In Advocacy, Focus on Students and Solutions
One need not look very far to notice that many of our traditional systems and structures, including American education, are in turmoil. They are now on shifting sands, ready to fall away so that new ideas and approaches can emerge to transform education in this country. The stage is set for teachers to step up, take action, and begin to build the profession and education system that our children and our communities deserve. It is in this climate that teachers can, and must, seize the opportunity to transform our profession, formulate solutions, and advocate on behalf of students.
Over the last several years I have had the good fortune of being able to teach, lead, and advocate in a variety of ways, including by working with a state legislator on a bill intended to address teacher licensure, leading a design team that developed our district's teacher-evaluation system, and creating a teacher-led school. Here is what I have learned about how teachers can do this work so that we are heard:
- Always maintain your classroom perspective. Oftentimes teachers feel intimidated or unprepared to talk to decision makers. Many have embraced the idea that "other people" know more than we do. However, when it comes to matters of instruction and meeting the needs of students this is untrue. When we speak the truth from our classroom perspective, we are the experts.
- Do what you do best ... teach! Many times, decisions are made based on information from unreliable sources or from an uninformed perspective. Most often, the information is not from a classroom-level view of how decisions affect students. Embrace opportunities to educate others by sharing student stories about how specific policies actually impact the student learning experience, and the subsequent outcomes.
- Focus on the solution, not the problem. There are plenty of people who can effectively explain the problems, but few can clearly articulate solutions. Be the person who proposes a viable solution, and have a strategy for how that solution can be implemented. Find examples of how your proposed solution is already being implemented and explain how your students will benefit.
There is no doubt that American education must be transformed so that our students can successfully navigate a changing world. Teachers must be at the center of that transformation and advocate in ways that will transform the student experience and the teaching profession. Teachers who can rise above the cacophony of turmoil will be those who transform education.
So, what issues are you passionate about addressing on behalf of our students? Where is the opportunity to teach someone about how that issue impacts students? And, what solutions do you have?
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.