Most of us have been advocates at some point in our lives. We may not have called it that but many of us have spoken up on behalf of a specific cause or issue that we believed in or we have acted on behalf of others that we felt needed protection or support. Early childhood advocates work to inform and influence the opinions and actions of policymakers who make decisions that impact the lives of young children and their families.
State and local elected officials compose laws, work with state agencies to draft rules that define state policies, and authorize funding for education, health and public safety programs that impact children. They want to know how specific decisions and funding choices will impact their districts and constituents. Early childhood teachers, program leaders and families in their districts are the experts who can educate them about local needs and concerns both in Springfield and in Washington, DC. Teachers are impactful messengers and recognized for their role in developing our future labor force and civic, business and educational leaders.
As Michael G. Fullan highlights in Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents (1993) teachers and those who work to prepare our future teachers are, by definition, social change agents. People who feel compelled to make a societal contribution in their careers are often drawn to teaching. Teachers frequently see themselves as career-long learners and, in turn, inspire their students to be continuous learners.
To me, the role of a teacher preparation faculty member is an overwhelming yet remarkable undertaking. In addition to the expected tasks that faculty are responsible for conveying pedagogy, supervising field experiences, promoting culturally and linguistically responsive instructional practices, responding to institutional and accreditation requirements, there is a unique opportunity to empower our future teachers to be change agents. Providing the next generation of teachers with opportunities for understanding and experiencing the connections between advocacy, political decision-making, and the impact those decisions have on local resources, program eligibility for families and educational funding can encourage life-long social involvement both in and out of the classroom.
One strategy for giving your students the opportunity to directly experience being an advocate is to participate in an organized early childhood advocacy day in Springfield. This year, the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Early Childhood Advocacy Day will be on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Every year, advocates from around the state meet in Springfield to speak up for children and urge legislators to support high-quality early childhood programs and services. In this uncertain budget climate, advocacy efforts are more important than ever as children and families experience harm due to the budget impasse.
On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, early childhood champions will return to the capitol to press lawmakers to continue funding programs for Illinois’ youngest learners and their families. On Advocacy Day, your students will have the opportunity to:
- Advocate for early childhood programs and funding at the state capitol
- Speak directly with their legislators about the importance of ensuring that all children have access to the high-quality early experiences they need to thrive
- Learn about current legislative and budget issues involving Preschool for All, home visiting, child care and Early Intervention.
This year, the Ounce will also offer an advocacy webinar in late April. Webinar details will be posted on the Advocacy Day page once a date is selected. A save the date flyer can be downloaded from the Advocacy Day page, and registration will open on that same page in mid-March.
In addition to participating in Advocacy Day, the ideas below offer more opportunities for incorporating early childhood policy into teacher preparation curricula:
- Have students identify their state/federal legislators and research whether those officials serve on educational committees and what legislation is being introduced. Committee assignments are on legislator websites or for state officials go to ilga.gov.
- Identify and track a piece of legislation throughout the legislative session.
- Research a legislator’s voting record in an area of interest.
- Sign up for the Ounce Action Alerts at theOunce.org .
- Have students prepare a draft letter to the editor or opinion-piece outlining the importance of early learning programs.
- Rehearse planning for a legislative visit to a program where students are working. What information would they emphasize for visitors? Which aspects of the quality learning environment should be pointed out and explained to policymakers?
- Have students plan for an early learning coalition that can influence decision-makers. What is the goal of the coalition? Who can contribute important perspectives and should be invited to participate? What organizations are currently working on these issues?
- Encourage students to attend a legislative Town Hall meeting.
Joyce Weiner is a Policy Manager working on both the Illinois and National Policy Consultation Teams at the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She has worked in educational, medical, and legal settings as a program developer, training director, and advocate on issues impacting the lives of young children and their families. Her work at the Ounce includes planning and partnering to implement educational and professional development systems that result in diverse, well-prepared teachers and administrators for the birth to eight workforce. Joyce holds a Master