PTA members advocate at the U.S. Capitol during the 2013 Legislative Conference.
A new school year has begun! By now, most of you have settled your students into their new classrooms, bought new school supplies, and established a new daily routine. As your PTA gears up for the school year, consider adding another new item to your list: advocacy.
The dictionary definition of advocacy is that it is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” While this seems a simple enough definition, it can sometimes be difficult to understand what this means in practice. The word “advocacy” can even be scary for some! But advocacy is just another word for “support,” “promote,” and “encourage.” Simply by being a member of your local PTA unit, YOU are already a child advocate! For the purposes of PTA, advocacy is when a parent, grandparent, educator, community member or other individual—in other words, you!—speaks up for children. You can do this in schools, in communities, to government bodies and to other organizations that make decisions affecting children. Because you belong to the PTA, you are able to join with fellow members to accomplish this with a single, strong voice.
Take a moment in the next few weeks to consider what your local PTA unit’s advocacy goals are for the 2013-2014 school year. What are some issues affecting students and families in your district that your PTA can “speak up” for? Perhaps you want healthier food in your students’ cafeteria, more family and community events, or safer routes to school that encourage walking and biking. Or, maybe your PTA wants to work with your state PTA to let your state and national leaders know your thoughts on school funding, to support National PTA’s public policy agenda on ESEA-NCLB reauthorization, or encourage members of Congress to support the recently introduced Family Engagement in Education Act.
Once you have identified those issues most important to your PTA, you can begin organizing your PTA unit to effectively advocate for them. Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Be realistic. Make sure the tasks you are undertaking are within the abilities of your PTA. Identify issues that are small enough in scope that the local PTA unit can address them in a reasonable manner, but will have a noticeable impact on families and students in your school or district. If you find that the topics are outside the scope of what is possible, re-think your goals to bring them into a more realistic sphere, while also finding ways to grow your unit’s capacity to make the larger objectives possible.
- Have a plan. Create step-by-step events and objectives that can be completed one at a time. Trying to take on too much at once can be frustrating and cause you to lose sight of the end goal. Also be sure to celebrate the completion of these steps, no matter how large or small a victory it is!
- Communicate your goals. PTA seeks to engage families in education. But oftentimes, families do not know how to get involved. Make sure you are communicating your initiatives through various mediums (social media, local newspaper, newsletters, etc) so people in your school’s district know how they can get involved.
- Work with local, state, and national leaders. Reach out to the administration in your school district, your city council, state legislators, and even members of Congress. Do some research on these individuals to find out what topics are important to them, so that you can approach the right people to support your cause. If you need help figuring out who your leaders are, you can go to PTA’s Takes Action site to search by your zip code and find out.
- Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither can all solutions be arrived at instantaneously. Give yourself and your PTA volunteers enough time to get organized and complete the objectives in a workable timeframe.
National PTA has put together many resources for you to get started on organizing your local unit to meet its advocacy goals. You can check out our advocacy page for materials on various topics, including special education, sequestration, and the Common Core State Standards. The page also provides a link to National PTA’s public policy agenda, which may be helpful to your unit as you seek opportunities to promote the PTA cause. Our Advocacy Toolkit offers tips on how to interact with the media and your legislative leaders, in both web and PDF form. The toolkit also includes an outline of the Federal budget process and short videos detailing the history of PTA as an advocacy organization and how to effectively make your voice heard with your leaders. You can also check out our advocacy training guide, which provides detailed steps on topics such as coalition building, recruiting volunteers, and building an effective advocacy campaign. Finally, you can always contact National PTA staff by phone or e-mail for help.
Your PTA unit can also help National PTA’s child advocacy efforts by signing up to receive action alerts from our Takes Action network. These alerts will keep you informed when Congress is acting on issues important to students and families, and will give you the opportunity to make your voice heard with your legislative leaders. For even more opportunities to receive information from National PTA, follow us on Twitter (@NationalPTA) and like us on Facebook.
The new school year is a great time for your PTA to consider what opportunities exist in your school district for improving the lives of all children. As your students head back to school, take some time to figure out how you can advocate for every child with one voice.
Erica Lue is an Advocacy Coordinator for the National PTA in Alexandria, VA. Contact Erica at firstname.lastname@example.org.