Our first step in Everyday Advocacy is to learn. The learning we do helps us clarify and frame our issue, identify decision-makers and potential collaborators, and build a foundation for our later preparations and actions as Everyday Advocates. Our learning doesn’t end when we begin to plan and take action; rather, we constantly explore new information about our issues in order to refine and adapt our plans and actions.
Click the headers below to learn more!
> 1. Find Your Issue
One way to find your issue is to think about these questions:
What do you most wish others understood about literacy? About literacy pedagogy? Why do you think they don’t understand it?
What gets in the way of teaching literacy in the ways you want to teach? What supports successful ways of teaching literacy?
What have your students shown you about literacy and literacy learning that you wish others understood?
If you could recreate how literacy is taught in your school, what would you focus on?
Who are you as a teacher? What are your values? How did you come to believe in those values?
Try it out: What’s your issue?
> 2. Listen, Learn, and Observe
Most issues that we care enough to advocate for are complicated. There are lots of other folks doing important work on them already, so it is well worth the time to figure out who is involved in issues we care about, what they are saying and doing, and how our own priorities fit into that picture.
Imagine that you walk into a coffee shop and encounter a group of your friends clustered tightly around a table, heads together, speaking passionately about a topic. If you choose to join the group, your first move will probably be to either listen in or ask, “What’s going on?” Before jumping into the conversation yourself, you’d likely want to know more about the topic, the different stances people are taking, and what has already been said. Knowing these things will help you decide whether or not you want to join the conversation and how you want to position yourself. The same principle applies to Everyday Advocacy. It helps to recognize that the advocacy conversation we hope to enter has been in progress long before we arrived, in some form or another.
So how do we listen, learn, and observe? Here are some guiding questions:
What is the overall topic that you care about? What are some of the conversations going on with this issue?
Who are the people involved in this conversation? What do they believe and have to say about this topic? Be sure to pay attention to people who represent different perspectives on the issue, since all of you will be involved in the greater “conversation.”
How does your growing knowledge and experience shape your understanding of this topic?
Try it out: Whom might you engage in conversation on your topic?
> Click here for an example
Over the years there have been many overlapping conversations and advocacy efforts around high-stakes standardized tests in schools. An inquiry into that topic might look like this:
The overall topic of high-stakes standardized tests in schools includes conversations about student test anxiety, test-prep curriculum, judging teachers by student test scores, and connection of testing to district funding and accountability.
The people involved in this conversation of high-stakes testing include parents and students (e.g., opt-out movements, authentic curricula), teachers and teacher unions (e.g., use of test scores), administrators (e.g., mechanisms to assess student learning and/or teacher effectiveness across classes), and some state education departments (using student test scores to measure teacher accountability and student learning).
Your knowledge and experience likely will shape your understanding of this topic in many ways, perhaps depending on whether you have taken or administered standardized tests, how standardized test results have been used in your life, or how you have observed testing affect your own curriculum and students.
> 3. Clarify Your Stance and Focal Issue
As we listen, learn, and observe about a given topic, the people who are already involved in conversations, and the role of our own experiences, we begin to clarify our stance and focus on particular issues related to the overall topic. When we clarify our stance and focal issue, we begin to do the following:
Narrow our focus from a general concern (e.g., testing is bad) to a specific issue and stance (e.g., teaching to the test leads to overemphasis on a very narrow set of skills)
Figure out what perspectives are most influential and relevant (i.e., who is talking about or acting on this specific issue)
Decide how we want to enter the conversation about this issue
Why is it important to focus on a specific issue? Because we feel passionate about all kinds of concerns that are impacting our lives and the lives of our students, we sometimes want to address all the concerns, all at once. However, if we really want to effectively contribute to changing a conversation and enacting change, we need to focus on some part of the whole that we want the public to understand better. Narrowing to a single issue doesn’t mean that we have to reduce the complexity of a particular topic, nor do we have to ignore the inter-relatedness of many educational concerns. Rather, it means focusing on one thing at a time, realizing that we can turn to another issue in the future.
Try it out: How can you narrow your issue?
> 4. Identify Decision Makers and Target Your Audience
Identifying decision makers and influencers is an important step in figuring out where you stand and what is going on with your issue. In order to make change real and lasting, we need to learn more about
How decisions are made in our department, school, district or community
Who makes these decisions, and
Who might have influence on those decision makers.
Most educational decisions involve many decision makers and/or interest groups, who may be involved at different levels of policy or practice. For example, while the state usually sets the requirements for statewide standardized testing, including test dates and formats, the district usually has influence over curricular decisions (e.g., what curriculum materials are purchased, how much “test prep” is emphasized), and district and school administrators may make decisions about testing circumstances (e.g., the ways the testing is explained to students, whether other local assessments are used alongside state tests to gauge student learning goals and teacher effectiveness). Thus, as we clarify our stance and focus on a particular issue, we also need to think about who we need to engage as our audience.
Try it out: Who might be the decision makers on your issue?
What Can This Look Like in Practice?
> Click Here for Example 1: Identifying and Influencing Decision Makers: Targeting Colleagues
Say you want to focus on building a culture of choice in reading instruction in your school. You may discover that a particular committee in your school is charged with choosing the professional development opportunities surrounding reading instruction, and these professional development workshops will be mandatory for staff. Because you know that the professional development that the committee selects will inform the development of a school-wide mandated reading curriculum, you identify that committee as one of your decision makers.
The most direct way to influence these decision makers would be to join that committee and become part of the team of decision makers; speaking out about your ideas as one of the decision makers can direct the outcome. However, if that is not a possibility, you may still be influential in other ways: you may be able to encourage a like-minded colleague to join the committee, or you might develop relationships with those already on the committee—sharing with them alternative ways of thinking about reading instruction and suggesting books, authors, video, or online PD that might show them the research behind the way you are thinking. You may also ask to come to a committee meeting to share your experience and insights, or you may gather materials and share these with the committee members through writing.
In this example, recognizing the impact this committee can have on how reading will get taught in your school is the first step; the second step, then, is figuring out how your voice and the values your voice represents can be heard by that committee.
> Click Here for Example 2: Shifting Focus to Other Decision Makers: Targeting Parents
One Everyday Advocate, Karen, wanted to help reshape how reading and writing would be taught in her district. She initially identified her district’s ELA director as a primary decision maker, leading Karen to join the ELA Curriculum committee. Unfortunately, she did not feel she was making progress. As a new approach, Karen decided to engage parents as collaborators, recognizing their voices can be heard and exert influence in ways that hers cannot.
Karen’s example reminds us of the importance of determining how decisions are made and who makes the decisions in order to create change. Because we can’t always take on the role of decision maker (much as we would like to!), it is important to sow seeds and develop a range of collaborators and allies in our work.
> 5. Frame the Issue
Once you’ve focused your issue and defined your audience, it’s time to frame that issue. So, what is a frame? According to the FrameWorks Institute, “A frame is a guide. It directs people where to look, but more importantly, helps them interpret what they see. Every message—whether written, spoken, illustrated, or signed—is presented through a frame of some kind.” How issues are framed has everything to do with public perception, and public perception has everything to do with how we compose “solutions” to problems.
As we think about framing, it is important to remember that people are not blank slates. Each of us has particular lenses through which we view and understand issues, and these lenses usually connect to our deeply held values and world views. Because people receive and make sense of information through the lenses of their prior experience and learning, we need to learn about their existing perspectives in order to effectively communicate with them. Then, we use that information to frame our issue for them specifically, to guide their attention to what we want them to think about or understand.
Framing an issue can help us redirect the conversations people are having. Once we understand how people are currently understanding and discussing an issue, we can work to reframe an issue to redirect their attention in other ways, perhaps to share our additional perspective and different evidence. At the center of framing and reframing is recognizing who you want to reach, what their prior experience has been, and how you might refocus the issue in a way that will make sense to that audience.
To learn more about how to frame, read In Practice: Identifying and Framing an Issue.
Try it out: Who is your audience? What’s their understanding of your issue?
> 6. Find Allies/Collaborators
One of the most important lessons of advocacy work is that it’s easier and more effective if we do this work with others. When we share our individual stories with others, we are sharing the underlying values that might help others join us to make sustained change; the more people who join together in a cause, the greater the chance of changing others’ minds.
In the world of organizing, collaborators are generally referred to as allies. We do recognize the complications of the word ally in a time of growing awareness surrounding Black Lives Matter and white supremacy culture, and we applaud the use of other terms, including Bettina Love's differentiation between allies and co-conspirators. For this website, we use the terms allies/collaborators.
The key to this collaborative work is finding allies/collaborators.
Allies/collaborators are those people who share our beliefs and values about an issue —but they may not always be the most vocal or obvious. Often there are potential allies/collaborators in our school and school community who will offer support and shared commitments–but we may have to do some legwork to determine who they are and how they might join with us.
How do we find allies/collaborators, especially if they are not immediately obvious? Observing and listening to other educators is a great place to start; pay attention to conversations in meetings, at lunch, or in informal settings and look for others who might share your values and commitments to specific issues. You may also consider joining committees that are working on target issues. Allies/collaborators also might grow out of the work you’ve done in sowing the seeds of change: a colleague who notices your book wall and asks some questions, a parent who attends a literacy night and sends you an email wanting to know more, or an administrator who hears from a parent about your teaching.
> Click Here to See What This Can Look Like in Practice
Jeffery Taylor consciously decided to start finding allies/collaborators by getting to know others in his school. He began sitting with different colleagues at every staff meeting, sharing some of what he’s thinking about pertinent issues at his middle school and asking them what they think. He’s found this simple outreach—beginning with asking questions—makes a big difference in feeling part of a group of like-minded educators (and he also noted that this helped him develop more confidence in his ability to speak up about what’s most important to him).
David Kangas and Kevin English began their search for allies/collaborators by joining the literacy committee at their school. As the committee talked together about their shared interest in student literacy, the two teachers were able to find others whose ideas on literacy meshed with theirs.
Kris Gedeon found an ally/collaborator in a long-time colleague who serves as library aide. Sharing an interest in reading and encouraging students to become lifelong readers, the two began a collaboration that has led to changes in the organization and use of the library.
lisa eddy found an ally/collaborator in a school board member who was also a parent and an educator, and the two began an ongoing conversation about curriculum, testing, and school improvement.
Talking and listening to others in our school communities should be an ongoing part of our work as everyday advocates. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of dividing our colleagues, administrators, and parents into particular camps, taking the time to listen carefully and find moments of agreement and underlying shared values can help create that story of us.
Try it out: Who might be your allies/collaborators?