A is for Advocacy

Like it or not, participating in the processes that affect technology funding is an essential part of our jobs. Here, seven tips on how to be a player.

Many of my colleagues ask me why they need to engage in advocacy. “It’s not my job to worry about what’s going on at school board meetings, the state legislature, or Congress,” they say. “My job is to ‘do’ technology.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Why? While some districts enjoy a stable source of income for their technology needs, most of us depend heavily on state and federal funding. We count on E-rate for Internet connectivity and shrinking Enhancing Education through Technology dollars to support hardware, software, and much-needed professional development. These funding decisions are made by policy makers who are largely unaware of the impact technology plays in meeting the learning needs of today’s students. It’s up to us to inform and educate them, and here’s how:

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Educate yourself about the source of all technology funding coming into the school or district, and the legislative issues affecting your work. Start by joining the Ed Tech Advocacy Network, which provides free position papers, advocacy training, and legislative action alerts (www.edtechactionnetwork.org). To learn more about federal issues, visit the Library of Congress Web site (thomas.loc.gov). There, you can search for legislation by name, date, or committee and find bill summaries and status.

2. DEVELOP YOUR “A” LIST

Create a contact list of all policy makers who have influence over technology funds in your district and on the state and national level. You can get state information by checking out your state’s Web site, and national information available at www.congress.org.

3. KEEP IN TOUCH

Make a habit of regularly corresponding with policy makers. Letter writing is probably the most effective and efficient way to express your opinions about an issue and educate decision makers about your work. Remember to keep letters and e-mails brief and to the point—no longer than one page—and to include the following information: a clear description of the issue using positive language; your position; how the issue will affect you, your district and/or your state; and what action you’d like the policy maker to take. In addition to writing politicians about issues, be sure to keep them informed about innovative tech initiatives you’ve launched (and they’ve helped to fund). One way to do this is to create short, eye-catching one-page flyers on every technology program in the school or district and send them to your contact list when appropriate.

4. PRESS THE FLESH

Invite policy makers to technology open houses, special technology programs or camps, ribbon cuttings, grand openings, or any other event where they can publicly “take credit” for providing funding for the initiative and also mingle with voters. This helps them build their political capital in the community.

5. GIVE THANKS

Be sure to send politicians thank-you letters or e-mails any time you read about any vote they cast supporting funding for schools. You’ll build your name recognition with policy makers and remind them not only how important their support is, but that you’re taking note of their votes.

6. MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE MEDIA

Work with local newspapers, radio, and television station media contacts to publicize your technology programs. Don’t forget to tap into your school newspapers and district publications as well. Examples of how you might get the word out may include press releases on noteworthy or new programs; notices of significant meetings; editorials; and letters to the editor. You can locate free PR tips at www.101publicrelations.com.

7. REMEMBER: ADVOCACY IS NOT LOBBYING

Many public employees are expressly prohibited from lobbying. But providing factual information is not lobbying! Informing policy makers about how funds are being used to support learning and conversely how reducing or eliminating those dollars will negatively impact learning is simply responsible behavior for school technology leaders.

Sheryl R. Abshire, district administrative coordinator of technology for Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, Lake Charles, La., is the chair-elect of the Consortium for School Networking Board of Directors.

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