Stand Tall & Speak Up: 5 Tips for Addressing Your State Board of Ed.

We are trusted.

In a recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, over 72% of respondents reported having confidence and trust in public school teachers and principals.

It is up to us to leverage this trust, whether blind or well informed, for the greater good. We must stand tall and speak up. We must see ourselves as professionals and experts in our field. We must share our stories from the classroom.

If we don’t, who will?

When asked to speak at state board of education meetings and other community forums, we must answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” And then we must prepare to represent our students, our profession and our schools with comments worthy of the public’s trust.

Here are five tips to help you stand tall and speak up at your next state board of education meeting:

1.     Put students first. Practicing teachers are well positioned to speak specifically and articulately about the impact of reforms and initiatives at the classroom level. Using stories and anecdotes about your students and school can help personalize and humanize your message. Plus, it’s really hard to argue against what’s best for students.

2.     Prepare. At public events like state board meetings comments are usually restricted to a few minutes per speaker. When your time is limited and your message is robust, preparation can help you prioritize your speaking points and maximize each minute. I personally script out my comments (since I prefer writing to speaking) and then read and reread my script multiple times until my message is internalized and familiar. I have other colleagues who simply write a few bullet points or key ideas on an index card or sticky note, and speak more extemporaneously in the moment. Whatever your method, preparing and organizing your thoughts ahead of time will help keep your nerves in check and your message from straying off course.

3.     Got Props? Visual aids can compliment your remarks and serve as a powerful and lasting image for your audience. Recently, my Kentucky colleague Ali Wright, brought a thirteen-year-old calculus book that was falling apart at the seams to a budget review subcommittee meeting. The fragile book supported her testimony and showed lawmakers firsthand the impact of budget cuts and the need for increased school funding. The next time you’re asked to share a classroom perspective publicly, think about what (or who) you might bring to the table.

4.     Strategize. When possible, involve like-minded colleagues in the process. You’ll feel confident and reassured having colleagues who respect you and share your perspective in the audience.  Also, the board will benefit from hearing a common message from multiple perspectives and practitioners. If you know who will be speaking in advance, you can practice and prepare with colleagues and make sure your messages strike a balance between shared vision and individual viewpoints. Work collaboratively to parcel out and highlight key ideas from research, and when possible present multiple classroom examples from a variety of contexts.

5.     Slow down, speak up, and smile. If you are a skilled oral communicator and someone who likes speaking publicly (ahem, all you zany extroverts!) feel free to skip this tip altogether. However, if the thought of speaking in front of a group of stern (or smiling) faces makes your blood pressure spike, your cheeks blush, and sends you searching for the nearest exit, this tip is just for you. When you are nervous, passionate about your message, and under time constraints your natural tendency will be to speak quickly and quietly. Resist this temptation and instead slow down, speak up, and of course, don’t forget to smile! If you believe in what you’re saying, your audience will too.

When asked what it’s like to teach and learn in the 21st century, we must be prepared with anecdotes, examples, research, solutions and ideas. These tips are a start, but are by no means exhaustive. What’s missing? What helps you stand tall and speak up on behalf of your students?



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  • AnneJolly

    Feel valued!

    Thanks for the good post, Jessica!  One thing I would like to add is that it’s surprising how seriously state school board members (and sometimes local boards) take teachers. I have found that they seem to give more credibility to what I say (and other teachers) than what “experts” tell them.  In fact they seem to consider teachers the experts. (Smart folks.)  So if there’s an issue that affects the classroom, then round up a group of teachers (try for a critical mass) and get a spokesperson who will follow Jessica’s suggestions.  You’ll likely get somewhere!

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      We ARE the experts!

      Thanks for the reminder, Anne. I’m glad to hear that in your experience state boards see teachers as the classroom experts and really listen and hear what we have to say. All the more reason why we should capitalize on this, organize, prepare and speak up! 🙂


    • Christina Vickers

      So True (@ttrspks)

      You are so right!  When teachers are in school, we have to have a “tight lip” do as we are told mentality otherwise we face retaliation by our supervisors.  In few cases are there schools where a teacher’s voice is applauded WHEN it goes against status quo.  You are so right about attending community events and I really will make an effort to do this.

  • LoriNazareno

    Great advice

    Not only are these terrific suggestions to put into use when talking to BoE folks, but any other policymakers or education stakeholders. The bottom line is that, as long as we keep our comments firmly planted in the classroom, there is nobody who is more of an expert that teachers. Anytime I start to get nervous, I always remind myself that I am the expert about students, classrooms, schools and the ways that certain policies play out in “real” time.

    The only thing I would add (that I know Jessica always does) is to focus on solutions. There are far too many folks who can clearly articulate the problems, but what we need are solutions! Those who can position themselves as having solutions will get much farther than others who do not.

  • marsharatzel

    Don’t forget to meet one on one

    For me, another way to effectively influence the state school board is to meet with members one-on-one.  It works with state representatives and state senators.  They actaully have as much to tell us as we have to tell them.

    In addition to the things you mentioned, I try and read up on each member.  Who are they?  What constituency do they represent or feel they represent?  Then when I meet the board member, I ask them for what they generally feel about the topic.  I listen.  I mean I really listen to what they say, how they say it and what I perceive as the feelings behind their words.

    That gives me a better path to presenting my concern or issue.  I try to find common ground…places where we can agree.  And then I build on those bridges….gently nudging around the places where I imagine we disagree, looking for ways to share my viewpoint while acknowledging theirs.

    Usually this approach gets me the opportunity to speak more than once….and if I ask for another sitdown, I can get it.  I won’t say that I know if I directly influence decisions but I know that the elected officials walk away at least hearing me out.

    These are my best techniques and they’ve helped me gain audiences with politicians.

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      Love the power of 1:1

      Excellent tips, Marsha! I love the power of a 1:1 dialogue with a stakeholder. On a recent Ed Week, Every Week #azK12chat a “shadow swap” was proposed that would allow for outside stakeholders to visit our schools and classrooms as well as us to have time “on the hill” or “in the boardroom” or 1:1 over a cup of coffee with them – I love this idea of a two-way shadow and dialogue experience! I think the opportunity to share, and more importantly listen and learn, in a 1:1 setting is a great strategy for follow-up and ongoing conversations.

      • Christina Vickers

        If they want the truth…!

        This is an excellent idea, especially if they want the truth.  There’s something about a school’s walls that prevent teachers from really speaking up!  @ttrspks