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Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Teacher Leadership | February 20, 2012

Olympia and Novice Advocacy



By Mark

Today was the culmination of a decision I made sparked by authoring this post, titled "What to do when you need someone to tell you what to do." If you click back to that post, I lined out eight levels of involvement as an advocate for the education profession, and basically posed the question: "how do we move ourselves to the next step in advocating for students, teachers, and the profession as a whole?" Realizing that I needed to practice what I preached, I made the decision to participate in the February 20th WEA-NBCT political action day.

I realized that I was hovering in the lower levels, having occasionally crested as high as level six. Never, before today at least, had I set foot in any offices in Olympia to meet with senators or representatives. Before I reflect on my meetings, I have three simple take-aways from today:

1. This was way easier than I thought it would be.

2. This was easy because we have a system in Washington that seeks to amplify teacher voice.

3. You can do this, too. (See take-away #1.)

CSTP, WEA and OSPI are the system to which I refer in #2 above: together, they understand that the only way to make meaningful change to education in Washington is to activate teachers in that change. I don't know the final count for how many NBCTs ended up visiting Olympia today, but after this experience, I want to echo to you the sentiment expressed by one of the legislators I met today. He told me:

"Yes, we've heard your message before. But it is important that we keep hearing it."

Let me back up a step. I wouldn't have been able to even meet with that legislator or any others had I not been connected with other NBCTs from my legislative district, thanks to Jim Meadows at WEA. Via email, he connected me with Jeff, a fifth grade teacher and NBCT, and Erika, an NBCT kindergarten teacher. Jeff set up our appointments and was gracious enough to let my rambling self tag along. With almost no effort on my part, I found myself with two appointments and an invitation to drop by a third office.

With Erika representing lower elementary, Jeff representing upper elementary, and my perspective as a secondary teacher, I felt like we represented a broad swath of teacher-constituents for our legislative district. Listening to Jeff and Erika talk about their experiences was inspiring, and made it much easier for me to speak my story as well. I will admit that I was nervous. In fact, I was literally shivering with nerves during our second appointment (I want to believe no one noticed) but in hindsight, those brief minutes we spent adding our voices to the choir are the kinds of minutes we all can contribute.

I didn't have unreal expectations for the day. Well, I might have daydreamed that I'd offer some poingant point to make my legislator well up with tears, grab me by the shoulders and declare their unwavering commitment to education and NBCTs.

Instead, I got what I expected: policymakers who listened to what we had to say (or did a good job pretending to listen), and admitted the complicated web that is budget development and legislative wrangling. Their responses were kind, supportive of teachers and students, but understandably non-committal. They heard our stories and abosrbed our perspectives, and hopefully filed them away with the dozens if not hundreds of other stories from equally impassioned citizens who occupied the meeting agendas that day with pleas for one issue or another. Somewhere in that muddle was our story and our plea, but as was pointed out above, hearing it just once won't do: it is important that they keep hearing it.

With the coordinating efforts of WEA, CSTP, and OSPI, teachers' voices will continue to be heard. What I appreciated is that at no point did anyone tell me what position to take on any issue. Via the CSTP Advocacy webinar, I was offered tools for building my own message and advice for how to maximize the brief minutes I would be granted in the offices of my elected officials. Those tools, and the freedom to advocate for my own beliefs about what is important, resulted in a day that I feel good about.

Will my words make all the difference when the budgets are voted upon and the bills are debated? My words alone aren't nearly profound enough. But our words, collectively, in the choir of voices we take to Olympia? That's a different story.

I did this. I didn't think I'd have the time, the experience, the words worth saying. But it turned out I had all three.

You can do this. They need to keep hearing from us.


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Ok, I did it (at least something): I have emailed my reps and senator and will be following up with calls regarding the NBCT incentive pay this week. As for the health care bill...well I read the full bill. As I read it, its aim is to lower and equalize our out-of-pocket expenses (so those of us with dependents aren't carrying everyone else) and provide us greater pooling power. While there was no specific language about vision, dental was named and included. It also provides for bargaining for the best possible plan/rate as a state-wide pool rather than district by district. Now a plan that sounds good and full of positive intent on paper doesn't necessarily work out that way in reality...Still, I am uncomfortable with the fear-based language coming from from my local and other sources.

Mark, thank you. This is so important. I rationalize my low-level involvement by telling myself that those actively involved in political leadership have the passion, the gift, and enjoy it. Right. Reading your post makes me realize that these are just excuses I concoct for myself so that I can rely on people like you to do this work for me. I feel shame about this, but hope that I let this shame galvanize much needed action. Thank you for your passion, contribution, inspiration that helps us all.

Don't wait until next session! If they don't hear from us this session, immediately, we will see some serious changes that are quite unpalatable and go beyond the concerns of "whining teachers" as one rep (not from my district) has called us.

Thank you for the inspiration and shot of confidence. After spending my professional life up to this point teaching citizenship, it's time I practice what I preach. I'm ready join you next legisilative season!

Update: In the end, about 80 NBCTs came to Olympia on the 20th... this is good, but I think it is important that we continue to communicate.

Bravo Mark!

Thank you for taking time out of your holiday to join the game which is playing out in Olympia. It's easy to sit on the sidelines, make fun of the players, complain about the rules, and belittle the officials.

But you jumped in with both feet and when you reflect you will be pleased to know you were part of something which mattered. You stepped into an unfamiliar arena and grew from what the experience taught you.

I appreciate you taking a stand for the students of Washington and taking a risk by journeying into the unknown.

As for being nervous, it reminds me of the quote from Maggie Kuhn which hangs in my office, "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."

Thanks for lifting your voice today and my hope is that your experience will encourage others to add their voices to the chorus.

Great job, Mark. I'm glad you brought your voice to the policymakers. The direct voice of teachers is so seldom heard in Olympia.

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