SBR: Advocacy efforts can begin small

By G. Kent Stewart, Professor Emeritus of Educational Administration, KSU

This is an effective way to begin a series of monthly advocacy luncheons with local business leaders.

Begin by organizing a luncheon for three–the board president, superintendent and the chamber director–either at a restaurant, or at school.

Lunch in the board room at school is the better choice for two reasons. First, cost is nominal; and second, your guest comes to school, particularly if the district office is in a school building. After all, the objective is to get business leaders in your buildings to enjoy school lunch and observe for an hour or two what happens in a community school.

A lot of years have probably passed since your guest was a student. Getting your important guest to school is a chance to showcase how schools have changed over the years.

Enjoy a relaxed lunch and dialogue about the challenges of helping community leaders become aware of challenges their school board faces making choices and enacting policies aimed at school improvement. After lunch and rich dialogue about schools, take your guest for a tour of the building.

Invite the principal to conduct the tour. Visit a PE class in the gym. Observe students in the library and the technology shop, look into the science rooms, and a classroom where students are using technology to enhance learning. Include a look at a resource room where a student or two are working with a teacher on some specific activity such as improving reading comprehension. The tour should also include a special education room serving students in need of specialized assistance.

Spend a few minutes during the tour to visit a class in session. Choose one staffed by a teacher skilled in teaching and involving students in active learning.

These kinds of lunch/tours and classroom visits often occur at the high school, but don’t overlook the other schools. An enthusiastic group of middle school students working on a problem in pre-algebra can provide an excellent example of good teaching and learning. Similarly, a fourth-grade class using the internet to enhance understanding of an important event in history is an excellent example of active learning.

This public relations event involves thoughtful advance planning. The lunch needs to be served on time, hot foods hot and cold foods cold. The principal of the school to be visited needs time to plan and provide ample advance notice to teachers whose rooms will be visited. Students who will be observed in class need to be aware of the impending visit.

Remember, the event was successful if your guest returns to work enlightened, enthused, and looking forward to telling other business leaders about an exciting two hours spent recently at school, and offering to recommend a business leader for your next luncheon and tour.

These events are quite effective, and eventually include local service club presidents. While the dollar costs are nominal, the time commitment is substantial. So what is the payoff? They generate immeasurable good will and a new level of public understanding is paid forward.

First in a series by G. Kent Stewart that will focus on best practices in advocating for schools and students and assisting community leaders. Stewart taught school administration at Kansas State University for 32 years, where he also consulted regularly and continues to consult with school boards on school facility issues.

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