This week, I’m partnering with MinnCAN to launch this brand new Teacher Advocacy Toolkit. For me, my road to advocacy—and this toolkit—began one chilly January morning a few years ago, when my colleague Elissa came to chat with me in my classroom. Back then, in addition to being a founding teacher with me at a brand new school, Elissa was gathering signatures for the Minnesota Dream Act, advocating to allow undocumented students to apply for financial aid for college.
I wondered—aloud—how she could ever find the time to be a teacher and an advocate. “I really think we need to do this kind of work in order to elevate our profession,” she responded, without skipping a beat.
With this simple answer, Elissa motivated me to step up to new opportunities to make my voice heard. I became a member of Educators 4 Excellence, where I joined a teacher policy team, and then applied to become a blogging fellow and later a teacher policy fellow at MinnCAN. Until Elissa nudged me, I had never had access to conversations about education with policymakers.
Like so many teachers, Elissa is a superstar. In addition to working directly with students, she also supports her colleagues as an arts integration specialist. What’s more, she’s also co-leader of a student group called Dare 2 Be Real, which teaches students to become anti-racism leaders in their schools.
Like all superstar teachers, Elissa knows that effective teaching involves showing rather than telling. Rather than merely telling students “I want you to be anti-racist leaders,” Elissa shows students how to do this and gives them the space and power to do their own work. And she models these values by taking action in her own life.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, I challenge us to go beyond telling the Elissas of the world that we appreciate them (which is certainly a great first step!). Let’s also show our appreciation.
What might this look like? For starters, I believe showing our appreciation means working to offer teachers a higher starting salary, ensure job-embedded support and give opportunities for continued development and leadership through different career pathways. We can show great teachers like Elissa that we value their skills and expertise by offering them incentives to teach in high-need schools, and soliciting their voices and ideas as legislators craft policies that impact their careers and classrooms.
Elissa inspired me, and now I want her to inspire you. With the help of MinnCAN and dozens of my fellow teachers, I’ve developed this Teacher Advocacy Toolkit, a one-stop shop of resources for educators who want to become advocates.
For all the brilliant teachers out there, this toolkit is how I show my gratitude for your work. I want all teachers to feel informed and empowered to lead school change, both locally and statewide. I want teachers to be equipped to meet with policymakers and to know that their role in decision-making is substantial.
And for all of you superstar teachers out there, I want you to reach out to a colleague, show them that they can teach and advocate, and use this toolkit to inspire them to become change-makers.
Trust me: In a few years, they’ll thank you for nudging them.