On my way home from ASCD's LILA conference in Washington, D.C., a couple months ago, I was looking out the window as the captain announced that we were "at our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet." As I looked down upon the landscape, I could see the general makeup of the land, but there was no way I could actually see what was happening on the ground. I could see large features of the landscape, but the subtle details were not visible to the eye.
It dawned on me that the policymakers with whom we had been working at the conference were, in effect, looking out their "windows" at an altitude of 30,000 feet as they discussed the pros and cons of education policy. What we are doing with our ASCD advocacy work is bringing the planners and decision makers of Congress to "ground level" by connecting them to what is really happening "on the ground" in our classrooms every day.
As we finished our flight home, I noticed how long the landing took. The pilot was careful to gradually lower the plane's altitude. This too is a part of advocacy. Advocacy requires patience and tenacity.
The effect of our ASCD advocacy work may not be observed after a single visit once per year. Rather, it requires consistent effort to build relationships, offer resources, and sustain communication before and after the one-day visit. If we are successful, then we can help put faces on who is being affected by the decisions made at the state or federal level and help policymakers to make better decisions on behalf of children.
What Can We Do?
The purpose of this article is to encourage others to get involved and connected with advocacy work. We cannot afford to be surprised by the next major education bill. The need to craft good policies that are research based and allow for a whole child perspective cannot be left to chance.
I am not an expert in advocacy work. However, I do know that advocacy can be learned and practiced–particularly if you lean on the resources provided by ASCD.
Here are a few tips:
- Sign up to be an ASCD advocate. This connects to the web-based resources that will keep you up to speed on pending legislation. The links embedded within the Capitol Connection newsletter, for example, give you direct access to primary sources such as upcoming legislation.
- Get to know the members of Congress who represent your district. By introducing yourself as a concerned educator, you can offer to support their need for information. This connection does not imply that you are a part of their political campaign. To the degree possible, it is wise to stay neutral when it comes to party affiliation. The intent here is to be a resource who shares information as it pertains to pending legislative items.
- Invite your state and local representatives to your schools. Let them see the great work that is going on at ground level. There is nothing like a group of eager young learners to help send the message that our work matters and that legislation affects real people.
- Write letters related to issues. When writing, it is important to be complimentary about the member of Congress's service. You may not agree with his or her politics, but you should be respectful of that person's position. Additionally it is important to be succinct and clear in your comments. Avoid using education jargon. If there is something you desire to correct, offer a suggestion as to how it might be corrected. It is unlikely that the suggestion will be taken at face value; however, the important point is that input is more than a complaint—it is an alternative that should be considered.
- Be knowledgeable of the issues and of how your representatives have voted. If you bring up issues with which they disagree, then be as polite as possible within the disagreement. You want to build positive, not adversarial, relationships.
- Participate in the ASCD LILA training opportunities. You have experts in the field that provide many resources that are well thought out and have the clout of our prestigious ASCD organization to back it up.
What have I learned in my experiences?
- Politics is very complicated and getting a bill passed in Congress is extremely difficult.
- Patience and consistency in our message is important; if you believe in something, keep saying it over and over again.
- Too many people are not willing to give the time or the energy to get involved. As a result, our profession is often not well represented. This is where the legislative staff of ASCD is beginning to turn the corner. The association has made a commitment and is willing and able; we need to be there to expand its influence.
- Advocacy work can be rewarding in its own right. No longer are we sitting and complaining; we are bringing our voice to the table.
- All politics is local. Members of Congress need to know how legislation will affect the people at home. When local connections are made that are specific to local schools, through anecdotes or other references, it is much more meaningful than talking in generalities.
One day on Capitol Hill, one voice, one member of Congress from one state—the task of making an difference may seem too daunting to even consider. But through the work of ASCD and our legislative team, we can learn how to multiply our time on the Hill, bring diverse perspectives to the table, and influence many members of Congress in positive ways. Thank you, ASCD, for helping me find a voice!
—Marsha Jones, associate superintendent for K–12 curriculum and instruction, Springdale School District, Springdale, Ark.