Now Is The Time for Critical Friends


In the aftermath of  “Red for Ed” and in anticipation of the next election, it is imperative that we take the lessons learned these last few weeks and start expanding our networks.

I was impressed by the volume of teachers that marched on the Capitol day after day, but what really impressed me was the teachers in the gallery and the teachers who made the effort to meet with their lawmakers and get face time with the people who make the big decisions. This kind of engagement was unexpected and unprecedented, but more than anything it was long overdue.

I think one of the moments that will stay with me for a long time was a young teacher who I knew up at the Capitol telling me about her meeting with her state representative. She went into great details about the conversation and then took the time to explain to me how the whole process worked, the hurdles, and the possible outcomes that she had learned about. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I knew all this stuff already. That wasn’t the point. The point was someone else was getting involved and awakening to the intransigencies of state politics!  It was a renaissance and awakening to the acknowledgment and understanding of how the process works and it made me smile.

I mean think about it, how many of you guys knew who your state rep or senator was before last week? Be honest. Probably not that many. Today in the lunchroom I would say now a majority of our teachers know who they are, what their stances are, and their voting record. This is the truly remarkable part of last week that needs kindling and additional logs added to the fire. People are finally awake and we need them to stay this way.

So, what do we do now? The answer is simple. We create a network of critical friends. The critical friend’s protocol is one way in which we engage in to provide feedback aimed at improving our policy awareness with the general public and to help us with the support of educational initiatives moving forward.

What we need to do next is go out and make connections. We start forming strategic alliances with groups sympathetic to our causes and reach out to those who are not. We speak at civic clubs, family gatherings, a casual coffee date, and political meetings. We get vocal in our activism and we build. We build the infrastructural support network that will get people to change their minds in this state about how education should be moving forward. It’s not about us vs. them. It’s about everyone working together to make sure what is best for our kids.

It’s about providing facts and asking others for input. A good friend is going to tell you what they really think, and that is the kind of feedback we need to be generating. We need to know the pulse of our communities and understand what their concerns are, but also teach them ours.  There is a lot of misinformation out there and nothing, in my opinion, beats making personal 1 on 1  connections. I know for me, I  trust information from someone I know personally more than someone I don’t.

If every school site took the time to canvass their neighborhoods and do some outreach, even if on a small scale, we will move the gas gauge a little closer to full. Now that we have the momentum, it’s not time to take a break, but rather continue pushing for our cause and strengthening our networks.

I know we have a lot of support out there, but it is still not enough. We need folks at Democratic meetings and Republican meetings. We need people willing to engage even those groups that are not our biggest fans, and at the very least create a dialog. We have proven that we can do things with courage and civility. We as a group can create action on an impressive scale. But now is the time to do the little things. Our presence at the state capitol needs to continue thru new our ability to network and make critical friends.




Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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