Administrator Advice: Teacher Advocacy

Andrew C. McMillan
Andrew C. McMillan
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Administration
‘Advocacy’ in a speech bubble overlaid on a photo of people sitting at a table.

Teachers are advocates. We advocate for our students, our subjects, our curricula, and our schools, among many other things. We are passionate about our craft and our students. For some of our students, we serve as the only positive advocate in their lives, pushing them to be better than they think they can be, challenging them to work hard and achieve attainable goals they never thought possible. Our payoff is seeing them succeed, knowing we played a small part in their future successes.

For all the positives that come from serving as advocates for our students, who advocates for teachers? Who is our champion? Who is in our corner? As educational leaders, we are on the cusp of a seismic shift in the perceptions regarding education, and it is up to us as educators to ensure teacher advocacy is on the forefront of educational policy and reform.

What is Teacher Advocacy?

Advocating for students is not easy. Similarly, entering the realm of teacher advocacy proves difficult too. An advocate is defined as “one who pleads the cause of another.” For educational professionals, it seems like we have been pleading our case for education for many years! Teacher advocacy is the practice of teachers exercising critical thinking and leadership to advance the education profession as a whole. Whether it is serving on advisory boards at the local level, engaging in discussions with central or district office staff regarding evidence-based practices in the classroom, or participating in political events or rallies where education topics or reform are being discussed or implemented, teacher advocacy can take on many forms, regardless of your teaching level or area.

Why is Teacher Advocacy Important?

As an administrator, I constantly counsel students to make good decisions and not let someone else define who they are as individuals. I often use the phrase, “Do not let someone else write your narrative.” The same can be said for classroom teachers and educational leaders.

Too often in today’s political realm and climate, decisions are being made outside the classroom that directly impact decisions being made within the classroom. As educators, we are quick to let someone else “write our narrative.” As a building-level administrator, I am fortunate to work in an area where teachers are still the trusted voice in the eyes of parents and the community as a whole.

Teachers and educational professionals must rally together and continue to push reform and positive teaching narratives and be on the forefront of potential policy reform and legislative mandates. Teachers want to teach. They want to help students. They want to build relationships and see students thrive. Advocacy for our profession is the only way we as educators can continue to ensure our profession is valued, respected, and appreciated.

How to Practice Teacher Advocacy in Your School

There are varying levels of teacher advocacy that can exist within a school culture. First, teacher advocacy is simply not attainable without a supportive central or district office and building-level leadership. As school leaders, the first step to building advocacy is to listen. Listen to your teachers, build and develop teacher leadership councils, leadership teams, department head committees, and other building-level organizations. Allowing shared leadership opportunities can shed light on potential challenges and successes within your own building.

Ask for feedback, and be prepared for what you get back; furthermore, be prepared to utilize what you have learned! Don’t ask if you aren’t prepared to act on the information you get from your staff. Promoting a culture and climate of teacher support will open doors for teachers to begin practicing various degrees of teacher advocacy.

For teachers, understand you don’t have to do it all in one day. Connect and network with teacher advocacy groups through social media, fellow colleagues in and outside of your district, and reach out to local policy makers. Participate in rallies or other group gatherings where education reform is being discussed. Do what you do best: educate! Educate local leaders and elected officials on what your school or district’s needs are to provide the best possible education for students. Teachers often laugh about their “teacher voice,” that change in tone which can redirect a student in an instant. We must use our collective “teacher voices” to be heard!

Teachers as advocates is not a new concept. Unfortunately, education today faces an uphill battle. We must band together and remind others that teaching is the noble profession, one that creates all other professions. We serve as pivotal role models for students in their most formative years, and our profession deserves to be on the forefront of sweeping systematic change. Teacher advocacy can highlight the successes of our profession, not promote the idea that educators are ineffective. We must be ambassadors for real change. Our future depends on it. Our country’s future depends on it.

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