Google+ Badge

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Choose Your Battles: Advocate and Work Well

There's always lots of "battles" to fight or avenues to choose when it comes to teaching and learning well. It seems like those researching, writing, and disseminating information are far outpacing us in the field both in numbers and activity. While the gap between research and action seemed to be narrowing, I now wonder if it is widening again.

To keep up with new research and information demands that we change our structures in school. It's important that we re-look at how we use time, roles, and routines to teach well so that we can read, study, and apply the good research, knowledge, and tools out there. This kind of redesign requires the consult of many in an organization since there is knowledge at every level and in every role--no one person holds the key to the best organizational redesign or efforts and action. When it's a quality collaborative effort that uses strategic process the change is both cost effective and successful with regard to empowering, engaging, and educating all of our students well.

Individuals can't do all the work alone, and individuals in traditionally "low" levels have even less say and/or power in this regard. That is one reason why our unions are so important. When we come together, our power increases and that increase translates into the potential to better meet our need and desire to teach well in modern, life-enriching ways.

As I go forward with this knowledge, I want to be mindful of the following questions and areas of action.

What matters most?
Where we put our energy demands the question, What matters most? For example, this summer I started advocating to provide students who don't have technology with technology for the school year. I got little traction over the summer when I reached out for this, but later during the school year when others also advocated with me including the school principal, we made more headway. Now it seems that we might meet this goal by the end of December. This has potential to positively impact several students.

What is the best way to advocate?
Our union is gathering ideas to update our teachers' contract. Teachers are coming together to share their ideas for betterment with the leading question, What do we need to do our jobs well? Anyone who has ideas has a platform with the union. All ideas will be incorporated into the process that will ultimately result in a proposal. This is a promising way to advocate because it is a strategic process that brings all educators together with a common purpose of bettering our working conditions so that we can all do a good job by the students we teach and families we serve?

How to advocate respectfully?
I'll admit that this has been difficult for me for many reasons. First the structure of my position gives me little extra time or support for face-to-face communication and committee work. Most of the decisions for teachers are made while educators are busy working with children. The time divide here truly makes advocacy difficult while supporting old time factory-like hierarchies in teaching/learning organizations--typically those with time have more power over the work we do in educational organizations. Next, there is often little will or interest in educator voices. For many, I believe it's simply easier and less cumbersome to make the decisions for teachers rather than enlisting educators in the decision making process. Some feel teachers are not too bright as evidenced by a leader's comment that "anyone could teach elementary school math," and the decisions to limit educators' access to technology and the implementation of innovative ideas. Sadly a consultant is often paid or hired to lead teachers before educators themselves are consulted when it comes to matters of curriculum and pedagogy.

All of the reasons above are reasons why educators have to ally themselves to one another and work together for good change. Some leaders support teachers well and work with them to empower the entire teaching/learning community with inclusive, transparent, and forward thinking action and debate--these leaders forward what we can do well in schools. These are leaders who build strong, student/teacher/family-friendly and impactful learning/teaching organizations. These leaders represent the knowledge age schools we seek, and these are the kinds of leaders that teachers need to seek out when working together for betterment. There are many outside-of-school agencies that also work with educators to empower what's possible in schools.

Advocacy requires discipline and strategy?
Change will not occur overnight and to advocate for good change takes discipline and strategy? When advocating for a new schedule, our team reached out to the school leader who gave us a successful strategy for advocating for this change. The strategy worked and our schedule was changed. The new schedule is far better than the old schedule as it allows us better time for teaching all that we need to teach. This was positive. In the past I may have done this alone, but with the support of many and a timely, effective strategic process, the change occurred.

Look ahead when it comes to good advocacy?
Advocates have to think ahead? What's coming up and what is desired? After a meeting gone wrong a few weeks ago, I analyzed that one issue was a lack of preparedness or shared understanding related to the meeting's goals and process. Hence with a similar meeting coming up soon, I reached out to ask for explicit understanding of the agenda, preparation, and expectations. Shared knowledge of what's expected will help us to positively stay the course of the meeting. Too often change in the school house is not communicated, last minute, and ineffective. It might look good on paper, but if you take a close look, it doesn't work due to a lack of timely strategic process, good analysis/evaluation, and a sense of team. When this happens, money is wasted and potential diluted. In the best of circumstances, advocacy and change is transparently and inclusively communicated, strategic process is utilized, and the voices of many are respectfully and authentically included in the process. In the best teaching/learning organizations the "star of the show" is the team, not one individual who appears to hold all the power.

My roles as teacher advocate.
It has often been frustrating to advocate for the direction that research and reading point me in with regard to teaching well. In the past, that advocacy has occurred via email and at meetings. Often my words were unheard, reprimanded, ridiculed, or misconstrued. I tried to go it alone and often my speak and efforts were not seen as respectful since I spoke loudly or wrote many words with the passion I felt. I couldn't understand why others wouldn't want better technology, schedules, roles, materials, and processes to empower our efforts.

As I look back I recognize that I leaped too fast from idea to cries for change. I didn't include the needed education, evidence, allies, and step-by-step advocacy that matter with regard to change. I simply thought, this change is good and why wouldn't anyone embrace it. A good example of this was when a colleague and I wrote a grant for a 3D printer many years ago. The grant didn't even make it by the leadership team--they found fault with the grant. Later I saw that The White House was celebrating teams of young students who were designing with 3D printers. I was upset as I wondered why our school system didn't support our plan to implement 3D printing at the elementary level. In hindsight, I realize that the school system wasn't ready for the change and still to this day hasn't embraced that potential yet. Change takes time and in every system that change course will differ. I'd like our school system to implement a more inclusive, timely research and development process that includes the voices of educators in authentic, meaningful ways. For example this summer I wanted to write two grants to pilot efforts to implement new science standards well, but the grants received little support from curriculum leaders and due to the energy and time needed to implement the grants, I would need support so I didn't go forward with the grants. I knew I couldn't fight myself up that innovation hill alone.

For now, I'll continue to advocate via the blog and with the work I do with others on my grade-level team, school-team, union-teams, SEL team, and ESE team. We do better together, and when it comes to change we need allies to do the good work possible with us to make schools better.

I'm still smarting from the last "battle" when I became upset after numerous condescending and critical comments waged--comments that I now recognize came from the fact that the many people at the meeting had varying and different perspectives and understanding related to what was expected as well as the focus of the meeting. The final comment that referred to my work as "untrusting" led to me getting upset and now I am reaping the ridicule and reprimands for my emotion. This issue has led to lots and lots of deep analysis all pointing me in the direction of better advocacy, greater discipline, and better awareness of what makes me upset and why with regard to school change, effort, and advocacy. It's been a very painful few weeks, but it hasn't been for naught, since I've learned a lot.

We need our unions and each other to help us advocate for what we need and know with regard to teaching well. Our voices as educators in the field working with children every day are important. There is skill to good advocacy, skill that we can develop in one another to create the best possible teaching/learning communities that serve students and families well. Onward.