Speaking out is essential for teachers
The context. Education – along with other social supports – is being attacked, narrowed, and de-funded. This impacts all children, but especially those in poor and minority families. So teachers must speak out, not only to address specific issues but to thoughtfully inform the public and policy-makers about our work and what can make it great.
The challenge. This use of our voice is not traditionally part of American teacher culture. But now it’s essential for large numbers of teachers and other community members to speak up, and in such a way that we do not lose our jobs in the process. That’s what it takes to sway politicians toward smarter decisions about education. This has worked effectively for social efforts now and in the past, but it requires particular skills and ways of thinking.
Our response. While those who wish can address specific issues, we focus on how to build connections with a wider public. Messages must be well-crafted so we don’t sound defensive or self-serving. The skills may seem simple, but involve careful thought. Here are a few:
- Hold one-on-one discussions with key people, not to argue for specific actions, but to build trust as a basis for later collaboration. Meet not only with supporters but also with people who don’t see things your way. Develop a trusting relationship with your principal, so he or she will support your efforts when needed.
- Build connections with parents, community members, and groups by finding common ground, involving them in the school, and visiting them on their turf.
- Document meaningful data about students’ learning in your classroom, to concretely show the public the important learning that takes place.
- Get your message out – through newspaper articles, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-mail, letters to parents, etc. Craft messages to share ideas positively.
- Plan advocacy efforts strategically, to maximize the possibility for success.
Along with this blog, we’re initiating a number of related steps:
- Webinars and podcasts, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English, on concepts and skills for teachers to activate their voices, using stories and ideas from effective teacher advocates. Recorded versions available at www.ncte.org .
- Sessions at national conferences, to promote teacher voice. Next up is a session at the Nov. 2012 NCTE convention in Las Vegas
- Creating short YouTube videos that show exciting teaching and learning in classrooms, along with an effort to get these as widely viewed as possible.
- Connecting across the country with educators and education organizations to spread smart strategies to teachers as widely as possible.
This is an ongoing, evolving effort. We hope you’ll join in.