Shadowing Visits: Bringing the Realities of the Principalship to Light

For real change to happen in public education, policymakers need real information. And yet, simply telling them doesn’t seem to be enough—we have to show them. But how? The answer is simple.

Shadowing visits.

Shadowing visits are a powerful tool that help members of Congress, their staff, state and local elected officials, or other community leaders experience firsthand the responsibilities and challenges that principals face every day. Plus, lawmakers can witness the real impact their policies have on schools—which will help them make more informed decisions in the future. Tracy Wilson, principal of Grand Haven High School in Grand Haven, MI, and shadowing visit veteran, agrees: “[Lawmakers] have so many things on their plates; if they don’t understand what’s happening in the school system, they might not make decisions that are in our best interest. I think it’s critical to be the voice and advocate for what’s necessary.”

While we encourage principals to conduct in-person visits whenever possible to give lawmakers a full understanding of the school day, COVID-19 has understandably created the need for alternative options. Thankfully, virtual shadowing visits can allow lawmakers and their staff to safely experience a walkthrough of your school if adherence to social distancing and other safety guidelines established by your state or district is not possible when hosting outside visitors. In fact, NASSP has created a special Facebook Live guide that includes a step-by-step tutorial to make sure your virtual visit goes smoothly and makes a lasting impact. Whether you’re hosting in person or online, shadowing visits are about highlighting your school—and the individuals within it. “We have to put faces in front of the elected officials so that they know who, not how, their votes are impacting,” said Jim Wichman, principal of Prairie Ridge Middle School in Ankeny, IA.

So, Where Do You Start?

The planning process may seem daunting, but we’ve broken it down into easy, digestible steps to help you get started.

First, it’s important to consider your objectives for the visit. What is it you want your shadow to learn? How do you plan to show them? Is there a way for this visit to boost awareness about your school’s accomplishments, or inform business leaders about partnership opportunities?

Once you’ve outlined your goals, decide who it is you want to shadow you for the day. Find your elected officials and their offices’ contact information by using NASSP’s Legislator Lookup tool. You can also contact NASSP and we can help identify individual congressional staffers who handle scheduling for their bosses.

Now it’s time to get your shadowing visit on the calendar. This October is National Principals Month, making it the perfect time to schedule this event that effectively demonstrates the important work you’re doing in driving student achievement in your learning community. Advocacy is a fundamental pillar of National Principals Month, and shadowing visits are not only a way to advocate for your own needs, but also an excellent method of effecting change for the entire principalship.

And whether your shadow is with you for an entire day or only a short period of time, what you show them can leave a meaningful impression. Take it from Carl Bencal, principal of Seven Locks Elementary School, who previously hosted an official from the Department of Education. “The most valuable part of the visit was when we were moving around the school and visiting classrooms,” he said. “I believe [my shadow] was best able to see instructional leadership in action when observing teaching and learning.”

To learn even more about shadowing visits and how you can use them to support you and your school, watch “Taking Congress to School,” a featured webinar from the 2020 NASSP Virtual Advocacy Conference.

National Principals Month 2020

Shadowing visits are an effective advocacy tool during National Principals Month—and this year, there’s additional incentive for school leaders to schedule and conduct a shadowing visit this October. NASSP will select two school leaders who conduct exceptional shadowing visits with lawmakers, their staff, or community leaders during National Principals Month to receive rewards of $2,500 each in DonorsChoose grants that can be used to purchase school supplies, classroom materials, PPE, or other equipment that your school needs. To enter to win, submit information about your shadowing visit and be sure to post pictures, video, and other information on Twitter using #ThankAPrincipal. NASSP will review the shadowing visits and content shared on Twitter to select two recipients. Both in-person and virtual shadowing visits can qualify.

To continue celebrating and fighting for principals, NASSP will also be hosting advocacy events throughout the entire month of October. We encourage you to visit www.principalsmonth.org to learn more about National Principals Month and how you can get involved.

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