The learning we do (about our issue, audience, and allies/collaborators) helps us prepare to enter conversations as an everyday advocate. Creating an action plan helps us organize our learning and our efforts, much the way we might organize our curriculum, so that we strategically align our tactics with our purpose and audience. Action plans can help us avoid simply jumping into isolated tactics—perhaps writing letters to legislators, keeping a blog, or testifying at a school board meeting—without positioning these tactics as part of a larger plan. When we engage in tactics in isolation, without an overall plan, we may find that we don’t make as much progress as we hope.
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> 1. Practice Articulating Your Message
As you prepare to enter a conversation, it is helpful to practice articulating your message in relation to a specific issue. The more simple and straightforward you can be in delivering your message, the better. We’ve found these two approaches to be really helpful:
Compose an “Elevator Speech”: What might you say to a colleague or other interested person about your issue if you only had a brief period of time (such as an elevator ride). Practice explaining your stance in a short statement that encapsulates the essence of your advocacy work?
Teachers we’ve worked with have practiced their elevator speeches on each other, either using stopwatches to keep within the time frame or sometimes even riding up and down on the elevators in a building to get the timing right!
> Click Here for Example: What Can This Look Like in Practice? Sample Elevator Speeches
Middle level students have a developmental need to feel like they belong. Why do we scatter them in disjointed classes? Our students deserve to have teachers who collaborate to best meet their needs. It is imperative that we put students first and make team teaching a reality this year. – Jeffrey Taylor
Our children are being overwhelmed by tests. Their personal growth, mental diligence, and creativity are not being reflected in their test scores. This leads parents, administrators, and policy makers to believe that our schools are failing, but in reality, we are failing our students. Our children will be the leaders and representatives of our country. Instead of struggling to raise good test takers, it is our responsibility to raise good citizens. – Barbara McKinnon
Create a Visual Representation: How might representing your message visually help you articulate your message? We often ask teachers to create a bumper sticker or a meme to help them determine and articulate their position (not necessarily to actually use these visual representations in their advocacy work). You also may find it useful to keep your visual representation handy, so you can use it to help you stay focused on your target issue. Here are two examples created by teachers in a summer workshop.
> Click Here for Example: What Can This Look Like in Practice? Sample Visual Representations
Hiam is committed to bilingual education, and as she moved from general concern to specific issue, she created this bumper sticker as a reminder to think about bilingual students in terms of assets rather than problems.
As a teacher in an alternative high school, Kristin was concerned that some people perceived alternative schools as places of failure. She wanted to change that perception, to portray her alternative school as a place where students benefit from opportunities to learn in innovative ways.
Try it out: Either through an elevator speech or a visual representation, try to articulate your message.
> 2. Set Realistic Goals
While many of us would like to wave our magic wands and transform literacy education right away, one of the most important lessons of advocacy work is that change takes time. Our overarching goals, which may seem to define true change, are often made up of smaller goals that we can focus on in our own short and long term advocacy. Keeping our focus on these more immediate goals is important in helping us avoid discouragement and frustration. It may help to ask ourselves, what is within my/our power? What can we do now in our current context?
First, Articulate a Clear, Achievable Overall Goal
Given your stance on a given issue, think about the following questions:
What is your overall goal? What do you hope to accomplish in the long term?
How can you continually learn about the issues related to your goal? How can you collaborate with others, who may help you refine and adjust your vision?
What are different outcomes or ways you might reach your long term goal?
Be honest about what you think you can achieve in your particular context, especially given that full time job you have as a teacher.
Then, Plan Backwards from Your Goal
What might be short-term and intermediate goals that could help you gather momentum in order to reach that long-term goal?
How might you build awareness about the goal?
How might you find additional allies/collaborators and partners in this work?
Thinking of your advocacy work as a journey, as a means toward an end and not as an end in itself, can lead you to celebrate short term achievements as concrete progress toward your larger goals.
Try it out: What are your realistic goals for change?
> 3. Plan Strategy and Tactics
After setting our goals, both long and short term, we need to think about the strategies and tactics we can use to get us there.
Strategy is your general plan to share your message with a target audience in order to achieve your desired results. As we plan strategy surrounding a particular issue, we think about what we want others to know, how we can frame the issue to reach different audiences, and how the context of our message and audience may impact what we do. We also consider our varied audiences, from decision makers to allies/collaborators (and those in between), and how we may shape our message for each of them. Finally, we think about what our results may look like, in the short, intermediate, and long term future.
Try it out: Create a draft strategy statement
How you effectively tell X message to Y audience to achieve Z result.
Step 1: Identify the audience (the decision makers about your issue; others who care about the issue)
Step 2: Identify the framed message that will reach that audience (the piece of the issue that your audience needs to understand better)
Step 3: Identify an achievable goal/result you are seeking (i.e., something specific that would change)
Once we determine our general strategy, we turn to tactics, or specific actions that we will take to advocate for change. Tactics can range from the relatively simple (e.g., sending a tweet to a congressional representative) to the more complex (e.g., inviting parents to watch a video of our classroom). What does this mean for your own work? If you’re focusing on a particular issue and message that you’ve developed, your tactics might take one of two forms:
Tactics designed to lay the groundwork (or proactive tactics)
Lay the Groundwork and Build Awareness
Tactics that lay the groundwork help others understand general concepts or specific stances. These tactics may include actions we take on a day-to-day basis to help others understand our classroom practice, our reasons for teaching in the ways we do, or our stances on specific educational ideas.
For example, when we write a letter to parents explaining our curriculum, we’re using a tactic that lays the groundwork—helping to inform them about our ways of teaching. When we host a literacy night in which we invite parents to think about the reading and writing they do in their everyday lives and then connect that to what we’re teaching, we’re using a tactic that lays the groundwork. Much of what teachers can do to try to change the public narrative about education might begin—safely and easily—with awareness-building tactics like these.
Tactics designed to influence a particular decision point (or calls to action)
Influence Decision Makers
Tactics that are designed to influence others at a particular decision point are essentially calls to action. When we testify at a school board meeting, arguing against cutting budgets for a library or getting rid of creative writing classes, or when we meet with the curriculum committee to suggest an alternative use of textbook money to purchase young adult fiction, we are practicing calls to action. These tactics target a particular issue, inform the decision maker about the issue, and then suggest something the decision maker might do to create change. In part these tactics are informative, but the underlying message is to call for the decision makers to do something with the information you’ve provided.
Select Tactics Deliberately
As you engage in Everyday Advocacy, you will likely use a variety of tactics in order to reach different audiences. What’s most important is devising tactics that you feel comfortable enacting and that you can imagine as part of a journey toward change.
As you select your tactics, try to work in ways that are smart, safe, savvy, and sustainable for you. Make sure you are well-versed and confident in the research underlying your issue (smart), that you think hard about the actions that will work for your particular audience and context (savvy), that you are aware of how to do all this in ways that will preserve your job and your relationships with others (safe), and that you create a plan that can become a part of your day-to-day life (sustainable).
Try it out: What tactics might you use?
What Can This Look Like in Practice? Sample Strategies and Tactics
As you read through these examples from teachers, think about how their work harkens back to the idea of smart, safe, savvy, and sustainable. Think as well about how their tactics connect to specific audiences and are the beginning to a well-thought-out plan to create change.
> Click Here For : Dave Kangas and Kevin English start a new conversation around data.
Strategy: In order to reframe what counts as data in our school, we need to engage our colleagues in discussion about reading, reading instruction, and reading assessment.
Forming a teacher/administrator book club (being smart by selecting a book that reflects research-based best practices)
Getting appointed to the Literacy Committee (being savvy about moving into a decision-maker role)
Participating in district wide professional development (being savvy about sharing practices in order to develop allies/collaborators)
Working within the system to critically examine reading practices in order to design a more meaningful and relevant reading curriculum (being safe by working within the system).
> Click Here For: Jeffrey Taylor pushes for a return to team teaching.
Strategy: Because middle school students are more likely to succeed when they feel they belong, I need to help administrators and teachers in my school rethink our current middle school structure and reinstate team teaching.
Survey students and teachers (being savvy by “sowing the seeds” through a well-designed survey)
Read deeply into school structuring (being smart by learning more about the topic)
Present elevator speech to administrator (being smart and savvy by distilling knowledge into a short, focused presentation)
Introduce a discussion at a staff meeting (being savvy by developing allies/collaborators)
> 4. Make an Action Plan
You have clarified your message, established your goals, and developed strategies and tactics. Now it’s time to bring all of those pieces into an action plan. An Action Plan is a step-by-step map that charts your course across your advocacy work. Your Action Plan takes your work through the process from narrowing down a large concern to an issue and then to a message; naming the results you hope for as well as the short term, intermediate, and long term goals that will get you there; identifying the audiences you hope to reach; and targeting tactics for each group.
Review Your Progress
You can use the following questions to help review your progress so far as you prepare to write your action plan:
What is the overall problem?
Specific Issue You Will Target
How does that overall problem relate to your own situation?
What is your specific issue?
How is your issue related to your own context and experience?
What aspects of the issue are within your power to change?
How is this issue framed (or understood) in the current public consciousness?
What kind of frame would better communicate your issue?
Who are the decision makers related to your issue?
Are those decision makers your main audience?
Is there a secondary audience that would be important to reach?
What do you know about how your audience understands or conceptualizes the issue?
Who are your allies/collaborators in this work? Are there specific opponents? Who might be undecided?
How can you translate your issue into a statement that will move your audience to action?
How can you shape your message to reach the people you need to reach?
What is the context for your issue/message?
Your Desired Results
What change are you seeking?
What are the long-term, intermediate, and short-term goals that you need to consider along the way?
How is your context relevant?
How will you know you’re successful?
What is your timeline?
What actions will you take to create change surrounding your issue?
What tactics make most sense in the short-term, intermediate, and long-term?
What tactics fit for particular audiences? Are you seeking to inform, change minds, inspire someone to take action, or something else?
Draft Your Action Plan
After reflecting on these questions, you are ready to draft your action plan. An action plan is helpful in Everyday Advocacy because it allows us to:
Move beyond a “just-tactics” mentality
See advocacy as a process and not a one-shot moment
See advocacy as a cycle of anticipating, recalculating, and evaluating.
One way to organize and visualize this process as a whole is to chart your steps. You may find this template for an action plan useful. As you work on your Action Plan, remember that it is important to be flexible enough to work beyond the plan. Many teachers find that their plan sets them on the journey but the path can take unexpected twists and turns.
What Can This Look Like in Practice? Sample Action Plan
Looking for inspiration? Check out this example of a full-fledged action plan from Alaine Feliks who is working to build a vibrant reading community at her school.