Teachers are advocates. We discover a student has a need, we communicate the need to various stakeholders, and then we use our collective brainpower and resources to make sure that need is met. When a former student struggled to see the board, I worked with the counselor to help this student get a prescription and the glasses they needed.
Teachers do this for so many people in their lives. Why do we not advocate for ourselves?
There are numerous reasons:
- Teachers may not have a relationship with their administrators, or the administration may seem unapproachable
- Culture in teaching that tells us to deal with it and make it work
- Teachers aren’t often included in the decision making process
A few years ago, I needed to advocate for myself: my planning periods were full of meetings. I did not have the time to work on planning, grading, copying, data analysis, and [insert all the things teachers do during the work day] with all the meetings I had to attend. Teachers also had new, additional tasks that were required of us that year. I was pumping, so add that into the equation, and I felt like I was drowning. It was time to take action.
Here is what I did and what I would advise you to do, too.***Disclaimer: This is based on my experience only. To preface, I have a strong relationship with my administration, and I have been working at my school for four years. Consider your relationship and specific situation when considering how to best advocate for yourself.***
1. Stop Complaining
I hate complaining, yet I discovered that I was always complaining to my husband and sister about all the work I didn’t have time to do. Finally, my husband said to me, “If you feel so strongly about all of this, then you need to talk to someone that has the power to fix it.” Complaining to your coworker will most likely not result in any change.
Do you dislike something?
Do you need help with something?
What would you tell your students in this case? Ask for help!
2. Ask for Face-to-Face Time
It is time to talk to those with the power to make change. Resist the urge to send an email detailing your problems; I sent an email requesting face-to-face time. I knew that I could convey my tone and concern much more positively than how an email could possibly be read. A meeting allows there to be a dialogue between you and the person who can help. Here is a template to get you started.
I would like your assistance in solving a problem that I have encountered lately and have a few ideas that I would like to share with you.
What day and time are you available for us to meet?
3. Come Prepared
Now that you are about to meet with someone to advocate for yourself, come prepared. I spent the days leading up to the meeting outlining all my concerns on paper. I did not want to leave a single rock unturned. I definitely did not want to leave the meeting wishing I wouldn’t have forgotten this or that. I wrote an outline. It included:
- A purpose statement
- A list of challenges – What is a challenge? Why is it a challenge? Who is it impacting?
- 2-3 possible solutions that I already had brainstormed
In addition, I practiced three times with my coworker.
4. Offer Possible Solutions
By brainstorming possible solutions to your problem and presenting them to your administration, you are conveying that you are solution-oriented AND that you are a problem solver. It is also MUCH easier for your administrator to agree to your course of action than to leave them with the burden of finding a solution on their own. Plus, with possible ideas ready to go, you may be able to solve the problem in one meeting and have an immediate resolution.
These possible solutions communicate a willingness and a genuine commitment to making your school a better working environment for teachers and a better learning environment for your students. I firmly believe that teachers who love coming to work, make for a place that students love coming to learn.
My principal was incredible. She heard me out. She took notes. She asked for some time to reflect and talk to the rest of the administration about my concern. Lastly, she asked for me to come to her again if anything else came up. She came to the conclusion that the school needs to have systems in place to support returning parents and families. Seriously, how great is that?
The short term fix: I noticed immediately that there was a decrease in the number of meetings scheduled during planning periods by administration or leadership.
The long term fix: The master bell schedule was changed the following semester to allow for more planning time.
Administrators are pretty busy and your situation may not be a priority for them. Follow up is crucial, but understand that there may not be a quick solution that can be implemented right away.
I hope that this is encouraging to you! My hope is that my experience is helpful for you, if you ever need to advocate for yourself professionally. Have you ever had to advocate for yourself?