Building Your Advocacy Team for a Productive Year:
A message from Darcy Nendza, Executive Director for the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA)
The beginning of each school year is a blank slate for new ideas, priorities and goals. As you plan for the 2019-2020 school year, I encourage you to take time to recruit your advocacy team and give them ideas for educating decision-makers on the importance of a high-quality music education in every child’s life!
On the topic of advocacy, one of the most frequent questions I get from music educators is, “Isn’t my advocacy for music education going to be seen as self-serving? The perception could be that I am just trying to keep my own job.” My response is simply, “If you are not willing to advocate for music education, then no one else will.” Our communities and stakeholders look to those of us in music education to talk about (and teach them) the value that a high-quality music education brings to all students.
While you, as a music educator, should be the leader in advocacy efforts, this work is too large and complex to be done alone. Any effective advocacy work is done as part of a team, with many different groups bringing their voices to decision-makers.
Building Your Team
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a school board member in Community Consolidated School District 146. Shortly after being elected, at my very first school board training, a school board member from an unknown district was leading a discussion regarding parents attending and speaking at school board meetings. He was saying that each district has particular programs that the parents will protect at all costs. He said, “In my district, it is the music programs. We would NEVER consider cutting anything that has to do with music. The parents would pack every meeting and elect a new school board if we even tried.”
How wonderful would it be to have the confidence to know this was the reality in your school district? Parents are a key component to any and all advocacy work. The school administration, district administration and school board hear from parents frequently about things that concern them in their children’s school. It is incredibly powerful if parents get into the habit of positively speaking to these groups, both formally and informally, about how important music education is to their children’s school experience. This does not happen without the music educators recruiting and teaching the parents that these conversations are necessary.
Another key member of your advocacy team is your school and district administration. How often are these individuals invited into your classroom to see the amazing work you do everyday? Have you spent the time to teach them what high-quality music education looks like and how best to support you? When an administrator comes from a different content-area background, this work can take time, but it is immensely valuable.
Once we begin to talk about advocacy outside your school building and district, ILMEA is willing and able to assist in this work. With events like Music Education Day at the Capitol (MEDAC) in Springfield each March and participation in the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Hill Day each June in Washington, DC, ILMEA works to reach local, state and federal lawmakers to discuss the importance of music education. We are also always willing to discuss strategy and situations with you if needed!
[The Music Shoppe] and the music industry are also key members of the advocacy team, both for ILMEA and you! Close partners with ILMEA in MEDAC and all other advocacy efforts, the music industry embraces the importance of music education and supports this work both state- and nation-wide. If you have not already become familiar with the NAMM Foundation’s Support Music Coalition, I encourage you to do so.
As the school year begins, I know that music educators do not need one more thing to do. However, the importance of actively advocating for music education cannot be overstated. As school budgets are under constant strain, it is incredibly valuable to build a team of support that keeps a high-quality music education in the schools of Illinois.