As an NASSP board member, I am often asked by principals and assistant principals, “How can I be more involved in my state affiliate and NASSP so that I can make a difference?” I sincerely appreciate this question because it shows that not only does that person want to be a great administrator for kids but that they also want to be a school leader willing to serve other school leaders. Where I come from, we call that kind of person someone who’s got gumption.

In this article, I offer my suggestions for what school leaders can do to become more involved in both the national association and in their state association. I encourage you to share these ideas with colleagues so that we can all grow our power and influence to advocate for our schools and communities.

1. Experience the benefits of membership. There are numerous benefits to joining both organizations. You will have access to NASSP Leadership Networks (more on those below), recognition programs, and professional development resources from webinars to conferences to Principal Leadership. You will likely receive liability coverage from your state association, and if you don’t, you will get it for sure from NASSP.

Principal Adam B. Clemons with students at Piedmont High School. PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM B. CLEMONS

2. Strengthen your leadership. Both organizations will help you become a better leader at your school. They will inspire you to think outside the box and make you more willing to challenge norms. Both organizations will remind you to make decisions based on data and to never stop believing in your kids. Membership will introduce you to new and effective ways to support your faculty and staff so they want to remain at your school.

3. Start locally. Attend your district affiliate meetings and let your district leadership know that you want to help and be involved. Get to know the other administrators in your district, ask to visit their schools and invite them to visit your school. Iron sharpens iron. Some news outlets and lawmakers want us to be competitors, but we are all on the same team, and we want the same outcome—all students succeeding. If you don’t know when your district affiliate meets, call or email your state affiliate to find out. If there isn’t a district affiliate meeting, consider starting one by emailing local principals in your athletic conference and meet. Be sure to speak to your state affiliate to include them in these meetings and ask for advice.

4. Attend your state conferences. As NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe often says, “Strong Local equals Strong National and Strong National equals Strong Local.” It’s important to attend your state affiliate conferences to meet other administrators who are there for the same reason you are there: They too want to be better. Make conference attendance a priority. Ask questions about the process, and let folks know that you want to serve. A lot of times you don’t even have to wear business attire (in Alabama, we say “get gussied up”) because the conference hotel is at a beach or mountain location that attracts vacation-goers.

5. Network with your peers. Join an NASSP Leadership Network. There are several to choose from: the Assistant Principals Network, the LGBTQ+ School Leaders Network, the Middle School Leaders Network, the NASSP Assistant Principals of the Year Network, the NASSP Principals of the Year Network, the New Principals Network, the Rural School Leaders Network, the School Leaders of Color Network, the Women in School Leadership Network, the Urban School Leaders Network, and the Aspiring School Leaders Network. The benefits of participating in a network (or two) include learning new ideas and sharing best practices. Additionally, many state affiliates have networks you can join as well. If you want to really sharpen your skills, contact the Principal of the Year nominees in your state and those who lead your state affiliate and pick their brains about how they lead their schools and serve fellow school leaders.

6. Run for district or state affiliate positions. Carefully consider why you want to pursue this opportunity. Then let folks know why you’re running. If you can answer that question thoughtfully, and it is not to pad your resume, you’ll have a better chance of winning and leading.

7. Share your story. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Sign up to present at your state conference, the NASSP conference, an ACT or SAT conference, etc. Write an article for your state affiliate publication or Principal Leadership. You have a story to tell. Serve your fellow administrators by sharing the good things going on at your school so we can learn from you.

It’s important to attend your state affiliate conferences to meet other administrators who are there for the same reason you are there: They too want to be better.

8. Be Principal of the Year worthy. When you lead your school with the focus of helping kids succeed and you get involved in your affiliate, folks will start to notice that you are worthy of being a district-level Principal of the Year (POY). If selected as a district POY, you’ll likely have a chance to be considered for state POY. If you are the state POY, you are then considered for NASSP’s National POY. The same goes for being Assistant Principal of the Year.

9. Advocate for your school. Our elected leaders (at the local, state, and federal levels) need us. Build relationships with them by inviting them to your school, let them speak to students and staff, and recognize them for their service at athletic events. Even if they seem to think public education is a four-letter word, invite them. Let them know your legislative priorities. Also, build a relationship with your state affiliate executive director and NASSP state coordinator because they can help you to know what is pertinent to advocate for when meeting with your elected officials. Additionally, attend advocacy days held by your state affiliate and NASSP when you can meet with elected officials in the halls of your state capitol or on Capitol Hill.

10. Come to UNITED. This national conference, powered by NAESP and NASSP, will be held July 15–16 in Nashville. Elementary and secondary school leaders will unite at one of the best conferences you will attend as a school leader. I’ve attended many NASSP conferences, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

So, attend UNITED, join your state affiliate and NASSP, and “be your authentic self,” as NASSP President Aaron Huff likes to say. NASSP board members want to see you become a leader of leaders. We will be your biggest cheerleaders. Please call, text, or email us with any questions. But know this: If you connect with me, I will be asking just as many questions as you so I can become a better administrator, too.

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Adam B. Clemons, EdD, is the principal of Piedmont High School in Piedmont, AL, and a member of the NASSP Board of Directors.