Posted by: emilyrfarrell | May 16, 2011

Affective Advocacy with Richard Victor

As some of you know, I attended PMEA 2011 and did a Live-blog of all the sessions that I participated in. Now that school is over and I have a little more free time, I will hopefully be able to summarize all of those sessions on this website, as well as putting my own little twist on it. If you read my last post, you probably know how frustrated I am with the state of music education in the United States. Allentown School District is just a stepping stone to the slashing of funding for the arts. So right now, more than ever, Advocacy is a vital part of your music education job. You cannot be just a teacher anymore, you have to constantly stand up and tell people why your job is important and prove it through what you do. Richard Victor, the advocacy chair for PMEA, gave a great presentation on effective advocacy and I would like to share what I learned with you.

Crisis Prevention

One of Victor’s main points was that Advocacy is not crisis management, it is crisis prevention. Now to be completely honest, the entire state of music education is in a little bit of a crisis. Therefore many music educators need to be doing crisis management. But if you are in a music education position and things are still going well for you, do not just assume that that is how things will stay. Chances are they will not. Show your administrators and community that things are still working and your job is important. And don’t just do it for you! This is one thing that as a future educator, I cannot stress enough. Your job is not the most important thing in the world. If you do the bare minimum and do not fight for the importance of your job, not only will you lower your chances of getting that job again, but you lower the chances of your administrators bringing back the position at all. Advocacy of music education effects everyone. If you don’t care if you have a job, at least care that if you don’t stick up for your job, music education students looking for jobs right now will not be able to find them if you proved to your administrator that the arts don’t make a difference. That little tangent aside, let’s define advocacy. Advocacy, according to Victor, is “influencing outcome”. It is so much more than just good public relations. Advocacy is proving to your administrators that music is worth the time and money that they are pouring into it. Right now schools are losing money. There is no way around that, education cuts are a big problem, just look at Pennsylvania. Schools are losing thousands of dollars and they are being forced to cut programs. They have to postpone updating textbooks and technology and stuffing more students into classrooms so they don’t have to hire more teachers. More and more students are being forced to pay to participate in activities like marching band. And if that’s not enough, there is still the issue of time. PSSAs and all other forms state testing are taking over the schools. Because of funding cuts, it is more important than ever to administrators to have good testing scores. So, there goes your time. Any money and time that the school has is going to go to the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. We want to add the Arts to the equation. Make it STEAM!

The Procedure, The Parents, The Profession 

In any administrative decision, students will lose something and students will gain something. Our job as advocates for music education is to prove that what the students are gaining is worth a whole lot more than what they are losing. If a student no longer has music in elementary education, it should be pretty simple to show what they are losing. Victor also stresses the politics of the situation, saying, “The decision belongs to those who show up.” Always remember, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. As much research as there is defending the importance of music education, it doesn’t matter to administrators. Understand how decisions are made, where and when it happens, and the entire procedure they follow. What will keep your music program alive is a lot of parents, otherwise known as taxpayers, showing up and telling them that the cutting of the music program is unacceptable. While this is not foolproof, as seen in Allentown, it is definitely a good thing to have. Administrators are worried about being made into a bad guy and if they tick off a bunch of parents, that will not look so good. While parents of individual groups are good, you want to have a unified group of parents of students from every musical activity standing up together to protect music education. Form a K-12 Music Coalition. Also, work together with all the music teachers in your district. It is not a competition, you all need to unite and protect your music program.

Effective Advocacy

“The best advocacy is a quality product.”

It’s as simple as that. You are a music teacher. If you are doing your job right and teaching the best that you can, you are already proving to parents and students that your program is important. What you have to do is constantly show your administrators and other members of the community that you are doing your job. There is no standardized test for music. Therefore, the administrators are not getting a report on how well you are teaching it. While this can be a good thing, you don’t have to teach for a test, you have to go out of your way to prove that your program is viable in the new education system. We have seen the research, we have experienced that value, we believe in what we are doing, and we are ready and waiting to make a difference. Share this with your administrators. Invite them to concerts, go to as many meetings as you can,  and get your students’ parents to do the same. Also, come up with an objective for your music program. A short, simple, catch-all phrase that represents your music program and what you stand for. Think about the past Presidential election. Obama’s running campaign was based around the phrase, “Yes we can!” While this is simple, and obviously the same as Bob the Builder’s, it was memorable. Anyone remember John McCain’s? Didn’t think so. Be a spokesperson for your music program and think about different ways to support it every day.

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