Consider Advocacy a Basic Part of Your Role

Type: Article
Topics: Advocacy & Policy, School Administrator Magazine

December 01, 2023


Several years ago, while I was serving as a superintendent, my team and I successfully pushed for and passed state legislation regarding early college credit. We aimed to ensure that students receiving a score of 3 or better on an Advanced Placement exam would get the corresponding college credit if they enrolled in a public college or university in Illinois.

Surprisingly, while students were doing their part in rigorous AP courses, they weren’t necessarily getting the credit they deserved when transitioning to higher education in our state. Each university had varying standards for the type of score that would count. One four-year university might require a 3 for credit, while community colleges asked for a score of 4 or 5 on the same test for the credit to count.

We implemented several steps for our advocacy, from launching a website with information dedicated to the specific piece of legislation to visiting local legislators to testifying in legislative committee hearings. We built a small coalition of organizations to sign onto the effort and ultimately helped pass the bill for the governor’s signature.

An Advocacy Mindset

A superintendent’s duties go far beyond what some members of the public and those interested in the top job might expect. We are not only school administrators in charge of our public school systems but also advocates for our schools and communities. Legislation on the state and federal levels profoundly affects our schools and students, and we must proactively engage our elected officials and those who work to advocate and advance the critical issues impacting public education.

It is essential to cultivate a solid advocacy mindset within a district. Leading with passion and clarity can inspire everyone — from school board members to teachers and students — to be more involved. For many years, I was an adviser to a student leadership program where 850 high school juniors and seniors ran a simulation in which they created and managed their own city, county and town governments. This experience empowered the students to realize that even as teenagers they could impact their local community and understand what it takes to govern effectively.

Advocacy is a collective responsibility, and a thriving school district leverages the energy, insights and experiences of its entire community. Relationships are at the heart of any advocacy effort. We must foster strong, genuine ties with local, state and federal legislators.

By inviting them into our schools, we can provide a more vivid understanding of the impact of their decisions. Visiting a classroom or attending a graduation ceremony can be more enlightening for a legislator than any report or briefing, providing them with tangible experiences of their policy outcomes. Invite your local elected officials to a site visit to talk with teachers, see what education looks like today in their community and better understand what happens in our nation’s public schools.

Foundation Initiative

Partnerships also play a critical role in amplifying our advocacy efforts. Joining forces with statewide associations, like school boards and teacher associations, enhances our reach and influence, making it clear the issues we highlight are not isolated but widely shared concerns in the educational community.

In 2015, the Wallace Foundation partnered with two other organizations to launch the ESSA Leadership Learning Community. This initiative focused on 11 teams from 11 states that brought together education and community leaders to influence policy and practices around principal leadership. Working together, they devised innovative solutions and strategies to address this topic.

The report “All the Voices: Statewide Collaborations for School Leadership Under ESSA” states: “The single most innovative aspect of the ELLC was the diversity of voices engaged in conversation. Even amidst political turmoil, a pandemic and membership turnover, teams maintained their commitment to creating spaces for conversation and taking action grounded in voices from multiple personal and professional backgrounds.”

AASA has been part of the Learning First Alliance, a national consortium of the nation’s leading education organizations that works to advocate for public education.

AASA’s legislative agenda is available on our website. I encourage you to attend the Legislative Advocacy Conference July 9-11, 2024, to help our collective voices be heard on Capitol Hill. When raised with purpose and strategy, our advocacy can shape the educational landscape for the better. We must embrace our roles as administrators and advocates.

David Schuler is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASA_ED