How to Become a Teacher Advocate
I am inspired and energized by educators every day. We wake up in the pre-dawn hours to prepare for students and collaborate. Then we drive home in the dark reflecting on the day’s successes and struggles.
Passionate educators persevere. In spite of systems challenges and constrictive schedules, teacher-leaders emerge and take on extra responsibilities (often without additional time or compensation) in order to better serve our students, colleagues, and larger school community.
We do this because we love teaching and learning. We do this because we believe all students, regardless of ZIP code, deserve a high-quality education. We do this because we love our students, care about the future of the profession, and want to improve our schools. We do this in spite of magazine covers that show a gavel positioned over an apple and feature rhetoric that attempts to de-professionalize our work by labeling us “rotten” or ineffective.
But sometimes we are so focused on our daily responsibilities and the students in front of us that we tune out the conversations happening about public education beyond our school walls. The social and mass media chatter is all too quick to point out flaws in our system but often falls short on highlighting teacher-created solutions and successes.
This is why it has never been more important for teachers to share our stories and serve as advocates for the profession. Today’s teachers are called not only to teach but also to serve as ambassadors for public education.
I’ve blogged before about the need for teacher advocates and pushed for teacher activists. But how do busy practitioners open up their practice and “go public” with their work? How do we serve as advocates and keep up with the day-to-day demands of teaching?
Seeing ourselves as teacher-leaders and advocates for public education is key. If we don’t see ourselves in this role, we leave the door open for others outside the profession to tell our stories and determine the successes (and shortcomings) of our schools.
Teacher advocates see the bigger picture and purpose of public education. We ask lots of questions. We problem solve and push back against the status quo. We take initiative. We wonder out loud and imagine possibilities. We say “Yes” often when asked to explain our work to others despite our busy schedules. We see advocacy as part of what it means to be an educator.
Ready to take the plunge, but not sure where to start? Advocacy can be as informal as a one-on-one conversation with a parent or as formal as preparing public comments and testifying before a local school board, state board of education, or other governing body. To prepare for advocacy work, it is valuable for teachers to get connected to other teacher advocates.
Teacher leadership networks and communities like the Center for Teaching Quality or National Writing Project, national and international professional organizations for specific content areas and teacher interests (like NCTE, ASCD, and ISTE to name a few), and associations (NEA and AFT) connect educators and provide opportunities and platforms for teacher-advocacy work. These networks can also provide the space, support, and professional learning teacher-leader advocates need to get started.
Just beginning your leadership journey as a union member? Schedule a conversation with your building association representative or local association president to learn about advocacy support and opportunities. Terrified of public speaking but have a story worth sharing with policymakers? Seek support from other teacher-leaders and engage in virtual learning opportunities to cultivate your public speaking skills. Using the standards in your school to accelerate student learning and critical thinking? Become a Core Advocate and align yourself with others educators who are authoring curriculum and leading professional learning efforts regionally and across the country. Are you a new National Board-certified teacher? Get connected with other NBCTs and support future candidates, or create a candidate cohort in your school or district.
Advocacy is a choose-your-own-adventure journey. Develop your own community of practice based on your interests, passions, and goals. At its heart, authentic advocacy rooted in the needs of your students or school community can transform challenges into solutions, and complaints into celebrations.
Tweet All About It
If going public feels daunting, remember advocacy can begin with 140 characters or less. Social media is an easy way to connect with education advocates and share ideas, expertise and information. There are dozens of Twitter chats led by and for teacher advocates and teacher-leaders who share a passion for the profession and student learning. For example, start your day bright and early with the teacher-led “Breakfast Club” (#BFC530) fifteen-minute chat or log onto a number of evening content or network-specific Twitter chats.
Informally sharing positive stories is valuable as well. Read a great blog post about a classroom or school project that should be taken to scale? Post a comment and share it with others via social media or email. Did your students create something amazing in class? Snap a picture, craft a caption, and publish it to your school or district’s website in addition to social media. Start your own blog, class website, or author an op-ed about what’s working (or what’s needed) in your school. Invite your students to do the same. Giving students an authentic audience can provide a rich context for learning. And inviting informal feedback from others can grow your practice and classroom community in powerful ways.
The Other PTA: Parent-Teacher Advocate
Parents who are educators are uniquely positioned to drive and shape the public education narrative. Are you a public school teacher who has chosen to send your own kids to local public schools? Use your parenting experiences in conjunction with your teaching skills to serve as a public education advocate.
Stay abreast of education news and engage in online and face-to-face dialogue about education issues. Attend a school board meeting or public hearing and introduce yourself as a parent and public school teacher vested in strengthening the schools in your neighborhood. Talk to your friends, family, and community members about pro-public education ballot initiatives during elections. Everyone seeks input from professionals in their respective fields; why not make yourself the go-to person for education issues in your social and professional circles?
Practicing teachers: If issues of social justice and equity led you to the profession, you are an advocate for public education. Reflect on why it is you do what you do—then share that with others. Together we can shift the dialogue about the purpose and current state of public education and seek systems level solutions for our students.