by Katie Van Sluys
n. The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.
As educators, our everyday instructional decisions, conversations with students and their families, discussions of educational issues with neighbors, op-ed pieces, blog entries, meetings with school administration, and/or connections with lawmakers are all acts of advocacy.
We know that simply wishing or waiting for better policies or practices is unrealistic and that change emanates from real people’s engagement and actions over time.
Furthermore, we know the importance of relationships and collaboration when working for change: networks of people working together result in more knowledge and possibilities being brought to the table.
This article provides a snapshot of the ways in which we, as an organization, continue to move forward in our advocacy work as we continue to develop relationships with key collaborators and policymakers’ offices, commit ourselves to focused and timely work via an annual legislative platform, collaborate in drafting legislation, and participate in NCTE-sponsored initiatives such as Advocacy Month.
Recognizing the value of work over time, NCTE sponsors a Literacy Education Advocacy Month as a way to offer all of our members opportunities to connect and collaborate with key decision makers in their local contexts. Advocacy activities are suggested for each day of the month (http://www.ncte.org/action/advocacyday/calendar). Electronic Action Alerts invite members to contact their legislators either via email or in person. Advocacy Day on April 23rd is an opportunity for members to work either directly with NCTE colleagues, collaborating agencies, and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., or electronically via an e-mail Action Alert.
Whether we are writing letters, sending emails, or engaging in face-to-face meetings, our efforts are focused via the use of our legislative platform. For the last four years, NCTE has developed an annual platform to inform and focus the year’s work. The platform is the result of intense work with Washington staffers, members of key legislative committees, and NCTE member constituents ranging from Early Childhood Literacy interests to two- and four-year college concerns.
The process of creating and using the platform enables us, as a collective, to make decisions about which key issues we are poised to best speak to; it aids us in sharing our message often and with diverse audiences; and it helps others come to know NCTE as a place to turn to for information and advice related to concrete issues of literacy teaching and learning.
The platform has served as a key tool in advancing our collective efforts. It focuses efforts on a subset of the many issues our organization cares and knows about—as it helps NCTE gain recognition as a resource to turn to on particular issues as well as supports focused follow-through.
To date, the 2009 NCTE legislative platform (http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/2009legisplatform) has guided our involvement in the collaborative authoring of a comprehensive literacy bill. NCTE, in cooperation with the National Association for Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Alliance for Excellent Education, the National Middle School Association, and the International Reading Association, drafted a plan that invites districts to apply for funds at the state level for continuous and aligned literacy work across learners’ lives—from birth to grade twelve. The plan calls for literacy work that emphasizes both reading and writing and calls for professional development that is ongoing and embedded within learning communities. Currently the plan is moving through legislative processes on the Hill.
Furthermore, NCTE’s platform is being used as a tool for naming specific requests—or “asks”— for working with legislators on Advocacy Day. This year NCTE members will ask for support of the comprehensive literacy bill and the support of NCTE’s National Day on Writing initiative (http://www.ncte.org/action/dayonwriting ). Participants will use the platform as one tool in their preparation for visits with policymakers. Other preparations by participants will include reading and becoming familiar with NCTE’s advocacy goals; deciding where their passions, expertise, and needs rest; and thinking about what personal stories can be told to punctuate the necessity of addressing the highlighted issues in contexts important to legislators.
Whether you engage in advocacy for better literacy education learning opportunities by travelling to Washington on April 23 to meet with NCTE colleagues and legislators, by writing letters, by making phone calls, or by meeting locally with lawmakers, always keep in mind that you are talking with your representatives. Their job is to gather the needs of their constituents and they often do this by collecting stories and information that they can use to argue for or against dimensions of legislation.
We need to be the people our representatives turn to when they need advice and information. We hope that the range of opportunities offered invites all of our members to be active advocates in some way, shape, or form. And, in the spirit of not acting alone, we invite members to share their stories of advocacy with fellow NCTE members through the NCTE website (www.ncte.org), the NCTE Ning (http://ncte2008.ning.com/), and conference conversations. Together we can actively craft, support, and argue for the kinds of policies we need to make the kind of schools we’re passionate about offering to every child.
Katie Van Sluys is Assistant Professor of Literacy, DePaul University, Chicago, and Chair of the NCTE Executive Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Relations.