Advocacy, which is defined as the act of speaking or writing in support of something or someone, is essential to every music educator’s career and to the profession as a whole. Every music educator needs to be a strong advocate for viable, sequential, enduring music programs for all students.
Advocacy can take many forms and is not limited to formal presentations to decision makers such as boards of education or legislators. One of the best forms of preventative advocacy is a strong, vital, quality music education program. Music educators become advocates for their programs at concerts and public performances by relating to the audience the musical content of the music being performed and the musical challenges students have met and mastered. This informal form of advocacy can yield significant benefits by building support for the program and demonstrating in a very real way the unique educational value of a music education to students. Inviting an administrator into the music classroom or rehearsal to see students engaged in active learning is another of many informal forms of advocacy that can build beneficial and even essential support when a crisis situation arises.
Although it may not be part of the “job description,” many music educators actively engage themselves and others as advocates for music education on behalf of their students, schools, and communities. Some music educators may feel they are in an awkward position when it comes to directly “lobbying” decision makers within their school district. Others are passive or even inactive because they do not recognize the importance of advocacy or the necessity of taking a personal, active role in it. Music educators who do not feel their program is in immediate jeopardy may not be motivated to become advocates. Even if music educators value advocacy, their efforts may be less effective than they could be because they are unaware of advocacy tools readily available to them. They may not understand how to conduct advocacy activities efficiently and effectively. Finally, they may believe that they alone must initiate and be responsible for advocacy efforts.
The Governing Rationale
What prompts any advocacy efforts are the welfare and education of the students and the right of every student to a quality music education. Although developing and maintaining a career is important, as a music educator you are advocating for a higher cause than continued employment—you are advocating for a quality music education for every child.
The Music Educator’s Role
Within the limits of local law and custom, the music educator can lead community efforts to delineate and articulate the benefits of music education for every child. This leadership includes:
- Contacting your state’s MEA for advice and materials
- Logging onto websites that deal with advocacy efforts for music education, e.g., SupportMusic.com; amc-music.com; NAfME.org
- Calling key players in your area to set up a meeting to discuss the crisis and to develop an action plan
- Creating a network database (phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc.) that will be in place before an emergency exists
- Seeking potential leaders from parent groups for advocacy efforts and presentations
- Defining and coordinating advocacy efforts in a crisis
- Being proactive in developing positive relationships (administrators, boards of education, parents, legislators) as a means of avoiding adversarial relationships
- Educating parents, administrators, board of education members, and the community about the importance and value of music for all students
- Maintaining ongoing awareness after a crisis
In advocacy efforts, the music educator plays the role of a collaborative leader with those who support music education. This collaboration includes:
- Determining the nature of the situation and providing guidance and advice
- Evaluating the music program and its support to know their strengths and weaknesses
- Learning how budgets and politics work year-round; monitoring that information and sharing it with others, including parents, other teachers, music retailers, and anyone who supports music education
- Involving oneself continuously with overall school planning
- Working with others to define and guide an ongoing effort, heading the effort that determines the arguments and data to be used, sharing responsibility for advocacy activities, and ensuring that all involved are well informed
- Understanding the power structure, working with natural allies, designing a well- orchestrated effort, developing a coalition, and providing clear lines of communication
Many music educators have parent booster groups to provide financial as well as other types of support for their music programs. These groups can be an invaluable source of workers for an advocacy effort. Parents or others not employed by the school district should take the leadership role in major advocacy efforts and formal presentations in order to nullify potential accusations directed at the music educator that he/she is “trying to save his/her job.”
As educators, music teachers can identify special abilities and resources in individuals and help set clear goals for groups. As trained leaders, music teachers can organize, analyze, plan out, act on, and evaluate an effort, and they are well aware of the importance of communication, visibility, mutual respect, and cooperation. They are willing to educate the opposition about the value of music education while determining the best course of action that will develop allies.
These guidelines are not intended to be comprehensive instructions about how to create an advocacy program. Their purpose is to provide the music educator some basic information that will be helpful in getting an advocacy process started and moving. Ask your music education association leadership for specific advocacy tools.
- Recognize that each advocacy program must be customized to each individual music program and situation.
- Recognize that sporadic, uncoordinated actions are not enough. Sustained campaigns are essential for sustained results.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Join with an existing advocacy group if there is one available, such as a parent booster group or an arts coalition.
- Work with both adversaries and allies to turn adversarial, combative situations into cooperative efforts to find a solution.
- Obtain or create literature and pertinent data for distribution.
- Know your state’s policies on music education. If you find them lacking, work to change them.
- Know your school district’s policies and regulations regarding teacher participation in advocacy efforts.
- In addition to parents and school officials, connect with businesses, politicians, and the media to promote your message.
- Keep detailed records such as enrollments, budget expenditures, instructional time allocations, and student academic achievement scores.
- Define what’s needed using a systematic approach and regular reevaluation.
- Work in groups. If you must work alone at the beginning, plan how you will make connections with others who can help you.
- Maintain a “legislative scorecard” to track votes of state legislators and board of education members on issues affecting music programs.
- Be ready to debate the issues. Well thought out arguments can withstand scrutiny.
- Make sure your philosophical stance on advocacy and education are aligned.
- Choose your arguments wisely. The reasons used to promote music education must not be the source of arguments that could undermine future support. Music educators should acknowledge the diverse nonmusical benefits that music study offers without allo
wing these benefits to overshadow the core, unique musical benefits music study provides students.
- Strong believers make excellent advocates. Advocates with strong beliefs can:
– convince grassroots campaigns of their enthusiasm for music and music education
– demonstrate their interest in the education of American’s future workers and leaders
– show concern for the quality of their schools and community
– commit the necessary time and energy
- Organize parent groups. When music programs are threatened or facing a crisis, parents are the most influential group of advocates. Parents vote. Parents have their student’s best interest at heart. Parents can come together and unite in significant numbers that command the attention of decision makers.
- Arguments developed in support of the program must be congruent with the threat, e.g., financial justifications in a financial crises; scheduling and time allocations in a scheduling crisis. Central to all arguments should be the potential impact on students.
- Formal presentations to administrators and boards of education should be made by parent support groups so as to nullify any perceived conflict of interest on the part of the teacher.
- Know and understand rules and policies that affect you, as an employee of the schools district in your efforts as an advocate.
- Acknowledge and apply transferable skills in organizing, goal setting, directing, and recognizing the efforts of others.
- Emotions can run high. Don’t let yours or your advocacy group’s get out of control.
- Be efficient to obtain maximum results for the level of effort chosen.
- Make no personal or professional compromises to win an argument; continue maintaining high classroom standards you have already achieved.
- Share tools you’ve developed with others.
- Be prepared to act quickly when a crisis arises.
This position statement is intended to substantiate the importance of advocating on behalf of music education for all students. It delineates actions that music educators and music education supporters can and indeed must take in situations where a music program is threatened with reduction or elimination. Students in our schools are depending on us. We must not, we cannot, let them down.