Guest post by Jay R. Masterson
The saying “all politics is local” has special relevance when it comes to K–12 education policy. Communities care deeply about how their children are educated. Everyone wants great outcomes but there are always differences of opinion about how to get there. Too often decisions are made without input from the individuals best positioned to inform these choices—principals.
Principals are at the crossroads of policy and practice, making them the ideal advocates for strong schools and sound educational policy. Principals are responsible for ensuring that all local policies and state and federal laws surrounding education are implemented to the fullest extent. Principals also work on behalf of many constituents, including students and families, staff and district leadership, school boards, and departments of education. Most important, principals know the difference between policies that advance 21st-century learning, equipping students with skills for today’s global economy and ones that date back to the 19th-century factory model.
So, what is keeping principals’ voices from being heard in the public policymaking process? In some cases, it may be principals themselves. Some may worry that elected officials could penalize them for sharing alternative views. Others may not realize that their ideas are needed and wanted for consideration. And most probably find it difficult to make the time necessary to engage in politics when they are responsible for running everything inside the building.
Despite the natural obstacles to participation, all principals should consider how they may engage in the political process and influence policy for their students and education as a whole. After all, who knows the rules of the game more than the principal? When change is necessary, principals have a responsibility to shape the discussion in a positive way and be a strong voice at the table, at the local, state, and federal levels and within professional organizations.
I have learned that decision-makers respect our opinions. We can advise them on the impact of their decisions and what implementation would look like. A simple phone call or email can start a conversation that leads to better educational policy and outcomes for the entire community.
How can you as principal start to advocate for your school and educational policies? What holds you back from engaging in politics?
Jay Masterson, EdD, is the principal of Joseph L. McCourt Middle School in Cumberland, RI, and a middle school administrator. An active part of the political process, he assists the local school committee in writing policies and advocates for positive educational change with his elected officials at the state and federal levels. He is the 2016 Rhode Island Principal of the Year.