You know that outstanding school leaders make for outstanding schools, but elected officials don’t always realize the many ways principals create the environment necessary for student success. The most powerful way to convey this message to policymakers is to let them see it for themselves.
This October, we urge members of Congress, their staff, state legislators, and other elected officials to visit schools and shadow a principal for a day! Shadowing provides a wonderful opportunity for officials to experience firsthand the role and responsibilities of exemplary principals and see how the policy they create directly impacts schools and students. Getting lawmakers in school buildings can also have an enormous impact on securing their support for the policies we know will benefit students and educators.
Principals – during National Principals Month 2023, 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!
Once you’ve decided to extend an invitation to a member of Congress, please reach out to our staff for assistance. We can identify specific staff members in their offices you should contact directly to expedite a request for a visit:
- AFSA—Nick Spina: [email protected]
- NAESP—David Griffith: [email protected]
- NASSP—Greg Waples: [email protected]
You can also find congressional contact information on www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
Once you’ve identified a staff person to contact, use this template invitation to draft an email to your member of Congress and ask them to participate in a shadowing visit.
Before You Get Started
Whether you’re hosting an in-person or online event, check out this webinar to learn how shadowing visits are the key to sharing critical insight with lawmakers, allowing them to properly support you and your school.
To help with the planning process for your visit, first review the objectives of hosting a lawmaker in the school:
- See first-hand learning in action.
- Learn more about your school, both its successes and challenges
- Better understand the multi-faceted role of the principal in leading a school, supporting staff, engaging with families, and increasing student performance
- Appreciate the Encourage officials to witness the impact federal, state and local education policies have in practice
- Influence future education policy votes and decisions
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—first, we recommend asking your superintendent for input and approval, if needed, to host a visit. Additional guests to accompany the elected official could include their staff. Sometimes elected officials won’t be able to attend themselves and will instead offer to have a member of their staff visit. These visits are still very valuable, as staff are often the key people informing lawmakers’ decisions on policy.
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, video, and share on social media. Give guests a general schedule for the day.
Give your staff notice about the event, but don’t ask them to deviate from their typical schedule.
Consider the things that are most important to show the elected official and make sure you have enough time. Many officials may only be able to visit for a short time.
Invite local media if possible 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 office first and ask the elected official’s office if they are open to press being present.
Visit Do’s and Don’ts
Once the planning is complete, the actual visit is straightforward. Allow the official 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 assistant principal, technology director, or counselor).
- 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.
- Look for opportunities to tie what they are seeing in the school into the need for their support on key policy priorities.
- Don’t worry that you’ll be judged.
- Don’t feel the need to plan a special event for the shadow. The visit should focus on real education practice in the school and how it is impacted by public policy.
At the end of the visit, debrief with your visitor. Review your goals for the event and make sure to describe any activities that you didn’t have time to show them during the visit. Follow up with a written correspondence, email, or phone call after your event to thank them for attending and offer to be an ongoing resource on education issues. Consider inviting your shadow to future special events, such as your school science fairs, fundraisers, community events, volunteer projects, and graduations.
Finally, don’t forget to thank your staff after the visit. Inviting visitors into your school sends your team 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.