In our last few articles, we’ve discussed the reasons and ways you can (and should) advocate for change within the school system.
In this article, we want to specifically talk about working with your district’s school board in creating and advocating change. Let’s begin by talking about who the members of your school board are.
Identify the School Board
One of the most important things to consider is that most (if not all) school boards are comprised of volunteers, many of whom may have little to no understanding about education themselves.
Sometimes these are individuals who are voted in by the community strictly for political reasons. Some board members view their position as a “stepping stone” to bigger political seats.
Others may be long-time educators who have retired and seek positive change within the community (most, if not all, school boards require that teachers are not serving as educators employed by the district where they are board members).
It is important to note, though, that even seasoned educators lose their “expert” status once they leave the classroom. This is important to remember, because one of the highest priorities you should have as an educator approaching the school board is to inform them of what the day-to-day experience is in the classroom (virtual or otherwise) setting.
The board members very likely do NOT know, and they won’t know unless someone tells them, or at the very least, reminds them.
When teachers don’t interact with their board members, they are handing over their rights as advocates. Don’t do that. Attend board meetings. Let them see your face. Let them ask you about your experiences. It’s a vital service to the community, and it is necessary to build that connection for your students.
Even if there is no specific change you want to promote, be visible and let them know you know who they are and the decisions they are making.
While many teachers worry about being visible, remember that you are provided with rights according to the 14th amendment to the Constitution, and so are your students. Being informed and connected is a necessary, but often overlooked, element in our government today. It is vital to the life of our schools that we re-engage in our democratic process as the experts in our field.
Find Your District’s Board Protocol
There are local, state, and national laws that define the set-up and operations of a school board. There must be a certain number of meetings with a certain percentage of the board members in attendance. There are protocols for how to conduct different types of meetings, how to deal with complaints and grievances, and how to keep minutes of each meeting.
It’s important for you to know and understand the protocol of your school board before showing up for a meeting in which you hope to speak. You can find the protocol on your district’s website. If it is not accessible on their website, call the district office and request access to the information. Public schools are required to share this information with all stakeholders (that’s you).
Read through the protocol carefully to see exactly how to proceed with attending and speaking at board meetings.
Ask to Be Put on the Meeting Agenda
As with other meetings where you are advocating change, don’t just show up unannounced and expect to present a complaint or request to your school board.
Follow the protocol, and ask to be put on the agenda for the next meeting where there is time available.
People who wish to address the board will be given a short amount of time to speak - usually 3 to 5 minutes. Board members may extend this time according to their needs, and they may ask you questions about your proposal or complaint.
Be ready to present before you arrive. Remember, the more you research and prepare, the better your chances are of being successful. There is power in numbers - get your colleagues and parents involved if you can. Don’t turn up as an angry mob, but do turn up.
Be civilized. Follow the rules of order for the meeting. Present your case with facts. Be specific about what the issue or problem is that you are hoping to solve. Talk about other rules that either your school board has solved in similar ways or solutions other boards and districts have adopted.
Always bring solutions or plans when you bring a problem to light. If you don’t have suggestions on how to fix the problem, you aren’t ready to present to the board.
Finally, be aware that you are speaking to fellow human beings. They all have good days and bad. They are varied in temperament, intellect, and experience. You definitely have rights, but whenever possible, seek peace and reason.
We’ve all heard horror stories that float around education circles - teachers being arrested because they don’t agree with a superintendent receiving an unfair pay raise or a board member that has it out for them. Remember that human decency, a little humility, and a willingness to be helpful and informative can go a long way. In addition, simply disliking you isn’t a reason to fire you, and if that happens, you may have legal recourse.
If you feel like things will get tense during a board meeting, call your Union or Teacher’s Advocacy group (to whom you need to belong) before the meeting and let them know what’s going on. You may even be able to have someone there with you in case things are not done properly. That’s the whole point of unions and advocacy groups - to have your back in legal situations.
Change is coming to education, and we’ve got to be the voice of reason for our school districts as they filter through all sorts of information they probably never dreamed they’d be dealing with. In order for them to make the best decisions for us and our students, we have to be available and willing to help make the connection from the boardroom to the classroom visible and heard.
It’s both your right and your responsibility.