PLE 1: Module 1

PLE 1: Surfacing assumptions about advocacy and leadership


Before learning about the advocacy dimensions of leadership, participants need to surface their existing assumptions about advocacy, what it means to them, and their beliefs about leaders’ roles and responsibilities as advocates. This PLE is designed to surface assumptions for discussion and exploration. It uses an active listening approach, providing participants an opportunity to learn more about active listening as well, in order to hone their listening skills.

  • Develop awareness of one’s own assumptions about advocacy and school leadership
  • Recognize differences in others’ assumptions about advocacy and school leadership
  • Become able to engage in active listening and reflection

Essential question

What assumptions shape views and actions about advocacy and leadership?


This PLE uses an active listening exercise to surface participants’ assumptions about advocacy and leaders’ roles and responsibilities. It consists of three parts: an active listening experience, discussion of the assumptions surfaced through active listening discussions, and reflections on the process. The PLE takes about 30-40 minutes and can be used with small or large groups, but is best with groups of 20-25.

Pre-session work

This activity requires little to no pre-session work. Participants should be aware that they will be discussing their own assumptions about leadership and advocacy, particularly for historically marginalized students and other disadvantaged groups.

Learning environment considerations

This activity works best in a large room setting, like a classroom, where there is enough space for the group to split into pairs and for each pair to talk without too much distraction from other pairs.  Participants should be made aware of ground rules for discussion, including respect for all voices and confidentiality of the information shared.

Component parts of the activity

Below are the three component parts of the activity and related discussion questions 

    A. Engage in an Active listening exercise to surface assumptions

According to Burgess, active listening is “a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding” ( It helps to disrupt the practice of half-listening or being distracted that often characterizes our conversations, and is critical when dealing with conflict or difficult topics when misunderstandings are most likely to arise.  Active listening teaches the listener to focus on the speaker, not his/her own thoughts.  It also enables the speaker to check for understanding and receive feedback on whether he/she was heard and understood.  By participating in an active listening exercise, participants gain listening skills that they can use in other conversations, particularly difficult ones. By combining active listening with the discussion of assumptions, participants gain skill in navigating potentially uncomfortable topics and fully engaging as a listener and speaker.

The group is split into pairs and given the first discussion question:

    1. Recall the first time you ever actively advocated on behalf of someone or something, like an issue or policy. What was the issue? What did you do? What was the outcome? What did you learn?


In each pair, each person is to talk for three minutes, while the other person listens silently. When the moderator indicates, the members switch roles.

While one member is speaking, the other member is to listen attentively, but not speak or communicate using hand or facial gestures. He or she is to let the speaker know they are listening and interested.

After both have spoken, participants are to repeat the process with the remaining two discussion questions.

  1.  How have you shown leadership in being an advocate for someone or something?
  2.  What is policy?
  3.  What does it mean to advocate on behalf of marginalized students, groups or people? How might such advocacy be similar to or different from other forms of advocacy already discussed?
  4.  What are assumed goals in advocating on behalf of marginalized students, groups or people? Recognition? Inclusion? Equity? Additional or alternative resources and conditions? Improved outcomes? 

    B. Discuss the assumptions that surfaced

At the end of the active listening activity, participants and the instructor will reflect upon the assumptions surfaced. First, the pairs are to debrief about the topic:

  1.  What was learned?
  2. What themes and patterns emerged about the topic?
  3. What assumptions emerged about advocacy? About leadership? About policy? About marginalized students and groups?

Next, in a whole group discussion, the instructor can engage the participants in synthesizing what has surfaced and can probe for the following themes and ideas:

  • Target of advocacy: How much are marginalized students, groups, and people identified in discussions of advocacy? What ones? In what ways?
  • Perceived outcomes of advocacy: To what extent are outcomes such as inclusion, equity, resources, and improved outcomes surfaced?
  • Nature of advocacy. How narrowly or broadly is advocacy being defined? In what ways is advocacy viewed in terms of giving voice to issues, influence making, and engaging in politics?
  • Sense of Agency: To what extent do participants believe that they have the right and are capable of influencing policy and action at the organizational, local, state or federal levels?
  • Leader as advocate: What are the images of leadership and advocacy that are surfacing? As hero or coalition builder? And what are the views about the role of authority in advocacy leadership that are evident in the assumptions raised?
  • Relationships in advocacy: What types of relationships are described in the assumptions about advocacy: transactional, collaborative or transformational?

    C. Reflect on the active listening process

As a final step, the instructor can engage the participants in reflecting about their experiences in engaging in active listening:

  1. How did it feel to be the speaker?
  2. How did it feel to be a listener?
  3. How did the experience change the way you speak? Listen?

Finally, the instructor can engage the participants in making connections between the process and how it may have influenced their views about advocacy, leadership, and policy?

How did the experience of surfacing assumptions inform your practice?


Instructors need to reserve enough time for debriefing and reflecting on the active listening and assumption generation experiences. Otherwise, important opportunities for learning are missed.




Participants should write a one-page memo summarizing what they learned about advocacy and leadership and how their thinking changed  as a result of the active listening exercise and the group discussions and reflection.

Field work extension

As an internship activity, a participant could replicate this PLE as a faculty meeting or professional development exercise, leading into further self-study about teachers’ and leaders’ roles as advocates on behalf of children, families, schools and communities. If a participant chooses to replicate this PLE, he/she should have a clearly articulated purpose for sharing this activity, situate the activity well within this purpose when sharing it with their intended audience, allow sufficient time for the activity, and solicit staff feedback on what was learned from both the topic—advocacy—and the process—active listening.


The following rubric can be used by the instructor to assess and provide feedback on the participants’ memo.






Identifies assumptions about leadership and advocacy





Demonstrates an understanding of active listening





Draws on activity and class discussion and reflection to show how his/her thinking changed





Communicates effectively






PLE Feedback

Following the completion of the activity, the instructor should obtain participant feedback on the PLE as a learning experience.

Required reading

(Note: The readings are to follow this experience)

Anderson, G., (2009). Advocacy leadership. London: Routledge (Introduction and Chapter 1).

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2008). Advocacy Guide. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Suggested readings on reflection and active listening

McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2009). Messages: The communication skills book. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications

Osterman, K. F., & Kottkamp, R. B. (2004). Reflective practice for educators, second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books

Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J., & Kleiner, A. (2000). Schools that learn: The fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York: Currency Doubleday

Related materials

For a wonderful Prezi presentation for this PLE, see

Ann Doherty (UT Austin), reported using the Prezi to support this PLE in the following ways:

Image 1: (2 people at table – white – didn’t talk about it – just why I like it)

1/2 Class: What is your personal definition of Advocacy

1/2 Class: What is your personal definition of Equity

Shared out 2-3 of each definition

Image 1 – pulled back – more folks at the table – a bit of diversity. (Did not discuss – just let them read the framing question). 

Image 2: Active Listening

Asked participants – What is active listening? How would you know it was happening? (took a few responses)

Image 2: push in: Burgess info on Active Listening

Image 3: Turn to partner – reviewed process

Image 4: Question 1 (3 minutes each) (Actually cut time down since I only had 20 minutes)

Image 5: Question 2 (2 minutes each)

Image 6: Question 3 (1 minute each)

Large group debrief:

What did you notice in listening to your partner?

When did advocacy begin?

How has this brief experience changed your definition of advocacy or equity?

(This is where I heard ppl begin to include others in their framing of advocacy. Give a man a fish example, etc.)

Image 7: Who else should be involved?

(Participants listed out possible folks)

Then I gave them handout (20 minutes was up)

Leigh Northcutt-Benson real practice connection – in her participatory action research project last year, she moved from teachers planning advisory to student leaders planning advisory and students elected to become a no place for hate. You can see a link on the news about No Place for Hate – unfortunately the news crew did not highlight the real story –  that it was a student driven process. 

Image 8: Engage others in advocacy

If I had had time I would have asked them to imagine an area of inequity at their current school and respond to initial questions and then use the side bar questions to keep check on whether they were advocating for or advocating with … 

Also would have asked them about the active listening process and when they might use that as a school leader.