I hear frequently from early learning professionals who are angry, frustrated, annoyed, or all of the above over the state of our profession and want to advocate for change. Whether it is caused by meddling educrats, philosophical misalignments with coworkers, or developmentally inappropriate parent expectations, the solution is always the same: something needs to change.
The problem is, change is challenging. It takes physical effort, it takes time, and your lizard brain would prefer that you didn’t make the effort. Moving from thinking about being an early learning advocate to actually being an advocate can be scary–diving into the unknown can be terrifying.
The first step is to dip a toe–start with something that doesn’t make you too uncomfortable. Then, as your confidence grows, wade in a bit deeper and expand your efforts.
Below are six ways you can start advocating for play and early learning–there’s a good chance one of them is the right toe-dip for you.
Studying up on the early learning area you want to advocate for is a great first toe dip because information is power. More familiarity with the topic makes you a stronger advocate. You’ll not only feel more comfortable sharing your position, you’ll be able to make more effective arguments for it.
A couple notes: 1) Studying up shouldn’t be a one time activity. Best practice is to get informed and stay informed. 2) Be aware of confirmation bias. Study up on all sides of an issue. For example, you’ll be a better advocate for limiting homework in elementary school if you understand the pro-homework position.
Lead by example: advocate through your daily actions. For example, say you’re a preschool teacher advocating for rough and tumble play in a program that’s lukewarm on such play. The way you set up and manage your play space to support such play becomes a living example for coworkers, administrators and parents who move in and out of your classroom. Don’t underestimate the value of such modeling in helping others broaden their outlooks.
Sharing is a great way to advocate. Pass along things like the interesting book you just read, or the way you handled a challenging situation in your classroom, or your go to play dough recipe. Such sharing not only passes along useful information, it builds relationships and communities of like minded peers. This is important, because those relationships and peer communities can be valuable advocacy tools.
Whether speaking with a representative of your state’s quality rating program or a visiting congressional candidate, thoughtful questions are a valuable advocacy tool. Open-ended questions can help you see inside the head of the person you’re communicating with–they clarify and inform as well as spark reflection and conversation.
Advocacy isn’t always about sharing your views. Listening is a great way to understand problems and suss out solutions. Listen closely to the people you disagree with or want to persuade, and chances are you’ll (eventually) find a small patch of common ground that will become a path forward. Real solutions tend to grow from understanding all sides of a situation–and listening is part of gaining that understanding.
You have to be careful with your questions. Some people don’t like being questioned and sometimes questions can come across as aggressive. The best strategy is to ask questions in a tone of friendly curiosity.
Sometimes advocacy requires a bit of pushiness. I don’t mean yelling-and-screaming-and-being-a-jerk pushiness–that’s rarely effective. I mean applying-consistent-pressure pushiness–one attempt at change is rarely enough. Change often requires repeated attempts. For example, The Boss may not agree to changing the schedule to allow for more play the first time you ask but, after you’ve spent a year studying, sharing, modeling, listening, and questioning, she may be persuaded to dip her toe and allow you to give it a try.
Here are some related resources to wrap things up:
I’d love to hear about your advocacy experiences and ideas in the comments section below.
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