At tonight’s inaugural Parent Advocacy Committee meeting, the one major action item is to go out and ask other people how they define “advocacy”. It is expected that we all have different mental images of this concept, different dictionary definitions. And since I blog, you are my lucky audience and in this case, participants. Don’t worry, I know a number of you trollers so I’ll be dropping you a personal email in the near future to ask about this. 🙂 I am hoping that at least 20 of you make a comment below.
What is Advocacy?
For those that want to read the meeting documents first, you can skip down to the bottom of this post.
The first meeting, as you might expect, was a “sending out the feelers” kind of gathering. Tony Howard and Cheryl Camacho introduced themselves and how Dr. Wiegand charged them to essentially research what advocacy is and how the district can best implement it; this idea came out of the June 21st Board Retreat, along the lines of creating safe environments for discussion and empowering parents to become more involved. Both Tony and Cheryl have done a lot of planning and both are obviously very passionate about this topic. In fact, when listening to Mr. Howard introduced himself, it was a pleasant surprise to hear how involved in the community he is. I am reminded that people all around us are already doing amazing things and most of the time we simply do not know it. One thing in particular is that Mr. Howard will be hosting a Minority Parent Round Table for anyone that considers themselves a minority at the Champaign Public Library next Tuesday from 6:30 – 8:00 pm. It sounds like this will be a great listening event when staff from Edison will simply listen to what Edison parents have to say. He has hopes of doing something similar with a larger audience and at venues like the Douglass Branch Library (there was a conflict for this time around).
As other committee members introduced themselves and spoke about their own experiences, this sense of how others are already doing awesome things was further reinforced; we had a representative from Community Elements and ACCESS Initiative (two people) who spoke about their own efforts to address mental health issues, bullying, and well-being in words that sound very much like advocacy.
We also come up with some general “rules of conduct” that sounded almost exactly like the same kinds of things we talked about at Dr. Laura Taylor’s Social Justice Committee; respect one another, be honest, be accountable to yourself and how much you talk, and engage in the more positive aspects of dialog and debate.
The rest of our time was split between brainstorming thoughts about what advocacy is and looks like, and the results of the StrengthFinders survey most of us participated in prior to the meeting. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, we finally got to the point where we realized that we would richly benefit by hearing from folks like you, parents, teachers and even students. What does advocacy mean to you, what does it look like, and what do you need? The other half dealing with our various strengths demonstrated that, as a group, we weighed in heavily on analysis and strategic thinking, but not quite as much towards executing actions. Realizing this, we have challenged ourselves to seek out opportunities to “walk the walk”. One of the other things I realized is how well some of our strengths fit together. For example, one of the traits I somehow got labelled as a strength was “Input”. One of the weaknesses of this trait is a lack of Focus or Discipline (ain’t that the truth). And we just happened to have folks with those strengths in the room.
Overall, there is a high level of excitement about this group. I think the excitement might come from a sense of doing something good. And yes, I realize the “doing” part is indeed a challenge; just sitting around and brainstorming and appreciating our strengths is not in itself productive. But I think our first action step is a step (perhaps a small one, but a step nonetheless) in the right direction.
Previously I voiced a concern about the composition of this group. As I was sitting in the room with the others, I realized there was a really good mix of teachers and parents (and a significant amount of overlap), folks who take this advocacy thing seriously. Having observed this group of people interact I am much less concerned about the composition if (and this is a big if for all of us) we can get out and practice what we preach. I really love how one teacher mentioned she does home visits – this is one suggestion I had from Springfield’s example (F.A.C.E – family and community engagement). Tony is already doing round tables. These are excellent starting places, and this is what excites me.