It's right there in the ISTE Standards: Before we can make the cultural shift toward a learning environment where technology empowers students to take the reins of their own learning, we need the support of our communities — especially legislators and policy makers. And there's never been a better time to get it.
As education policy increasingly shifts away from the federal to the state level, educators have a greater opportunity to help shape the decisions that directly affect their classrooms. Creating an advocacy plan for your organization is the first step toward seizing that opportunity.
In more than 10 years as an ISTE affiliate, the Arizona Technology in Education Association (AzTEA) has been a staunch ed tech advocate, with members actively attending Washington, D.C., events such as the upcoming ABCs of Advocacy workshop. However, it recently became clear that the organization needed a plan to guide its efforts and help target its impact on policy makers.
"We learned a lot about how to do advocacy, but we realized we weren't sure whom we were advocating to and what we were advocating about," said Chris Johnson, the chair of AzTEA's Public Policy and Advocacy Committee.
"We could advocate at the federal level with the help of ISTE, but what did we want to say to our local legislators?"
During a two-day workshop last summer, AzTEA members worked with the ISTE Advocacy Network to develop an advocacy plan that includes the organization's goals as well as the actions it will take this year to achieve them. Here's what Johnson had to say about the experience:
How AzTEA developed an advocacy plan
By playing a more vocal role at a local level, we had the opportunity to raise AzTEA's visibility and leadership across the state. This increased visibility would also help raise ISTE's leadership across the country.
In two days, we were able to:
Identify and agree upon four key policy issues.
Develop a short position statement for each policy issue.
Create a set of general goals for each policy issue.
Identify a set of advocacy activities for the coming year.
We began by discussing the question: 'Why state advocacy?' This had been answered for some of us, but other members were new to the discussion. So it was important to start with this conversation so we all knew why we were there.
Next, we listed AzTEA's previous and current advocacy work. We, of course, came up with what we had done at the federal level, but nothing occurred to us for the local level. However, as we discussed advocacy in terms of the definition 'making your voice heard,' we realized we had been advocating for years through our website, conferences, and pretty much any time we talked to the public or our colleagues.
We then brainstormed a set of key issues. As is often the case, we came up with plenty. However, after discussion, we were able to identify four key issues that we knew needed to be addressed:
Access to resources
As we talked about how these issues could be refined into specific policy statements, we felt it was important to expand the concept of STEM beyond just the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. Where were the other disciplines important to a 21st century learner? One of the participants introduced us to the concept of the 'meta-discipline' of STEM. When viewing STEM in all its facets, we recognized the importance of all subjects in preparing a literate citizen. We also felt it was important to expand the concept of 'access to resources' to include all aspects of a learning ecosystem.
Based on our discussion, we developed a core belief statement and four sub-statements around each issue. These are included in AzTEA's Public Policy Statement and Advocacy Plan , which is available under a Creative Commons attribution-non-commercial, share alike license.
Next we brainstormed specific advocacy activities, which we prioritized as either low-hanging fruit we could tackle this year or longer-range activities. We also identified other organizations we might partner with to pursue our policy goals and have begun researching key education and appropriations legislators in Arizona.
AzTEA now has a roadmap to show where we're headed and how to get there. Perhaps of more importance, we have a policy statement that clearly describes what's important to us as an organization and provides a way to measure how we're doing. It's also a document we can share with policymakers, other organizations, parents and the corporate community. With this plan in place, we've begun to develop a working relationship with the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Superintendents Association.
During our journey, we found that the ISTE Advocacy Network offers great resources to help you formulate your advocacy plan. The biggest step is to simply get started!