The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “retreat” as a period of group withdrawal for study or instruction under a director. On Saturday, April 9th, I packed my bags and headed to the state capitol, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the Stand for Children Louisiana LEAD Fellowship retreat. After teaching for more than 20 years, I felt a responsibility to have my voice heard. LEAD gives you the tools on how to be an advocate for education.
Teachers are lifelong learners, and I was determined to learn more about public policy and advocacy. I have been a LEAD (Louisiana Educator Advocacy Educator) fellow for three years. We meet virtually monthly, but this is the first time since 2018 that we are meeting in person.
Our first event for the LEAD retreat was a welcome dinner Saturday night for those of us traveling from out of town. These people in person were very different than just a face in a box on a computer screen from our webinars. Despite the fact that we had spent months getting to know each other virtually, sitting there in person was awkward.
However, once we made our in-person introductions and shared our thoughts on advocacy and policy, I remembered that these are phenomenal educators from all over the state and we are all here for the same reason, TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
On Sunday, April 10th, we all met up in the lobby of our hotel at 8:30 a.m. and walked to the Stand Louisiana office for the first day of our retreat. We were greeted by the extraordinary Karen Clark, Marketing, Communications, and Development Director for Stand Louisiana. The incomparable, Kim Eckert, 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year, (one of her very many accolades) facilitated the day’s schedule including facilitated networking; the incredible guest speaker, Tramelle Howard, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member; equity in education, leadership, advocacy, policy, and the making change protocol. The end of the first day came too quickly.
My fellow LEAD advocates include teachers, librarians, and administrators but in this room, we all have one goal: to impact education policy for the good of the communities we serve.
Faten works with other LEAD Fellows in a small group.
We walked back to our hotel where some of us headed back to our rooms to recharge and some of us, including myself, headed to the pool to relax and chat. We all met up in the lobby at 5:30 p.m. and walked to the restaurant. Dinner was a conversation about current bills and policy led by Stand Louisiana’s Executive Director, Carrie Griffin Monica and Government Affairs Director, Brigitte Nieland, to prepare us for our visit to the Capitol the following day.
Monday, April 11th, we met up in the lobby and walked to the Stand Louisiana office for a brief orientation. From there, we walked to the Capitol. When we arrived, we took a group picture for posterity and then headed into the Capitol building. The feeling of walking into this historical building is overwhelming. This is my 2nd time visiting the Capitol building and I still had this immense feeling of history. You can read about the Capitol and its history but there is no substitute for experiential learning that happens when you are there. We started the day with a mock committee meeting. The LEAD fellows all agreed, THIS was their favorite part of the retreat. We played the role of the bill author, committee member, committee chair, concerned community member, and subject matter expert. The experience of being part of a mock committee meeting taught us about the ceremony of it all including the procedures, the language, and the order.
Faten sits at the table to provide testimony during a mock committee meeting.
After lunch in the Capitol’s cafeteria, LEAD fellows attended a House Appropriations Meeting where we were recognized by Representative Jack McFarland. We also attended a meeting of the Senate Committee on Retirement about a bill that could double pay for retired teachers who return to the classroom. Next, Fellows went on a tour of the Capitol including a trip to the top of the tower. Of course, another group picture for posterity was necessary.
Faten stretches to take a group selfie at the top of the Capitol building in Baton Rouge.
We then attended a full House meeting where we watched Representatives debate more bills. A great day of learning! Honestly, what we saw and what we heard just validated why we need more educators to be advocates and have their voices heard. Whether we voice our perspectives or not, laws are being passed that will affect us and our communities. Our silence also says something.
We went directly to dinner where we got to spend time with Dr. Cade Brumley, Louisiana State Superintendent, and many of our BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) members. We spoke candidly about our profession, our students, our communities, and our perspectives on laws. We also heard the same from the BESE members. This type of conversation allows BESE to better represent us and allows us to better understand BESE members’ role and thought processes.
Faten talks with Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley.
This day was a culmination of our preparation for months, sharing our voice with policy and law makers.
Tuesday, April 12th, we drove to the Claiborne Building, home of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) and BESE meetings. Yes, another group picture but with shades because our future is so bright. First, we met with Torey Hayward, Director of Teacher Leadership at LDOE, who shared his inspirational story with the LEAD Fellows. I know Torey as a fellow teacher from Jefferson Parish. There were quite a lot of familiar faces working at LDOE; people I had worked with that I was elated to see again. Fellow educators who are making a difference working to make education for our communities better.
Faten and the rest of the Fellows had to wear shades because the future is BRIGHT!
Fellows then attended BESE committee meetings where they were recognized by Dr. Brumley.
The retreat was full of activities and experiences but just like that, the retreat came to an end.
Where else could I have met these incredible educators from all over the state? Although, we all have different areas of expertise, being in a room of like-minded people is just what I needed.
Listening to stories and experiences of other LEAD Fellows and how they got to this point in their education career was inspiring. Hearing about their struggles, challenges, and successes was empowering. Learning about public policy advocacy, how to find your voice and be heard by policy makers is priceless. If you are an educator, and want to have your voice heard, apply to the LEAD Fellowship and become an advocate!