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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Advocate for Education: How to Publish Your Opinions

Anthony Cody

Science Coach and mentor, Oakland, California

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.

Anthony Cody

Science Coach and mentor, Oakland, California
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Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

AnthonyCody's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hillel,
Congratulations on your excellent article. I think there are actually LOTS of educators who share these views, but most do not see themselves in the role of advocate, and do not take that step to express themselves publicly as you have done. It is also fascinating to see that these same issues are being debated all over the globe, in diverse cultural contexts. Part of the value of a forum like this is the chance we get to learn from one another. Keep on writing!
Anthony

John Garrett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bill

You hit on a great point in having a goal of leaving a post on 3 educator blogs. This is a great way of sharing ideas and keeping education alive evolving. I hope to follow in your footsteps and begin posting more to other's blogs and wiki's as well. I wonder if there is or if there a a movement afoot to look into this as a form of professional development. This is an inexpensive way to deliver interactive professional development to a large group. One idea I have been thinking of floating out there is giving teachers credit for blogging as a form of professional development.

John

Jamie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am completely new to blogging.. and am amazed by the ideas that are exchanged. It is great to hear from teachers all over the world who share the same struggles and triumphs. Teaching really is universal.
I valued your idea of becoming an advocate for education, especially gaining respect for teachers as the professionals we are. I am still fairly new to teaching, and in my fourth year I am beginning to see how important it is to become involved in the politics of teaching if I am to create change. My question for all you teachers in the blogosphere.... what is the best way to get informed? I don't just want spoonfed the unions ideas or any one politicians ideas, I want the nuts and bolts of bills and acts that are being passed, and what political canadates have in mind for education. Where can I get informed?

Anthony_Cody's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jamie,
Great question. I hope others will add suggestions as well, but here are mine.

For general information about education issues, Education Week is kind of the New York Times of the education world. It costs money to access all their content, but it is excellent. They also have excellent topical blogs.

Their sister publication, Teacher Magazine, is free, and is also an excellent news source -- and they have a stable of teacher bloggers -- including me.

For Candidates positions, I found a site built by the Education Writers of America that provides resources showing where the candidates stand on education issues.

You said you did not necessarily wish to fall in line completely with a union perspective, but the teacher's union are the most powerful organized voices for teachers, and their web sites are excellent places to find out about education legislation.

The NEA Legislative Action Center

The AFT Legislative Action Center

Much legislative action occurs at the state level, and both of the unions are likely to have active organizations with informational web sites. In California, the California Teachers Association -- affiliated with NEA -- is one of the most effective political organizations in the state, and they have an informative web site.

Teresa Raines's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Donna, I am also trying to find my "voice". I have decided that the easiest step for me to take first is to start contacting my school board members. I have recently learned that the new schools being built in my county will have state of the art technology in every classroom. That's wonderful, except for the other older schools which have very limited resources. Thanks for the encouragement to take this step and voice my own concerns.

Emma's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well done Anthony!! Thanks for the good work on this article, looking forward to see more good stuff from your side.

Alicia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teachers being their own advocates is a great topic! We are the experts who are ensconced in the education arena. My personal challenge is that by the end of my work day, I am very tired--too tired to write articles, etc. Maybe retired teachers could help us. Perhaps retired teachers could devote some of their time and energy in becoming advocates for their working peers.

Elizabeth Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Nancy and Anthony,
I couldn't agree with you two more on the issue of finding ways to voice our opinions in a professional way. At times, I feel that educators are kind in nature and are "dumped on" because we don't speak up for ourselves. Rather, we just accept our fate and keep on teaching. It is so important for educators to stop injustice and advocate for ourselves and our students. I am excited to visit some of the mentioned sites and be more active in the teaching community.

Patricia Tomlinson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Anthony,
I too, am a huge supporter of Education Week. I have found this to be an invaluable source for all educators about the state of education across our nation. I have been battling a bit of burn out the past couple of years. However, I have turned a more positive corner and began taking graduate courses again. One of my goals for this year is to become more active again in the political arena as it impacts education. I often speak about this to other educators as well as parents who feel frustration about some of the mandated issues we face today in our schools. I think so many of us feel powerless or voiceless in today's political environment. I have concerns about so much emphasis about the negativity of special interest groups and education being lumped into such a grouping. I am hopeful for the day when education is not just used as a buzzword for people who desire to become part of the political arena. Thanks so much for your helpful posts.

Patricia Tomlinson
Howell, Georgia

Shannon Shiemke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too am new to the blogging experience. Being able to communicate with teachers around the world is essential to all teachers. While we may find communication with colleagues in our own school beneficial, we may find it to be detrimental at times. Sadly, I have taught at a school that was plagued with negativity. The reasons for this negativity where countless--too many to explain. Needless to say, the majority of the staff's professionalism and attitudes took a turn for the worst. Under the circumstances it was easy to stray in the wrong direction when almost everyone you communicated with was in a negative mind set. Being able to share ideas and thoughts with those outside your realm can remind you of the positive aspects of teachings. I do agree that educators must get involved with politics to create change. I think those new to teaching and not yet politically involved can begin by advocating politics in their own school. This would be a great start. Teachers need to be 'risk takers'. They need to question things regarding their own school-question authority. I am appalled by the number of teachers that just go with the flow even though they strongly disagree with the subject at hand. What does that say? If educators are not willing to speak up for education who will? It will be those not involved in education. Where will we be then? During my first few years of teaching I was very intimidated by the thoughts of becoming knowledgeable in the political arena of education. Where was I to start? Through communication I was able to maneuver my way through different resources to gain a better understanding of the politics in my field--in house and from around the world. Thank you fellow teachers!!!!

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