You are currently viewing 5 Ways to Support Educational Justice Advocacy (Opinion)

5 Ways to Support Educational Justice Advocacy (Opinion)

The past year has seen teachers, students, parents and community members organize against oppressive political change, demand better wages and working conditions and resist the growing list of anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

In Chicago, two social studies professors nearly lost their jobs after encouraging students to protest a scrap metal company setting up shop in their neighborhood. In Florida and several other states, educators have spoken out at school board meetings against anti-LGBTQ legislation disguised as “parental rights” language. And in Oregonteachers and students have come together to defend sound climate education.

In the face of growing conservative attacks on culturally sensitive, anti-racist and gender-affirming education, this type of advocacy is crucial. As more and more educators, administrators and other school and community education workers engage in advocacy for educational justice as part of a union, a group of as activists or a collective, we would benefit from developing our capacity to support ourselves and each other in this vital work. .

Teachers and activists are no strangers to burnout, and sustaining collective action takes care and intention. Here are five fundamental considerations for cultivating more caring, relational and sustainable advocacy spaces. They grew out of conversations I had with my own multi-issue organizing community.

1. Build your base. Given the scale and severity of structural unfairness, it may seem indulgent to take time out of project-based tasks to recruit and build a team. But the basic construction— meaningfully involving new actors in education through advocacy and political education — is crucial to collectivize responsibility and prevent overwork, resentment or individual burnout.

Consider the following: How do you recruit, build trust, and form community with your fellow teachers, parents, and education professionals? Are there a variety of engagement opportunities suited to different interests, skills and availability? What is the onboarding process for new employees? How are they equipped to participate effectively? Are there ways to democratize decision-making processes and ensure that frontline education workers lead the charge?

2. Make time for creativity and celebration. Encouraging creativity in the ways we organize and celebrating the magic of our collaboration can inspire organizers, disrupt tired routines and invite new political possibilities. When we take the time to cultivate moments of joy and gratitude, we reject the capitalist notion that our production is our only value and demystify activism by highlighting the multiple contributions that make work possible.

How can your group diversify its awareness, protest and engagement efforts by incorporating games, sports, art or music?? How can you disrupt the conventional meeting format and incorporate content that sparks joy, laughter, and connection? Do you have a regular gratitude practice (in a meeting, in a social media post, via email, etc.) through which to honor various contributions to the organization?

Can you celebrate together? Whether it’s celebrating the anniversary of a movement’s victory (like Red for Ed), organization of a community partyor host a potluck for teachers and organizers, these spaces can allow people to get to know each other, build trust, and be in a joyful community.

3. Consider care infrastructure. The organization of spaces is unfortunately not immune to perpetuating injustice. Driven by expectations of urgency and self-sacrifice, organizers may end up relying on racialized and gendered emotional and care work. Without time, commitments, or established processes to care for each other in organizing spaces, we also often default to inadequate “self-care” to manage the emotional and logistical burdens of activism. Think about the political possibilities that emerge when we shift responsibility for care and support from the individual organizer to the larger community.

Are there clear commitments and processes for how your group deals with conflict? Can you provide babysitting services, food and beverages at in-person gatherings? Can you provide virtual and in-person participation options and assess the overall accessibility of your meetings, events and communication platforms?

4. Encourage a healthy rhythm. Organizers often cite a sense of urgency or a culture of shame around setting boundaries that make it difficult to be honest about time constraints, capacity, interests, and needs outside of the organization. When we make unrealistic demands of time, effort, and dedication in our organizing spaces, we risk emulating the unsustainable and burnout-inducing conditions that many educators face in their classrooms..

At the beginning of each year, quarter or project, can you define the main objectives and tasks according to the capacity and interests of those who will participate? In this map, you can incorporate space for unexpected requests for time, celebration, rest, co-learning, reflection, and evaluation.

Can you clarify the expected tasks associated with a project so that other collaborators can make informed decisions about their ability to contribute?

5. Promote collective learning. There is a rich history of parents, teachers and other education professionals learning together to bring about change. The workshops, seminars, and conferences that many educational organizations and activist teacher groups conduct today are the product of how organizers deepened and archived their learning. Co-learning is a way to build trust and community while enriching the possibility of sustainable intergenerational action.

How can you incorporate learning opportunities into regularly scheduled events or meetings? Consider reading together, integrating teaching, or inviting unstructured time to discuss a particular concept. Establishing a recorder position or process can also help creatively document and organize the work of the group.

Community organizers and educational justice advocates have a long history of shaping anti-oppressive change. It is crucial that we nurture this work by approaching it with care towards each other. As organizer Amanda Aguilar Shank writes, “We have a responsibility to align our relationships with each other with our values, from the most intimate relationship to larger systems like the criminal and immigration systems.”

It will take sustained collectivist energy to resist conservative attacks on education and build the public educational infrastructure that students need. To face this moment, we need caring, accessible and collaborative spaces of movement.

Leave a Reply