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Take Action: Make equity, diversity part of advocacy efforts

By Karen Richardson
September 25, 2019
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When someone talks about advocacy, what do you think about? You may imagine ISTE members walking the halls of Congress or writing letters to their state legislators, sharing their values. These activities are important as they connect us to those who make policy and approve funding. We must raise our voices and tell our stories in the halls of power.

But, advocacy shouldn’t be limited to an isolated visit or a single letter. The Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) is re-imagining advocacy, seeing it as part of an ongoing foundation of our organization and striving to demonstrate commitment to our values through our public work. We’re taking an intentional approach to this advocacy work in two ways: through external partnerships and internal capacity building.

VSTE is part of the K-12 Learning Infrastructure Program (KLIP), a partnership between the Office of the Governor, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and EducationSuper- Highway. KLIP supports increased access to affordable high-speed internet in every classroom in Virginia.

This work led to a larger discussion of how to ensure access to students at home as well, closing what we are calling the Learning@ Home Gap. Representatives from VDOE, universities, libraries and VSTE formed a planning committee that resulted in a Digital Equity Summit, a gathering of Virginia’s instructional and technological leaders to explore challenges and opportunities in the quest for digital equity.

But we all know that digital equity won’t be solved by one summit. The summit ended with a design jam where attendees worked together to brainstorm potential solutions to their shared challenges. VSTE plans to continue offering face-to-face and virtual opportunities for division and state leaders to share and collaborate, highlighting innovative approaches to getting all students the access they need to succeed in the digital age.

Internally, VSTE has identified diversity and inclusion as integral elements of who we are as an organization. When we realized that our board elections favored candidates in urban and suburban areas, we changed our bylaws to ensure that the board represented all regions of the state. After each election, we will update our map and determine if members need to be appointed from underrepresented areas.

VSTE has made strides in promoting diversity in its leadership both on the board of directors and conference committee. But in a state in which only 17 percent of teachers are nonwhite, encouraging and ensuring diversity must always be a priority to avoid losing ground.

Last spring, we formed a diversity and inclusion task force, inviting volunteers from across the organization to come together for discussion, education and action. We’re in the early stages of the work, making plans for the 2019-20 school year and imagining how we might contribute to positive change in our state.

We aren’t giving up those Capitol Hill visits and those letters, but through our digital equity and diversity and inclusion work, we’re advocating with our actions.

Karen Richardson, Ph.D. is executive director of the Virginia Society of Technology in Education.