In our last post, we talked about the need for educators, as the only experts in the field currently, to step up and share information about what they and their students need especially in this time of pandemic and unrest.
On the whole, teachers do not like that they are not invited to the table in decision-making conversations, but they don’t always know how to get involved.
Our hopes are to provide an outline with some guidance, then return to the topic at hand with more specific information on vertical problem-solving and constructive conversations about how to solve the very large problems we are currently facing in education.
Gather Colleagues and Recruit Others
Advocacy is really difficult to do alone. It’s important to approach others who are also experiencing the same issues and ask for their help in finding a solution. Keep in mind that teachers are usually classified (by themselves and others) as outspoken trouble-makers or passive-aggressive complainers. In the past, they have either been the sort to yell about every tiny problem from the treetops or huddle in a group and whisper about it.
Change is necessary, and it can happen, but it may be messy until you get the hang of it. Give yourself, your administrators, and your colleagues grace as you all try to forge a new path of cooperation.
What you’re trying to do in gathering colleagues to build a bridge of communication is to convince both kinds of teachers to choose an alternate path between the two former extremes: research-based, collective problem-solving.
You aren’t storming the board meeting with picket signs in anger; you’re creating documents filled with information and alternate strategies. There’s a big difference, and your way is going to work so much better than yelling or whispering.
It will be difficult when you begin. You may have to fight the first few battles alone or with a very small collection of colleagues before other teachers can be convinced that you aren’t going to get fired for talking about things candidly and that problems can indeed be solved quietly and without a team of lawyers.
And don’t just rely on fellow educators. If parents and students are being affected and have something to say, they should be involved. Listen to them. Enlist their help.
To be clear, this is not a gossip session, trying to get someone fired, or the spread of rumors. Be sure you aren’t just trying to rile people up and create an angry mob. You are looking unemotionally at a problem that can be solved with creativity, compromise, and discussion. If you can’t approach it without deep negative emotion, don’t.
Identify the Decision-Maker
This step is vital. You have to know where this particular decision or policy came from in order to properly affect change. If you prepare everything you need and make a good presentation to the principal, but the issue is actually a policy made on the state legislative level, you may convince your principal to join your advocacy group (not a small thing - that may be part of your strategy in creating change), but you’re nowhere near your ultimate goal.
It’s sometimes hard to figure out where ideas, policies, and procedures come from. Finding out who exactly you’ll be addressing may take a while, and you may end up accidentally addressing the wrong people sometimes, but often, in that situation, you’ll get closer to who the actual decision-maker is (or who members of the decision-making group are).
Part of the advantage of identifying the decision-maker is that you can keep in mind what things they usually agree with, what they automatically shoot down, and what their communication style may be. We’ll talk more about that in later articles.
Are we suggesting manipulation and using politics to your advantage? Yes. A little. But be sure you’re using your powers for good and not evil, please.
We will leave this topic, for now, to continue with our general overview of the process teachers can take in advocating for changes, but look for future installments in the coming weeks in which we discuss particulars for addressing board members, legal disputes, and how to influence law-makers.
We’ll take a look at the general guidelines of researching solutions and presenting your case to administrators and/or board members. We’ll also share where to find the best research and why you need to develop a formal presentation.