This module is designed to develop aspiring leaders’ capacity to advocate for or act on behalf of children, families and care givers, particularly those who are most marginalized in public schools and their communities. The aim of such advocacy and action is to improve the quality and effectiveness of participant learning by: developing skills to address policies and practices that affect the success of students and schools; learning how to identify and unpack critical issues; analyzing data on emerging trends and initiatives; identifying where and how to act to influence local decisions through direct advocacy or action; reflecting upon this work. This module gives special attention to how to advocate or act on behalf of and with historically marginalized populations, particularly based on a race, national origin and socio-economic status.
The module includes eight powerful learning experiences [PLEs], applicable to multiple issues and settings (PreK-12). It is designed to be used with aspiring leaders in K-12 education, early childhood education and special education, but is flexible enough for application to other sectors (such as community-based organizations and higher education institutions) and professional roles (such as teachers and community educators).
Theory of Action
The Theory of Action underlying this model is as follows:
If participants work together to apply the concepts and steps of advocacy engagement (identifying an issue, analyzing the policy levers and decision making process, analyzing interest group and coalition opportunities, creating a persuasive argument, taking action or advocating, and conducting an after action review) around issues or problems of concern to them, then they will gain an understanding of advocacy engagement generally, evaluate its application to a variety of issues, and develop an actionable advocacy plan for engaging others or acting on a problem or issue.
Objectives and standards
Thus, the objectives that this module includes are:
This module addresses ISLCC standard 6:
Standard 6: An education leader promotes the success of every student by understanding, responding to and influencing the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context.
A. Advocate for children, families, and caregivers
B. Act to influence local, district, state, and national decisions affecting student learning
C. Assess, analyze, and anticipate emerging trends and initiatives in order to adapt leadership strategies
While advocacy leadership is critical to support the education of all children, this module gives priority to advocacy on behalf of historically marginalized students, families, schools and communities. This module is “aimed at strengthening a leader’s ability to support the education and development of low-income and diverse student populations” (FIPSE proposal, 2010). Hawley and James (2010) stress that schools need diversity responsive leadership, which they define as involving “the ability to identify and act on issues related to ensuring that all students have equitable and effective opportunities to learn, diversity related issues.”
The reason that we give priority to focusing on policies and practices that most adversely affect historically marginalized children, families, schools and communities is because of our lack of progress in closing the opportunity and achievement gap, despite almost 30 years of policy intervention. According to Darling-Hammond (2010),
Although many U.S. educators and civil rights advocates have fought for higher quality and more equitable education over many years—in battles for desegregation, school finance reform, and equitable treatment of students within schools—progress has been stymied in many states over the last two decades as segregation has worsened, and disparities have grown. (p. 20)
Examples of advocacy-relevant issues that would fall under this theme include:
To facilitate application to various issues, the module has incorporated readings on both general advocacy leadership, as well as advocacy leadership in specialized areas, including special education, education of English-language learners and early childhood education, where advocacy-related leadership is critical.
The module consists of eight inter-related powerful learning experiences (PLEs). Each PLE is designed to support or to be both constructivist—in which participants and instructor generate and synthesize ideas, attributes and criteria for advocacy-related tasks—and reflective, in which participants reflect in small and large groups on what they are learning to surface patterns in examining multiple issues and conditions for advocacy.
The eight PLEs, when combined, represent a cycle of inquiry and action for advocacy, as shown in Figure 1. The module is designed to be flexible and adaptable to different courses and contexts. Each PLE can be used independently and integrated into other related courses. Combinations of PLEs can also be used, depending upon the program and course.
Figure 1: The cycle of Powerful Learning Experiences (PLEs) for inquiry and action in leadership advocacy
Embedded in the powerful learning experiences of this module are several core instructional practices that are designed to enhance participants’ learning, engagement and application of the ideas and skills.
First, is the inclusion of one or more activities designed to surface participants’ assumptions about the topic and content. This helps participants to access prior knowledge, become aware that they have beliefs that frame how they think or act, and become aware of others’ assumptions and how these frame their thinking and actions. Surfacing assumptions also engages participants meta-cognitively about the topic, opening them up to consider alternative or expanded frames of reference. Both participants and the instructor engage in surfacing their assumptions, comparing and contrasting the assumptions that are identified, and discussing the patterns among them.
Second, participants and the instructor work together to co-construct criteria for proposed activities and their assessment. This process has several learning benefits: it generates more robust criteria for the proposed activity and assessment, participants gain a deeper understanding by discussing possible elements for the proposed activity and assessment, and participants have an opportunity to apply and evaluate themes and ideas from the course readings and class discussions.
Third, expertise is shared and fostered collectively. The instructor’s role is to facilitate an inquiry process around an issue or priority, helping candidates to investigate the nature and effects of issues and their policy and governance contexts. An instructor cannot provide expert guidance on all issues. Instead, learning how to investigate new issues is part of the module in which candidates learn to access resources and each others’ expertise as they investigate and frame an issue for advocacy and action.
Fourth, the activities rely on field related experiences or include field experience extensions. Participants learn best from real-world application and the opportunity to take action–through collaboration, advocacy and planning and implementing change—that is tailored to specific issues and contexts, thereby learning how to take these into account. It creates authentic applied learning.
Fifth, all PLEs situate the learning within the participants’ own contexts and experiences. By engaging in the powerful learning experiences with others, each participant gains insight about multiple issues, actions and contexts. Each activity, therefore, allows participants the opportunity to reflect on the advocacy related issues and actions pertaining to their topic, but also as these pertain to others’ topics. Consequently, they gain insight into the interplay between issue, policy, governance, interest groups and opportunities for direct advocacy and action among multiple issues. The participants’ experiences enable a multi-case study analysis within the course itself.
Sixth, reflection is built into each powerful learning experience: for the subject matter of each topic, the patterns among participants’ issues and application, and the learning process of the particular activity. Reflection is essential for learning, because it allows the participant to relook at the activity in terms of potential impact and then consider this impact in strategies for implementation.
In starting the module, or individual PLEs, instructors need to assess their candidates’ awareness of issues, understanding of advocacy and leadership and capacity for inquiry, particularly for their issues of interest. PLE 1 will provide an instructor with some insight into candidates’ understanding and experience in advocacy and leadership and initial discussion of issues will give the instructor insight into candidates’ knowledge and inquiry skills. Instructors should be ready to adapt their teaching to provide more time on readiness and preparatory activities for more novice candidates and accelerate the work for candidates who are already engaged in advocacy and action. Instructors can also supplement their knowledge and skill by drawing on expert speakers and other resources.
Use of technology
To facilitate participant engagement and collaboration, instructors are advised to set up a discussion board on Epsilen, Blackboard or other on-line instructional support program for the whole group and for participants to create small networks of support.
Throughout the various PLEs, strategic ways in which candidates can incorporate technology or draw on technology-related mediums in their advocacy work are identified. Participants are strongly encouraged to use social media mechanisms as advocacy development tools.
Field work extension
Each PLE includes a field work extension, suggesting ways in which participants can apply or replicate what they have learned to their internship setting. These extensions enable participants to engage in meaningful internship activities, extend and deepen their learning through further application, and contribute to creating positive change in their school or other educational setting.
The module is designed to be used in its full form—cycling through the 6-8 PLEs in order. Instructors can also combine various PLEs depending upon the course in which the PLEs are being embedded. Possible combinations of PLEs include:
PLE 1 (surfacing assumptions about advocacy) + PLE 2 (identifying an issue) + PL 2a (identifying the policy levers) + PLE 3 (engaging in coalition building) + PLE 4 Writing a persuasive argument + PLE 5a (taking action: direct advocacy)
PLE 1 (surfacing assumptions about advocacy leadership) + PLE 2 (identifying an issue) + PL 2a (identifying the policy levers) + PLE 5 (taking action: action) + PLE 6 (conducting an after action review)
This module would work well as a free-standing 1-3 credit course, depending upon whether all the activities and the extension activities are used. In addition, the module would fit well within a course on leadership and social and political contexts. One or more PLEs could be incorporated into the following core courses:
Finally, the full set of PLEs could be incorporated into a program by being distributed across multiple courses, enabling a comprehensive experience.
It is also possible for instructors to sample one or more activities from among the PLEs to embed in one or more courses. Whenever using one PLE or a subset of activities from specific PLEs, instructors must include information on the purpose of the activity or PLE and intended learning. All PLE’s require selection of an issue or priority, the act of which is developed in PLE 1. Thus, PLE 1 should be used when one or more of the other PLEs is used.
Three primary assessments are built into this module:
Each of these will demonstrate how participants define an issue, propose means of taking action or directly advocating, and reflect on their actions. In addition, each PLE incorporates a series of reflective activities to encourage participants to construct knowledge about the nature of advocacy, their values and their target issue, and foster deeper learning.
There are also smaller assessments embedded in individual PLEs, to be used formatively to gauge participants’ understanding and ability to apply and use what they are learning.