I just returned from the annual PTA Legislative Conference in Washington DC. This is an opportunity for PTA members (most often, but not exclusively, State Presidents and Legislative Committee Chairs) to converge upon the Hill, visit elected officials, and urge them, politely (but passionately) about how essential it is that they safeguard funding for education as well as fulfill obligations concerning parental engagement as outlined in No Child Left Behind(NCLB). When I mention to family members or friends that "Mrs.Thompson went to Washington" sometimes the response is "oh, I could never do that" or "that's because you are a District President, I'm just a local leader." While certainly going to DC is part of my job description (as a District President and a member of the State Legislative Committee) and one's advocacy efforts are enacted upon with enthusiasm and zeal, advocacy is a role that we all actually engage in every moment of our children's education and does not require a District or State title in order to do the job.
The PTA defines advocacy, as "supporting and speaking up for children- in schools, in communities, and before government bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children." In actuality,the moment you enrolled your child in pre-school or kindergarten you became an advocate. You advocated for your child when you attended parent-teacher conferences. You might have helped create an afterschool program supporting art or drama for the students of your school: that's advocacy. In fact, by questioning and conversing with your school's teachers, faculty, administration, and staff about what your(and other children at the school) are engaging in/with in regards to their educational activity is advocacy. Every time you have an opportunity to attend a PTA meeting you have created a moment to advocate. Titles should not determine or limit the role we play as advocates for our children and the children in our community. We all are valuable contributors to the dialog created in this unfolding education drama.
There is no secret password you must possess to enter the world of advocacy. Just a willingness to listen, learn, and express your knowledge, your position, and your personal story to those who make decisions concerning education. It doesn't take a college degree or designer clothes, just a willingness to speak, in the case of PTA, for "everychild.onevoice." If you aren't comfortable making small talk, or being in the public eye, offer to be the researcher, the fact checker,the letter writer. That's advocacy. Maybe there is something happening in your community that will impact a wide number of students and families. You don't have to be the one to speak at the school board meeting, but you can be the one to let everyone know about the issue and when the school board meeting is going to address that concern. That's advocacy. Finding out about what your National, State, and local school board laws are regarding parent (family) engagement and sharing with your school community is advocacy, especially when you notice that laws (requirements) are failing to be met. Creating agroup to address these issues is advocacy. (You can find out more about these laws by contacting PTA at http://www.pta.org/ and ask about their reference guide on family engagement provisions within state education laws. It isn't something you can breeze through while enjoying your first coffee of the morning, but well worth the several cups you will drink while you peruse).
So, what next? Your PTA (or PTO, or booster club) doesn't need another fundraiser. Our children don't need another limo ride to celebrate how much "stuff" they sold, they need parents engaged and eager to participate in their child's educational experience. While certainly in this fiscally crunched climate, fundraising is a component of PTA (and other parent groups) it really isn't the purpose for which we all collaborate and connect with one another. No one wakes up in the morning and says "I can't wait to talk to other parents about wrapping paper or a book fair." We tend to open our paper or turn on the news and hear about local, regional, or national education issues. Then we social network with our friends, or call, or text one another about these issues. Even if we go no further than that, we have become Parents (People) Taking Action. If we take it one step further and ask our local PTA leader about the school/district/state/national plan to address (for example) the "drop out crisis," that is Parents (People)Taking Action! If we then say, well, that plan needs some work and I can do that work and help others learn about this essential issue...well, you've become an advocate.
Who knew you had it in you? I did. So, next year when the PTA gathers in DC, I know I'll see you there. "Walking the Hill" right beside me.Because being an advocate isn't something you can change every timeyour PTA board elects a new slate of officers. Being an advocate is who you are and it's who your children need you to be.