Pick up the phone — now!


This is the time of year when I honestly would prefer to sit back, watch the snow gently drift down, and muse about the single red cardinal who alights in the fruit tree outside my office window. But my inbox is full to overflowing, especially on Mondays. Authors still send Kappan hundreds of manuscripts every year, and every one of them requires my attention. I have many days, too many days lately when my to-do list sets my priorities for the day rather than my priorities determining my to-do list.

Now, when I’m already feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I am feeling an additional burden of anxiety because of the new team in Washington. So I am adding a new item to my daily to-do list: being an activist.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, there can be no question that we have moved into an era that requires the attention of every citizen. Although the new team in Washington has made many public statements about what they believe, we are still learning exactly what they will do as public servants. That means that all of us have an opportunity to guide them as they find their way in the world of public policy.

As the Every Student Succeeds Act pushes more decisions into the hands of state and local decision makers, your attention and involvement is more imperative than ever. I urge Kappan readers to step up and ensure that your elected representatives and their appointees know where you stand on questions related to public education.

Decide what sources of information you believe are credible. Be a savvy consumer of information. Learn who’s accurate and reliable and who is not. Don’t hesitate to call out anyone in the media who is not doing balanced reporting. In your state, know who is a trustworthy and independent watchdog about education issues. Make sure your friends know, too.

Find allies. Harness social media to help you quickly locate others in your community who share your concerns and points of view. Assemble a few allies and map a plan for keeping track of legislative actions and how you will respond.

Know your state rep. With so much education decision making moving to the states, knowing who’s running the show in your own state is crucial. Learn the names of the state reps on your state’s education committees and the name of the education adviser to the governor. Get their phone numbers and emails — and use them. Visit your state rep in person. Most state reps have office hours in the district or monthly coffees to meet constituents. Take advantage of those times for up-close-and-personal exchanges. Go prepared with a request. Have a plan for a follow-up.

Communicate with your local school board. Being in touch with school board members is just as important as communicating with your congressman or your state rep. The phone calls I received from teachers and principals during six years on my local school board were among the most influential calls I ever received. Unlike in congressional offices, this was less about the volume of the calls than the quality of the calls. Telephone calls enable school district employees to speak privately to an elected official or a staff person. These focused conversations also allow a school board member to ask questions of someone with insider knowledge about the district. I never broke an agreement to maintain the confidentiality of my callers, and I never heard another school board member violate their agreements with their callers.

Say thanks — or not. Use social media to alert others within your network about how your representative did or did not respond to you. If she promised an action and didn’t deliver, spread the word. If she promised a vote and did deliver, say a public thank you. Use social media to share a response that you find helpful — or not. But don’t assume that social media is the only way to share information. In the suburb where I live, for example, the weekly newspaper is still widely read so it’s an ideal place to publish a letter to the editor about any topic.

Keep the pressure on. Resist the urge to view your activism as a “one and done” thing. Decide how many hours a week or month you can devote to being active. When one issue is resolved, move on to the next item on your list.

Reducing the stress in your work life isn’t always about just taking a deep breath and learning to relax. Sometimes the best way to reduce your anxiety is by stepping up to action. Now is that time.

JOAN RICHARDSON (@KappanJoan) is editor-in-chief of Kappan magazine.

Originally published in March 2017 Phi Delta Kappan 98 (6), 4. © 2017 Phi Delta Kappa International. All rights reserved.


JOAN RICHARDSON is the director of the PDK Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools and the former editor-in-chief of Phi Delta Kappan magazine.

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