You know that outstanding school leaders make for outstanding schools, but it’s not always easy to communicate to elected officials the numerous ways that good principals enhance their school communities. That’s why the most powerful way to convey this message to policymakers is simply to let them see for themselves.
This October, we encourage you to ask one of your members of Congress, their staff, or another elected official to shadow you for a day. Shadowing provides a wonderful opportunity for officials to experience firsthand the role and responsibilities of exemplary principals. Furthermore, it provides the perfect occasion for you to highlight the excellent leadership that principals provide to schools, educators, and students around the country.
Please reach out to our personnel for assistance in identifying appropriate congressional staff members to contact when requesting meetings during National Principals Month and for assistance in requesting a meeting:
- NASSP—Zach Scott: firstname.lastname@example.org
- NAESP—Danny Carlson: email@example.com
- AFSA—Nick Spina: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once you’ve identified a staff person to contact, use this interactive template invitation to email your member of Congress and ask them to participate in the shadowing program. This message will auto-populate with information as you enter it into the form.
To contact your representative, visit www.house.gov.
To contact your senators, visit www.senate.gov.
Planning and Conducting Your Shadowing Visit
National Principals Month is the main time of year for recognizing the great work principals do across the country. This presents the perfect opportunity for school leaders to show others this important work firsthand, and how vital it is in driving student achievement. That is why we are urging you to host your local, state, and federal legislators at your school for visits this October. These policymakers need to see what principals are doing in their schools, and what they require to be successful. Inviting them to shadow you is the most effective way to do this.
To help with the planning process, consider the objectives of conducting shadowing visits with lawmakers:
- Encourages officials to witness the impact federal policies and laws have in practice
- Prompts officials to learn what principals do to improve instruction and increase student performance in classrooms
- Honors the work of education policy and practice
- Indicates how federal policies and laws are implemented at a school
In addition, you may want to consider any additional local objectives: Is a shadowing visit going to boost awareness in your community about your school’s accomplishments? Will it inform business leaders about partnership opportunities?
Next, select a date in October that works with your calendar.
Draft a list of potential guests to invite – perhaps calling on your superintendent for input. These guests could include elected representatives at the federal, state, and local level. You can also invite their staff. Elected representatives are often quite busy and their staff should have more availability to meet.
Provide visitors with detailed logistical information regarding 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.
Give your staff a heads-up about when the visit will occur, but don’t ask them to deviate from their typical schedule.
“I told staff to do exactly what they had planned for Friday and not to prepare anything special for the visit,” says Carl Bencal, principal of Seven Locks Elementary School, who hosted a shadowing visit for an official from the Department of Education in the past. “The most valuable part of the visit was when we were moving around the school and visiting classrooms,” says Bencal. “I believe [my shadow] was best able to see instructional leadership in action when observing teaching and learning.” Sometimes, you may only have the visitor for a shorter period of time. Make sure you plan on showing them what you consider most important during a limited time frame.
Invite local media for your principal shadowing event. Local newspaper or television reporters may want to cover the visit, especially if a lawmaker is present, which gives you a chance to highlight good news about your school.
Visit Do’s and Don’ts
Once the planning is complete, the actual visit should be simple. Allow your shadow to see you in action—let them follow you to meetings and participate in 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 one of your colleagues to facilitate your shadow day temporarily (such as your vice principal, technology director, or counselor).
Josh Klaris, former resident principal at the Department of Education and an organizer of principal shadowing days, offered these additional Do’s and Don’ts.
- Be open, honest, and authentic. Share your personal experiences, challenges, and successes.
- Ask a lot of questions and be prepared to answer a lot of questions.
- Bring your shadow on all routine formal and informal responsibilities, including: morning lineup, building rounds/walk-throughs, leadership/cabinet meetings, and grade-level meetings.
- Allow your shadow to speak to and interact with teachers, students, and families.
- Allow your shadow to read student work.
- Schedule time at the end of the day to debrief and answer questions, share thoughts, and make connections.
- Within reasonable limits, have your shadow by your side throughout the day.
- Don’t worry that you’ll be judged.
- Don’t plan a special event for the shadow.
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 a written correspondence or phone call after your event to thank your visitor for attending. This is especially important if your shadow is a lawmaker. 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. Consider inviting your shadow to future special events, such as your school science fairs, fundraisers, and volunteer projects.
Finally, don’t forget to thank your school staff after the visit. 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.
Thank you for your work and for helping to make this another successful National Principals Month!