PLE 3: Module 1

PLE 3: Mapping interests and forming coalitions


Part of advocacy is engaging others in exerting influence and taking action. To do so, leaders must know how to identify the interest groups and influentials around all sides of a policy issue or strategy, surface their values and interests around the policy issue or strategy, determine areas of shared interest, and form coalitions. Building on the PLE 2a and PLE 2b:

  • be able to identify interested individuals and groups for coalition building around selected issues
  • be able to identify sources and opportunities within historically-marginalized groups for coalition building and potential representatives
  • be able to identify sources of opposition and their characteristics
  • be able to initiate and engage in coalition building on behalf of children, families, schools and communities

Essential question

What are coalitions and how can these be initiated from different political interests?


Key to successful advocacy—either through direct advocacy or taking action—is engaging others to support the issue and proposed policies or other solutions and help navigate the policy and decision-making environments successfully. Engaging others successfully requires a capacity to identify both interested individuals and groups who might share similar perspectives, as well as a capacity to identify others with related or overlapping interests who might be willing to cooperate. Understanding different perspectives, finding common ground and developing ways to cooperate and collaborate in advocacy and action are all essential advocacy leadership skills. In addition, successful advocacy entails productively engaging representatives of the target population, particularly those who are most disadvantaged or adversely affected.

This PLE is designed to develop these leadership capacities in identifying different interests, sources of power and influence and potential for cooperation and collaboration in advocacy efforts. Participants learn from case studies, comparison among their issues and contexts, and strategy development for initiating coalitions.

This PLE will take approximately 2-3 hours to complete.

Pre-session activity

To prepare for this activity, participants should identify groups and individuals who are currently engaged in exerting influence or taking action (in support or opposition) in relation to their selected issue or problem for their context

Participants should read the required reading, listed below.

In addition, the participants should read the case selected by the instructor (or other participants) for the first activity below.

Learning environment

This PLE is designed to be completed in a large classroom or other large setting, where there are Smart boards or newsprint available for small groups to work. The room should also be flexible enough to allow participants to post their political group maps and enable a gallery walk among all participants.

Primary activities

This PLE consists of three parts. The first is to explore the idea of collaboration, using a case study activity. The second is to map the interests around the policy issue or priority they selected in PLE 2 and their sources of influence and potential for collaboration. The third is to develop a strategy for initiating coalition building around a selected issue of interest, with attention to engaging representatives for historically-marginalized groups of students, families, schools and communities. It begins with a video-based exercise.

A. Case study discussion of opportunities and strategies for initiating coalition building around a policy or action.

  1. Identify the interest groups in the selected case and their values and concerns
  2. Identify what the opposing views might be and prepare a set of reactions
  3. Develop a coalition building plan among possible related interests by determining:
    1. Where to begin and with whom
    2. How to frame the issues and appeal to different groups
    3. How to engage representatives from marginalized groups
    4. A plan of action
  4. Report out to the whole group
  • recognizing how interests might differ around an issue or problem and why
  • understanding options for coalition building among different types of interests
  • determining what constitutes a plan of action for coalition building.

The first activity in this PLE begins by discussing opportunities and strategies for coalition building within a written case study. This analytic step provides participants with the opportunity to examine coalition building from various vantage points—who might be involved and how and the means of engaging different interests, particularly from historically-marginalized groups—before focusing on the specifics of their own selected issue or problem. 

The instructor (or participants) can select from the cases below and assign it as reading prior to class.

Organize participants into small groups of 3-4 each. Ask each group to:

Following the reporting out from all the groups, the instructor will facilitate a discussion to synthesize the implications and lessons learned. There are several aims for this discussion:

The discussion should result in the instructor and participants developing an integrated list of coalition building strategies for participants to next use with their own issue or policy priority.

Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership: Selected case studies

Case Option 1:

Karpinski, C. F. (2006). And the Band Played on? Social Justice and the Wilson Middle School Arts Program. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 9, 41-52

Effecting change for educational equity is challenging for school administrators. This case study focuses on a new principal with a social justice perspective who recognizes that changes in student demographics require a reassessment of school programs. Realizing that gross inequities have become institutionalized at the school regarding student placement in courses in the arts program, the principal is also concerned that this imbalance may have spilled over into other aspects of school life and instruction. Change will require confronting inequities and adjusting attitudes, procedures, and instruction.

Case option 2:

Houck, E. A. (2008) County Funding Versus Municipal Aspiration: A Case Study. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 11, 81-86

One town in a countywide school district wants to provide additional financial support for its students. The ensuing debate over governance, finance, and authority strains relationships across the county as multiple political actors and interest groups take sides. The school superintendent takes steps to provide a peaceful resolution to the issue, but uncomfortable questions raised by the debate remain. This case is designed to highlight issues in local school governance, political coalitions, and systemwide leadership.

Case option 3:

Chambers, V. Talei, T., Huggins, S, & Scheurich, J. J. (2009). To Track or Not to Track: Curricular Differentiation and African American Students at Highview High School, Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 12, 38-50

This article explores tracking and its effect on African American students at Highview High School, a racially and socioeconomically diverse, first-ring suburban school. Mary Johnson, a White assistant principal, is troubled by the existence of racially identifiable course enrollment patterns and knows that meaningful change will only occur if a plan is created that appeals to everyone. The question remains: Should tracking continue in some form or be abolished completely? This study enables students to understand the implications of informal policies on various student populations and design comprehensive intervention strategies to address stratification due to tracking in their own schools.

Case option 4:

Warner, W. & Lindle, J. C., (2009). Hard Choices in School Consolidation: Providing Education in the Best Interests of Students or Preserving Community Identity. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 12, 1-11

Educational leaders face difficult decisions in ensuring that all students learn despite ongoing scarcity of resources. School communities play an important role in establishing positive learning environments and supplying the resources for student learning. Declining community conditions often present school leaders with tough choices between facilities management and instructional needs. This case illustrates how school districts maintain a focus on the best interest of students in the face of economic decline in surrounding communities. How does a district address school consolidation? How can two communities focus on their children’s futures rather than grieving over past distinctions in community identity?


B. Political mapping exercise

Participants will next turn to their own policy issue or strategy (as identified in PLE 2) to identify sources of influence and coalition building, and develop strategies for action, using the preliminary list of strategies from the above activity as a starting point.

First, participants are to map the sources of support and opposition for an issue or priority and the nature of the influence. Each is to identify sources of support that can directly or indirectly influence their selected issue or priority or contribute to improving its outcome. Next, they are to consider the nature and types of power or influence. With this information, they are directed to  map these groups or sources of support and opposition on the grid below, based on their degree of support (or opposition) and strength of power or influence. In doing this activity, each participant is to identify the characteristics of the group (e.g. size and history) and the nature of power or influence (e.g. expertise, formal authority, access to networks).

Once completed, the instructor is to have the participants post their political maps around the room and engage the whole group in a gallery walk to review the maps. Ask them to post questions to each other about each other’s group analysis.

Next, working in small groups, they are to discuss the nature of interests around the policy or issue, nature of support and opposition, and opportunities for coalition building, using the following discussion questions.

  • What are your affiliations and what are their constituencies?
  • Where are the sources of support? Opposition?
  • Where are the opportunities to engage representatives of marginalized groups (e.g. racial/ethnic or low-income students, families, and others)?
  • What is the nature and strengthen of power for each source?
  • What is the potential for creating power and influence through:











C. Exploring how to build a coalition

Drawing on the course readings and prior discussions, the instructor will facilitate a participant discussion on how to build a coalition around their selected topic and the results of the political mapping activity.

They will begin by viewing a brief video in which a principal describes how she works collaboratively with other organizations.

Video: Coalition building (United Way),

The instructor will lead a brief discussion about the types of coalition building strategies that were evident and how this supplements the list of strategies they have already developed. For more information on coalition building strategies, see the required and suggested readings below.

Next, the participants will return to their issue, their coalition building strategies list and political maps to develop a plan of next steps in coalition building around their issue or priority. Participants might work in their discussion pairs as they flesh out the elements to each plan.

D. Practice of coalition building

To engage participants further in planning for coalition building, the instructor might select one of the following activities for the participants to lead:

  1. Interview advocates or coalition leaders. One or more participants could interview advocates or coalition leaders about the coalition building process and their experiences in what works and what does not. The participants can share these interviews. Conversely, the instructor could invite an advocate or coalition leader to class for the participants to interview.
  2. Panel discussion. The participants could invite several advocates or coalition leaders to be part of a panel discussion, which one or more participants could facilitate. The panelists would answer questions about the coalition building process and their experiences in what works and what does not.
  3. Video clips. The instructor or participants could locate video clips or videotape interviews of advocates or coalition leaders as they talk about their experiences, and share these prior to or during the class.

Across the interviews and discussions, participants should explore with the experts how they engage representatives of marginalized groups and the related challenges and opportunities.

Following this activity, the instructor would engage the participants in reflecting upon what they have learned from the interviews and discussions and how the advocates or coalition leaders’ experiences informed their own proposed work.

Follow up Assignment

Participants are to prepare a two-page memo that outlines the coalitions and interest groups that pertain to their issue (both in support and in opposition) and strategies for engaging individuals and groups in taking action. The memo should include attention to how to engage representatives of historically-marginalized groups.

Field work extension

As a field work extension, each participant could take action to initiate the engagement of one or more individuals or groups around the selected issue. Each participant would begin by reviewing the need for building coalitions (as outlined in PLE 2) and the identified interest groups and individuals with his or her internship supervisor for feedback. With permission, the participant could take the next step of soliciting interest in advocacy or action around a selected issue or problem, with one or more groups or individuals.  As part of the field work learning process, the participant would reflect upon the initial steps in coalition building, including adequacy of assessing interests and plans for engagement.


The instructor could use the following rubric to assess each candidate’s memo and provide feedback to improve the plan.






Identifies relevant individuals and organizations for cooperation and collaboration in advocacy or action





Suggests two or more relevant strategies for engaging individuals and groups in taking action





Uses planning process for coalition building as developed in the group discussions





Tailors strategies for coalition building that reflect an understanding of different interests





Gives special attention to strategies to engage representatives of historically-marginalized groups.





Draws on course readings and group discussions to information plan






Required Reading

Bolman, L. & Deal, T. (1997). Reframing organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass (chapters 9-11, the political frame).

Parents United for Public Education.

Wadud, E., (ND) Starting a Coalition.

Recommended readings

Boylan, J. and Dalrymple, J. (2009) Understanding advocacy for children and young people. London: McGraw Hill.

 Brown, C. (2003). The art of coalition building. National Coalition Building Institute:

Community how to guide on coalition building.

Gewirtz, S. (199x).Conceptualizing social justice in education: mapping the territory. Journal of Education Policy, 3(4), 469-484.  Sabatier, P. A., Jenkins-Smith, H. C., & Sabati, P.  (1993). Policy change and learning : an advocacy coalition approach.

 Spangler, B. (2003). Coalition building 

Zakocs, R. C., & Edwards, E. M. (2006). What explains community coalition effectiveness? A review of the literature. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30, 4, 351-361.