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Breaking the Silence: Why All Educators Need To Be Advocates

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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An advocate? Who? Me? I’m not THAT person. I’m not an eloquent public speaker. I’m uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions with others I don’t know. The fear of saying something “wrong” keeps me quiet. The last thing in the world that I’d want to do is be in the media spotlight. I’m not an administrator. I’m not really involved in politics. I’m a classroom teacher. I’m not sure that I have anything valuable to share. And besides, who’d listen to me?

That was me and let’s be honest; it still is me in a few respects. This journey that I’m on is taking me way out of my comfort zone! It’s scary! I feel vulnerable. Why am I blogging and speaking out about the importance of being an advocate? Even more importantly, for the many educators who are like me, why you should break your silence too.

An advocate - a champion, supporter, backer, proponent, spokesperson, a person who publicly recommends or supports a particular cause or policy

I believe that there is not one great educator who isn’t ALREADY an advocate. There is not one great teacher who isn’t ALREADY a leader of their classroom.

Dozens of times over my career I’ve shared my opinion about providing more resources and opportunities for my students. Multiple times I’ve shared ideas about how to make our schools better for our students, families, and teachers. The difference now is that I’m sharing my thoughts with others than just my closest colleagues. Why now? Recent personal experiences have opened my eyes, and I've seen the overwhelming need for those willing and able to speak up for those who are not in a position to advocate for themselves. The truth is, I’ve always been an advocate for my students. I've always been an advocate for teachers. I’ve just never given myself enough credit.

Educators, by their very nature, want what’s best for kids. We enter the teaching profession for many reasons, but a common one is to make a difference in the lives of our students, to have an impact on their future, and to make the world a better place.

What I’ve come to realize lately is that being an advocate is telling a story. It’s the story of someone whose voice remains unheard

 by the masses, a story of someone less powerful, and a story of someone in need. Every educator can share a story. So every educator can be an advocate for kids! Being an advocate means that you share your story with a larger audience and with those who make decisions like our legislators. That’s where it takes a little courage.

We’re not blind to how policies, laws, and even deep-rooted traditions negatively affect students in our classrooms. Can we hide in the background forever and depend on only a few to lead the way towards change? If we say nothing, do nothing to improve education, are we equally guilty as those who are making the changes that we feel are hurting kids? Teachers? Schools? How long can we tolerate the injustices we see? Isn’t it our moral imperative to ensure that ALL kids are learning at high levels in a supportive environment?

How Can We Become Better Advocates/Story Tellers?

Listen and Understand A Person’s Perspective: The last three weeks of my personal life completely turned upside-down. My elderly mother spent nearly three weeks in ICU and a rehab center. How quickly life can change! What slapped me in the face, with so many decisions about her care, was the importance of listening and understanding her perspective. Experts, laws, procedures, documents, and medical jargon swirled around my head, with seemingly little concern for taking the time to listen to the wishes of my mom, the patient. The similarities to education were eye-opening and caused me to reflect upon my teacher behavior and language. I asked myself some questions. How can I provide more opportunities for my students/parents to express their feelings, challenges, and needs honestly? How sincere are my efforts to make sure that there is two-way communication? What have I done to ensure understanding?

Show Empathy: You’ve heard the advice to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and not to make assumptions or judgments. Immersing yourself in the situation of someone else provides insights into the problems that they face. What issues do you see kids facing that gets you “fired up”? Speak from a place of passion! Your connection to an issue, person, or cause facilitates your ability to be a better advocate.

Stand Up for Rights/Concerns and Ask Questions: Some of the most vulnerable to the laws and policies that hurt rather than help are those with little to no voice. As educators, we can stand up for what we know is right, empower those without a voice and bring awareness to changes that need to happen. Understanding laws and policies is a definite plus, but you don’t need to be a scholar. Be informed. Make sure that decisions are in the best interest of those for whom you advocate. Ask questions! It’s a non-threatening way to find out information.

Teach Students How to Advocate For Themselves: Technology provides multiple ways for students to record and share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences. As educators, we should be empowering our students by encouraging them to share their voice with a global audience. To not give students a choice in how they access information and express their learning in the 21st century is malpractice in my opinion. Students cannot only learn to advocate for themselves, but they can also learn to advocate for others.

A story: it starts with the main character who faces a problem. Is there a single educator who cannot share a story of a struggling student? What would help them overcome their struggles? And are we as teachers and leaders advocating for ourselves? Or are we just accepting what’s given to us even though our hands are tied, and we’re often unable to do what we know is best for kids? Share your story publicly via a blog or other means and advocate for those changes we need. Be a leader. Know your impact. Collectively our voice will be heard. It’s time for educators to break their silence.

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  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Wednesday, 06 July 2016

    Love your piece, Sandy! Hearing your decision to stand up and speak out is inspiring. Acknowledging the fear is wisdom. Committing to act anyway is courageous. Bravo!

  • Sandy King  @sandeeteach
    Sandy King @sandeeteach Wednesday, 06 July 2016

    Thank you so much, Errol, for taking the time to read. I really appreciate your support! You've made this step in my journey a little less frightful. :)

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Wednesday, 06 July 2016

    Sandy we are all here with you on this journey. Never feel that you are alone although I fully understand where you are coming from. Remember we are all just a tweet, dm or vox away. Our circle just became stronger by your addition and I am sure it will continue to strengthen as it grows.

  • Sandy King  @sandeeteach
    Sandy King @sandeeteach Friday, 08 July 2016

    Jon, your comments truly touched my heart. I'm so honored to be connected to you and so many great people I admire. It's comforting to know that I have so much support along this journey. Thanks my friend!

  • Guest
    Brett Phipps Wednesday, 06 July 2016

    You are such a testament for all of us!! Thank you for stepping out and sharing your story!!

  • Sandy King  @sandeeteach
    Sandy King @sandeeteach Friday, 08 July 2016

    Brett, I hope you know how much your friendship and support means to me! #lovemytribe Thanks!

  • Guest
    Sheila @DiggsHill Wednesday, 06 July 2016

    Very wise words Sandy! Thank you for courageously sharing this with us.

  • Sandy King  @sandeeteach
    Sandy King @sandeeteach Friday, 08 July 2016

    Sheila- Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond. You are a valuable part of my PLN!

  • Guest
    Erik Palmer Friday, 08 July 2016

    You could have said, "I'm JUST a classroom teacher," because many teachers demean themselves by saying and thinking that. As you eloquently point out, we aren't just lowly teachers. I agree: we have to begin to speak up. How many times have all of us in the teachers' lounge said, "This is so wrong!" and then gone to the faculty meeting and said nothing? I hope this goes "teacher viral."

  • Sandy King  @sandeeteach
    Sandy King @sandeeteach Friday, 08 July 2016

    I still have to fight the urge to say, "just a teacher". We have to know and realize our impact on the lives of kids. We have to know our value. You're so right about thinking, "This is so wrong!" and then not saying anything. I've been guilty of this too many times. I've kept silent so that I don't ruffle feathers or take up any more precious time. But, we need the courage to ruffle those feathers and have the conversations that will make a difference. Thank you for your friendship and support. PS Maybe you could help me become an eloquent speaker! :)

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Guest Sunday, 23 October 2016