Our nation recently mourned the loss of civil rights activist Linda Brown — the little girl at the heart of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision "Brown vs. Board of Education," which declared racial segregation in American schools unconstitutional. As a third grader, the plaintiff Brown became an unexpected advocate who proved that all people — even the young — can help transform the conversation about policies that affect our educational system. The same can be said of the young people who today are leading the historic March for Our Lives movement, aimed at making our schools safer in light of the appalling string of school shootings.
In its purest form, advocacy aims to guarantee that the voices of the underrepresented are heard and taken into account when decisions are made that directly impact their rights, lives and best interests.
What you can do
I know many educators who have been inspired by these movements and want to participate in some form of meaningful advocacy themselves. My recommendation is to begin by advocating for the issues that directly affect you and your students the most. All advocacy efforts should focus first on securing what's not available to students but is critical to their immediate educational needs — curriculum, professional development, educational technology, etc.
Start by asking yourself what you as an educator need to know, do and have in order to effectively teach your students. Also consider what the children in your classroom need in order to become academically and technologically prepared for the world they live in. While the answers may differ from student to student due to various social, academic and future career needs, considering these questions will help you get started.
Advocacy for edtech
Despite all the great advocacy work currently being done to improve schools — and with so much more to do — I often hear colleagues voice concerns about folks who aren’t educators making decisions that directly impact how well we’re equipped with appropriate educational technology for our classrooms. This is important because all teachers need edtech for augmenting instruction.
In order to ensure that educators have a voice in decisions about education, CoSN, SETDA and ISTE recently invited education leaders from around the country to attend the Edtech Advocacy and Policy Summit 2018. One objective of the event was for educators to band together to visit and help educate the policymakers from their respective states about the vital role technology plays in transforming education. The educators led specific discussions on E-Rate, Title II and IV block grant funding, and net neutrality.
If you’re new to edtech advocacy or would just like to get more involved locally, here’s how you can get started in three simple steps.
Step 1: Join your ISTE affiliate
Joining an ISTE affiliate is critical for collaborating and learning with colleagues and other edtech leaders who live near you. In matters of advocacy (or any undertaking in education), we must be able to work with others effectively and strategically. Although I’m new to ISTE, I saw the value of joining both the local affiliate chapters of the Virginia ACTE and VTEEA (affiliates of the ACTE and ITEEA) early on in my career when I became a curriculum specialist and CTE administrator. Membership with these organizations gave me access to an excellent group of educator leaders who helped me understand policy and advocate for change, as well as implement both curriculum and technology in classrooms under my supervision.
National and regional affiliates also offer professional development and mentorship, and they help by increasing local impact. To find your closest affiliate, see the Directory of ISTE affiliates.
Step 2: Know your legislators
Understanding what issues are important to your Congressional representatives and knowing how your state Legislature works is critical. When meeting senators and representatives, it is also important to tailor your personal, local and regional stories to align with what is important to each lawmaker. Make sure you provide tangible examples of how you're using edtech in the classroom and illustrate how this helps push their agenda forward.
ISTE developed the State Legislator Scavenger Hunt as part of its Advocacy Toolkit. The scavenger hunt asks pertinent questions that allow educators to craft stories around their responses. I highly recommend that teams of educators (either within your school or ISTE affiliate) complete one scavenger hunt for each of your state and federal lawmakers and practice how you will convey your message.
Step 3: Know the issues — inside and out
Knowing and providing evidence of how edtech has helped develop the academic and technical and career needs of your students is very important as your team begins to draft advocacy stories. Also, make sure you know the funding sources that provide the tools and training, and keep track of when lawmakers will vote for reauthorization of that money.
I witnessed an excellent example of why knowing the issues inside and out is so important when I accompanied colleagues from my Virginia ISTE affiliate, VSTE, to the offices of Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner recently. Educator Patricia (Patty) Gilham from Manassas Park City Schools began the conversations with staffers by showing videos and pictures of the students in her school system directly learning and benefiting from some of the edtech tools purchased using Title IV Part A flexible block grant funding. Patty knew that the senators were preparing to vote on the reauthorization of these and other educational funding sources, and she immediately impressed and engaged their staffers by showing them how this money was directly benefitting her students.
Moreover, our colleagues from VSTE successfully conveyed how the training we received through the flexible block grants are critical in helping teachers understand and implement the new computer science standards recently mandated for incorporation into the Virginia Standards of Learning.
Advocacy is as our civic duty
I believe advocacy is a civic duty or responsibility that is critical for helping our profession grow, developing new educational leaders and providing students relevant learning experiences. Doing this work requires educators to devote some of our personal time to the task, but the practice is essential for giving voice to those who need it most. As stated by longtime advocate Karen Deitemeyer, “Advocating for what you believe in is crucial - if you don’t ask for it, people assume you don’t need it!”
Jorge Valenzuela is an educational coach and a graduate teaching assistant at Old Dominion University. He is also the lead coach for Lifelong Learning Defined, Inc., a national faculty of the Buck Institute for Education, a national teacher effectiveness coach with the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) and part of the Lead Educator program for littleBits. You can connect with Jorge on Twitter @JorgeDoesPBL to continue the conversation.