Present the Facts
Once you are prepared, don’t just show up at your principal’s door or a board meeting without an appointment. After all that work, you need your administrator to listen to you and give you their undivided attention for 20 to 30 minutes.
Arrive on time for your meeting.
Be factual and pleasant. Remember, if you are experiencing overwhelmingly negative emotions and convey that, you are likely to cause the recipient of your information to shut down and immediately come away with negative feelings about your solutions as well as the problems you are discussing. Do your best to keep the tone of the meeting professional, positive, and focused on how you can work with this person or group of people as a team rather than treating them as an opponent.
Also, be brief. You don’t have to share every detail of the research you’ve found. You should know the details and be ready to answer questions should they arise, but only give an outline of the most important points in your presentation.
When your time is complete, thank your listener(s) for their time and attention thus far. Leave them with any handouts that may help them as they think things through, and offer to answer any questions they may have. Be sure your contact information is on all the documentation or handouts you leave with them for easy access. And, make yourself available for follow-up questions and comments.
What Happens Next
While there are several possible outcomes, most could be summed up into three categories: ambivalence, success, or rejection. Each of these come with their challenges.
This is obviously an important enough issue for you to have devoted a good deal of time developing a plan and presenting it appropriately. If you just hear radio silence afterward, it may feel like rejection.
If no one has contacted you after a few days, you can do a courtesy follow-up check-in to see if there are any questions. You may ask if the person or group making the decision has an estimate of when they plan to have their decision made, but ask once and don’t hound them.
You probably started this process just hoping that someone in leadership would listen and take you seriously. If your proposal is welcomed and change is embraced, you will either be asked to be a part of the work involved in implementing the change or you will have to let go and trust others with this passion project to which you have devoted a great deal of time and energy.
Successfully changing an established system involves selling it to all stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, board members, and the community) along with recreating a culture of norms and expectations. What may seem to be a simple change, like homework expectations or availability of teachers outside of scheduled classes, can elicit a cacophony of opinions and produce unexpected ripple effects.
Getting your ideas and concerns heard, validated, and supported is just be beginning.
Unfortunately, you are just as likely to have your ideas rejected as unimportant, impractical, or for myriad other reasons.
Rejection hurts. It feels personal.
Accepting rejection gracefully and professionally takes skill, but it can actually help advance your cause. If you are asking members of your leadership to listen respectfully to your concerns, you need to be able to show them the same respect if they explain why something will not (or cannot) be changed.
Your response will most likely impact your ability to be heard in the future.
Administrators often have a larger campus or district-wide perspective or insight into legal frameworks that impact policies and decision-making. Then again, some ideas are rejected for personal reasons. And some administrators simply do not welcome constructive criticism or suggestions of any type.
It is OK to ask for feedback, but it is probably counterproductive to demand reasons. You may receive guidance to find more information or adjust your plan. You may be redirected to share your concerns and findings with someone else. Or you may simply be told why it won’t happen.
You will be left with the decision as to whether you want to accept this decision or take it up the next rung in the chain of command. If you choose the latter, it is appropriate to ask to whom you should take it. It is usually better for your administrator to find out from you that you will continue to pursue this, rather than hearing that you went above them.
Teachers should be involved in every decision-making process in education, but they may have to invite themselves to the table rather than hanging around waiting for someone else to ask them.
You are the expert.
You have important information that decision-makers NEED, whether they realize it or not.
Most administrators would love to have honest, factual feedback and some well-researched options for solving big issues. More than ever, teachers need to be willing to step in and be the leaders that education needs for a strong future.
In coming articles, we’ll expand on this and talk about specifics for presenting to board members, how to be involved in decisions of law-makers, and what to do when you need to sue to see change occur.
It’s time for us to take matters in hand and be proactive as educators. Let’s change education for the better.