We are trusted.
In a recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, over 72% of respondents reported having confidence and trust in public school teachers and principals.
It is up to us to leverage this trust, whether blind or well informed, for the greater good. We must stand tall and speak up. We must see ourselves as professionals and experts in our field. We must share our stories from the classroom.
If we don’t, who will?
When asked to speak at state board of education meetings and other community forums, we must answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” And then we must prepare to represent our students, our profession and our schools with comments worthy of the public’s trust.
Here are five tips to help you stand tall and speak up at your next state board of education meeting:
1. Put students first. Practicing teachers are well positioned to speak specifically and articulately about the impact of reforms and initiatives at the classroom level. Using stories and anecdotes about your students and school can help personalize and humanize your message. Plus, it’s really hard to argue against what’s best for students.
2. Prepare. At public events like state board meetings comments are usually restricted to a few minutes per speaker. When your time is limited and your message is robust, preparation can help you prioritize your speaking points and maximize each minute. I personally script out my comments (since I prefer writing to speaking) and then read and reread my script multiple times until my message is internalized and familiar. I have other colleagues who simply write a few bullet points or key ideas on an index card or sticky note, and speak more extemporaneously in the moment. Whatever your method, preparing and organizing your thoughts ahead of time will help keep your nerves in check and your message from straying off course.
3. Got Props? Visual aids can compliment your remarks and serve as a powerful and lasting image for your audience. Recently, my Kentucky colleague Ali Wright, brought a thirteen-year-old calculus book that was falling apart at the seams to a budget review subcommittee meeting. The fragile book supported her testimony and showed lawmakers firsthand the impact of budget cuts and the need for increased school funding. The next time you’re asked to share a classroom perspective publicly, think about what (or who) you might bring to the table.
4. Strategize. When possible, involve like-minded colleagues in the process. You’ll feel confident and reassured having colleagues who respect you and share your perspective in the audience. Also, the board will benefit from hearing a common message from multiple perspectives and practitioners. If you know who will be speaking in advance, you can practice and prepare with colleagues and make sure your messages strike a balance between shared vision and individual viewpoints. Work collaboratively to parcel out and highlight key ideas from research, and when possible present multiple classroom examples from a variety of contexts.
5. Slow down, speak up, and smile. If you are a skilled oral communicator and someone who likes speaking publicly (ahem, all you zany extroverts!) feel free to skip this tip altogether. However, if the thought of speaking in front of a group of stern (or smiling) faces makes your blood pressure spike, your cheeks blush, and sends you searching for the nearest exit, this tip is just for you. When you are nervous, passionate about your message, and under time constraints your natural tendency will be to speak quickly and quietly. Resist this temptation and instead slow down, speak up, and of course, don’t forget to smile! If you believe in what you’re saying, your audience will too.
When asked what it’s like to teach and learn in the 21st century, we must be prepared with anecdotes, examples, research, solutions and ideas. These tips are a start, but are by no means exhaustive. What’s missing? What helps you stand tall and speak up on behalf of your students?