Lately, I’ve been having some heart-to-hearts with my amazing educator friends, and I’m finding a trend: A lot of us are looking for ways to be even more badass and make change, especially in this new political climate. I’m no expert, but my work in education policy has given me a few insights and lessons learned.
1. Know how the sausage gets made.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned working in government is that implementation is everything. Oftentimes, we believe that the political process is so complex that we don’t even bother trying to familiarize ourselves with who makes what decisions and the process by which they get made. I certainly was guilty of that! But the good news is that it’s not nearly as difficult as you think. First step: sign up for a local, reputable policy watch newsletter. Many larger newspapers have a policy or political beat to help you track important legislative news. They know that most people aren’t going to read their posts every day, so often they send out newsletters where they write weekly summaries of what took place. If you belong to a union or professional educators association, they often do the same.
When I taught, I was sure that the terrible curriculum we were using must be mandated by the state board of education — why else would we be using it when it was clear that no one felt it was of quality? Yet it turned out that it wasn’t the state or the Department of Education, or even a mandate from the local school board — just a poor decision made by the instructional directors at our local central office!
Don’t spin your wheels. Find out how the sausage gets made so that when it’s time, you can go straight to the source.
2. Show up.
Great, so now you know who represents you and which of them oversees the things that matter to you. What now? Remember the last time you were at home and binge-watched that reality show you’re embarrassed to say out loud? Don’t worry. This is a judgment-free zone and sometimes that’s just what you need after a rough day. BUT as we move into 2017, I’d encourage you to resolve to replace at least one Netflix-binge with a school board.
Most political boards have to abide by public meeting laws, meaning they can’t vote on issues unless the meeting is open to the public and the public is given an opportunity to voice their opinion. But you’d be amazed at how many meetings I’ve been to where either no one but staff is present, or – worse yet – one group that has a clear agenda comes out but no one with a differing opinion is there to offer a balanced perspective.
3. Speak up.
I have seen legislators cite phone calls and emails they’ve received from their constituents when they are debating a bill. I’ve also seen school boards completely reverse their positions on policy after hearing public testimony. Your voice matters.
But not all ways of communicating are created equal. Sure, sign that petition that’s going around if you feel so inclined, but those who’ve worked on the Hill agree that phone calls are best. They’re harder to ignore than emails.
Don’t know who represents you? I suggest the site Represent, which shows you who represents you in Congress and how they’ve voted on bills. Looking up your local reps, especially for things like school board, can be a little trickier, but start with the entity’s website and go from there.
And while you’re speaking up, spread the word.
You’ve heard the saying there’s strength in numbers. It’s true, and one of the easiest things you can do to be a badass is to empower others to also tap into their badassedness. Like that newsletter you signed up for? Share it. You went to a school board meeting and found out that they’re thinking of cutting your school’s budget? Tell your friends and organize a carpool to the next meeting.
I know politics isn’t everyone’s jam, but the reality is that it has important consequences for you, your students, and the profession. You’re a badass educator, so go do your homework, make your presence known, and have your voice heard!
(c) Veronica Brooks-Uy
Veronica Brooks-Uy is a consultant with Public Impact, focusing on Opportunity Culture and school turnaround work and training materials. She previously worked as the policy director for the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and as a special education and middle school science teacher.