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MASA Leader - Fall 2016

MASA Feature Advocating for Kids with Lawmakers One of the most important capacities honed by effective leaders is empathy By Daniel Behm What might it feel like to be a teacher in 2016? What might it be like to be a parent in 2016? What might it be like to be a child in 2016? These are all important questions to consider for anyone leading learning as an educator today. This is not simply an exercise of imagining what life might be like in someone else’s shoes. Rather, developing empathy means listening to others, as well as trying to see the world from their perspective, through their eyes. It is an iterative process of attempts, feedback, course corrections, and building understanding each step of the way. As we think about advocating for children by engaging lawmakers and state leaders, it is all about relation-ships. 32 MASA LEADER • Fall 2016 But how do we best build these relationships? If we use empathy as our guide, the most effective advocates first attempt to see things from the perspective of a lawmaker who has been on the job for perhaps a few years. Realizing that our elected officials are bombarded with a slew of complex policy issues—health care, transportation infrastructure, taxation, insurance regulation, budgeting, energy, and so much more—it is no wonder that they might initially be a bit distanced from our requests. It can be overwhelming when, for instance, a topic like evidence-based strategies to help young students master the skill of reading comes up in a debate. Who does a lawmaker turn to in such situations? This is where you, as a professional educator, can make a difference as you advocate for kids. Steven Covey is famous for advising that we should first seek to understand others before we invite people to understand us. By building a relationship with a lawmaker, you can begin to understand their world, who they are as a person, their likes and dislikes, and the things that are important to them. Before you ask your representative where they stand on an issue, ask them about their own family; ask them about their job; ask them what they are passionate about. After you begin to build a connection on these common human elements, you then have a solid foundation to invite them into your world. It is then that they will see you as the professional expert and resource that you are. It is never too early or too late to start building these relationships. The second set of relationships effective school leaders build as advocates are those with the parents and families who entrust their children to your care. Here the work is both similar and different. Parents already know you and likely trust you. What they do not know about is the complexity of educational policy and funding in Michigan. In this respect, effective leaders unpack this complexity a little bit at a time. Having an established parent advisory group that meets regularly is a great way to build both allies and expertise in your community. Parents do not need to know about every nuance of Sec. 147c to be effective, but they do need to feel confident in their knowledge of an issue in order for them to reach out to their elected official and, better yet, ask their neighbors to do the same. You cannot build such capacity overnight. With sustained efforts over time you will build a knowledgeable and trusting team who are ready to act to always do what is best for children. As the leader of K-12 education in your community, you have transformative power in the combination of your professional knowledge and your capacity to building trusting relationships with parents, families, and the lawmakers who represent all of us. You represent the unheard voices of your students and Michigan’s children. Keep up this critically important work. The children of Michigan are counting on you! Daniel Behm is Superintendent of Forest Hills Public Schools. Contact him at 616.493.8800 or dbehm@fhps.net. Construction Commitment Unparalleled Construction Management General Contracting Design-Build Pre-bond Services Facility Assessment Sustainable Solutions 616.453.3950 www.triangle-inc.com


MASA Leader - Fall 2016
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