Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Breaking the Silence: Why ALL Educators Need to be Advocates

An advocate? Who? Me? I’m not THAT person. I’m not an eloquent public speaker. I’m uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions with others I don’t know. The fear of saying something “wrong” keeps me quiet. The last thing in the world that I’d want to do is be in the media spotlight. I’m not an administrator. I’m not really involved in politics. I’m a classroom teacher. I’m not sure that I have anything valuable to share. And besides, who’d listen to me?
That was me and let’s be honest; it still is me in a few respects. This journey that I’m on is taking me way out of my comfort zone! It’s scary! I feel vulnerable. Why am I blogging and speaking out about the importance of being an advocate? Even more importantly, for the many educators who are like me, why you should break your silence too.

An advocate- a champion, supporter, backer, proponent, spokesperson, a person who publicly recommends or supports a particular cause or policy

I believe that there is not one great educator who isn’t ALREADY an advocate. There is not one great teacher who isn’t ALREADY a leader of their classroom.

Dozens of times over my career I’ve shared my opinion about providing more resources and opportunities for my students. Multiple times I’ve shared ideas about how to make our schools better for our students, families, and teachers. The difference now is that I’m sharing my thoughts with others than just my closest colleagues. Why now? Recent personal experiences have opened my eyes, and I've seen the overwhelming need for those willing and able to speak up for those who are not in a position to advocate for themselves. The truth is, I’ve always been an advocate for my students. I've always been an advocate for teachers. I’ve just never given myself enough credit.

Educators, by their very nature, want what’s best for kids. We enter the teaching profession for many reasons, but a common one is to make a difference in the lives of our students, to have an impact on their future, and to make the world a better place.

What I’ve come to realize lately is that being an advocate is telling a story. It’s the story of someone whose voice remains unheard by the masses, a story of someone less powerful, and a story of someone in need. Every educator can share a story. So every educator can be an advocate for kids! Being an advocate means that you share your story with a larger audience and with those who make decisions like our legislators. That’s where it takes a little courage.
We’re not blind to how policies, laws, and even deep-rooted traditions negatively affect students in our classrooms. Can we hide in the background forever and depend on only a few to lead the way towards change? If we say nothing, do nothing to improve education, are we equally guilty as those who are making the changes that we feel are hurting kids? Teachers? Schools? How long can we tolerate the injustices we see? Isn’t it our moral imperative to ensure that ALL kids are learning at high levels in a supportive environment?

How Can We Become Better Advocates/Story Tellers?

Listen and Understand A Person’s Perspective: The last three weeks of my personal life completely turned upside-down. My elderly mother spent nearly three weeks in ICU and a rehab center. How quickly life can change! What slapped me in the face, with so many decisions about her care, was the importance of listening and understanding her perspective. Experts, laws, procedures, documents, and medical jargon swirled around my head, with seemingly little concern for taking the time to listen to the wishes of my mom, the patient. The similarities to education were eye-opening and caused me to reflect upon my teacher behavior and language. I asked myself some questions. How can I provide more opportunities for my students/parents to express their feelings, challenges, and needs honestly? How sincere are my efforts to make sure that there is two-way communication? What have I done to ensure understanding?

Show Empathy: You’ve heard the advice to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and not to make assumptions or judgments. Immersing yourself in the situation of someone else provides insights into the problems that they face. What issues do you see kids facing that gets you “fired up”? Speak from a place of passion! Your connection to an issue, person, or cause facilitates your ability to be a better advocate.

Stand Up for Rights/Concerns and Ask Questions: Some of the most vulnerable to the laws and policies that hurt rather than help are those with little to no voice. As educators, we can stand up for what we know is right, empower those without a voice and bring awareness to changes that need to happen. Understanding laws and policies is a definite plus, but you don’t need to be a scholar. Be informed. Make sure that decisions are in the best interest of those for whom you advocate. Ask questions! It’s a non-threatening way to find out information.

Teach Students How to Advocate For Themselves: Technology provides multiple ways for students to record and share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences. As educators, we should be empowering our students by encouraging them to share their voice with a global audience. To not give students a choice in how they access information and express their learning in the 21st century is malpractice in my opinion. Students cannot only learn to advocate for themselves, but they can also learn to advocate for others.

A story- it starts with the main character who faces a problem. Is there a single educator who cannot share a story of a struggling student? What would help them overcome their struggles? And are we as teachers and leaders advocating for ourselves? Or are we just accepting what’s given to us even though our hands are tied, and we’re often unable to do what we know is best for kids? Share your story publicly via a blog or other means and advocate for those changes we need. Be a leader. Know your impact. Collectively our voice will be heard. It’s time for educators to break their silence.

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