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Everyday Advocacy: Where It Began/Where It’s Going

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

by Cathy Fleischer

For many years, my husband listened patiently to my furor over the dismissive and demeaning public narrative about teaching, learning, and literacy that mischaracterized what teachers were actually doing in the classroom. (This was in the ‘90s and early 2000s—a sad lesson, I suppose, that proves the maxim “the more things change….”) Luckily for me, though, he did more than just listen. Putting on his community-organizing hat, he gently suggested some things that teachers and teacher educators might do to help change the public narrative surrounding schooling.

His ideas nudged me forward to start doing some research into the moves needed to initiate the changes I desired, moves I came to describe as everyday advocacy. Everyday advocacy, I believe, is the kind of change-making that fits who we are as teachers, the kind of advocacy that can become part of our day-to-day lives. I began my research by first talking to other experienced advocates in a number of disciplines about their work, then talking to teachers who already reached out to parents and community members in proactive ways that helped these audiences understand why they taught literacy in certain ways. All the while, I read widely in both popular and more research-based scholarship into organizing and advocacy. This immersion into an area of research that was totally new to me led to a shift in my own scholarship and eventually to a book and some articles about what I was learning. As I had the opportunity to offer several courses and workshops for teachers about advocacy, I began to learn even more from the smart and thoughtful educators who joined me in this journey, educators who also listened patiently as they nudged me to think more expansively. After the inaugural version of a summer 3-day institute, two wonderful women collaborated with me to create the first iteration of the Everyday Advocacy website (Jenna Fournel, then NCTE Communications Director, and Amber Jensen, then a high school teacher participant in the workshop and now professor at BYU).

Along the way, I kept listening to teachers and learning about the amazing advocacy work they were doing both in their classrooms and in their school communities. I started learning as well from English educators, noticing how they too were promoting advocacy in their work with preservice and practicing teachers, helping to spread the word about the importance of an advocacy stance throughout anyone’s life as a teacher. (Many of the stories of these teachers and teacher educators are captured in the edited collection, Everyday Advocacy: Teachers Who Change the Literacy Narrative.) What I began to understand is this: Teachers who make advocacy a part of their everyday and local lives have been able to make great strides toward changing how literacy is perceived by others (other teachers, administrators, parents, and communities). Teachers who gain advocacy knowledge, alongside their current content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, are starting to shift the narrative about the burning issues that impact their ability to teach in the ways they know are important.

All this backstory and twenty-plus years of individual and collaborative effort has led to a new iteration of Everyday Advocacy as reflected in our website relaunch. Funded by a National Writing Project seed grant and supported by the expertise, good will, and hard work of some members of ELATE’s Everyday Advocacy Commission (Sarah Hochstetler, Christine Dawson, Amber Jensen, Rae Oviatt, and Jennifer Dail), with feedback from many of the original users of the site, we reimagined the original website to reflect our expanded thinking into this work. If you are familiar with the old site, we hope you’ll find this revised version fuller, deeper, and more teacher friendly. And if you are a newcomer to the site, we hope that as you navigate through the ideas and practice prompts that we offer, you will be inspired to become an everyday advocate. And as you do, we’d love you to share your own stories of advocacy through this blog. Click here to learn how to do this.

Cathy Fleischer is a professor of English education at Eastern Michigan University, Special Imprint Editor for NCTE’s Principles in Practice, and co-founder of YpsiWrites. Her work in advocacy has led her to write articles and books, offer workshops for teachers, and help create this website.

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