Pennsylvania Principal Melissa Patschke attended NAESP’s Federal Relations Conference and is sharing her experience in the Principals’ Office.

Earlier this week, as many areas around the nation prepared for winter’s wrath, principals headed to multiple congressional offices to educate, learn, and network as a part of NAESP’s Federal Relations Conference. As I headed toward the Metro in the early morning amid the mix of rain and icy conditions, I wondered if any of my appointments would be canceled. However, once I arrived on Capitol Hill, it became evident that this city doesn’t miss a beat for a little questionable weather. I started my congressional journey in the Rayburn House Office Building and ended six hours later on the other side of the Capitol at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. All six of my appointments ran as scheduled. I even found time to stop in at two additional representatives’ offices to drop off materials and introduce myself to the staff. 

Walking the hallways of congressional offices is a wonderful experience and I encourage all of you to make a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit your congressional representatives. When you get here, make sure you have a map and wear comfortable shoes, and don’t be shy to ask for help. The maze of offices and corridors is simply fascinating. Many of the congressional buildings feature breathtaking antique architectural designs.

The main talking points I hit with each legislative office included:

1.       ESEA reauthorization: timelines and process;

2.       The advantages of formula funding models versus competitive grants for schools; 

3.       Professional development for school principals;

4.       Student assessment and accountability; and

5.       Principal evaluation models.  

Each congressional office has a legislative assistant working closely on these issues; some are more informed than others. Each appointment was a give-and-take of questions and answers surrounding these critical issues in our schools. I have consistently found the legislative staff to be sharp and genuinely interested in discussing what principals feel is “right for kids and schools.” 

When I’m meeting with congressional members or their office staff, I know that my time and words are impacting decisions that will shape the role of the principal in the future. Again, whether it’s in your home state or in Washington, D.C., make the time to reach out to those who represent you at the federal level. It’s very important to develop professional relationships with these offices. Keeping them informed of how decisions impact your leadership and students is imperative. Contact members of Congress so that they know they are welcome to use you as a resource. They should feel comfortable making connections with those of us in the field who can truly share how their decisions and support can help us do our best as school leaders.