Build Awareness

build-awarenessAdvocacy can begin long before we have a specific action plan in mind.  It begins when we want to educate others more generally about issues surrounding education or–in Ganz’s terms–when we want to change the public narrative. One way to start a different narrative is to be proactive about what we do as teachers, why we do it, and how we do it.

When we are proactive, we are “sowing the seeds of change.” We reach out to others around us–colleagues, administrators, parents, others in the community–to share with them a vision of what literacy education can look like.  We invite them into conversations with us, gently sharing something exciting that a student has achieved, showing them a vision of a classroom practice, asking them what they notice–in other words, providing them with what might be an alternate view.

This kind of proactive work is designed to help others understand the values that underlie what we’re doing, to see what kids can achieve when these ways of literacy education become the classroom norm, and to imagine a different way of thinking about school and literacy.

 Sowing the seeds with parents:

  • Sarah Andrew Vaughan invited the parents of her ninth graders to a special evening in which they began by writing and then talking about their own memorable experiences as writers (both in and out of school).  This lead to a discussion about important understandings about writing, such as writing processes, genre and audience considerations, and the role of feedback. Parents tried out one of the writing invitations that their students had done in class that same day as a way to encourage discussion between the parents and their teens. Through this evening, Sarah achieved several important goals:  helping parents discover themselves something about research-based practices in literacy education, opening up discussion with parents about literacy practices, and demonstrating the way she teaches.
  • Lisa Eddy often videotapes her classroom in action, posts the clips to a class youtube channel, asks her students (for extra credit) to watch the clips with their parents and send her feedback.  Like Sarah, she is able to represent to parents how she teaches reading and writing and invites them into a conversation about literacy practices.  They get to experience, through video, what a workshop, project-based classroom looks like; they get to see the enthusiasm on the faces of their children as they are immersed in their work.
  • The Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care blog turns research-based understandings of writing and writing instruction into conversational introductions to topics like revision and grammar and test writing. By summarizing research and showing what it looks like in practice, parent readers gain a new sense of how writing can be taught.

Sowing the seeds with colleagues:

  • David Kangas and Kevin English began a book club with teachers (and administrators) in their school on a professional text about reading and reading pedagogy (that presented a different viewpoint from the general talk at their school).  By setting up the reading group as a conversation, teachers together discovered some new ways of thinking about their teaching.
  • Kristin Smith’s students created book posters after doing independent reading during class, and she posted their work in the hallway. It allowed other teachers, students, and community members who come into the building to see that the students in her alternative school are reading, and turned a conversation that focused often on these students’ deficits into one about their strengths. It also got people talking about the books, including other students.

Sowing the seeds in the community:

  • Cheryl Plouffe and her colleagues created a day-long community “Sustainability Summit” in which students share their learning about science and sustainability with parents, community members, and elected leaders (including the mayor, township supervisors, and representatives of various offices around the city and county). Students asked the panel questions about the sustainability of their community and the event concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the rain garden that science students built around the school’s retaining pond.
  • The Centre Teacher-Writers meets monthly for writing, fellowship, feedback, and support for publication. One project has been a monthly education column in the local newspaper. Fed up with the paper’s habit of running nationally syndicated op-eds on education, usually reflecting one ideological stance only and without local counterpoint or local perspective, the CTW approached the paper’s editor and offered to supply its own op-eds that could run alongside or shortly after these. Teacher-writers take turns writing columns: from advising parents about helping with homework; to arguing against excessive testing; to explaining and condemning value-added measures of teaching performance; to giving a teacher’s perspective on conceptual math instruction.
  • Many teachers use social media to inform friends outside of their school communities about wonderful things their students or other students around the country are doing, often reposting or retweeting important messages about literacy education. Think about people you know and how reading a blog post from Valerie Strauss, an in-depth article about education or a research study might help them think a little differently about teachers and teaching.

Read about what others have done to build awareness on the Everyday Advocacy in Action Blog.

Read More: Find Allies