policies have on the classroom?
  • Know the audience (Part 2): If there are no teachers present, ask why. Advocate for their participation as critical partners in education policy work.
  • Conduct a Lit review: Know the policies (e.g. the CCSS), read teachers’ comments and concerns about those policies, and ask for help from teacher experts (CTQ).

The ecstatic feeling was transformed into a sense of responsibility. I returned to the United States anxious to share and collaborate with district policy leaders and fellow teachers on the work of scaling up 21st-century teaching.

What are some of the obstacles to teacher involvement in policy making? How can we remove them? 

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