Policy Can Be About Empowerment: Guest Blogger Abby Menter

I remember being in my undergrad program at Ohio State wondering, “Who would ever want to go into policy?” My younger self found it to be boring, useless, and only vaguely connected to the practice of teaching. In fact, I don’t know that much has changed in the last part of that thought stream. Often, in the context of schools, there is an underlying assumption that policy equals changed practice. I remember thinking that this was pretty pointless—essentially because people have agency, experiences, and deeply held values that inform their practice. This perspective was also largely due to a desire to resist punitive accountability measures for teachers—measures that limit our creativity, our autonomy, and our ability to engage meaningfully with students in favor of checking boxes and doing what we’re “supposed” to do.

            A lot has changed for me over the past few years, as I have gained more experience working with students and teachers both. Over the course of this class, however, I also realized that “good” policies are ones that empower people. I had always thought about them as restricting forces, but am now able to conceptualize policy as something that has potential, something that can open doors, and something that can maybe make an actual difference. Another change that has happened for me from this class is the idea of policies as being values-driven. Certainly, I have long understood the problematic nature of policy as a vehicle for promoting certain values and often a specific ideology. What I didn’t understand, however, was that, again, a “good” policy is one that acknowledges this transparently and up front.

            I’m not sure where, exactly, seeing policy a boring set of rules that were made to be broken morphed into an obsession with the complexity of how individual and communal agents navigate the world of policy and all of its implications. Probably that happened somewhere between being a classroom teacher, becoming a leadership coach, and realizing that the struggle to maintain hope in the current educational climate is very, very real. But I deeply believe that approaching this work from a lens of understanding human agency, empowerment, and complexity, while value-laden itself, helps me see the world in a new, hopeful way.

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