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As teachers, we can feel overwhelmed by the idea of taking on leadership roles, dipping our toes in policy, or motivating other educators to action. However, it’s far less scary than you might think, especially if you do it in stages. I’ve worked with educational organizations and advocated for fellow teachers as a National Teacher Fellow, but I’ve also made a difference in my classroom and my school. Remember, you can move mountains without leaving the classroom.
1 | Do your research. Know what you are talking about based on hard facts, not secondhand hearsay. Think of counterarguments, and solutions, in advance.
2 | Put students first, no matter what. Students are the heart of what we do, and it can never be wrong to put their needs first. If we teach the whole child, they should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
3 | Always have a solution before you approach someone. Principals and policymakers alike hear enough complaints. Offering a solution and actionable steps shows you are serious and able to see your ideas through.
Now that you know the basics, how do you get started? Here are three ways to become a change agent.
Get a Grant
If you want to do something in your classroom, there is probably a grant out there that can help you. Grants are available for specific products, for field trips, and for major projects. Plus, many local companies grant money to classrooms, so just ask! Fill in the application completely and make sure to link your project to learning gains. Using these tips, I’ve won grants for small fish tanks and whole library renovations. The possibilities are endless.
Start Your Own PLC
Formal and informal professional learning communities are great places to share ideas and learn from others. Start a book study at your school, follow Twitter hashtags for education (like #TopTeaching), or suggest a committee for tackling local issues. Whatever the setting, keep everyone working together with a growth mind-set. To get started, decide how often and where meetings will be.
The setting can affect the type of work. A coffee shop might be great for a book talk, but you wouldn’t want to discuss private student issues in public.
Lately, I’ve become active in professional organizations like ASCD. This year, I’m a National Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group, making policy recommendations and working on issues in teacher preparation programs. How? It’s simple: I applied. I put myself out there. In my experience, legislators and school-board members alike want to hear from educators offering solutions. Share your ideas!
Photos (clockwise from top): Sam Levitan; Courtesy of Meghan Everette; Andrew S. Adler
Resources to help you keep your career goals on target.