By Megan Wolfe
President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in” (June 17, 1912, Chicago, Ill.). And we’ve all heard this idiom: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Advocacy is both a duty and a privilege. If we’re not out there making our voices heard, someone else is doing it—and getting attention.
When it comes to influencing education policy, educators are best suited to understand what happens when education policies play out in the classroom, and they can help influence the policy change process when needed. As ASCD’s advocacy manager, I am often asked by educators how they can step up their advocacy strategies and make their voices heard by key decision makers at the local, state, and federal levels. I’m sharing my top tips below.
- Do Your Homework. Before contacting a lawmaker to build support for your cause, know who you’re talking to and where they stand on your issue. You can use ASCD’s Action Center to search your address and find a complete list of your federal and state elected officials. By selecting officials’ icons, you can see information such as brief bios, their committee memberships, and direct links to their websites. You can also follow most policymakers on social media to see what education issues they’re talking about. Tweeting directly to a member of Congress has become a great way to focus their attention on your issue!
- Tell Your Story. Whatever your education cause, you most likely advocate for it because of your personal experiences as an educator. Share your local story when meeting with decision makers—it’s what they’ll remember because you’re taking a broad policy issue and showing how it affects your students and your school.
- Be a Resource and Use Your Resources. In addition to sharing a compelling story, you can leave a lasting impression with policymakers by providing them with resources related to issues that matter to you. Consider sharing the ASCD Legislative Agenda(PDF), and visit the archive pages for Policy Points and Policy Priorities to see if a recent issue supports your message. You can also share electronic versions of resources with decision makers after your meetings.
- Attend ASCD’s 2016 Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA). Whether you’re an advocacy novice or influential pro, LILA’s skill-building sessions will provide you with the training and confidence you need to make your voice heard by decision makers in your school or state—or on Capitol Hill. LILA participants engage in Q&A sessions with leading education policy experts so they are in the know on trending topics such as student data privacy and educator evaluations. Furthermore, LILA participants have the opportunity to put their advocacy skills into action during arranged meetings with their federal lawmakers. LILA—ASCD’s premier legislative conference—takes place January 24–26 in Washington, D.C. See the conference agenda and register for LILA today!
Follow these steps and you’re on your way to becoming an influential advocate for your students, school, and profession. I look forward to meeting you, hearing your story, and working together to hone your advocacy skills at LILA 2016.
Megan Wolfe has served as ASCD’s advocacy manager since joining the association in 2011. She helps to raise ASCD’s visibility with federal lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill, particularly with regard to ASCD’s legislative agenda and whole child approach to education.