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Use advocacy, storytelling to grow learning initiatives

By Mary Wegner
June 19, 2018
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Advocacy, in education and elsewhere, involves working individually and as a group to influence decisions within political, economic and social systems and institutions. But advocacy involves more than providing testimony to your local, state or federal elected officials to influence legislation or seek funding.

Advocacy is about engaging all audiences in daily actions that make a difference and, in education, that means
students, too.

Listening to student voices

It wasn’t that long ago when students at Sitka High School in Sitka, Alaska, went to the school board to express their concern about the lack of functional technology in the school and the lack of a wireless network.

At the time, the district’s technology was inadequate and unreliable, and our internet speed was about 3 MB, while the rest of the country was operating over fiber and wireless technology.

The students shared a story about their desire to be prepared for the life they will live after high school graduation – and the school board listened.

Thanks to the advocacy efforts of these students, funding was dedicated to equip all classrooms with digital tools and resources, and a consultant was hired to design a wired and wireless network.

Iterating and collaborating

With funding in place, we sprang into action, creating professional learning communities for all teachers on topics that ranged from using a computer as a literacy center in primary grades to embracing mobile technology as a learning tool.

We collaborated to meet the school board’s exciting vision for an interactive classroom, a project that was expected to take three years to roll out. However, within nine months, we had full saturation around the district, and nine months after that at least 90 percent of teachers were proficient in all of the ISTE Standards for Educators!

We also listened to sixth grade teachers who had a goal of  “turning our school inside out” in order to inspire creativity in the students. Before the school year started, we invested in the resources and professional learning our sixth grade teaching team needed to reach its goal.

The teachers immersed themselves in collaboratively learning about the digital tools and restructuring the learning landscape in their classrooms.

Within months, the talk around the kitchen tables of sixth grade students and the talk around the school board table was about the excitement sixth grade students had for learning. They became beacons, lighting the way for others to see what technology integration looks like and why it matters.

Our lighthouse project impacted all sixth grade students and teachers – even those teachers who didn’t know how to use technology beyond email when they started.

Along the way, we were sure to include explicit plans to ensure digital equity and we embedded professional learning into the contracted teacher day. This initial droplet of learning designed to inspire students rippled throughout the district.

And we told their story. We gave the teachers a microphone and worked to amplify their message to others.

Remaining future-focused

Today, we’re embracing the power of creating with our districtwide maker learning initiative. We’re also proud members of the League of Innovative Schools, a collaborative group of 93 school district leaders from around the U.S. who are committed to leveraging the learning potential of technology to solve the challenges in K-12 public schools. Sharing our collective voice to impact change is part of what drew us to the League.

Because advocacy matters. And so does storytelling.

Explicitly telling your story has the potential to exponentially grow your initiatives so that the student learning
highlighted becomes an irresistible goal for all teachers. The key to having your message resonate rests in the depth of un-derstanding that’s happening at all levels of the learning environment.

Collaboration and creation were fundamental components of our district’s transformation, as was listening to student voices and acting on their recommendations.

Once you get used to telling your story to grow the impact of your initiative, you’ll be set to advocate for funding and policies! ISTE has some amazing resources to support your advocacy efforts, and your voice and stories make a difference for everyone.

Mary Wegner, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Sitka School District in Sitka, Alaska, and serves on the ISTE Public Policy and Advocacy Committee and the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Ahe’s also a member of ISTE’s Diversity Advisory Committee. In 2010, she received ISTE’s Making IT Happen award for her advocacy work.