While attending the NCTM Annual Meeting in San Diego last year, I was asked to present at the NCTM Leadership Conference a few months later, addressing the advocacy strand. The invitation took me by surprise, since it was my first annual meeting. However, advocacy seemed appropriate, since this has been my public passion for the past few years.
What exactly qualified me to address this assembly of leaders? Well, I now had two presentations under my belt at the national level and I had written for the Global Math Department. Most importantly, though, I had been a classroom teacher for twenty years. Yes, this is how I began my talk – that the classroom teacher is deeply qualified as an educational leader. What I have seen in my posts in Title I and non-Title I schools, public and private systems, in Georgia and Maryland, gives me a certain perspective. As the above title of the session indicates, my goal was to discuss Accessing Your Power to Advocate for What Matters.
In the service of accessing individual power, we began with participants introducing themselves to someone they did not know and sharing the topic of their own advocacy. We acknowledged that this could be at different levels: the classroom, school site, district, state, national, etc. Specifically, we shared a few responses to this prompt:
Discuss a time when you needed to take a stand
in the classroom, school, or an educational setting.
(Photo credit: Marian Dingle)
Sharing our stories revealed our passions, but also positioned us as advocates. This poster is on my classroom door each year and positions students similarly.
(Photo licensed under Creative Commons.)
I then brought up the topic of equity and how it had become a buzz word. It is not hard to advocate when we think of income disparity or special needs students, but when we speak of the elephant in the room, things often go awry. If we are to be the leaders we say we want to be, then we have to be courageous enough to do those things that are hard. We charge our students to take risks in the classroom, to defend their thinking through number talks, to disregard their discomfort when they are unsure. Similarly, we leaders should be unafraid to discuss race.
To pretend that race does not matter is to be disingenuous. Far too many students and educators are directly affected, and all of us are affected in some way. Through the guidance of protocols, we entered a new discussion of our present culture with this anti-racist lens, sharing personal anecdotes and imagining our work going forward. As I moved through the groups, I was impressed with the vulnerability of attendees. I left feeling hopeful that an important shift had occurred.