Literacy Educators as Advocates: Critical, Tenable, and Necessary

by Mary McGriff, Co-Chair, Legislative & Social Issues Committee

From spending on public education to policies regarding assessment and teacher licensure, ALER members have a lot to weigh in on, and advocacy --- in its multiple forms – offers a vital means by which educators can influence the policy decisions that impact our profession.  For this reason, the Legislative and Social Issues Committee recently completed a survey of education associations – in literacy and in other disciplines -- to learn more about the range of advocacy activities commonly utilized within our field. We surveyed professional association websites and conducted selected follow–up interviews that provided a more specific understanding of the breadth of advocacy activities in which education associations currently engage.  Additionally, our inquiry gave us an idea of which advocacy activities are more and less frequently utilized among these organizations.

Advocacy among Professional Education Organizations

From this survey, we learned that several larger organizations* provide educators with information about pending or recently ratified state and federal legislation impacting teachers and students in P – 12 and higher education settings.  Another way that larger education organizations commonly engage in education advocacy is through action alert emails – time-sensitive messages sent to members and other interested parties, calling on them to contact their elected officials in support of or in opposition to proposed legislation.  

One advocacy tactic less commonly employed by education associations is narrative advocacy – the curation and sharing of stories that highlight the importance of professional knowledge in achieving learning outcomes that matter for students. These narratives may appear orally or in writing, as videos, or through other modalities. And, as these narratives increase in number and are shared widely, they create a powerful testament to the necessity of knowledgeable, highly skilled literacy educators.

Narrative Advocacy in Action

Recently I had the opportunity to witness narrative advocacy at a local school that sponsors practicum students from my institution. This small, K-8 school hosts an annual reception for volunteers and foundation donors, and this year, a state assemblywoman was selected to be recognized at the event for her support of the school’s service learning projects.  Before the reception, time was set aside for her to visit language arts classes, where students engaged her in discussions about their current service learning experience. Their project, which was a study of natural and human-caused water crises, included information about local water quality standards. Students developed pamphlets for residents that contained information about how the community’s water supply is being kept safe. The pamphlets also contained contact information for water safety watchdog groups. While she visited classrooms, teachers pointed out small group learning arrangements and technology supports. Several teachers noted recent opportunities they had for continued professional learning, and they shared how the differentiated instructional techniques they learned about enabled all students to critically analyze lexically dense articles about water treatment facilities.  

The assemblywoman’s amazement at the caliber of teaching going on was an important reminder to me that those outside of our field often underestimate the level of instructional dexterity needed to fully optimize literacy development in any classroom.  Similarly, they may not have opportunities to appreciate the real ways that students positively impact the world around them through the learning experiences that skilled teachers plan and deliver. Yet, by sharing their narrative of pedagogical acumen and public service, these educators underscored the multiplicative benefits that skilled literacy teachers bring to students, families and communities.  By welcoming a state-level policymaker into their school and classrooms, these educators also developed an important relationship that they will doubtlessly seek to further cultivate.

All Voices Are Needed

This school’s powerful narrative points to the need to expand narrative advocacy in P – 12 schools and in our colleges and universities.  It also serves as an important reminder that it is incumbent upon each of us to actively consider how we can enhance our own advocacy efforts – by creating and sharing narratives of our own, by supporting this practice in the schools we serve, and/or by participating in other types of advocacy activities.  Shortly, the Legislative and Social Issues Committee will be launching a Narratives of Advocacy series that will support ALER members in telling these stories. Please look for upcoming information about how you can participate!

Overall, it is incumbent upon us as literacy educators to identify realistic ways that we can engage in literacy education advocacy.  Telling the stories of the work we already do seems a natural and tenable way to advocate for a profession that depends upon our voices.

Legislative and Social Issues Committee Co-Chairs:

Mary McGriff –

Nancy Stevens –

* organizations with 2000+ members


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