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Your Next Steps to Connect with School Board Members

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Stephanie Hirsh

I've had the opportunity to serve my local school system from many different seats. I've been a teacher and worked in central office, and I've also been a member of my local school board. When a member of the Learning Forward Academy Class of 2015 asked me this question a couple of weeks ago, I was able to ponder it from many angles: How can educators help school board members and community leadership groups understand and support professional learning? Here are three strategies I recommend to any teacher, principal, or administrator:

 1.    Adopt a leader. When leaders in charge of the purse strings have to make tough decisions about funding cuts, they look for answers from sources they trust. Become one of those sources. Take it upon yourself to get to know one or more board members. Learn about what matters to them and see things through their eyes. At the same time, you're building a relationship that helps them see things from your viewpoint. As with so many tough questions, trusting relationships make the difference.

 Start by attending board meetings and introducing yourself to a member or two. Invite board members into your classroom or school for an everyday lesson or special event. Send news clippings or magazine articles with comments to help board members make connections between professional learning and great things happening in schools.

 2.    Learn how to tell a good story. Compelling stories from real people can bring new information to life for listeners. In these stories, I'm hoping you'll help school board members understand what effective professional learning looks like and why it matters.

What makes a good story? First, you need a good hook—that is, something that connects you to the listener immediately. In schools, the hook is as close as the nearest classroom, whether it's a single student or a whole room full. Next, you need a compelling narrative. You'll also need helpful data—just because we're calling this a story doesn't mean it isn't grounded in facts. Finally, you'll need a conclusion, whether it's a happy ending, a logical resolution that ties everything together, or a cliffhanger.

How you tell your story depends on your talents and perspective. Simple infographics are great visuals that school board members can easily pass along to others. Short videos can show adult and student learning in action and get community members right into learning situations easily. Blog posts or articles published in newspapers or magazines, if written for the right audience and with clarity, have the potential to reach many readers with a solid message.

 3.    Showcase professional learning in other fields in your community. Many of the adults working outside of education in your community have opportunities to build their knowledge and skills in some way, and it's part of their professional responsibilities. Conferences in many fields are one obvious example. Other opportunities include local leadership development programs and virtual networks for job-alike collaboration. Whether they work in service industries, business, medicine, architecture, or construction trades, many members of your community spend part of their working year learning informally or formally, often in collaboration with their colleagues down the hall on real problems of practice. 

Ask professionals from other fields to share their learning with school board members, or pass along examples to community members as you hear them. Shining a light on how learning is a normal part of any professional's day helps those outside of education see the necessity for ensuring that such learning is supported with sufficient funds and effective for those who rely on it to increase their impact with students.

I'm curious to hear from you about your experiences in making meaningful connections with school board members. How has it helped? What strategies did you use? Why is it important?

Stephanie Hirsh Executive Director, Learning Forward

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