Tell Your Story

Speaking (in a meeting or interview) or writing with firsthand knowledge as a principal and voice for educators and children has the potential to influence the media and even change a policymaker’s mind.  However, this is dependent on your ability to thoughtfully and concisely tell your story in a two- to three-minute chunks, knowing that from this a soundbite of about 10 seconds will be used. This is essential to communicating effectively with policymakers and/or speaking with the press.

Your story should be direct, articulate, personal, and compelling. As you develop, practice, and deliver it, consider the following:

  • Have a plan and stay on message because telling your story in person or in writing requires some thought and planning. Knowing the key messages and/or takeaways that you want a reporter or policymaker to remember is critical. This assures that you stay on topic. Even if you are interrupted or challenged, you won’t be thrown off course and can ensure you get across what you want.
  • Know your “ask” or what you want to result from the meeting/discussion. Example: “I’m here today to ask for increased funding for teacher and school leader professional development to support literacy instruction. With it, we can add argument writing to our literacy instruction-an essential skill in today’s world.”  
  • Include an anecdote or short story to make data or something technical feel more real. Example: “With the increased funding you helped provide, we hired three additional reading teachers and provided robust professional development for the entire team. In just one year, we have 50 percent more students reading at grade level.” Better yet, personalize the point by telling a story of a particular student or teacher.  
  • Speak with confidence. Should someone disagree with your message or “ask,” do not let that deter you. Continue to speak with confidence, but do not become argumentative.

Asking for Support and Making Your Case

When your cause or issue requires a policymaker to take action, it’s very important that they hear from you directly. An in-person visit is important and easily accomplished by calling the local office and asking to meet. Sometimes, groups travel together to conduct advocacy days at the state capital, collectively demonstrating how much support there is for a funding request, a program, or legislation. The NASSP Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C., for members of the Federal Grassroots Network, includes visits to Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional leaders.. However, making your case in writing is also critical so that you create a solid and hopefully quantifiable amount of support via emails or formal letters. The sample shared here shows the main elements that should always be included when you communicate in writing with a policymaker. Notice how the message is brief, to the point, and limited to a single page.

Sample Letter/Email To Legislators, Board Members, and Community Leaders

(Month) (Day) (Year)

The Honorable (First Name) (Last Name)
(Room Number), (Building)
(City), (State) (Zip Code)

RE: (state the topic or bill number, program, and if you are writing to support/oppose legislation)
Example: Support H.R. 111/S.1111

Dear (Legislator/Board Member) (Last name):

As a high school principal and a constituent of [insert state or district] I am writing to…

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), which represents over 17,000 principals and other school leaders in middle and high schools nationwide, recommends that [Insert supporting information from the fact sheets]

[Insert why you are writing. Use the tips below when crafting your message.]

Sincerely,
Your Signature (electronic signature if using email)
Your Name (printed)
Street Address
City, State, Zip code,
Office Phone Number

Elements to include in your letter:

  • Say thank you-if possible-for any action they’ve taken in the past to support a program, your organization, your community, etc.
  • State your main purpose for writing and include your “ask” (support/opposition of a bill, funding for a law or program, etc.).
  • Include up to three of the strongest messages/points that support your position.
  • Include a personal story or anecdote that explains why the issue is important and how it affects you, your students, your staff, and your community.
  • Offer to be a resource, to have them visit your school, and to meet you or others affected by the policy you are writing about.
  • Restate the action you want the policymaker to take and ask for a response.
  • Make sure to include your name and contact information. 

Speaking to the Press

Tips for speaking with a reporter:

  • Know who you are speaking with. Know a little about the reporter, including what they write and tweet about.
  • Never wing it. Always determine and stick to the top two or three key points you want to make regardless of who is interviewing you, the venue, or what the questions are.
  • Assert yourself right up front and take control of the interview. After formalities, jump right in with a question such as, “So, who else are you speaking to?” or “What interests you most about this work?”
  • Return to your key points and redirect as needed, especially if they ask a difficult question or try to draw you into a controversy. Refocus the conversation with, “As I was saying,” “My point is,” or “You should know that …”
  • Do not repeat an interviewer’s negative comment as you respond to a question. Turn it around as a statement and frame it in a positive way. You don’t want to be the one saying something negative.
  • Avoid jargon, industry language, and acronyms. Speak in terms the general public can understand.
  • Never speculate. If you don’t know the answer, say so and offer to try to find the answer for them.  
  • Be responsive but remember your purpose-to communicate the key message points.
  • Be aware. Expect friendliness but always remember reporters have an angle.