Host a Legislator for a Day
Topics: Advocacy and Legislation
School principals enhance every aspect of their communities, giving them a firsthand view of the needs of their school families and faculty and staff. They’re the voice of their schools, as they advocate for the resources, programs, and supports they need to ensure their students are successful in school and beyond. A powerful way to convey the needs of a school community to policymakers is to let them see for themselves.
This October, as part of National Principals Month, we urge you to invite your legislators or their staff to your school—whether that’s in-person or virtually—to shadow you for a day. Shadowing provides a wonderful opportunity for officials to experience firsthand the role and responsibilities of exemplary principals.
We know that COVID-19 poses challenges with in-person visits, but hosting a shadowing visit with your legislators via a virtual walkthrough of your school can still have a big impact. This method still allows lawmakers and their staff the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing our nation’s schools and educators.
- Consider your objectives. Make a list of what aspects of your school community you want your legislators to know about. Make sure they see the pride in your school community as well as some of challenges you face as a school leader. This helps them see firsthand the real issues you’re dealing with in schools.
- Create your guest list. Draft a list of potential guests to invite, perhaps calling on your superintendent for input. Lawmakers have busy schedules, so make sure to contact them as far in advance as possible.
- Provide visitors with detailed logistical information. Make it easy for them to know where they should park, where to enter the building, when lunch is served, and whether they can take pictures or not. Give guests a general schedule for the day.
- Include staff. Give your staff a heads-up when the visit is to occur, but don’t ask them to deviate from their typical schedule.
- Pick a well-rounded day. Principals wear many hats, so choose a day when you show off a full snapshot of your responsibilities. For instance, if you typically spend all day Wednesday in back-to-back collaborative leadership team meetings, consider switching your schedule to include activities you would normally do on other days, such as meeting with your PTA president, conducting walkthroughs, and so on.
- Invite local media. Local newspaper or television reporters might want to cover the visit, especially if a lawmaker is present, which gives you a chance to highlight good news about your school.
Once the planning is complete, the actual visit should be simple: Allow your legislators to see you in action, following you to meetings, talking with students, and working with teachers. If any situations arise that demand privacy (for instance, if a parent wants to discuss a sensitive issue with you), designate someone for your shadow to spend time with during that window—your vice principal, technology director, or counselor, for instance.
At the end of the visit, debrief with your visitor. Revisit your goals for the event and make sure to describe any activities that you didn’t have time to observe during the visit. Follow up with an email or a phone call after your event, and thank your visitor for attending. In your communication with an elected official, you can offer to be a resource on education issues or to provide additional information on any topic discussed.
Don’t forget to thank your school staff after the visit, too. Inviting visitors into your school sends your team members the message that you’re proud of the work they do each day. Highlight the visit on your website, in your parent newsletter, or on social media.