3 Ways to Advocate for Rigor in Your School


Written by Barbara R. Blackburn

Author’s Note: A special thank you to Robert Blackburn and Ron Williamson for their collaborative work on advocacy.

Everyone is an advocate, whether you recognize it or not. We advocate for our favorite teams, political candidates and, of course, we advocate for our schools and the resources and programs vital to the success of our students. As a teacher, we can find ourselves so overwhelmed that we forget our role as advocates.

Here are three ways to channel your inner advocate this school year.

Understand Your Role as an Advocate

Advocacy is what you do when you are actively supporting a cause such as expanding the emphasis on technology in your school. It is often compared to public relations. But advocacy is quite different. When teachers advocate for increased rigor, they are committed to providing information to stakeholder groups that will build support for their vision. They also recognize the importance of building networks and alliances that will support their efforts.  For example, you may communicate with parents in advance so they will support your higher expectations for their sons and daughters.  Similarly, you might collaborate with other teachers to ensure similar expectations across the grade level. Through your efforts, you are able to systematically press for change.

Communicate Effectively

It’s important to have a concise message.  Oftentimes, your listeners are busy, and they do not have a tremendous amount of time to give you.  If you take too much time, they will either move on or tune out.  We live in a busy world and your audience will be busy, start your verbal or written message with your key point.  In other words, begin with the most important thing you have to say.  This way, if your listener does interrupt you, you will still have communicated your main point.

Similarly, you want to have a coherent message.  If you stray off topic, you will lose your audience.  Unfortunately, it’s too easy to do this.  A lack of focus can undermine your advocacy efforts.  For example, if you are asking your colleagues to work with you to increase the rigor of tasks and assessments, it’s important not to veer off into a discussion of how students might resist the challenges. 

Finally, as you craft your message, you’ll want to understand your audience.  As you interact with different stakeholders, you will find that each person has different needs, goals, and prior experiences related to your agenda.  Once you discover where they are coming from, you can tailor your message to them, and your chances of being effective are improved.

Network with Stakeholders to Improve Your Effectiveness

There are a variety of stakeholders who are important to your efforts to increase rigor.  Although you may not think some of these groups are directly involved in your desire for positive change, all can have an impact.  For example, the first group to consider are elected officials. This can include people like the mayor, your school board, your county commissioners, or local state legislators. (Please note that depending on your state, some of these positions may be appointed rather than elected).  Why should you care about this group?  Because they can help you affect change on a larger scale. They can also publicly support your agenda with other stakeholders, such as parents.

Next, there are external stakeholders, which include non-profit groups, business leaders, and the media.  Once again, they can help spread your message, but they can also provide support.  For example, in one community, the local Rotary group provided leveled books for a teacher’s classroom so he could provide increased levels of rigor. 

Finally,  you’ll want to network with internal stakeholders.  This includes teachers, staff, school leaders, and students.  Your approach will vary with the different groups, but your goal is the same:  garner support for your efforts to increase rigor.

A Final Note

The beginning of a new school year means full schedules and daunting to-do lists for educators. Still, in the midst of these seemingly overwhelming responsibilities, it’s important to take time to focus on advocacy.  As an advocate, you can achieve your goals and improve instruction for your students.

About the author

Barbara R. Blackburn, PhD, is a top 30 Global Guru in Education, the author of multiple books on rigor, and an international speaker. She regularly provides schools and districts with professional development. Visit her website at www.barbarablackburnonline.com.