Someone commenting on my last blog entry posed the following provocative question: "To really make a lasting difference, I think it will require that educators -- with or without unions -- put pressure on politicians and advocate for students and schools. Where do we start learning to be political?"
I believe the best way to learn is to act. You have special expertise as someone who works in the schools, and you have valuable information to add to the public discussion. Channel your anger and sense of injustice into learning all you can about the issues. Become familiar with the current research in the area, so you can write authoritatively and make powerful connections that others may not have made before. Edutopia.org is an excellent place to start.
Another site to investigate is the Teacher Leaders Network, which hosts excellent blogs. Teacher magazine is a terrific source as well. Finally, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development sends out a daily SmartBrief with links to hot education articles on the Web.
As you read the latest news, think about connections to the issues you care about. See if you can come up with an original angle or an implication others have not thought of. React quickly to hot news with your opinion, and get your piece to the editors fast. When a news story breaks, there is a forty-eight-hour window when editors are looking to keep the story alive and explore the implications. That is your chance, especially if you have a unique angle.
Most newspapers have two avenues for laypeople who want their opinions published. Letters to the editor are often limited to about 200 words and are focused on a single point, but many newspapers also publish guest editorials: Those can be a bit longer -- up to about 700 words. Go to the publication's editorial or op-ed section to locate its guidelines.
Make sure you adhere to word limits, and accept feedback when offered. Develop relationships with editors so they are aware of your abilities and interests. They are not usually going to approach you, but it helps for them to recognize you as a reliable source.
Take a clear stand. Short letters to the editor can be purely one sided. In longer pieces, you have the space to develop your argument with examples, and you can respond to opposing points of view. Always try to anticipate and respond to the biggest argument against your perspective.
Take advantage of your firsthand knowledge. You are an educator, and if you are writing about schools, tell stories that show you understand the situation based on experience. This approach allows you to bring in a more emotional element that is very powerful. The story you tell about the immigrant who struggled to take a standardized test a month after arriving in the United States can be more moving than any statistic you could cite. Combine it with statistical data, and you have a powerful one-two punch.
Think about the audience for the publication. Even newspapers have different angles. An op-ed for the Sacramento Bee might emphasize state policy, whereas one in the San Francisco Chronicle might focus on urban education.
If one publication rejects a piece, polish it and submit it somewhere else. Topics come in and out of style. Look for the moment when related topics are hot, and see how you can work in a fresh angle.
Participate in online discussions to hone your arguments. Add your voice to the comments on blogs or newspaper articles. You can also publish your own blog. These venues give you a chance to develop your ideas and respond to the reactions of others. Get used to being challenged. The greatest compliment you can receive is a lot of feedback. That tells you that you have hit a nerve.
Please add to this advice by commenting below.