Elections have consequences. This phrase is often cited, and in the wake of last week’s elections, I find myself alongside other educators, reeling in the wake of the consequences that are already beginning to unfold. I wonder what my role is in what comes next? What consequences am I going to stand for? How will I breathe energy into those I believe in and interrupt those I cannot accept?
Some educators are very adept at advocating for our students and our profession. They are naturally drawn to it. They write policy and run for office. They testify to Congress and demand justice on state capitols’ steps. But most of us prefer classrooms, kids, and closed doors. And I am chief among them. I used to believe teachers had no place being political, but the last four years have shown me that education itself is political. As educators we must use our voices, for ourselves, and especially for our students.
So how do we get involved? How can we influence the political currents that move outside our schools, charging the air within our classrooms? The options are endless, varying in scope and style. Choose one that aligns with your values and your voice, and bring on the consequences. Here are some examples:
Join a Coalition or Committee
If you have a specific passion, like advocating for a more culturally-responsive curriculum or elevating computer science pathways for girls of color, there are committees and coalitions meeting locally, regionally, and at the state and national level on just about any topic. Sometimes all it takes to get a seat at the table is to ask for it. My friend Lyon did this when he realized the Aspen Institute convened a National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development with few teachers involved. After inquiring about teacher representation, he was asked to sit on the committee himself. Later he sat on the advisory board that wrote SEL standards and trainings for Washington State. If state and national work feel outside your reach, start within your district.
Engage with Policymakers
When we hear the word policymakers, we need to remember these include not only our state and federal leaders, but also our local school board and city council members, mayors, and school district leaders. Educators can submit written or verbal testimony when policies we care about are being debated. We can invite any of these policymakers to visit special school events or interview with our class. We can visit them virtually or in their spaces of work, bringing our own causes to their attention during hill day events or scheduled office visits. But the most power with policymakers comes from long term relationships.
One of my state legislators currently is a prior member of my local school board. We have developed a good relationship of mutual respect over the last four years, and last year, he called on me for feedback on a draft policy he was working on related to equity in gifted education programs in WA State. This is a critical issue to do right, and a level of influence I earned based on our relationship. If he did not have an educator he trusts to call on, whose voice would inform that policy? If you thrive in one-on-one conversation, building authentic relationships with those who have power to influence your classroom is a great way to get involved.
Lead Within Your Union
If working hand in hand with other teachers gives you strength, union leadership might be a great lane for you. My union president has been a more critical leader than ever during this pandemic. Working as a true partner with the school district, he has kept the safety and wellness of myself and my colleagues as an ever-present focus. At the same time, he has pushed us all to move essential culturally-responsive classroom management training forward as planned, not allowing COVID to be an excuse for delay.
There are many different ways to get involved at the local, state, or even national level. You may already be aware of local governance positions like this or maybe you have been a delegate to a state or national representative assembly, but many other opportunities also exist. Within each state there are special interest caucuses, directorships and some states have regional support councils. At the district and state level there are union-based committees, furthering the work that is important to teachers as we support our students. There are also many opportunities to facilitate professional learning for other educators within the union.
For millennial teachers like me, social media can be a great entry point to the national education conversation. I love Twitter, but the key to social media advocacy is maintaining a consistent presence, and I struggle to keep a steady beat. Instead, I learn from the leadership of others, like LeeAnn Stephens and Tyler Rablin. LeeAnn’s advocacy centers around racial equity work in schools, uplifting the student teams who lead this work in her school. Tyler currently floods Twitter with ideas and reminders for best practices in edtech and distance learning. Both of these teachers have opened themselves up online, allowing educators and education-observers to come into their classrooms and into their souls, moving us to change and grow alongside them.
Other educators have found podcasts to be powerful avenues for advocacy. Interchangeable White Ladies is a can’t miss podcast for me. The hosts, Hope and Megan, are both teachers who don’t take themselves too seriously. Their personalities and values shine through in each episode as they take on race, equity, motherhood, and pretty much any other topic that is considered taboo for polite, white, female teachers to talk about.
If you have strong opinions and a personality to match, you would probably thrive in an online environment.
From self-published blogs to department newsletters, from the local paper to state or national publications, writing is another outlet for teachers to share our voices and influence others. I started writing my first blog shortly after the 2016 election. It took me three months, and I finally published it after the new year.
I was terrified to have my opinions known publicly, but I knew I had to speak up, and writing would allow me to join the conversation in a way that felt authentic to me. In the years since, my confidence and conviction have grown through this medium. I have spoken publicly, argued with lawmakers, and sat on committees, too. But I always come back to writing, the keyboard bringing life to those smiles that fill my heart, and to the consequences I cannot let stand.
Elections do have consequences, but there is still time to decide what those consequences will be. Educators can and should get involved in influencing the policies and practices that affect us and our students. We can do that at the school, district, region, state, or even at the national level, in the ways I’ve shared here and many others. The thing is to find an avenue that challenges you while being authentic to the causes you care about and your personal engagement preference.
Today, in the shadow of the elections, I challenge you to come out from the safety of the four walls of your classroom and do something hard. Own the consequences. When educators get involved in the political process, we’re standing up for ourselves, our profession, and our students. Who is better to speak for us, than us?