6 Best Practices for Teaching Advocacy

Online Learning
Student Engagement

By: GOA Contributor

“Kids these days.” For most people, that phrase conjures up negative images of teenagers. My experience with teenagers, and especially those in my Global Online Academy Advocacy class, is quite the opposite of that. In fact, one of my biggest concerns teaching this course is that my students are already way more active advocates than I am, and I’m supposed to be teaching them about it! My students blow me away with the remarkable things they are doing in their communities. Here are just a few examples:

  • Last year as a high school senior, Henry was missing school days to lobby for LGBTQ rights to his state’s legislature. He chose a university close to Washington, D.C., to be close to the action of lawmaking in our country so he can continue to be an active advocate throughout his college career.
  • Camilla has volunteered in homeless shelters and soup kitchens in Downtown Atlanta since elementary school. Her most important outcome from her work was to get to know the people she was helping. They are willing to share their stories, and in turn taught her how to listen and empathize with others.
  • Ana has learned first-hand about systemic racism and privilege through experiences with her adoptive sister. Those experiences have taught her the need for changing policies that affect underprivileged kids, and she now fights to dismantle discrimination and oppression.
  • Marah’s mom is her inspiration and role model for her advocacy work. Her mom teaches women in Jordan, where they live, what their rights are and how to leverage them. Marah is currently studying the idea of nations, especially in regard to Israel and Palestine.

I have student-advocates collecting cleats for underprivileged kids, fighting for animal rights, teaching younger girls about feminism, working with kids who have lost a parent, and countless other ways they are giving selflessly to their communities.


Catalyst Conference Advocacy Projects

6 Best Practices for Teaching Advocacy

Students in my class come to me passionate and ready to help others. That passion is a powerful step in the advocacy process, but I’ve found a few key steps to developing that into a successful advocate.

  1. Learn your own strengths. We all think of the charismatic leader giving a speech when we picture a successful advocate. Advocacy can look like many things including one-on-one time with another person or even analyzing data. Students should learn how to leverage their strengths, not to assume that they must adjust who they are to be able to help others.
  2. Understand your privilege. When I first found out I was going to teach this course, the advice I got from all of my advocate friends was that understanding privilege is a key to advocacy. In my course, I have students create a tour of what makes their communities great. The next week I flip the assignment and ask them, “great, but for whom?” Even within one community, life can look very different depending on one’s access to key resources. One student described that assignment as a “gut punch”. Looking at their own realities through the eyes of others is powerful.
  3. Everyone can make a difference. This part of the course often feels a bit cliché and even I roll my eyes at it. That said, my inspiration for wanting to teach this course was Doc Hendley, a bartender from Raleigh, NC, who is responsible for millions of people around the world having access to clean water.  As an educator I see young people struggle in school and yet, I know they are going to go out and do great things in the world. My job is to make sure they see that in themselves.
  4. Know that small steps can have great impact. “I’d like to solve the issue of poverty in the east end of my city. Is that too much for a two week project?” Yes. One huge benefit to teenage advocates is that they haven’t yet been beaten down by the sometimes harsh realities of helping others. They want to make a large, sweeping impact. I prefer the design-thinking approach of designing your project to help one person. For example, a student met with a woman who said she wanted access to fresh fruits and vegetables because she only has a convenience store within walking distance. The student helped her plant a garden in her yard. Now that block has a garden in almost every yard.
  5. Frame the process. Inspired by the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and his subsequent keynote at the NAIS POCC, I changed the framework of the final project for our class. Bryan shared his four elements to affecting change: 1) Get proximate, 2) Change the narrative, 3) Maintain hope, and 4) Do uncomfortable things. Students chose the activities in their projects so they were able to hit each of these key areas. Most students would gravitate to one or two of these areas naturally so having the framework helped them create well-rounded projects.
  6. Assess the important things. GOA has six core competencies that help shape each of our classes, regardless of content. While you may not have those designated at your school, decide what is important to you. What skills do you value in your students and are your assessments reflecting those or just some random point values?

My favorite part of teaching this course is getting to know amazing students from around the world and the amazing lessons I learn from each of them.

They are changing the world for the better.


Global Online Academy (GOA) offers high quality online, blended, and in person learning experiences for students and educators. Professional learning opportunities are open to any educator. To sign up or to learn more, see our Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators or email hello@GlobalOnlineAcademy.org with the subject title “Professional Learning.” Follow us on Twitter @GOALearning. To stay up to date on GOA opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here.


Carey Pohanka serves as the Upper School Academic Technologist, JK-12 BUILD (STEAM) Coordinator, and Middle School French Teacher at St. Christopher’s School, an all boys Episcopal school in Richmond, Virginia. This is her second year teaching Advocacy for Global Online Academy. Follow her @capohanka.

GOA Contributor

On occasion, GOA will invite guest contributors to the blog. To learn more about Global Online Academy’s course catalog, our teachers, or our member schools, visit www.globalonlineacademy.org or stay in touch with us at @GOALearning or Facebook.com/globalonlineacademy.