Jorge Valenzuela
Advocacy gives voice to those who need it most

In its purest form, advocacy aims to guarantee that the voices of the underrepresented are heard when decisions directly impact their rights, lives and best interests.

When it comes to education, 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 and educational technology.

If you’re new to edtech advocacy, 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.

Next, follow these three steps to become an effective edtech advocate:

1. Know your legislators.

Understanding what issues are important to your Congressional representatives and knowing how your state Legislature works is critical. Tailor your personal, local and regional stories to align with what’s important to each lawmaker. Make sure you provide concrete 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.

3. Know the issues – inside and out.

Showing 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 last year.

Educator Patty Gilham from Manassas Park City Schools began by showing videos and pictures of students learning from some of the edtech tools purchased using Title IV Part A flexible block grant funding. Gilham knew that the senators were preparing to vote on the reauthorization of these and other educational funding sources, and she immediately impressed staffers by demonstrating how this money was benefitting her students.

Join your ISTE affiliate.

This is critical for collaborating and learning with colleagues and other edtech leaders who live near you. In matters of advocacy, we must be able to work with others effectively and strategically. State and regional affiliates also offer professional development and mentorship, and they help by increasing local impact.

I believe advocacy is a civic duty, critical for helping our profession grow by developing new educational leaders and providing students with 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.

Jorge Valenzuela is lead coach for Lifelong Learning Defined Inc. and on the National Faculty at Buck Institute for Education.

Tags