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Using Movement-Building Strategies and Tools to Cast a Wider Net

This post was originally written for Networks for Education Equity, a community of practice facilitated by Community Wealth Partners and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created to help associations of education professionals learn new ways of working so they can help their members support better outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty. Learn more about the community of practice and other learnings at www.networksforedequity.com.

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As education networks work to advance educational equity, many are recognizing a need to reach broader and more particular audiences. For example, NCSM is working to have a more racially diverse network and leadership to support high-quality, equitable mathematics teaching and learning. Similarly, as Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA) works to improve math outcomes for Black students, the network is working to attract more white members that effectively teach Black students. 

Efforts to center equity and inclusion have become more challenging for some educators recently, as issues and language akin to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” have become increasingly politicized. Some state legislatures have gone so far as to suggest and require removal of language (like the words gay and equity), goals (for example – teaching about the realities of slavery in the U.S.), and instruction related to equity (ex. how women and People of Color are having distinct experiences) from public education materials.

Despite these challenges, and given this urgent context, there are definitive opportunities for education networks working to advance equity to invite more and different people to join their campaigns for increased equity. Strategies and tools from social movements can help, and members of the K-12 education networks cohort learned some strategies and tools in a session with Trina Olson and Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics.

“Movements aren’t simply showing up for an action, they are about the long-haul work of moving people closer to living their values in a particular way,” Wenker said. “If we’re interested in broader equity in the education space, we have to be thinking together about what movements are, and specifically what are the values that motivate us?”

Logic and data alone are not enough to motivate people. Research shows that messages that lead with values are more effective. (Learn more about this in the resources below.)

“We know that identity and education have been politicized,” Olson said. “One of the things that takes the most discipline is to not get sucked into the frame of the people that are organizing on an opposing side. It’s neither strategic nor helpful. Instead of fighting their message, you need to have your own message that’s more effective.”

BBA is working to spread a message that their network is for “people who have a passion for math education for Black students.” “This can include classroom teachers, coaches, people in higher education, corporate members, or vendors,” said Shelly Jones, board president. “Most of our members are Black, but we want people to understand that this is for whoever is interested in supporting education for Black students.”   

As networks think of possible frames to craft their own message and invitation, research shows one frame that resonates with many in this moment is the notion of interdependence and collectivity. This has not always been a frame that would motivate many. As the image below shows, there have been different frames which have ebbed and flowed in popular opinion over time.

In 1969, “rights” was polling as the number one issue people cared about. During this time, the civil rights movement and women’s rights movement made significant gains, and the gay rights movement was born. On just about any social issue, “rights” were a frame that garnered support.

By the mid-1970s, “rights” were no longer polling as a compelling frame. Instead, a frame of individualism was getting growing support. By the early 2000s, a frame of interdependence and collectivity started to gain popularity, and we are in a moment where this frame is continuing to rise.

For leaders and organizations working to support a movement for education equity, there is an opportunity to lead and be consistent with frames of interconnection, interdependence and belonging.

NCSM has historically been a network of mathematics directors that work with math teachers. As the organization works to grow and diversify its membership and leadership to include more people of color, they are working to redefine what math leadership can look like so that a broader range of practitioners might feel both a sense of their leadership potential in mathematics education and a sense of belonging in this network.

“Our members include curriculum directors, instructional coaches, administrators, and classroom teachers,” said Katey Arrington, board president at NCSM. “They’re all leaders if they’re influencing what happens in math instruction in some way, whether it be at the school level or district level.”

By helping math practitioners reimagine what a “math leader” could be, NCSM is working to foster connection and belonging among a wider network than they were previously.

Try This

As you think about ways to attract broader, different, and deeper participation in your network, try this path to begin to craft a values-centered invitation to join your movement.

  1. What is the first time you remember showing up for justice, whether it be at a rally, in support of a campaign, or an action you took individually? What value felt under threat that motivated you to show up? (Examples include safety, respect, choice)
  2. Think about your work and the invitation you want to offer. What value or values might motivate people to join you?
  3. Now think about who you are trying to motivate. How might their perspective and life experience be different from yours? How might that influence what motivates them? Does that spark a different idea about values that might motivate people different than you to join this movement? What words might you use to bring along people who aren’t with you yet, but could be?
  4. Now that you’ve refined which value(s) you want to lead with, experiment with crafting values-based messages that might motivate people to join you.

Additional Resources

These resources offer more guidance, frameworks, and tools for understanding social movements and using language that can attract more people to your cause:

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