I suppose we were bound to address this question eventually. You simply cannot be an advocate without being some sort of leader. That just goes with the job. But what is a leader? That term gets thrown around more than a beach ball at a summer concert, yet we never really stop and take the time to define what it means.
I used two articles to decide on this, the first being How Do You Know If You’re a Teacher Leader? by Precious Crabtree, and the second being How to Become a Teacher Advocate by Jessica Cuthbertson. May I just say… wow? These women really took the time to look at what being a leader as a teacher really means and how we as teachers can go about it.
Crabtree makes an observation right off that I think affects a lot of us-“…as a young teacher I didn’t realize my voice mattered – but even if I had, I would have been afraid to use it.” We are so often afraid to really speak up when it comes to issues that need to be solves. I know I often wonder what people will think, what will they say, what if I am wrong, what if things do not change, what if I end up going about things the wrong way, what if I just make it worse? Such are the questions a lot of us face when we are asked to stand up for something or make our opinions known. We worry about being accepted, and less about actually making the change. “Because teachers tend to draw their professional identity from those around them –- how administrators, parents, even community members respond to them — they don’t always recognize their own leadership qualities, much less look for opportunities to use them,” Crabtree states.
Yet we have so much power to really speak! We have the opportunity to open up new realms of information and open the public’s eyes to what we really do! We have the chance to be Teachers as Advocates. But how do we do this? Being told we can is one thing. Actually doing it is quite another.
Cuthbertson helps shed some light on that in her article. She makes it clear from the very beginning that this takes passion- “We do this because we love teaching and learning. We do this because we believe all students regardless of zip code deserve a high-quality education. We do this because we love our students, care about the future of the profession, and want to improve our schools. We do this in spite of magazine covers that show a gavel positioned over an apple and feature rhetoric that attempts to deprofessionalize our work by labeling us “rotten” or ineffective.” We do this because we love what we do. It is that passion that makes a teacher an effective advocate. This is not something one can do half-heartedly. You must jump in and go all the way with it.
This leads right into the steps Cuthbertson gives to become a Teacher Advocate. Her first step is “Mentality Matters.” You have to want this, and not just because the job asks for it. A good advocate is genuine about their passion and what they want to happen.The second step is getting connected. A revolution does not happen with just one person. You need others to see what you are doing and get on board with it! Next, go to social media. “Tweet All About It” by posting, hashtag-ing, sharing, Tweeting, blogging, or whatever else you do. Social media is quickly becoming the fastest way to spread information. Why not take advantage of that by putting what you have to say out there? Finally, look at “The Other PTA-Parent-Teacher Advocates.” Being a parent as well as teacher can be one of your greatest tools. I myself am not a parent, nor do I plan on becoming one for quite some time, but being a teacher as well as a parent in the system allows you to have a very unique perspective on what is happening.
What it all comes down to is this-a leader is someone who dares to speak out. You are not being asked to be the face of a revolution or to start something beyond huge, but you have the power to draw attention to an issue that might otherwise have been overlooked or misinterpreted. Being an advocate in this sense is leadership. You just have to speak up! Make sure you are doing what you are doing for the right reasons, and then fight for it in whatever way seems best to you. Be a leader by being an advocate!