Our Voice Matters

By: Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

child-care-advocacy

We are in a day and time where public education is under constant scrutiny which makes advocating for schools, teachers and students a top priority for administrators. As a principal, I never imagined constant communication with local, state and federal representatives would be a priority to ensure a high-quality education for all students. However, sharing their stories with those individuals became a norm. Their stories mattered and it was my responsibility to be sure they were told.

So, what can you do as a principal or assistant principal to ensure politicians understand the impact their decisions will have on your students and school?  Below are lessons I have learned as a principal and by participating in the Holmes Scholars program.

Although you may feel uneasy with becoming politically active, I was, at a minimum you should get to know your school board members, city council members and state representatives. This knowledge extends beyond their names. During my own journey of advocacy, I put myself in spaces that provided opportunities for encounters with those individuals. For example, I became active in local and state professional organizations, such as Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP). You will be exposed to and become familiar with the latest matters that may affect your community. Within organizations there will be individuals that are familiar with advocacy work and will be happy to guide you in the journey. Trust me, I know this to be a fact!  Additionally, city council members and state representatives sometimes attend functions sponsored by those organizations. More importantly, I invited them (elected officials) to attend and participate in school events, such as Real Men/Women Read and honor roll ceremonies, which provided first-hand opportunities to witness the “stories.”

Benefits of establishing healthy relationships with elected officials include having the space to have open and honest conversations when issues arise. Emails, office visits, telephone calls, and social media, used appropriately and professionally, to make your position known are excellent avenues for advocacy. While completing an Ed. Policy course and participating in events on Capitol Hill, I was reminded that the more a concern is brought to the attention of elected officials, the more likely it will become a priority. We can agree that elected officials do not know what they do not know, and if administrators are not telling the stories then someone else is. We must control the narratives. Sharing stories is critical in getting your message across.

Recently, I attended the American Association for Colleges Teacher Education (AACTE) Washington Week. Colleges and students from across the nation gathered to focus on educational policy and advocacy. “Washington Week showcases many of AACTE’s partnerships and highlights the importance of coalition and coloration, particularly among education organizations here in Washington, to advocate for educator preparation at the federal and state levels,” said Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, president and CEO of AACTE. During this uplifting conference, we were reminded of the importance of our voices being heard. The American Dream of high-quality education for all students is in danger, and we must hold elected officials accountable. If we keep silent the livelihood of education as we know it will continue to be attacked and altered at the expense of students. We cannot afford to forfeit our place “at the table.” Dr. Jane West, Vice President of Government Relations & Advocacy for AACTE, stated “if we are not at the table, then we are on the menu.”

For many of us that are advocating for our students and schools, we must not be discouraged if it seems that your efforts are not being noticed. We must be persistent and keep our message alive.

Advocating for your students can lead to unexpected territories. Through involvement in professional organizations, relationship building with an array of individuals, and being in the right place at the right time your voice can be heard by those responsible for policies. For example, while completing a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education, I had the honor and privilege to speak on a panel at the Black Congressional Caucus convention. During this time, I had the opportunity to meet elected officials to discuss current issues in education and discuss matters such as diversifying the teacher workforce. Who would have thought an individual from a small rural town in North Carolina would have the honor of representing educators across the nation? It was through my passion for educating all students that my advocacy unfolded.

It is true that every school has a story. These stories are powerful when it comes to advocacy. It is imperative that we, as administrators, are aware of the political dilemmas facing schools and what can be done to ensure all students have a shot at the American Dream despite their demographics. Opportunity gaps will continue to widen if we do not remain a constant member at the table.

Below are links to information concerning advocacy:

NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals):

https://www.naesp.org/advocacy

NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals):

https://www.nassp.org/policy-advocacy-center/

AACTE (American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education):

https://aacte.org/policy-and-advocacy/advocacy-center