Leaving the war and boxing metaphors aside, what does #oklaed want? (Sorry for the diametrically opposed articles today. I have your attention now though, right?)
After Tweeting the aforementioned article, a reply from a fellow educator reminded me that what my students and parents need from me, and what I need from my principal, is the same as what educators across out state need from our legislators: Relationship.
What does it take to have a relationship? Communication. No, that doesn't mean talking. It means listening, and making sure you understand what the other person is saying before you start talking.
As I tell my students, we ALL have two ears and one mouth for a reason…
Instead of fighting each other (metaphorically or otherwise), we all need to sit down and listen.
What does this look like in school?
As a classroom teacher, I am not doing my job if I do not listen to my students. I need to hear when they aren't understanding what we're doing so that I can adjust my lessons. I need to hear when students are enjoying a lesson so that I can modify lessons on other topics to include those things that resonate with students. For example, kids don't like to take notes. But if you incorporate foldables and color-coding into the note-taking process, the students are all over it. Many students don't like to read, but if you put them in groups, give everyone a job involving a specific reading strategy and turn them loose, they'll have fun reading and discussing a short story in depth.
On the flip side, students need to listen to me. I know what they need to learn in order to be successful in high school, college, and in a career. I know what tested and non-tested skills they will need in order to achieve their career and life goals. If students listen to me and follow my advice — and that of the rest of their teachers and advisers — they will be successful.
It works the same way with parents. I need to listen to parents' concerns about their children, just like I want my own children's teachers to listen to me. I need make sure I understand where they are coming from, and that I adjust my teaching practice, as necessary. Likewise, parents must listen to their students' teachers. I know this from first-hand experience with one of my own children. By working with my child's teachers, I have ensured that my children will be able to participate successfully in a classroom.
Likewise, as a teacher, I need my principal to listen to me. I have concerns about my teaching practice, about my work conditions, and about the conditions in which my students must learn. I need my principal to listen when I express those concerns and help me find ways to solve problems. I need my principal to support me when I am doing what is right, and to guide me in the right direction when I'm headed the wrong way. This works both ways. If my principal is providing me with the feedback and support I need to become an excellent teacher, than I need to listen to and apply his or her advice.
This advice applies to the relationship between educators and legislators.
How to build relationships with legislators?
Our legislators were elected by the people (and yes, teachers are people) to represent the interests of those people. It seems me though that there is not a whole lot of listening going on between legislators and the people who have chosen to devote a portion of their lives to preparing our young people for theirs.
Why is this?
Perhaps because many teachers don't vote? Or maybe because we do not seek an audience with our legislators so that they can hear our concerns?
Clinton Superitendent Kevin Hime suggested that teachers “make sure [they] are building a relationship with their local legislators.”
But what does that mean? I spend hours in my classroom, grading papers, developing lesson plans — and that doesn't count taking care of my own family. Where do I fit in building a relationship with my local legislators?
Where do we begin?
First, we can start with voting.
#OklaEd advocate Claudia Swisher wrote three years ago that Janet Barresi's OSDE triumphantly reported only 18 percent of teachers voted in the former superintendents' first election. Swisher calls this our self-inflicted wound. We have hurt ourselves.
We need to start right now getting involved simply as citizens. Several Facebook groups exist for educators to help you understand the issues and provide you with information about upcoming legislation and elections, including:
Those groups will help you ask and answer all the questions you're sure to have during the legislative session and during elections. They have certainly helped me stay informed about the issues that are important to public education.
How to take relationship building a step further
Voting is very much a one-way street, but building a relationship goes both ways. Not to mention, by the time the vote arrives, it's often too late to develop a conversation about an issue. So we need to start now building that relationship.
Ardmore superintendent Jason L. Midkiff suggests emailing your legislators, calling them, inviting them to your classroom, and going to their meetings in your district. I especially appreciate the part about going to the meetings — this will help your legislator begin to put a name and face with the issues you're concerned about.
Clinton Assistant Superintendent Tyler Bridges adds: “Be polite, but firm. Know your facts, not just only express emotionally based opinion. Contact them regularly. Very regularly.”
Swisher recommends offering to help — read bills, revise, research.
Swisher also advises:
Call early. Work for their campaigns. Respond with compliments if you can. Make sure they know what your issues are… be up-front about what you care about. Invite them to meet for coffee. Visit their office. Leave a note if they're not in the office. Get to know the administrative assistant — they'll be the ones you see. Write snail mail, email, hand-delivered notes. BE there. Be pleasant and persistant. Sometimes it's hard for me to be pleasant to my Rep…he introduces me as being a really nice person, even when I'm wrong…and I'm usually wrong.
The first time you visit or call, it's stressful. They are a representative of the ‘government' and we're ‘just' citizens. We have to remember, they work for us. Their job includes listening to us, responding…NOT necessarily agreeing, but being respectful. Just as OUR job is to be respectful…I probably crossed (drop the ‘probably') the line several time in the last four years, but that was only after years of trying to engage, to reach out, to participate. I got frustrated and angry.
- Find your legislators — Enter your address on this site and you'll receive a list all your state and federal legislators. Write this down. Save them in your list of contacts.
- Follow them on social media. This is a great way to stay up to date with what your legislator thinks is important. This is you listening.
- Stay up to date on education-related issues and contact them to ASK for their vote.
- During the summer especially, find out from your legislator what you can do to help.
What would you add to this list?
As employees, we must remember that any political activities we participate in must not conflict with our contractual obligations. That means that anything political that we must do must be, according to Swisher:
Off the clock, off school computer. Call from your personal cell or land line. NO use of school property.
— OSSBA (@OSSBAoklahoma) January 26, 2015
I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my Master's of Education in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students' voices and choices.