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Advocacy Leadership

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

What is advocacy leadership? I think the concept is best captured by the following excerpt from Gary L. Anderson (2009) in Advocacy Leadership: Toward a Post-Reform Agenda in Education.

So what do advocacy leaders do? An advocacy leader believes in the basic principles of a high quality and equitable public education for all children and is willing to take risks to make it happen. Advocacy leaders tend to be skilled at getting beneath high sounding rhetoric to the devil in the details. They are skeptical by nature. They refuse to collude in so-called collaborative teams or distributed leadership endeavors that are inauthentic. For instance, they know when a site-based leadership team is rigged against low-income parents. They know when parents of children with disabilities are being railroaded by school professionals in IEP meetings. They know the hard ball politics of influential parents and the ways they work the system to get privileges for their children at the expense of others. They are not seduced by business models yet they don’t close off any avenue of new ideas. They are skeptical of the idea that we can avoid the difficult give-and-take of politics by replacing politics with market-based choice policies.

They find time to read widely, and have a well-developed social analysis, but do not agree on all issues, and do not follow a “party line”. They are learners, much like their students, and they are constantly, pushing their comfort zone. They create learning communities in their schools. They use multiple forms of data to monitor the progress of students and programs. Testing data are used diagnostically, but not allowed to distort curriculum and instruction. They are intolerant of racist, sexist, and homophobic language or actions and work to build a culture of tolerance. They expose their students to multiple career options and provide alternatives to the military recruiters’ pitch. They understand the stressors on low-income parents, the time constraints on teachers, and the anxieties parents have around the success and well-being of their children. And yet, they draw an ethical line that cannot be crossed – not to be authoritarian, but to defend against the powerful using their power against the powerless. While being pro union, they are not afraid to fight the union when it is supporting policies that put the needs of teachers above those of children.

Advocacy leaders know that they must operate on multiple levels. At the individual level, good teachers and administrators have always seen themselves as advocates for the child who was made fun of, discriminated against, or lacked sufficient resources to be successful in school. But an advocacy leader also sees the systemic problems that exist in a classroom, a school, a district, a community, and they seek solutions that address causes, not just symptoms. At a broader level, they know that some causes, such as inequitable social policies, may be beyond their immediate control, but they have a deep belief in the power of education to foster not just kids with high test scores, but also powerful and informed democratic citizens with influence over those very policies in the future. (pp. 14-15)

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