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The Value of Multiple Perspectives in Advocacy

Laurie Schell • AdvocacyJune 2022 • June 14, 2022

Perspective is broadly defined as having a particular point of view. What do we see from where we are standing? Will a shift in perspective lead to greater understanding and action? Effective advocacy is accomplished by understanding first where you are, then embracing perspectives beyond your own.

Where Do You Stand?

It begins with us– who we are, what we know, and how we experience our work. Whether you are a music educator, artist, administrator, or community member – your perspective is valid. In making the case for music and arts education, we must bring our perspective to the forefront. 

In my experience, there are three perspectives which are most often represented in arts, culture, and arts education advocacy:

Practitioner Advocate: Teachers, teaching artists, artists, community arts organization staff, parents, and administrators would fall within this group. They are doing the everyday work of providing creative learning experiences to youth, directly in the classroom and community and indirectly through parenting, partnerships, and administrative support. 

Field-builder Advocate: Researchers, funders, corporate citizens, faculty at institutions of higher education, or staffers at organizations such as arts service organizations and professional educator associations are in this group. 

Policy Advocate: National, state, and local advocacy coalitions are in this category. They advance policy agendas in support of the arts and cultural education at the municipal, state, or regional and national levels. 

In Leadership on the Line, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky use a balcony and dance floor metaphor to describe a multi-focused perspective. 

“Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom with a balcony up above…. Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner…. You let yourself be carried away by the music, your partner, and the moment. But if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns…. Achieving a balcony perspective means taking yourself out of the dance, in your mind, even if only for a moment. The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray.”  (Heifetz and Linsky, 2002, p. 53.)

I would posit the opposite is true, as well. The only way for a balcony observer to understand what’s happening on the dance floor is to join the dance, even if only briefly.

Connect Multiple Points of View to Advocacy

With increased awareness from both the balcony and the dance floor, we can drive the changes we wish to see. Here are four strategies for connecting multiple points of view and enhancing your ability to see the bigger picture while acting locally:

Enhance Your Perspective

Take on the role of observer at a meeting rather than being a participant (Heifetz, 2009). Observe a class, attend a board meeting, or observe committee meetings.

Set up rigorous data systems that enable objectivity (McCannon, 2017). Use existing data systems to track access and participation, such as the ArtsEd Data Project or simply by keeping a teaching journal about the changes you witness in students.

Establish solid channels of communication through a network of advocates (Kearns, 2007). State advocacy organizations have a robust network of local advocates and content experts that inform a statewide legislative advocacy agenda.

Own Your Expertise

Look for opportunities to claim your knowledge and experience and share with others in peer-to-peer learning networks.

Practitioner advocates are the best source for what works (or doesn’t work) in crafting policy proposals. Speak at school board meetings, sit on school improvement committees, volunteer for planning work.

To earn the trust of a policymaker, policy advocates guide us to create compelling narratives based on data. Use social media and build relationships locally.

Embrace Learning

Take advantage of learning opportunities in your community and at state and national conferences. These sessions are useful in presenting a big picture perspective and practical in providing concrete action steps. NAfME, NAMM Foundation, and others provide rich opportunities to advance knowledge and professional learning.

Commit to Action

Take a moment to experience the bigger picture if you are a practitioner advocate (dance floor). Look for patterns in behavior or decision making, relationships, and processes  visible from a distance.

If you work as a field or policy advocate (balcony), spend some time in the classroom or with students (dance floor) to understand the day-to-day challenges of creative learning at the student/educator level.

We all have an important role to play in the creative education of our youth. We can better advance our cause through multiple perspectives. Balcony AND dance floor.

Laurie Schell is a lifelong advocate for music and arts education. She is founding principal of ElevateArtsEd, providing consulting services and issue expertise with a focus on arts education. This article is derived from a post originally published by Creative Generation and ElevateArtsEd in April 2022.

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