Policy, meet practice

One aspect of our roles that needs our attention more so today than ever before is around advocating for education-friendly policy and legislation. It is clear that we have a federal administration that has a very different educational point-of-view than we’ve experienced over the last eight years, and one might even go so far as to say that the current administration is woefully uneducated about the education profession.

Therefore, being an advocate for education, and building up the brand of teaching, learning and leading, needs even more of a focus than we might have thought necessary in the past.

Merging policy with practice isn’t particularly easy, and for many of us, we’ve become adept at advocating for students, advocating for our colleagues, advocating for programs that we truly believe in, but very few of us have experience advocating for an entire job or role, and certainly even fewer in our field have the experience of advocating for our profession to members of local, state and the federal government.

Recently, I had the honor of sitting on a panel to discuss what makes for innovative professional development. During the discussion, panelists were asked to talk about a recent professional learning opportunity that exemplified innovative learning design.

For me, innovation speaks to not only the design of an experience, but also to what it leads you to do afterwards, and as I shared with the panel and with our audience, one of the key design elements of effective professional development is to design it to be truly job- or experience-embedded.

During the panel discussion, I shared my experience attending ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy in Washington, DC. The conference, in my opinion, is one of the best examples of job- and experience-embedded professional learning. And, its purpose is to help educators of all roles build their advocacy skills in ways that wouldn’t be possible if not for attending the conference (you’ll see why in a moment).

Here are three strategies for creating PD on policy, inspired by my LILA experience:

  • Make sessions on policy practical. It is always nice when professional development sessions focus in on what audience members expect, and when sessions are designed in such a way as to have immediate and future impact on the work that we do. LILA was an excellent example of this, with varied expertise being shared on a myriad of topics related to advocacy. While the learning was fast-paced, there were ample opportunities to try ideas out, via discussion, role play, storyboarding, and more.
  • Encourage collaboration.. Advocacy isn’t easy work. It requires a willingness to listen as well as a need to be listened to. It involves the telling of a story, and the asking for support. It forces advocates to speak strongly, even when talking to those whose opinions clearly differ from their own. Since there is a lot at stake when advocating, it is nice to be able to rely on others to help us build our skills. LILA’s format encouraged attendees from the same state to band together to create the stories that would be used to advocate, and to determine set roles and talking points for each member of the “state team.”
  • Allow policy and practice to meet. When professional development is designed so that ideas have the chance to be put into action during the professional development session itself, the applicability of the learning becomes clearer for all involved, and the necessary changes in practice are more likely to stick. In the case of LILA, the first two days of the conference were all about building advocacy skills. The last day? It had all participants travelling to Capitol Hill, to meet with Representatives and Senators to advocate for the needs of students, teachers, and leaders from their home state. This experience-embedded professional learning forced me to take action, and as such, forced me to rethink my approach to advocacy, and more broadly, to reconsider my steps in designing (and participating in) professional learning.

Advocacy is a challenging set of skills that we could all stand to develop further. And, because of its high-stakes nature, it is something that we might feel we can move to the side, with the thinking that we’ll come back to it when it is needed and the time is right. With policy, including budgeting, shaping up the way it has, it would pay for us all to advocate a little more strongly, a little more often, and a little more skillfully; the time has never been more right to do so. And a great way to do that? As I shared during the panel, we can experience advocacy (or any other learning for that matter) through the lens of job- or experience-embedded professional learning, and see how policy and ideas can meet practice and lead to change that we never thought possible.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book,Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website:www.fredende.com.

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