We’ve already established that the experts on what is going on with you and your students in crisis learning, remote learning, and the changes coming to education in the near future are teachers and the students themselves.
Yet many teachers feel (as they always have in education) completely powerless.
There are always at least one or two teachers who respond to things that aren’t working by complaining and grumbling amongst themselves until things get so frustrating and upsetting that the issue becomes a big blowup.
Unfortunately, approaching your administrators demanding change while upset is likely to make them want to do the opposite of whatever you’re asking for.
But many teachers choose an equally unhelpful route. No one wants to be the “troublemaker”, and many teachers prefer to say nothing at all because of the fear of being hampered in their career goals.
The reality of our current situation is that we are currently experiencing a crisis in which everyone with good ideas and helpful solutions really needs to contribute. The crises that exist are many, and it will take everyone pitching in, finding potential problems and solutions, and making a team effort to get us through this difficult time.
Here are the steps to advocating for the changes you and your students need during this tumultuous time. We won’t sugar coat it - it will take work. However, being the passive recipient of other people’s plans that simply do not work when put into action is just as much or more work. By advocating for yourself and your students, you are (hopefully) frontloading the problem - ending it before it makes more of a mess than we already have.
While going through the process, keep in mind that one thing we’re trying to accomplish is bridging the vertical communication gap. Administrators are not in your shoes, and during the pandemic, you are in shoes NO ONE else has been in. They won’t be able to understand and fix the issues unless they know the issues exist. A large part of advocating during this time is just information-sharing.
The first step in advocacy is identifying the problem.
Identify the Specific Problem
Teachers tend to have a “stream of conscious” ability to complaining. They’ll start with one problem, then throw in another unrelated but equally frustrating issue, and keep doing that until no one really knows what the actual complaint is.
That kind of approach is just griping, it’s not advocacy.
In order to be able to seek help and obtain it, the first step is to identify exactly what the problem is. Sometimes it’s helpful to sit down and think of every single thing that’s going wrong. Make a list. Keep writing until you run out of things to complain about.
Then go back to your list. Group similar thoughts together. Are there any issues that aren’t things that you need an administrator’s help with - that you could change on your own? Give those issues their own separate list. You’ll solve those issues differently.
Once you’ve whittled your list down and organized it, decide which issue is most pressing. That’s the one thing you’ll target first for change.
Identify all the elements of that problem - what things within the problem need to change in order for the larger problem to be fixed? Are there any components outside the problem that would also have to change if you changed this one thing?
Define the issue in as much detail as possible.
And never make the issue a person. Always look for a common enemy that involves a procedure that doesn’t work, a policy that needs to be reworded, or a system that’s missing a key element.
Remember, you can’t change other people. You can only control your own actions. But, you can change the effects people have over things, procedures, policies, and systems.
And one of the most important things of advocating for change is that you have to clean up your own mess. Never bring a problem to someone’s attention without also providing a solution. That’s what the next steps are all about.
In our next article in this series, we’ll talk about how and why you should involve other people in proposing problem-solving methods, as well as the importance of determining who you will address in your search for change.