You want to have a voice. You would love to testify at the school board hearing or travel to your state capitol and meet with legislators. But you have essays to grade and projects to prepare. What better way to show your elected officials what is going on in your classroom than to invite them to visit your school? Your elected officials get a photo op, and you get a chance to share your concerns.
I invited our state legislators to our middle school and high school a number of years ago as a parent volunteer. Our high school, with more than 3600 students, was the largest in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our middle school, like some of our elementary feeders, was overcrowded. All our schools had trailers. And our students were required to take the Standards of Learning Tests to pass or graduate.
So, I thought, let’s invite the legislators whose constituents feed into our high school and middle school, take them for a tour, and give them a sample SOL test. A number of them graciously accepted our invitation. We toured the middle school, dragging them up and down the trailer stairs. We informed them that since there were no restrooms in the trailers, students had to run into the school in the pouring rain and freezing cold. We pointed out that there was limited time between classes, so students in band or at recess had further to travel and were at a disadvantage compared to students in the building. Most worrisome of all: these trailers were no protection in case of high winds or an active shooter.
At the high school, we filed through hallways packed with hundreds of kids in order to enjoy lunch in the raucous cafeteria. We passed out the sample eighth grade SOL exam to each legislator. Some multiple-choice questions were particularly memorable: In what type of dwelling did the Anasazi Indians live? What instruments did Archimedes use? Needless to say, the legislators hemmed and hawed. They couldn’t answer those questions.
But they did see firsthand the crowded conditions of these massive schools that impacted students’ academic, social, and emotional behavior. And they became aware of the questions that impacted students who did not pass. Although we were unable to change the number of students attending our high school, we were able to block development that sent more students there. More importantly, we established working relationships with our legislators that enabled us to pass legislation affecting campus safety and student mental health. It was the starting point that gave us access and a voice.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when that picture is your classroom.
Remember, stakeholders are just another group of students, and there’s no better way to engage students than by getting them to actively participate. How can YOU engage YOUR stakeholders?