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 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 urge members of Congress, their staff, or another elected official to shadow principals for a day. Shadowing provides a wonderful opportunity for officials to experience firsthand the role and responsibilities of exemplary principals. Principals, we encourage you to invite policymakers to get an up close and personal look at what you do each and every day—and policymakers, we encourage you to attend!
And while we believe in-person visits best help policymakers gain the full understanding of the goings on of the school day, we know that COVID-19 has created some challenges. If your school is unable to support an in-person visit in any capacity, you can still host a shadowing visit via a virtual walkthrough of your school to share with policymakers. 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. You can find more information on how to host both virtual and in-person visits below.
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: email@example.com
- NAESP—Danny Carlson: firstname.lastname@example.org
- AFSA—Nick Spina: email@example.com
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 a shadowing visit. This message will auto-populate with information as you enter it into the form.
Submit a Visit
Before You Get Started
Whether you’re hosting an in-person or online event, watch “Taking Congress to School,” a featured webinar from the 2020 NASSP Virtual Advocacy Conference. Find out how shadowing visits are the key to sharing critical insight with lawmakers, allowing them to properly support you and your school.
Going Virtual With Your Visit?
Check out our Facebook Live guide for a step-by-step tutorial—including how to invite everyone on your list—to make sure your virtual shadowing visit leaves a lasting impact, even at a distance.
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 their 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, state and local 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 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 and approval on hosting these visits. 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. And don’t think that staff visits are unimportant. These individuals are often the ones informing lawmaker’s decisions and opinions on policy, so educating them is extremely impactful as well.
If hosting in person, provide visitors with detailed logistical information regarding where they should park, where to enter the building and check in, when lunch is served, what you plan on showing them, 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 event 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. Just make sure to check with your district’s administration first!
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 join you in 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 take over 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, when possible.
- 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, email or phone call after your event to thank your visitor for attending. This is especially important if your shadow is a lawmaker or a staffer. 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, community events, 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!