One of the first lessons of advocacy work is that it’s easier and more effective if we do this work with others. When we share our individual stories with others, we are sharing the underlying values that might help others join us to make sustained change; the more people who join together in a cause, the greater the chance of changing others’ minds.
The key to this collaborative work is finding allies. Allies are those people who share our beliefs and values about an issue —but allies are not always those who are most vocal or obvious. Often times there are potential allies in the school and school community who will offer support and shared commitments–but we have to do the legwork to determine who they are and how they might join with us.
How do we find allies? And how do we move beyond “the usual suspects”? There are many paths to this: from eavesdropping as teachers talk in meetings or at lunch to listening hard in a department meeting to find others who might share values to joining committees in order to meet others who might be interested in similar issues. Allies might grow out of the work you’ve done in sowing the seeds of change: a colleague who noticed your book wall and asks some questions, a parent who attended a literacy night and sends you an email wanting to know more, an administrator who heard from a parent about your teaching.
- Jeffery Taylor consciously decided to start finding allies by getting to know others in his school. He began sitting with different colleagues at every staff meeting, sharing some of what he’s thinking about pertinent issues at his middle school and asking them what they think. He’s found this simple outreach—that begins with asking questions—makes a big difference in feeling part of a group of like-minded educators (and, as a sidenote, he share recently that he has developed more confidence in his ability to speak up about what’s most important to him).
- David Kangas and Kevin English began their search for allies by joining the literacy committee at their school. As the group talked together about their shared interest in student literacy, the two teachers were able to find others whose ideas on literacy meshed with theirs.
- Kris Gedeon found an ally in a long-time colleague who serves as library aide. Sharing an interest in reading and encouraging students to become lifelong readers, the two began a collaboration that has led to changes in the setup of use of the library.
- Lisa Eddy found an ally in a school board member who was also a parent and an educator, and the two began an ongoing conversation about curriculum, testing, and school improvement.
Talking and listening to others in our school communities should be an ongoing part of our work. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of dividing our colleagues, administrators, and parents into particular camps, taking the time to listen carefully and find moments of agreement and underlying shared values can help create that story of us.
Read about what others have done to find allies on the Everyday Advocacy in Action Blog.
Read More: Stay on Point