Advocacy goals that require new initiatives or changes in funding, school services, or teacher training require the concerted effort of many activists. Therefore, it is imperative that advocates find ways to get others to join the cause. Here are five strategies to help you maximize your advocacy impact.
Multiple letters and phone calls on an issue have a greater impact than does a single communication. Your challenge as an advocate is to get others to let your elected officials know about the need for strong gifted education programs and services. You might try the following:
Ask the parents and teachers of the high-ability students in your child's school to support local, state, and federal initiatives. In some instances, it may be appropriate for students to contact elected officials or to testify at a hearing about their experiences.
Join your national, local, and state gifted education associations and urge others to do so as well. These organizations provide a network of resources and support; they are also a logical source for a letter-writing campaign.
Local business leaders in your community should be supportive of your efforts — they need creative, critical thinkers as future employees. Many of them may not be aware of the status of services for high-ability learners in your community, state, or in the nation. Local and statewide professional and service organizations may also be receptive to your message. Keep in mind that many of these potential supporters are themselves products of gifted education and they would be happy to share their support with decision makers, if asked.
Make contact with other education organizations in your state. Offer to do a short presentation (to the executive committee, legislative committee, etc.) on the educational needs of gifted students and how new initiatives in your state and in Congress would make a difference in your community and state. Additionally, it may be possible to appeal directly to their members for support by writing a guest column for the education association's newsletter.
Recruit "VIPs." Although every constituent letter carries weight in a legislator's office, the reality is that some citizens have more influence on specific issues or with specific elected officials than others. For example, a legislator's lifelong friend, relative, or former business associate is likely to have influence. Likewise, a former state superintendent of education generally has built-in credibility on education issues, even when he/she does not know the legislator personally. We all know VIPs or have access to them. It may be a work colleague, neighbor, or someone with whom we worship or volunteer. Generating letters from these VIPs is usually a matter of asking them and then providing them with sufficient information to craft a high-impact letter. You might even offer to draft it for them.
In many cases, it can take the efforts of many families working together to successfully advocate in a school or school district for improved services for high-ability students. Learn more by reading the e-book Starting & Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children.
Consider working with other groups in support of an issue. Coalitions not only increase the numbers of supporters on specific state or local issues, but also broaden awareness of your issue with the membership of the other groups. Coalitions also can open doors for many other opportunities that support gifted students.
For example, a local gifted education group can partner with a local business organization to sponsor an informational meeting for parents and policymakers. Two groups supporting expanded gifted education services are stronger than one because decision makers realize that this is an issue of concern to more than just a few families. In addition, the members of the business organization learn more about the needs of gifted students and the services they need. They may also initiate internships and mentorships for gifted learners or sponsor a team of students in an academic competition.
Think about coalitions as broadly as possible — there are many groups in your community and state that have an interest in education issues, child issues, and business issues that can foster natural partnerships.
Decision makers at every level read the local press to stay in touch with what is important to the voters. There are several strategies — from letters to the editor to working with news reporters — that can augment your advocacy message or highlight a gifted education program or students in powerful ways that get the attention of decision makers.
Observing gifted and talented students at work — in the classroom or working together or alone for various competitions, projects, or performances can have a powerful impact on decision makers. It isn't necessary to be an education expert to understand that there is something special, and different, going on with a group of motivated gifted students! Although some of these kinds of visits require advance planning, many schools are pleased to host elected officials and can also organize time for the officials to speak with students and teachers.
Although there is never a bad time to reach out to elected officials on behalf of gifted students, it’s possible to increase the impact of that contact by sending messages at critical junctures. Local school boards, state legislatures, and Congress operate on a calendar that dictates when key decisions will be made. Committee hearings that provide the opportunity for public input, budget hearings, and votes all occur on a schedule that is unique to each decision making body.
Join the NAGC Legislative Action Network.
Get contact information for state gifted education associations.