Become an Everyday Advocate

cathyfleischerThis post is written by Cathy Fleischer, the primary author of this site. 

As I revise the blog that I had prepared for today, I am haunted by the voices of teachers like Shannon who reached out to her colleague teachers on Facebook today:  What can we do, she asked, to support students who are scared and confused when we are feeling scared and confused ourselves?  I hear the voices of others, too, who are fearful about what comes next for education—what is the future of public schools? Of an out-of-control testing regime?  Of a seeming disregard for research based understandings?

Like many of you, perhaps, my emotions are taking over my reason—and I’m not sure what to do next.  But I am reminded of the words of one of my heroes, organizer Grace Lee Boggs, who so eloquently told us:

“Just being angry, just being resentful, just being outraged, does not constitute revolution.”

Boggs insisted that change only comes when we move beyond our anger in order to figure out a new path.  Community organizers tell us that in order to create long lasting change, we need to find allies, frame our issue in ways decision makers can understand, and create an action plan that identifies strategic tactics

I have seen how teachers who take deliberate steps like these begin to own their voice.  Perhaps the issue they choose is a small one, local in nature, but when we begin there, when we gain confidence in our ability to make change, and when we find community with other teachers doing the same thing, we can make a difference.

Alaina is an example of this, a high school teacher who is frustrated that policies surrounding reading and reading instruction have been hijacked by mandatory curriculum and standardized tests.  She knows better:  she’s well versed in both research and research-based practices that demonstrate why independent choice reading is so important for creating engaged readers and helping them develop the literacy skills they will need for college and workplace success.

But rather than just being angry and discouraged about this shift in educational policy, Alaine is committed to making change—beginning in her local community.  She’s identified allies who share her concerns and developed ways to help parents and administrators understand reading instruction a little differently: beginning with creating a website for parents and the community that offers information and resources about reading instruction and ways they can be involved in getting more real books into the hands of kids.

Alaine is an Everyday Advocate:  a very busy teacher who is dedicated to changing the conversation about literacy and literacy education.  She knows that if she doesn’t help narrate that conversation—offering her expertise and knowledge—someone else will, and that someone may not be as knowledgeable as she is about reading, about students, and about teachers. By focusing on her local context and working with others, she is committed to making reading instruction a subject of discussion in her school community—and in doing so hopes to change their ideas of what counts as reading.

As teachers, we live in a world in which many others—the media, the entertainment industry, legislators, and philanthropists—are narrating the story of education.  We shake our heads, we complain to our families and friends, and we face each day a little more discouraged about how the public understands our work. Everyday Advocates—like Alaine and a number of other teachers—are trying to move from frustration to action.  Beginning with small steps in their own contexts, Everyday Advocates are committed to adding their voices to the public narrative about literacy education, hoping that these local actions will help shift the discussion of how to solve some of the complex issues that surround literacy education.

This year at NCTE’s Annual Convention, a group of Everyday Advocates will share their knowledge about how to get this movement started.  Beginning with the important question—what one thing do you wish others understood differently about literacy education—these teachers will facilitate sessions on how to work toward change in ways that are smart, safe, and savvy.  They will offer suggestions, share successes, and help participants identify and create a plan focused on their own local issues and concerns.  Attend one, two, or all three sessions, offered at various times throughout the convention.

And to learn even more about this work, check out the Everyday Advocacy website and find background information about this movement, core ideas and action principles, and specific suggestions for creating an action plan.  See the work of other teachers and share your own experiences.

We hope you’ll join us in those sessions—with whatever issue you identify as mattering most to you right now—and, taking Grace Lee Boggs’ advice, find ways to move from anger, resentment, and outrage toward true change.

Cathy Fleischer is a professor of English education and writing studies at Eastern Michigan University where she also co-directs the Eastern Michigan Writing Project.  Her passion for teacher advocacy began with her book Teachers Organizing for Change and has continued to grow through teacher workshops, courses, published articles, and, most recently, the website everydayadvocacy.org.  Contact her at cathy.fleischer@emich.edu or @CathyFleischer1.  

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