by Félix Pérez
If you’ve read or seen the news lately — or spoken with your family, friends or co-workers — you know many of us have had our fill of politics. After the name calling, fear mongering and overall ugliness of election 2018, we find ourselves looking for lighter, uplifting fare, tuning out pundits and politicians, and turning inward. Others of us grapple with how not to give in to fear, anger or cynicism.
All natural reactions to be sure. With the new year upon us, however, it’s time to take stock of what’s important to us, what is worth speaking out about and protecting. For many of us, educators and parents alike, it’s students and public education, the keystone of our system of democracy, designed to promote the common good and produce an informed electorate. At no time has this mission been more critical than in today’s era of gaping opportunity gaps.
Deep down inside we know we owe it to our students to advocate for them so they can have the resources they need to reach their fullest potential. Whether it’s health care, nutrition and safe communities or ensuring every student has a caring, qualified teacher and education support professionals, a well-rounded curriculum and inviting classes small enough for one-on-one attention, we are deeply committed to the success of every student. At our core, educators believe students are at the center of everything we do.
Here, then, are six ways you can stand up for your students, for public schools:
Set SMART goals.
- Setting goals are easy, but achieving them is difficult without an action plan. One easy-to-use and research based goal-setting theory, developed by Drs. Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). Click here to find a one-page worksheet.
- Last year, you might have signed online petitions, shared a social media graphic or sent emails to your elected officials. This year, think about how you might take your online advocacy to the next step. You might speak at your school board meeting, attend a rally, write a letter to your local newspaper, distribute information door to door, or participate in a phone bank (this often can be done from your home with nothing but your laptop and cell phone). The need students have for effective advocates inside and outside school is more pressing than ever. What can you do to increase your advocacy?
- There are so many urgent issues demanding our attention, it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. In that case, start with what you know best: your school, your district, your city or town, your state, and so forth. Pick an issue you are most passionate about, one that, if addressed, can produce tangible benefits for students. The idea is not to overwhelm yourself but to pick areas where you can add to the outcome.
- Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Collective action makes change possible. So reach out to that friend or co-worker who has been thinking about becoming more involved but doesn’t know how or needs an encouraging nudge. Share your knowledge. Volunteer together. Lighten the load by sharing the work. Buck each other up when setbacks occur, as they inevitably will. Help contribute to a network of caring and effective advocates organized around a common objective. Educators know better than most people the importance of modeling desirable behavior and practices. That irreplaceable modeling applies as much outside the classroom as it does inside.
- Sometimes challenges seem so big and so many, we don’t know where to begin. Start by finding out about existing efforts and consider how you’ll join in. Whom can you contact? What can you learn? What can you do? What is the time commitment? State and local education association websites are ideal places to begin.
Take advantage of the status you’ve earned.
- Educators consistently rank as one of society’s most trusted messengers. Besides parents and caregivers, no one knows better what students need to succeed — and the challenges they face — than educators. Few are better at communicating and understanding the elements of constructive dialogue. Face-to-face conversations are still the most potent tool for engaging others. Activism starts with the everyday conversations you have with friends, your family, colleagues and people you meet. By knowing your issue and actively listening to what others have to say, you are more likely to encourage others to get involved.