The Change-Maker’s Toolkit

by Jeff Camp | July 25, 2021 | 0 Comments
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Tools for Informed Leaders

What systems do leaders need to know about in order to be credible change agents in their school, their district and beyond? At the 2021 Ed100 Academy for Student Leaders, this was the core question taken on by Carrie Hahnel in her presentation, The Change-Maker's Toolkit.

Her presentation reminded me of a scene from the Pixar classic The Incredibles. Mr. Incredible, in the guise of his secret identity as an insurance agent, is providing insurance policy holders with knowledge they are not expected to have. His boss is apoplectic about it. “They’re penetrating the bureaucracy!” he sputters.

Hahnel’s presentation was all about tools to penetrate the bureaucracy. Without expecting any pre-existing knowledge, she systematically explained key sources of information that even many experienced education advocates may not be aware of. Students ranked her presentation as one of the most useful of the whole three-day conference.

Knowledge is Power

Hahnel opened her presentation with context about the often-repeated truism that “knowledge is power.” She emphasized that there’s more to it:

Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility. — Robin Morgan

“Public schools are accountable to the public, including you - the students,” Hahnel said. “But to be an engaged and informed advocate, you’ve got to do your homework.”

The education system is complex and bureaucratic. Hahnel’s presentation pointed student leaders to resources no one expects them to know about. (See Carrie Hahnel’s slides.)

She organized her presentation into five parts:

  • Get Data
  • Find the Policy
  • Read the Plan
  • Seek Promising Solutions
  • Ask Questions

Get Data

“As a stakeholder and advocate, you want to have facts and figures at your fingertips,” Hahnel said. She then took students for a quick tour of resources that can help them get information, using West Contra Costa School District and Sacramento City as examples. As you watch her presentation, refer to the links below.

Data resources highlighted by Carrie Hahnel

Ed-Data

Data about your school and district, and how it compares to other schools and districts, including deep data about how your district spends money.

DataQuest

Data that can be deeper or fresher than Ed-Data (but harder to navigate).

KidsData

National data that can put your school in a broader context.

California School Dashboard

Reports about test results and other outcomes that can help draw attention where it is needed. School climate surveys are sometimes available here.

Civil Rights Data Collection

Data about resource disparities & educational equity.

EdTrust-West

A great list of additional data sources

GO Public Schools

A good example of an organization that uses these data resources to make effective arguments for change.

Find the Policy

In order to change a policy, the first order of business is to find and understand the policy that already exists. Sometimes you’ll need to advocate for a change in state policy, but a lot of the time the policy you need to change is actually set at the school board level. Many school boards manage their policies using an online system known as GAMUT. Hahnel showed students how to find and access this tool. “Many districts keep their policies on a page that requires a password,” she said, “so you might have to ask for the password to get in.”

Policy resources highlighted by Carrie Hahnel

GAMUT

School district policies are often available through GAMUT, a site of the California School Boards Association (CSBA).

Leginfo

State laws, California Education Code

Read the Plan

If you think something needs to change, there is a reasonable chance that someone else has had a similar thought. You can get farther, faster, if you understand how your idea “fits” with other plans already in the works. Plans at the individual school level are often included in the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA). Plans that span multiple schools are part of an annual plan called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). Hahnel showed examples.

Planning resources highlighted by Carrie Hahnel

LCAP

LCAP - Local Control and Accountability Plan

(During COVID, the LCAP was the “Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan”

SPSA

School Plan for School Achievement — An annual school-level plan usually developed by the school site council, which includes faculty, parents and students.

Strategic Plans

Schools and districts occasionally develop strategic plans separately from the LCAP or SPSA. These plans are often developed with the help of a formal or informal task force that may include students.

As a change-maker, these resources can help you equip yourself to make a case for change. The LCAP is a long, detailed document, but it expresses the school district’s strategic direction. Advocating for changes to the LCAP is a good way to set the stage for other changes in school or district policy. The LCAP expresses all of the following topics for a school district:

  • What are our goals and priorities?
  • What are our programs and activities?
  • How are we differentiating services for different student groups?
  • How does our spending align with our priorities?

Seek Promising Solutions

It’s easier to get something to happen in your school if it has already been done somewhere else. “This is where you have to be a bit of a detective,” Hahnel said. “Google the issue. Can you learn from friends, teachers, administrators, or colleagues what other districts or schools are doing?”

When advocating for change, Hahnel emphasized, it is important to gather data but even more important to explain the data in the form of a story. “We are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story.”

Ask Questions

When researching a topic for change in a school, Hahnel urged students to ask questions, with particular focus on the school district.

Resources highlighted by Carrie Hahnel

XQ Superschool

School districts have a lot of authority to make changes in the ways that schools work. XQ Superschool offers good questions to ask district leaders in a series called “That’s a School Board Thing.”

Who Represents Your School (A tool by Ed100.org)

Each high school is represented not only by a school board, but also by state and federal legislators. This tool helps you find who represents each high school in California.

In response to student questions, Hahnel expressed her frustration that information about the education system is fragmented. It can be hard to find the data that you need to make a case for change, but it’s really important.

“You're hearing from many student engagement organizations throughout this conference,” she said. “Those organizations are always looking for ways to harness student voice and energy around advocacy. As you've learned today, data needs to be part of advocacy. It's not just sharing what we want and need, it's also making the case with information.”

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