I think I might be an education advocate. I say “think” because I never thought my lone little voice was enough to make a difference. Oh sure, we all hear the power of one person speeches. We know individuals who had triumphed over incredible odds and become spokespeople. But that’s not me, is it? I don’t have any incredible background story. I feel like I’m just a regular teacher, but that right there is the point. I actually have some very valuable opinions on teaching, students, and what’s right for education, and believe it or not, people listen.
I’ve boiled it down to three things you need to do if you want to become an advocate, for education, or for anything really. How effective you are at getting heard is a matter of how much time, effort, and learning you put into your message. Basically, you have to 1) know the facts, 2) connect, and 3) speak up. That’s it.
Why Isn’t It Simple?
I’m the first one to play devil’s advocate and say, “Well, it isn’t that easy,” because like most people, I have self-esteem that I don’t like to see crushed. The thing is, you have to be brave. You have to believe your voice as a teacher matters. And you have to be willing to stand up for yourself. If you can do those things, and you probably already do them every day in some way, then you are worthy of being an education advocate. Put on those big kid undies and get ready to deal.
Know the Facts
It doesn’t matter what you want to advocate for, you need to know the facts. Read up on the issues important to you. Know both sides of the argument, so you aren’t surprised when someone plays the opposition. It depends on what you want to advocate for, but following local and state leaders on Twitter as well as belonging to professional groups is a good place to start. Follow the local, state, and national news and find out who the education correspondent at your newspaper is. Follow sites that report on education news and stay in the know. You might be surprised at what is out there. Remember the difference between fact and opinion and ground your arguments in the former.
Making connections is the key to getting your voice heard. I’m not saying you have to agree with your coworkers or the politics of the local law-maker, but you can connect on something. My mom once told me to start every parent conference with a compliment about the kid, so the parent can see that you care. People in general are the same way; compliment a recent ruling, news article, or interview. Make a personal connection (food and sports cover almost everyone you meet) before you get to the nitty gritty. Stay respectful and focus on those facts.
Connect with other educators through your personal learning network, Twitter, education chats, local ed camps, and local and national organizations such as ASCD, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Science Teacher’s Association, or The International Reading Association, to name just a few. Connect with local school board and policy makers by being at meeting and open forums, introduce yourself, and continue the connections following up with email or a short note. Make a business card (an oddity for teachers, I know) and put yourself out there.
Get vocal on issues that are important to you. If you feel strongly about a local tax issue, figure out who is in charge and volunteer time to canvas the area. Do you wish state lawmakers were talking to teachers in your area? Email them. Write them. Set up visits with them. Invite them to your school. Figure out who is on the education committee and make a point to contact each one in a positive way. Become an expert in social media. Schedule tweets and posts or write a blog. Remember to present facts and stay respectful. If you throw your local admin under the bus, they are likely to do the same to you. Posting statistics however…. That’s a little harder to combat and still gets your point across.
The point is, I realized that not only do I have a lot of opinions, I have a valuable voice. I teach children every day. I interact with parents throughout the community every day. The choices being made locally and nationally affect my kids every. Single. Day. I need to speak up for my kids, my school, my community, myself, and my profession. If we don’t, who will?
What ways are you able to affect change and where do you struggle?