As I wrapped up the Read Along of Rae Pica’s book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives (affiliate link), I intended to do a typical Q&A follow up with Rae.
Reading over the submitted questions however, I noticed a definite theme: “I see what you’re describing. I share the same concerns for children. Now what do I do?” Rae’s book is an amazing resource, with specific references and tools for approaching specific challenges, but I asked Rae to trade the short Q&A format for one BIG question to arch over them all:
“How can we advocate for the changes we hope to see?”
Her answer is insightful, encouraging, and absolutely doable. I hope you enjoy. And please, continue this important conversation in the comments section and on social media! Stand up for children and childhood.
Here’s what Rae had to say:
The subject of advocacy is such a huge one, especially when considering the wide range of ideals for which individuals want to advocate. Teachers want to see change in their classrooms and schools. They want to be taken seriously and have their profession respected. Parents want what’s best for their children, including such diverse things as developmentally appropriate practices, kindness, and daily recess.
And just as the subject of advocacy is huge, so too is the exploration of possible methods. The difficulty inherent in that exploration is compounded by the fact that advocacy doesn’t come naturally to many people. Parents often feel they don’t know enough, or are not in a position to, to speak up. Most teachers entered the field because they are nurturers, not warriors — and it certainly can seem as though one must be a warrior in order to create change.
The good news is that there are indeed many options, ranging from the simple to the complex –for everyone from those reluctant to make waves to those willing to raise their swords and do battle.
Among the simplest things teachers can do is take pride in their profession. Whether you run a child care center or have a Master’s degree, you should always refer to yourself as a teacher. Tell your stories! People believe they know what teachers do because they had teachers as children. But most don’t have a clue about the actual responsibilities, or time, involved (especially these days). Through simple, everyday (non-defensive) conversations with those outside the profession (and sometimes within it, when there are administrators and school board members who don’t have a clue), you can inform people about the realities of the job.
U.S. teachers have for too long been silent and acquiescent – but having a voice doesn’t necessarily have to mean raising our voices. I honestly believe that simple conversations, held in living rooms and grocery stores throughout the country, can begin to create the change we want.
Additionally, having a voice beyond everyday conversations can include blogging – anonymously if considered necessary. It can involve leaving comments on other people’s blogs, as well as opining on Facebook and Twitter. The Internet has changed things for us considerably. We can now sign online petitions, and share stories – both the good and the bad – on social media. We can band together in ways that were never possible in the past. (When the Seattle teachers chose to boycott the MAP test, they succeeded in having it abolished largely in part due to the support they received on social media. In the past they likely would have failed in their quest and possibly even would have been fired. But the administration was hard-pressed to ignore the fuss being made online, all around the world.)
Thanks to the Internet, we also have access to reams of research that we can use to our advantage, whether we’re teachers sharing it with administrators and policymakers or parents sharing it with teachers, principals, and school board members. Thanks to sources like BAM Radio Network, we have the words of experts at the ready.
Parents wanting to fight for recess for their children have sources like the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, where they offer advice for advocacy. Similarly, Defending the Early Years offers advice to teachers who wish to advocate for developmentally appropriate practice.
If you require a direct, one-on- one method, whether you’re a parent approaching a teacher or a teacher approaching an administrator, I recommend a quiet, respectful conversation as a starting point – supported by whatever research you can gather beforehand. If you receive no satisfaction following that conversation, I recommend going up the chain of command – still with respect but also with the support of other likeminded individuals. There is always strength in numbers – but you shouldn’t misinterpret that to mean bullying, which has a tendency to backfire.
On a bigger scale – whether we’re talking about a school district or the nation – you must know that your vote matters. Before you cast one, you should understand the candidate’s education policies. And remember: there are more of us than them! Moreover, school board members and politicians are elected to serve us. We can make our desires known, first by voting and later by contacting our representatives. Again, the Internet has made this easier than ever.
Finally, since writing the book I have begun an initiative using the hashtag #AskingWhatIf. I have decided to publicize the stories – good and bad – that I come across that relate to children’s lives and education. I do so on my blog (more infrequently than was my intention, I’m afraid) and on Twitter and Facebook. (I post to the latter two a lot.) It’s my intention to bring these stories out into the open. To make as many people as possible aware of them. To incite righteous indignation over the “horror” stories (humiliating children with data walls, treating children cruelly by withholding recess, etc.) and to rejoice in the positive ones (for example, the Texas school district experimenting – more than successfully – with four recesses a day!). To shame the perpetrators of developmentally inappropriate practice into doing what’s right for the children!
I invite you to join me on this quest. Whether it’s to discover what the research is saying, to heighten your awareness, to add your voice to the mix, or simply to create more strength in numbers, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook. Let’s continue to ask what if!