In today’s climate of budget cutbacks, Richard Victor, the Pennsylvania MEA advocacy chair, has gathered these core advocacy principles:
1) Know the decision makers.
Tell decision makers why music education is important to their constituents and for the welfare of students. “Put yourself in their place,” says Victor. “Try to understand their problems, outlook, and aims, and then attempt to present your position in a way that supports their position.” A good relationship with decision makers will help every aspect of your program.
2) Stay professional.
“Be credible, honest, and trustworthy,” says Victor. Keep your promises, and make your case without being critical of others, making threats, lying, or concealing facts. “Be reasonable, and recognize that there are legitimate differences of opinion on every issue.”
3) Be realistic and persistent.
Controversial decisions usually result in compromise, and there’s seldom an absolute and final defeat. “Often the work you’ve done to influence a decision that didn’t go your way will help sway a future decision that will favor your position,” says Victor. “Stay committed, and keep working until you achieve your objective.”
4) Involve parents and students in the decision making process.
“Parents care—but they may not know how to care effectively,” says Victor. Show them how.
- Show them the decision-making timeline for an issue so they can work proactively rather than reactively. “It’s much easier to influence a decision that hasn’t yet been made than to undo a decision that the players within the system see as final.”
- Point out the politics of the educational system. What influences decision makers most is prevailing public opinion, Victor says. If a majority of constituents support a strong music program, the board and administration will be unlikely to weaken it.
- Ask parents and students to write letters to government officials. Victor says that 10 letters will put an issue “on decision makers’ radar screen,” 25 will make them explore the issue, and 50 can change a position on an upcoming vote.
- “Numbers speaking in a unified voice are much louder than an individual disgruntled teacher or a small group of angry parents.”
5) Let your voice be heard.
“Advocacy often just means speaking up,” Victor says. “The worst action is no action.” Prepare, present, and follow through on your case. Write that letter, send that e-mail, make that phone call, or meet with decision makers. “Being an advocate is political, and in politics, the decision often belongs to those who show up. Be that person.”
Richard Victor teaches at State College Area High School in State College, Pennsylvania, and is the PMEA advocacy chair. He credits John Benham and SupportMusic.com for many of the concepts presented.
This article was adapted from “Saving Your Music Program,” by Richard Victor, in the Spring 2006 issue of PMEA News. Used with permission.
—Linda C. Brown, May 5, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)