So far in this series, we’ve talked about narrowing your focus to one specific need or complaint, gathering others to help you make a change, and identifying the decision-maker(s) you should address in asking for changes.
Today we’ll focus on something many teachers overlook or skip: doing your homework. We’re worse than our students on this one, many times!
This is the point at which you will really need several people to be able to divide and conquer. If the first item on your list of things to change is too complicated to research on your own or with the people you’ve agreed to work with, you may have to start over from square one and find a new issue to work on until you can build a larger team to help with research.
A complaint is unlikely to go anywhere without some thought and research. Some problems just take creativity to solve, but most require at least a little research. Luckily, we’re living in an information age, and generally, you can find whatever information you need online.
There are so many resources on education - what works, what doesn’t work, what could be possible. You just have to take the time to look for it.
Start by simply typing a question or thought into your search engine and see what pops up. If you don’t get enough solid information from that query, dig deeper by searching for education blogs and websites that have a firmer research base. Our blog, for example, is great to print out and hand to an administrator, but we are NOT a good source for deep research because we don’t print our sources in our articles. We DO research our topics, but because ours is a casual and more conversational blog, we don’t publish all of that information in every article.
More academic sites like MindShift and Education Week are more journalistic and have sources to back up their information. A great benefit for approaching your administrators with these sorts of sources is that you can confirm that a more scientific approach has been taken and there is research backing your own claims.
Still better, though, are the resources you used when you were in college. There are databases for education journals straight from researchers themselves. This is where we, along with MindShift, Education Week, and all the other education blogs go to get original material anyway. You can always follow the trail back to these journal articles and use them specifically as sources, although many administrators are fine with information from less formal sources.
It’s better to start with these higher-ranking sources in the beginning and build your own credit as a reliable researcher than to just speak from your own experiences and expect change.
The more data and written proof you have to back up what you want, the more accessible change will be. It is very difficult for anyone to argue with research.
Create a Presentation
Don’t just show up on your principal’s doorstep and say, “Hey, here’s something I don’t like. Here are some articles about it. Please change this.”
You need to do your due diligence.
Make and prepare an actual presentation. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but you’re trying to convince someone to make a change. The more you can show in numbers and data, the better off you’ll be. As you sift through information and piece it together, you will become an expert on your topic. You’ll be able to answer questions that may arise when you present the information, and you will seem much more prepared and put together.
Compare in your mind a picket line with protesting teachers who just know they want and need a pay raise with a presentation with actual data and research findings on how raises can be more cost-effective for schools in the long-run. What if, in the presentation, there were ideas as to where the money for raises could come from? If you were a board member, which would you be more drawn to?
The resounding thought you may be having by this point (if you haven’t started thinking it much earlier on) is, “Why do I have to do all that work? This is not my job.”
We would ask you to think about that for a moment.
If you are asking for change, it is indeed your job.
Should school boards go out of their way to make teachers and other educators happy? Yes, but they won’t. It’s entirely likely that the average board member has never been in the classroom setting as a teacher and may have no idea what would make an educator happy.
School board members are elected volunteers in most places (if not all). They don’t get paid to do what they already do. It is a challenge for board members to go so far out of their way to gather information in a field in which most have no training or experience. Frankly, the very idea sounds ludicrous.
Remember, teachers are the experts
It’s the change YOU want. YOU need to make the commitment to do the work to make it happen. No one will do it for you - and even if they did, it would probably be wrong because you, your colleagues, and your students are the ones who really know what is working and what isn’t right now.
In our next article, which is the final one of this series, we’ll talk about how to present your information in a way that will make it difficult to resist, after which we will wrap up our overview.
Stay tuned for further information on exactly how to go about talking to board members, what you should do if you find yourself in need of legal action, and best practices for advocating for changes in state and national laws.