Ten Tips for New Education Policy Leaders

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Jumping into state education policy can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least. Beyond learning the ins and outs of polices that govern the entire educational spectrum, there are processes to understand and priorities to set. To help those of you who are new to your roles, we asked veteran education policymakers to share some of their best advice for getting started and laying the foundation for your time in office. Here’s what they shared:

  • Identify your priorities. It’s important to have a plan in place as you begin your new role. Focus on creating your agenda for the upcoming months and develop the goals, policy priorities and actions needed to accomplish your vision.
  • Familiarize yourself with people behind the policy. Understanding the political landscape can be a challenging part of the job, especially for new leaders who may not come from a political background. Get to know all the actors involved in creating policy in your state, including the governor’s office, state education agency, state board of education, higher education officers and state legislators.
  • Learn the policymaking process. Each state has a unique approach when it comes to policy creation and implementation. Get to know the ins and outs of policymaking in your state, including the budget process.
  • Create a communications plan. Working with the media can be a powerful tool to elevate your voice as an education leader, so be open to working with them in implementing your vision.
  • Connect with leaders in local communities. Engage in deeper relationship-building around the state by convening key stakeholders, such as school leaders, teachers and parents. Learn more about their priorities, and share your vision and ideas for your new position.
  • Collect data to inform your agenda. Gather relevant data points from your team and partners to help drive decisions and educate others on the current educational environment and future policy initiatives.
  • Be collaborative. Be willing to work across the aisle, across departments and across the education spectrum to create better education policy; it’s key to success.
  • Seek out nonpartisan, unbiased resources. National policy groups, like Education Commission of the States, exist to support you. These organizations can help you with research, connect you with other states and leaders, and provide counsel as you tackle education challenges in your state.
  • Find a mentor. Connecting with the person who held the role before you or holds a similar role in another state might be a helpful way to learn more about your position, policy opportunities and challenges, in addition to receiving mentorship.
  • Remember why you sought office. Don’t forget why you sought election or appointment to your position. Set a strong vision; and use all the resources, connections and relationships available to be successful in your work.

We’re always here to help — whether it’s research, analysis, counsel, testimony or something else, don’t hesitate to reach out to Your Education Policy Team. Best of luck in your new role!

Author profile
State Relations Strategist at Education Commission of the States | dscott@ecs.org

As a state relations strategist, Deven works to build relationships with all policymakers and seeks opportunities to support their education priorities. She is the liaison for Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. She comes to Education Commission of the States with experience from both the state and national policy arenas, having held positions in a governor’s office and the U.S. Senate. Deven earned both a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Dakota — Go 'Yotes!

Author profile
State Relations Strategist at Education Commission of the States | lfreemire@ecs.org

Lauren supports the state relations team in cultivating relationships and building partnerships with all Education Commission of the States Commissioners. She is the liaison for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Lauren worked on public policy and government relations with Save the Children Action Network in Colorado, Clayton Early Learning, National Conference of State Legislatures and with several members of the legislative and executive branches in Colorado. Lauren is dedicated to helping policymakers across the states connect and collaborate to improve education systems for all students.

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