Advocacy? Isn't that Someone Else's Job?
Advocacy. Now that’s a hard one to figure out. As a profession we’ve been chasing the concept for years. It’s important, but how do we do it, what should we advocate for, whose responsibility it is? Spending time at all levels in various capacities of our profession has helped me arrive at my own advocacy perspective. It’s personal and local.
First of all, advocacy is, as Dr. Jackman often expresses, about relationships; personal relationships between those who have a direct impact on policy affecting our professions and us. As teachers most us have a working relationship with our administrators. They know and understand the impact our programs have on students and our communities. They even know quite a bit about us personally. We discuss with them issues concerning the continued success our programs with relative ease, and when and if a crisis arrives we know where they will stand.
But when it comes to those same issues with others who can impact our programs on the state and national levels we have difficulty. Why? The primary reason is state and national decision makers don’t have the same institutional knowledge of our programs as do our local administrators. Why not?
We lack the personal relationship they need to feel vested in support of our programs.
The solution is simple. We must begin to build those relationships. Like any relationship, this takes some time, but the first step is a visit to that policy maker where you can begin building a case for your program. Then repeat this step over and over again. The process never stops; it is ever evolving.
In order to truly advocate for our programs we have to touch all levels. When a policy maker recognizes you in a crowd or when their assistant gives them a phone message and they know who you are, you know you have made an impact. When policy makers contact you for your opinion on an issue, you know you have truly had a personal relationship that will lead to long-term support of you and your program.
Advocacy is and will always be local. As a national organization we are only effective in our advocacy efforts if you are advocating locally. Policy makers, even at the highest levels, call some place home. Fortunately, home is where we are. Policy makers are elected or selected by their constituents and thus can be empowered by only them.
As a profession, we tend to rely on those few lead teachers who are active at the state and national levels to advocate on those levels. When things are going well, those efforts are most likely enough, but in a crisis it takes us all. If you do not have a personal relationship with your policy makers, start creating one today. Your profession, program, and students need you to advocate locally so that when a crisis presents itself, you and our profession will be ready.
Update: For you regular readers, our little league team finished 13-2 and won the league championship tourney.