In order to make change real and lasting, we need to learn more about
- How decisions are made in our school or district,
- Who makes these decisions, and
- Who might have influence on those decision makers.
The last point is where our proactive work of building awareness and finding allies pays off. If we have been successful in creating a culture of shared values and developed strong allies, we have many people (parents, other teachers, community members) who either may have influence with decision makers or who know of others they can call upon to wield their influence. Remember, sometimes we have to step back and realize that the message is better received by a decision-maker when it comes through the voice of an ally rather than a teacher. (See, for example, Cathy Fleischer’s example from a state Board of Education meeting in her backstory.)
What does this look like in practice?
Say your issue focuses on building a culture of choice in how reading is taught. You may discover that a particular committee in your school is charged with choosing the professional development opportunities surrounding reading instruction that will be mandatory for staff. Because you know that the PD that is selected will inform how school-wide mandated curriculum develops around reading instruction, you identify that committee as one of your decision makers.
The most direct way to influence these decision makers would be to join that committee and become part of the team of decision makers; speaking out about your ideas as one of the decision makers can direct the outcome. However, if that is not a possibility, you may still be influential in other ways: you may be able to encourage one of your allies to join the committee or you might develop allies among those already on the committee—sharing with them alternative ways of thinking about reading instruction and suggesting books, authors, video, or online PD that might show them the research behind the way you are thinking.
In this example, recognizing the impact this committee can have on how reading will get taught in your school is the first step; the second step, then, is figuring out how your voice and the values your voice represents can be heard by that committee.
Read more on about a plan created by Karen Hoffman, a teacher who has participated in advocacy training. Karen identified the decision maker for her issue (the ELA director) and tried working as a member of the ELA Curriculum committee to influence how reading and writing would be taught—to no avail. As a new approach, she’s hoping to engage parents as allies whose voices can be heard in ways hers cannot, recognizing the potential influence of these parents on decision makers.
Determining how decisions are made and who makes the decisions are keys to creating change. And since we can’t always take on the role of decision maker (much as we would like to!), relying on the seeds we’ve sown and the allies we’ve developed can often help us nudge change forward.
Read More: Identifying Tactics