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Taking It to the Streets: Teachers as Advocates

(The Council Chronicle Online, posted April 21, 2009)

Advocacy Ideas and Recommendations You Can Try in Your School and Community
Ideas Generated by Participants in the 1996 Michigan Writing Project's Leadership Conference Advocacy Strand 

The following list emerged from the "inkshedding" process used to generate ideas and facilitate discussion in the advocacy strand of sessions organized on behalf of the Michigan Writing Projects and the Literacy Consortium by Cathy Fleischer, Laura Roop, and Ellen Brinkley. The lists were compiled by Ellen Brinkley. Reprinted with permission from The Michigan English Teacher, Volume 45, Number 4.

What can teachers do to inform and instruct parents and their communities about their ways of teaching?

1. Stay focused on being an advocate for the children in our classrooms. "Work hard to ensure that each child becomes a literate, independent adult thinker."

2. Be proactive, not waiting to act until there's a problem.

3. Be sure when talking to parents to know how to defend what and how students are asked to learn. Be able to articulate it for parents. "I've found that my own inability to articulate my rationale to others is sometimes the result of my own incomplete understand¬ing."

4. Learn to articulate the "why" first to students but also to parents and the community. Provide the evidence.

5. Encourage teachers' book talks, professional discussions, and collaborative projects. "The best communication is from an educated, eager teacher."

6. Be a part of the community, talking about issues at community events, helping schools develop parent libraries, etc. 

7. Send a letter to parents explaining how the class is organized and why and spelling out the teacher's own philosophy of teaching and learning. Highlight for parents the rigor of 
the curriculum and the real-world application.

8. Produce an informational newsletter. 

9. Give presentations at PTA/PTOs. 

10. Lead parents through a mini-lesson demonstration at parents' night. 

11. Discuss schedule, syllabus, and philosophy of teaching at the beginning of the year.

12. Invite parents into the classroom. Provide a visitor's handout inviting visitors to
notice particular classroom experiences—e.g., elementary students reading in pairs—with a note about what such experiences accomplish.

13. Plan evening literacy events for families, sharing family stories. This is especially
helpful when there are "new" classroom strategies that parents can participate in.

14. Host evening writing workshops for parents, teachers, and students working together. Invite community leaders to participate as well. Distribute research articles.

15. Find ways to involve parents in the content of the class— e.g., assigning students to
take notes while a family member tells a family story as a prelude to a class focus on storytelling and culturally diverse stories in a literature text.

16. Start three-way journals to establish dialogue between student, parent, and teacher. Invite parents to write their questions and comments about the student's work.

17. Establish student-led parent conferences.

18. Invite parents to language arts staff inservices.

19. Invite the media to sharing activities.

20. Publish students' writings by distributing them to nursing homes, etc.

21. Plan evening discussions of curricular issues.

"Even if only a few attend, a small group of parents can be powerful. Also, the fact that the opportunity has been given -- even if not taken advantage of -- is helpful in calming parent and community concerns."

22. Construct a defense for authentic learning experiences.

23. Display student accomplishments, especially writing, not just in classrooms, but in the library, cafeteria, etc.

24. Display student writing in local banks, libraries, and art fairs. Glue student writing to grocery bags, etc.

25. Give public readings of student writing, possibly in a coffee house atmosphere.

26. In the fall make welcome-to-our-community phone calls designed to begin an ongoing conversation with new residents about school issues.

"The bonds and bridges built have influenced our classroom community in numerous positive ways."

27. Don't always hold community meeting in school buildings. Look for ways to meet in homes, businesses, churches, city hall, etc., to taking involve a variety of people. Be sure parents co-plan and co-facilitate the meetings.

28. Send letters to the editor of the local paper, focusing on issues addressed recently in news articles.

29. Provide materials that explain why we address editing problems/usage within the context of students' own writing (Connie Weaver's Fact Sheets).

30. Work out arrangements with the local newspaper to highlight what's happening in classrooms. Some districts produce a weekly learning page of student writing—real publishing! Sometimes weekly papers in small towns are especially receptive to such a plan or to publish teacher-written articles (e.g., "Spotlight on Excellence" articles) about school and class issues.

31. Keep the school board informed. Invite them into the classroom. Send them student work.

32. Talk to colleagues. Take a common stand as a group with support from administrators. Compile resources, e.g., proof that whole language is effective. Find books, videos, etc., that can be shared with parents and administrators.

33. Provide inservice for teachers and parents.

34. We need to educate ourselves first.

"We are our own worst enemy when it comes to 
change and progress in education."

35. Publish a literary magazine.

36. Invite students to read a favorite polished piece of writing at school and school board events. 

37. Invite parents and community members to "take" the MEAP writing assessments [Michigan Educational Assessment Program] to draw attention of the local newspapers and broader community.

38. Share student portfolios with parents and recognize the importance of their perspective. 

"If we immediately gloss over or reject their concerns, we will discourage their involvement."

40. Ask students to write about their classroom experiences. Publish them widely.

What obstacles stand in the way of teachers taking on advocacy roles? 

1. TIME . . .  TIME . . .  TIME.

2. Personal reluctance and fear of risk-taking on the part of teachers.

"Those who have a vision of what needs to be are those who are willing to take a huge risk."

3. Community pressures.

4. An us-versus-them atmosphere.  A "struggle for authority/superiority with per¬ceived enemies." The perception that school decisions are made by people who care more about their own status than about kids. Sometimes children even take on the attitudes of their parents, leading to resistance to learning.

5. Limits on teachers' energy, given existing day-by-day demands. There is dismay over
added responsibilities.

6. Need for staff development and administrator's support.

7. Parents tend to expect their children's school experiences to mirror their own.

8. Parental reluctance to participate in school-related activities (except athletics).

9. Some teachers aren't particulary comfortable having parents in the classroom.

10. Teachers don't seem to have much "say" these days about what happens in education. Lack of respect from general public and from politicians.

11. Lack of support from colleagues, principal, district.

12. Media that goes against best practice.

13. Parental opposition to new practices.

14. Lack of informed state legislators.

15. Lack of informed citizens when it's time to elect local and state school board members.

16. Limited funding. No funds for dissemination of information.

17. Change takes time and energy.

18. Sometimes teachers ignore reactionary groups, which only increases the group's frustration and anger and leads them to seek further support.

19. Difficult to talk issues in the face of political agendas.

20. Lack of clear, articulated goals.

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Most Recent Comments (1 Total Posts)

Posted By: Anonymous User on 4/22/2009 9:34:35 AM

Informing parents and communities about teaching strategies, rationales for the strategies, and, particularly, the results in terms of student learning is so important. When we claim that tests are limited in their ability to demonstrate student learning, it's also very important to, as one person says, "display accomplishments." How do we know that these strategies are influencing learning? When we have parents and community members who can identify the positive outcomes, we are building advocates for powerful teaching and learning. Barbara Cambridge Director, Washington Office, NCTE

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