Spring is a wonderful time of year for most things, but not for school budgets, and certainly not for teacher associations in the midst of contract negotiations. It’s time to stop doing things as they’ve always been done regarding school boards, education associations, and the role of the individual teacher as an advocate and activist.
I think it’s time to remove the veil of silence, including my own. As teachers and association members, we’ve been encouraged to silently attend school board meetings en mas, and even strongly encouraged NOT to speak at board meetings during contract negotiations. This is not to mention the “suggestions” to essentially curtail our social media presence because of the risks involved. Educators should be encouraged to speak at board meetings as a matter of urgent advocacy for our students and our profession. Standing before a community and a school board, sharing what we do for students academically, emotionally, socially, and developmentally needs to be emphasized. Sitting in a board meeting with your arms folded in silence is essentially consenting to what is happening. There is no gold in this silence.
Recently, I attended two school board committee meetings, one for policy and one for activities. These were not the big issue/budget meetings that characterize the spring. There was one person (a parent) in the audience, with six board members and two cabinet administrators present. There was no heated discussion of contracts, finances, or any politically charged issues—- but in this intimate setting, important relationships were being built. Along with my participation in the meeting, I personally spoke to four board members before and after the meeting on a wide range of topics. In the recent past, I’ve had conversations with vocal influencers in the community, who cover many sides of the issue spectrum. After talking to parents, board members, and community activists, it’s very clear that in many cases the honest perspectives and concerns delivered from individual educators about professional practice and children is extremely powerful, far more powerful than a silent group of unfamiliar faces at a meeting. These small, seemingly insignificant moments can change deeply held perspectives and beliefs. The big, raucous meetings, actually have little influence over decision-making; in fact, they usually serve to further entrench beliefs on all sides.
Along with purposeful, professional social media presence, this type of personal activism is necessary for the very survival of our profession. If we do not take consistent, active steps to communicate what we do for children and the community as professional practitioners, both individually and collaboratively, we willingly surrender to the plague of status quo. By engaging in this way we invigorate the present and future with new ideas and possibilities; this is far more energizing than simply trying to preserve the past.
Thanks for reading!
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