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Advocacy Starts with the Self: Declaring our Intention and Purpose

by Melissa Brooks-Yip

Beliefs are basically the guiding principles in life that provide direction and meaning in life. Beliefs are the preset, organized filters to our perceptions of the world (external and internal). Beliefs are like ‘Internal commands’ to the brain as to how to represent what is happening, when we congruently believe something to be true. In the absence of beliefs or inability to tap into them, people feel disempowered.

-The Biochemistry of Belief

Before I can advocate for someone or something else, I must know how to advocate for myself, what my intention and purpose is as an educator. I know that my beliefs shape my behaviors and determine whether or not I’ll honor my own voice each day. I believe that how I talk to and about myself matters for any advocacy work I lead in education. I can empower myself (and others) through advocacy, but it starts with me.

Almost a year into the pandemic, these driving thoughts led me to create the first Manifesto: Declaring Your Intention and Purpose workshop for educators in early 2021. I am privileged to be in support of teachers each day, and by this point I was hearing them express their feelings that nothing is in their control and that so much is pushing against them: from how to do something as simple as visiting the grocery store, to teaching their students in their virtual or face-to-face classrooms. Listening to them each day, I began to wonder, what exactly is in our control right now? How can we get at least one thing in our lives to feel stable? After writing, talking and reflecting on my conversations with them, in addition to hearing the unavoidable daily news, I decided that the only thing any of us can trust to be stable right now is that voice in ourselves. What is it saying to us? What is our intention and purpose when we shut out all the noise?

The first Manifesto session was held in January to kick off the new calendar year, a time when many of us create New Year’s resolutions. This session pushed the idea of resolutions, deepening our promises beyond losing weight or eating healthier, toward a more intentional and less superficial reset. In the virtual Manifesto sessions, we used this precious hour of time to give ourselves the permission to stop and think. Starting with collecting and sharing words about our present state of mind and feelings, we moved forward with a working definition of Manifesting- making everything you want to feel and experience a reality...via your thoughts, actions, beliefs and emotions. We then began pulling out more words focused solely on the personal, local and immediate of ourselves with the focused writing prompts:

What are some of the important things about the work you do?

How do you wish you felt at the end of most days?

What virtue would you like more of in your life?

After some time examining what manifestos can look like, sharing our collected words and phrases in conversation, we took a chunk of time to write more, coming to a fuller version of our manifesto. After some “open mic” sharing time, we discussed ways to bring this manifesto to life everyday. This time allowed us to listen to ourselves, taking time to find our intention and purpose in our lives as educators, and declare it in writing. We took time to say it out loud, to share with others, and put it into the universe to make it happen. With everything around us changing and uncertain, at least we would have our own words to remind and guide us toward our intention and purpose. (Here are some examples of teachers’ manifestos.)

What does this Manifesto work have to do with Everyday Advocacy? Here’s how I think about it. Using the Everyday Advocacy framework (the guiding principles of smart, safe, savvy and sustainable), the Manifesto session served as advocating for ourselves first by being smart about knowing our audience: us. By thinking and writing our own intention and purpose, we already face our toughest critic–ourselves. Once our intention and purpose is clear, it becomes that much easier to articulate and communicate with another audience when advocating for an issue we care about. In other words, our declared intention and purpose help us to clarify the big picture of our advocacy work. Starting with ourselves first in advocacy is also starting in a safe space. When we trust ourselves to build awareness about what we care about through listening and writing, we become our own first and savvy allies. Staring with ourselves in advocacy is also sustainable. We can count ourselves to sustain our intention and purpose. We write/draw/create our manifesto and keep it with us every day. Having a manifesto to refer back to enables us to celebrate small wins each day, and give ourselves grace when we stray from it. Even better, we can rewrite and refocus as needed since we are both the author and the audience.

By examining our beliefs in an intentional way, and guiding ourselves to declare them openly, with intention and purpose, we set the stage for advocacy work. We are our own toughest critics, but also our own best listeners, audience, and support system. A biochemist would say that it’s hardwired into us:

"If you believe you are fragile, the biochemistry of your body unquestionably obeys and manifests it. If you believe you are tough, your body undeniably mirrors it….you stamp the raw data received through your sense organs, with a judgment – that is your personal view – and physically become the ‘interpretation’ as you internalize it" (The Biochemistry of Belief).

Melissa’s career in education and leadership spans over 22 years--from classroom teaching in middle school, high school, and college, to coaching teachers, designing professional learning networks, coordinating state level projects, and supporting community collaborations. Along with graduate degrees in both curriculum and instruction and educational technology, she has a wide range of experience in service to students and educators in public education. Her work has been published in both Michigan and international journals, and she began doctoral studies at Eastern Michigan University in the fall.

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