Marc Cohen

Find Your Voice and Be Heard

In the past several months, I've had the chance to learn firsthand from ASCD Public Policy staffer Tina Dove about how to effectively advocate on behalf of the students and educators that I serve as a middle school principal. I met with members of the House and Senate to share my professional experiences, to celebrate the successes of my school, and to advocate on behalf of students about issues that were important to me. Since this was my first time doing this kind of thing on the national level, I decided to stick with my passion: eliminating the racial/socioeconomic predictability of student achievement. 

Who could argue with this? Who could find fault or room for disagreement in our efforts to provide all students a caring and nurturing school environment and access to highly qualified instructors and rigorous curriculum? In the year 2009, how in the world could there be anyone at this level of national prominence who could disagree that all students, regardless of race or economic circumstance, deserve equitable access to best instructional practices? I figured that I was safe. And for the most part I was. But in at least one visit, I was met with a remarkable sense of apathy toward "those people who live in those ghettos ... those people are beyond hope." You can translate for yourself which measured student subgroups might be represented in this comment. 

My post today is less about this individual who I am intentionally not identifying; rather it is about a call to action. The Whole Child Initiative calls on us to make a commitment to all children. It proposes a broader definition of achievement and accountability that promotes the development of children who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. My experience on Capitol Hill showed me just how important it is for educators in the field to find ways to make their voices heard. We speak for these children and they need us now more than ever before. With competing national economic priorities, education budgets across the country are being slashed, and a generation of young people is left hoping, even when some think they are beyond hope. It is up to us to help Congress see the critical role educating the whole child has on the security and global competitiveness of our nation.

I will end my post with a recommendation that was given to me before my visits and became easier to follow as I gained experience. Know your elevator speech: a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description of the issue that you wish to share using language and information that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride up an elevator. I also recommend using ASCD's Advocacy Guide as well as the Communications Tool Kit to get started.

Now it is your turn. I am interested in hearing from people in the field (teachers, administrators, counselors, community activists) who have effectively advocated on behalf of the whole child. What tips can you share? What lessons have you learned that could benefit those of us just starting down this journey of advocacy? I look forward to hearing from each of you.

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