This past month I've spent some quality time thinking about advocacy, what it means to our organization, the students in our schools and the entire state of Wisconsin. I’m seeking ideas to guide each of us in our advocacy efforts for gifted students. Although our WATG mission encompasses all gifted individuals the focus of WATG is primarily on the students in Wisconsin. What is advocacy and how can we determine what to do and if it is working?
Advocacy can be defined as the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal; the action of pleading for or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or policy; active support. Effective advocacy generally involves a broad-based approach to problem solving. Given this definition it makes sense to me to link two ideas together—a definition of what gifted students and ways the system can meet the needs of this group of students. Once we know who we are advocating for and what their needs are our advocacy efforts can begin!
Anthony Muhammad, author of "Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap", writes about achievement gaps and underserved populations of students. In his book, he shares five indicators that help assess whether or not a school has developed advocacy. These indicators are broad but are useful inidentifying strengths and areas of need in programming in a school, district or even the state.
1. We empower students and parents with information about resources available to them both inside and outside school that promote academic and personal development.
2. We are politically involved as a school unit or in cooperation with an agency or organization to lobby our board of education, state legislature, and federal legislature to pass policies and laws that benefit our students.
3. We educate our parents and community about opportunities and resources available to them to influence local, state and federal policies that impact our students.
4. We organize and create partnerships with outside agencies to provide additional resources and opportunities for our students' academic and personal development.
5. We actively publicize and highlight the achievements of our students, staff, and parents to create a sense of pride and goodwill for our school.
I envision using these five indicators as essential questions to guide my advocacy work. Certainly they could be answered with a simple yes or no. But taking the time to find evidence that supports the yes or no will help define concrete action steps that strengthen advocacy efforts. For example, with the last indicator I could say yes, we actively publicize and highlight the achievements of our students and staff to create a sense of pride. We do this by highlighting students’ successes on the district web page and each of the school web pages. Student accomplishments are also shared and celebrated monthly with the school board as “the Finest” in Menomonee Falls. Often stories of our student accomplishments are shared in the local newspaper. Most of our schools also hold quarterly celebrations of student success.
Looking at that same indicator and the evidence I provide to show advocacy some questions come to mind. How can we do this better and more consistently? Are we celebrating accomplishments that are aligned with our mission and that are most important to us as a system? Who are we unintentionally missing and how can be find out about and celebrate those accomplishments too?
My personal goal is to use these indicators three times a year to guide conversations with parents, students and educators. These conversations will help me collect information that I will be able to use to develop goals and strengthen advocacy efforts in my district and with our WATG organization. I hope they are helpful to you, too. If you use the indicators, or have other ideas, please let me know. I’d love to hear about your successes!
Want to learn more? Check out the NAGC parent and community network.