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Teacher Advocacy: Know When to Hold 'Em

Lori Nazareno

Ironically, I just attended an event at the American Institutes for Research intended to celebrate and elevate teacher voice, only to find someone who is not a teacher telling the story of a situation in which I was involved. As it turns out, that story provides an example of a key point: When engaged in advocacy work, we need to know when to compromise and when to hold tight to our position.

When my district in Denver was developing our new teacher-evaluation system, I was the teacher chair of the design team. Early in the process we were given several preexisting evaluation systems and were directed to review them and select one for adoption. After careful analysis, our team agreed that none of them would meet the needs of our students and teachers. Namely, they inadequately addressed the needs of English-language learners and did not include observation of student behaviors, which we believed to be of paramount importance.

As the teacher chair, I shared the team's analysis and brought forth the recommendation that we design our own evaluation system. This recommendation was a significant shift in the planned direction for the entire process. And, in a defining moment, we stood our ground and told them that we had all signed up to be on a design team ... not an adoption team. We went on to say that if they wanted us to be an adoption team, then they could find other people to do that work.

Despite substantive increases in time, cost, and work load, the district leadership ultimately agreed with our team and provided us the opportunity to design our own system.

In many ways, this exchange signaled to teachers across the district that the voices of teachers were going to be heard and incorporated into the development of the system. As we moved forward many more issues arose and frequently we compromised, but this single issue was worth standing our ground on. In the end, our teachers and our students have been the beneficiaries of this defining moment.

When engaged in advocacy work, teachers must have a clear sense of what is worth compromising and what is worth holding onto. There are times when we must seek common ground and there are times when we must stand strong on behalf of our students and our profession. It is important to know which approach to take and when.

What issues are you willing to work to find common ground on?
What issues are you not willing to compromise on?
How do you decide which approach to take?

Lori Nazareno is currently a Teacher-in-Residence for the Center for Teaching Quality. Her work there focuses on school redesign and she is a dually certified National Board-certified teacher with 25 years of classroom experience.

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