Guest post by Brandon Mowinkel
In a day and age where public schools seem to be under constant scrutiny, it is vital that principals become advocates for our schools and the students we serve, sharing our stories of success and the challenges we face. When I became an administrator, I would have never imagined that I would be in regular contact with my state and federal representatives to ensure a high-quality education for all students. Stories matter, and it is our responsibility to be sure they are being told.
So, what can you do as a building leader to ensure your representatives understand the influence their decisions will have on your school and students? Here are some lessons I have learned on my own journey of advocacy.
Even if becoming politically active isn’t something with which you feel comfortable, at a minimum get to know your school board members, city council members, and state representatives. Your local and state professional organizations can be a great resource when it comes to
building relationships and trust with these elected officials. Through your involvement in these professional organizations, like the NASSP and your state organization, you will be exposed to and become familiar with the issues that may affect your students.
In any organization, there will be people that have done advocacy work before and are there to guide you in your personal advocacy journey. Rely on your mentors and trusted peers to help you take that first step in sharing your story. Being able to tell personal stories from your experiences is critical in getting your message across.
When issues arise, use the relationships you have built with your elected officials to have open and honest conversations. Write letters and emails, make phone calls, and use social media appropriately and professionally to make your position known. Elected officials don’t know what they don’t know, and if administrators aren’t telling their school’s stories, someone else will. Take the opportunity to control the narrative and prevent detractors from being the only voice elected officials hear.
Don’t become discouraged if it feels like your advocacy efforts are falling on deaf ears. Be persistent and keep your message on point. If
support for career and technical education is your passion or concern, be sure to maintain that message in all of your correspondence. Find different ways to get your message across but most importantly share how the issue directly impacts your students and staff. Once you get the opportunity to have your voice heard, be sure to thank your representatives for their time and let them know to contact you if they have further questions so that you can be a resource on the subject.
Additionally, invite your representatives into your building to see the great things happening and to speak to your staff and students. Be persistent in your invitations as it may not happen on the first or even fifth try. We had the privilege this fall of having Congressman Jeff Fortenberry visit Milford High School and speak to our students after multiple invitations to visit. It was a great opportunity for him to see firsthand what is happening in our building and for our students to be exposed to government. And don’t forget to invite your local media to the event as everyone enjoys positive press.
Answer the Call
Actively advocating for public schools, and ultimately your students, can lead you to opportunities most administrators never imagine. Through relationship building, active involvement in professional organizations, and a passion for what you do, your voice can and will be heard by those responsible for governing our schools. Growing up in rural Nebraska, I never imagined I would have the honor of being in Washington, D.C. representing the students, staff, and communities of Milford Public Schools as well as public schools across the state of Nebraska on Capitol Hill. It was through the encouragement of my mentors and a passion for educating students that my advocacy journey unfolded.
Every school has a story and these stories are powerful when it comes to advocacy. Whether you are actively involved at a local, state, or national level, it is important for principals to be aware of the political issues facing schools and what can be done to ensure we serve ALL students.
What is the next step on your advocacy journey? Who are those trusted individuals that can guide you along the path to advocacy? Are you ready to answer the call?
Brandon Mowinkel is the principal at Milford Jr./Sr. High School in Milford, NE, where he has spent his entire career—also serving as the industrial technology teacher and an assistant principal. He is actively involved in the Nebraska State Association of Secondary School Principals and is the current president of the organization.