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Advocacy Tool Kit
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So, you want to advocate for theatre education GO YOU! AATE plans to get you armed and ready to go out there and make the case for theatre education. Below, you'll find a quick WHAT, WHEN, WHO, WHERE, and HOW about Arts Education Advocacy - the basics. Next, you'll find a sample advocacy plan for defending a theatre program to a school board. This toolkit is always being updated; if you have any suggestions for us, please get in touch!

Advocacy Basics: What, When, Who, Where and How

WHAT: Advocacy Is and What Advocacy Isn’t
Advocacy is the act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal. It is about recommending, supporting, challenging or defending ideas. Advocacy is not lobbying. Lobbying is influencing public officials or members of a legislative body on a particular piece of legislation. You can advocate to school boards, administrators, business people, members of the community – who then can advocate further for the cause or even lobby for the cause, if a particular piece of legislation is up for discussion. It’s important to understand what the issues are in your state. AATE tries to keep members as informed as possible through member updates, Arts Happenings and our State Pages.

WHEN: Timing and Frequency
People tend to engage in advocacy activities when the need arises: when budget cuts take place, eliminating a theatre program; when school administrators censor theatre production choices; when time allocated to theatre programs has been replaced by another subject or activity. Theatre advocates get angry and very often do not know what to do. There are things that can be done in this crisis stage as outlined below, but the need is ALWAYS there to advocate to members of the community, decision makers, legislators, school board members, etc. The more people hear the message, the more likely they’ll be informed and open to influence when a crisis does present itself. Building relationships year-round with decision-makers helps the cause on a regular basis.

WHO: Audiences to Target
Diversifying your audiences is a wise move when advocating for a cause – particularly one about education because so many different groups feel strongly and can help support it! For theatre education there are several different audiences. Below is a list that is a good start, but keep brainstorming more groups in your community who either need to be informed about theatre education, OR who can help your voice ring louder.
  • Federal Government Legislators – Your Senators and House Representatives
  • State Government – Your State Senators and House Delegates
  • Local Officials and Governments including City, Township and District Leaders
  • School Board Members
  • School Administrators
  • Teachers of theatre and non-theatre subjects
  • Parents - Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Members
  • Local Media
  • State Arts Associations/Alliances
  • Business Community Leaders
WHERE: Where to Find your Audiences
There are a many ways to find the people to whom you need to get your message. Social networking sites Facebook and Twitter make it easy to find individuals and organizations. AATE has also provided state pages to locate your local/state arts alliance. These alliances will help you contact local decision makers. On a national and state/local level, Americans for the Arts enables a CapWiz function to allow you to enter your zip code and write an email directly to elected officials and local media. The U.S. House of Representatives provides a tool that makes it easy to write to your representative. Also, check out AATE's Advocacy Resources page for more ways to find who your audiences and allies.

HOW: What to Say; How to Say it
Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion. With too much data, you’re just another talking head with no correlation to humanity. The answer is a perfect mix of both. You need to know some numbers and have the research to back it up, and you also need to prepare a story or anecdote about how theatre education and theatre for young people has affected your life and/or those around you (your family, friends, students, colleagues).Tell Your Story:It’s important to be brief. Practice your elevator speech. You never know how much time you’ll hand. You should know what you’re going to say and how to say it with conviction – concisely and clearly in enough time it takes to shake someone’s hand. Because that just may be all the time you have!Write Your Story:The written word can be very compelling especially when promoting a cause. Use lots of figures and easy-to-read devices such as bulletting and bolding important phrases.

Sample Advocacy Plan for Defending a Theatre Program

Make your case of support for theatre education. Whether a program has been cut from your school, or there’s not enough support from the administration for the theatre program, you can make a difference. Here’s how…

This sample plan will guide you through planning an advocacy campaign. The most important step is number six; where you determine the talking points that will get our message across clearly and concisely. Policymakers are busy people – but they want and need information from their constituents. So, off you go!

1. Determine the Advocacy Challenge or Goal:To convince the school board to support school theatre programs with time and resources.

2. Identify Primary and Secondary Audiences:
  • School Board Members (primary audience)
  • People who support the school board members (secondary audience)
  • School staff (secondary audience)
  • Other elected leaders (secondary audience)
  • State Legislature, Congress and the Media
3. Understand What They Already Know and What their Current Position is
  • Read past Board meeting minutes
  • Review past election materials for comments on social studies
  • Read newspaper coverage of Board meetings
  • Hold individual interviews with Board members
4. Determine How They Receive Their Information
  • Call the phone number listed and ask what is the best way to reach School Board members (based on what is discovered, new audiences may be added. For example, if members of the Board indicate that they only listen to recommendations from the superintendent then he/she is added to your audience list.)
  • E-mail or regular mail.
  • Find them on social networking sites
  • Write hard copy letters
5. Set Measurable Objectives
  • Each Board member will be given a copy of AATE’s Effects of Theatre Education and the National Theatre Education Standards.
  • An article on the value of exposure to theatre and theatre education will be published in the state school board association journal.
  • Sixty percent of the school board will attend a school theatre performance.
  • Bring the state theatre education specialist to meet with the school board.
6. Talking Points (for more talking points and references to research see AATE’s Benefits of Theatre Education)
  • Drama helps to improve school attendance and reduce high school dropout rates?
  • A 2005 Harris Poll revealed that 93% of the public believes that arts, including theatre, are vital to a well-rounded education?
  • Drama can improve skills and academic performance in children and youth with learning disabilities?
  • Students involved in drama performance coursework or experience outscored non-arts students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in the verbal component and 34 points in the math component?
  • Drama activities improve reading comprehension, and both verbal and nonverbal communication skills?

It also helps to point out quotes about arts education from President Barak Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. You can find them here. 

7. Execute Communication Activities
  • Write a cover letter (template on aate.com) and send a copy of the AATE National Standard and Opportunities to Learn Standards
  • Follow up with a phone call to make sure it was received and ask for any feedback
  • Submit an article to the state school boards association.
  • Deliver an invitation (written or verbal) to the conference.
  • Develop a plan with the schools to have board members attend a theatre performance or a theatre/drama class
  • Deliver an invitation (written or verbal) to attend the performance or classroom activities.
8. Determine the Resources You’ll Need
  • Time to compose and disseminate the letters.
  • Money for postage (if using snail mail).
  • Other advocates such as yourself who are passionate about theatre and education.
  • Relationships with one or more school theatre program director/educator/administrator.
9. Set a Timeline
  • Indicate completion time for each activity.
10. Evaluate your Plan
  • Was the article published?
  • Did they express an interest in the AATE’s Benefits of Theatre Education or the National Standards?
  • Did they attend the performance/classroom activity.
  • Has there been any results seen at the school level in support of the theatre program?

Quotes to use from our Nation's Leaders:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Arts Education

"This Arts Report Card should challenge all of us to make K-12 arts programs more available to America’s children and youth. Such programs not only engage students’ creativity and academic commitment today, but they uniquely equip them for future success and fulfillment. We can and should do better for America’s students.”
-- June 15, 2009, statement in response to release of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the Arts.

"In June, we received the 2008 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in the Arts results for music and the visual arts. I was reminded of the important role that arts education plays in providing American students with well-rounded education. The arts can help students become tenacious, team-oriented problem solvers who are confident and able to think creatively. These qualities can be especially important in improving learning among students from economically disadvantaged circumstances.”
-- August 2009, Letter to school and education community leaders

"Let us build a law that discourages a narrowing of curriculum and promotes a well- rounded education that draws children into sciences and history, languages and the arts in order to build a society distinguished by both intellectual and economic prowess. Our children must be allowed to develop their unique skills, interests, and talents. Let's give them that opportunity. "
-- September 24, 2009, remarks on developing an ESEA Reauthorization proposal.

President Barack Obama on Arts Education
"I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.”
– President Obama, Remarks to Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, March 10, 2009

"Maybe it's just one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom. There can be a whole range of assessments.”
-- President Obama, Southwest High School, Wisconsin, June 11, 2009
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