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Let Me Buy You a Beer: A Message from a CSTA Advocate

While I'm truly honored to be the first recipient of the CSTA Leadership Cohort APP (Advocacy Points Program) award, I wish to recognize members of CSTA Chicago Chapter whose sustained advocacy efforts over the past few years have contributed to this more than any individual action on my part. I didn't do this on my own and I couldn't have. So I share this honor with Don Yanek, Jeff Solin, Dale Reed, Lucia Detori, Terry Steinbach, Gail Chapman, Brenda Remes and Wilkerson, Diane Bell, Ron Greenberg, and dozens of other hard-working teachers and advocates in Chicago.

I didn't do anything special to receive this award beyond what I do on a daily basis; working with my teacher-friends to convince anyone who will listen of the importance K-12 CS education. I know many of you out there do the same thing, day and in and day out, and I hope that you will be similarly recognized.

At the CS & IT Symposium in July, I talked about "Baker's Rules for Advocacy," which served as a gimmick for organizing the presentation. But in the months since then I've realized that, with a few modifications, these rules are powerful strategies. While situations vary from one district or state to another, my hope is that teacher advocates will find these ideas applicable. So here we go: Baker's Rules for CS Advocacy:

Rule #1: You must believe (in your heart of hearts) that our country and the world would be a better place if every student learned something about CS before graduating from high school.
I really believe this, and quite frankly, the fact that many of the people I come into contact with on daily basis don't, drives me to work even harder. This rule, above all others, is the most important one. You won't be an effective advocate for K-12 CS without this belief and without being able to articulate this belief to others. There are many good reasons to believe why CS Education for all students is important; I was fortunate enough to find a group of similarly-minded people in Chicago to work with who helped each other articulate exactly what that belief meant for our community. If there is any "secret sauce" to our success in Chicago it's that despite our numerous failures to make an impact over the years, we kept returning to this core belief and trying until our message stuck with policy makers who could help us make a difference.

Rule #2: Beer. It works.
This is my tongue-in-cheek way of saying that we're in a people business, both as teachers, and advocates. To make an impact you need friends, and you have to be closer to the other CS teachers in your community than just professional acquaintances. A small group of passionate people can make huge changes, but that group must trust each other, like each other, and be driven by the same goals. We're not used to doing this, either as computer scientists or teachers, so it helps if some kind of social lubrication is applied, for me, beer works.

It's funny that the members of CSTA Chicago rarely socialize in Chicago. At home, CSTA chapter meetings are mostly business and, of course, we have families and daily teaching responsibilities and obligations that always seem to prevent us from getting together. Almost every good thing that has come out of CSTA Chicago was started at an out-of-town conference, including meeting each other in the first place. While it's often a struggle to make time for it or pay for it, there is nothing like an out-of-town conference in terms of efficiency for getting together with colleagues from home, unencumbered by typical distractions. You have to get out there into the broader community and make yourself known.

Rule #3: Location, Location, Location
Imm reluctant to go into detail about any specific effort we made in Chicago because the reasons things worked or didn't is inextricably linked with local politics and realities. The same will be true for you. Our chapter essentially started by indentifying a need for Chicago schools (more CS courses) and then set about figuring out who we needed to convince of that need, how we were going to convince them, and what could actually be done to solve the problem. Four years later, we've really made an impact. Your community also has a need for more and better K-12 CS. But the reasons your community needs it might be different from ours, and certainly figuring out who you need to convince and how to work your way through the maze of details will be different. That is your work as an advocate: to figure out the path to success. While the challenges and solutions will be unique to your situation, you won't be alone in your quest. There are a growing number of teacher advocates out there, like me, who can help you. Just ask, and see rule #4.

Rule #4: CSTA is the force that binds us together.
While a lot of the advocacy efforts in Chicago have come from a variety of sources, our CSTA chapter is the glue that binds them all together. A local university received a large NSF grant to convert an introductory technology course in 35 schools into a real CS course because of the efforts of CSTA Chicago members. Several teachers are Co-PIs on the grant. Google, Oracle, Microsoft, and other companies that want to sponsor events for teachers in Chicago, now know to contact our CSTA chapter to coordinate their efforts. When the mayor of Chicago announced the formation of some new STEM schools in the city, CSTA was there pushing for required CS, and it looks like that will become a reality. No single person in our chapter made all of these things happen; the work in the trenches was done by teachers like you and me wearing our CSTA hats.

Follow four simple rules to be an effective CS Teacher Advocate:
1) believe K-12 CS should be a part of every student's education
2) find other teachers in your community who believe the same thing
3) figure out what's important to your community, and
4) and tap into the support and resources of CSTA. Along the way, you'll make great friends, have an important impact in your community, and maybe, enjoy a beer or two.

Baker Franke
CSTA Leadership Cohort

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