Takin’ it to the screens: How digital activism helps students

By Amanda Litvinov / illustration: Vladgrin

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To engage as an advocate for your students, start with simple actions: Open your email, post on social media, add your name to petitions and—most important of all—share your story with elected leaders who represent you.

Iowa teacher Joshua Brown.

“We need to be able to talk to our elected leaders about what’s actually occurring at the local level in our schools and how their policies are impacting our students,” says Joshua Brown, who teaches global studies at Goodrell Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Our stories resonate with citizens and lawmakers alike, whether we convey them in person or online,” says Brown.

He’s right. Digital activism isn’t just convenient. It’s undeniably effective. Here are a few recent examples of successful online campaigns:

  • More than 5,000 members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association sent emails last fall in protest of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s draconian proposals threatening teacher licensure: Under one version, a single “needs improvement” rating from an administrator could result not only in the loss of a job, but the loss of a license to teach anywhere in the state ever again. The affiliate also used online tools to organize educators to protest at two rallies. The proposals were withdrawn within weeks.
  • For a long time, Washington state has had some of the largest class sizes in the nation. Last year, educators were part of a massive effort to lower the student to educator ratio. Digital activism played an important role in the Class Size Counts campaign: The group’s user-friendly website offered readily accessible info on the importance of lowering class size, as well as a forum for supporters to share their stories. Educators and parents posted photos and updates on Facebook to keep the momentum going as they gathered more than 325,000 signatures to get the class size issue on the ballot. Voters approved the measure in November.
  • Educators joined tens of thousands of activists who clamored for corporations to drop their membership in ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which is responsible for some of the most detrimental legislation to middle class families—including proposals that siphon critical tax dollars from public education. Arizona 8th-grade teacher Marisol Garcia’s online petition demanding that Google dump ALEC was signed by well over 100,000 people. Google did not renew its ALEC membership in 2015.

“There’s no denying the power of digital activism,” says NEA political director Carrie Pugh. “We see every year how educators, parents and students raising their voices online can open important conversations and lead change.”

You can join the online movement to protect public education in three easy steps.

Step 1: Stay Informed is an essential resource that helps busy educators stay in-the-know on state and national politics, legislation, and events that affect public education. It offers quick and easy ways to support good initiatives, speak out against bad ones, and to share your story with decision makers.

Subscribe to the EdVotes weekly newsletter and follow EdVotes on your favorite social media platforms and you won’t miss a beat.

For more on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, sign up for NEA’s Education Insider. You’ll receive federal legislative updates on the topics of most interest to you, plus links to NEA’s Legislative Action Center, which puts you into direct contact with the folks who represent you in Congress.

Finally, check out your state association website and make sure you’re taking advantage of the insights and information their political experts have to offer. Follow your state association on social media and sign up for legislative newsletters or text alerts.

Step 2: Spread the Word

You can make a difference just by sharing pro-public education content on the social media sites you log on to every day. Become a fan of Speak Up for Education & Kids (EducationVotes’ home on Facebook) and follow EdVotes on Twitter and Tumblr for fresh pro-public education content to share with your networks.

This just might be the quickest way to ensure that the people you are connected to understand what’s at stake in politics for students and schools. It’s more than efficient—a “share” here and a “retweet” there can open up meaningful conversations that inspire others to take action on behalf of public education.

Step 3: Make Your Voice Heard

Maryland teacher Jessica Fitzwater

This is the part that no one else can do: Sign your name and tell your story for the cause. As an EducationVotes subscriber and Speak Up follower, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sign petitions, take pledges, and share your story.

“We have to make our voices heard by the people who are making decisions that affect our classrooms,” says Maryland music teacher Jessica Fitzwater, who is also the current NEA Activist of the Year.

“Elected officials need to understand that it’s not just dollars and cents, students’ entire lives will be impacted by these decisions,” she adds. “And we’re the best ones to tell these stories.”

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