Advocacy Tips: Finding Your Inner Teacher Leader

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I glanced down at my royal blue heels for a little bit of #shoeconfidence as I sat in the waiting room at the Governor's office. I was there for a hard-won appointment with an education policy advisor.

I was ready to speak for my students. My proposal—about establishing a seat for a teacher on the Florida State Board of Education—was neatly summarized in one page. I was geared up with talking points, including statistics about how many states have teacher input on their boards of education.

But I battled imposter syndrome. What am I doing here? Who am I to keep calling, emailing, and pushing until I get an appointment?

It helped to think about my students. So many laws affecting my students—for better or for worse—had rested in stacks on the very desk I could glimpse in the advisor's office. Time for me to sit up straight in my seat (Mama would be proud!) and put on my big-girl britches.

After this experience, I realized I needed to ink out some strategies for the next time a wave of teacher-leader uncertainty hits me. So I drew up my own personal confidence tip sheet—I hope you'll find it useful and add your own suggestions:

1) As educators, we are experts. We witness the impact of policy decisions at the ground level. And we know the students that we serve, as my colleague Jessica Keigan pointed out recently. We must not be afraid to get involved in decisions that affect them—and to speak frankly about what a new policy will mean in our classrooms.

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Education Week PD Webinar now available on-demand: Daniel Pink on How Teachers Can 'Sell' More to Students

2) We are going to hear "no" sometimes. And that's okay! My cohort of teacherpreneurs and teachers-in-residence at the Center for Teaching Quality recently finished a book study on Daniel Pink's To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Pink discusses the power of embracing "no's" as a part of moving forward. It is okay to get some "no's!" They are opportunities to reflect and reassess. And they mean that you are trying.

3) We must be deliberate and tenacious when we hear those "no's." We must reflect on and rethink our strategies, perhaps shifting to gentle nudges or leveraging new relationships. In the film Finding Nemo, Dori says, "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming." Even if it feels like we're dog-paddling upstream, we're still making progress.

4) We must consider all perspectives. This is going to seem a little Pollyanna-esque, but I truly believe there is no such thing as a person in education policy that dislikes children or thrives on their failure. We must be careful about pointing fingers and burning bridges. We may find that we have similar visions—if different pathways to get there. Tapping into shared visions can be powerful.

5) We must listen. My teacherpreneur colleague Jessica Cuthbertson recently wrote about how having laryngitis reminded her of the power of active listening. We need to listen to others’ perspectives and ideas—and to do so without muddling them with our preconceived notions. (I know, I know, it's easier said than done.)

6) We must remember that courage does not happen without fear. Courage involves facing, embracing, and working through those fears. Confession: I have a sticky note on my bedroom mirror. On this yellow square are four words: Grow your froglegs, tadpole. What does it mean? Growing teacher leader froglegs is a big transition, a sometimes scary metamorphosis.

Also, experiencing fear is not always a disadvantage. It is a natural part of being a learner, of stepping out of our comfort zones. We must leverage that fear as momentum, embracing it as a signal of our passion for our students and as evidence of our own growth as professionals.

So, you might be wondering, how did my meeting go? I spoke for my students. I presented the facts. I listened. Another meeting is now on the calendar.

In the three years I've been advocating for this idea, I've heard a lot of "no's." But I keep on swimming. I keep reminding myself that being nervous means I care. I owe it to my students to wear my big-girl britches (and yes, my confidence-boosting heels) when I advocate.

What tips do you have to share?

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