Take Action

Learn Action Steps From Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Lesson Plan for Change

*In May of 2010, 51 moms, representing each state and Washington, DC, gathered in our nation’s capital, met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and then hunkered down at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies to share their experience, wisdom, and insight on improving local schools. The result: this Advocacy Tool Kit, a blueprint for SUPERHERO parents everywhere. Start using it today!

Step 1: Build Your Case

First, identify your goal. Let’s say your school’s playground is outdated and possibly dangerous. Maybe your school doesn’t even have one. You want to build a new playground that will not only be fun but also get kids moving.
And that will keep them healthy and, in turn, help them learn.

Form a strategy team. Start talking about your concern and recruiting other parents. Who will be your “heavy lifters”? Is there someone who’s good at social media? How about an artistic parent who can design posters and flyers? Someone who knows how to write grant letters to secure funding? Perhaps most important, who will be the best spokesperson?

Do your research. You’ll need studies, statistics, and personal stories to back up your idea. Reach out to specific advocacy groups that have information on the importance of recess and how it impacts learning. Perhaps there is a pediatric practice or children’s hospital concerned about childhood obesity that would be willing to back your campaign.

Next, do some number crunching: Get a copy of your school budget and analyze it for possible funds. Who
might be willing to contribute to your cause? That children’s hospital? How about a local builder?

Create a mission statement. Write a brief but formal description of your goal that will guide decision making. For example: Our mission is to build a fun and safe state-of-the-art playground for the students of Lincoln Elementary School. We plan to raise the funds and secure approval to begin construction by the summer of 2011, so that the
playground will be completed by the opening of school in September.

Develop an elevator pitch. If you had to convince someone of the importance of your cause during a two minute elevator ride, what exactly would you say? For example: Do you realize that students at Lincoln Elementary don’t get any outdoor recess because the playground is unsafe? It was built in 1972, and the principal is concerned that somebody could get hurt on the dilapidated equipment. Research shows that no recess means not only no exercise for these kids, but also that their grades are likely to drop. We’ve formed a committee working to get a new playground. Would you be willing to sign our petition or attend our next meeting?

Lobby your principal, teachers, and superintendent. Their support will be important when you present your case to the school board. They may also know of other people with whom you can join forces.

Step 2: Spread the Word

It’s time to inform and motivate the school community.

The keys to success: Get the word out in as many ways as you can and give parents lots of options for getting involved.

Put together a fact sheet. Use your elevator pitch as your guide. You can add in more specifics like cost and research that shows how exercise impacts grades. Most important: Keep it to one page.

Brand your message. A snappy, memorable slogan will help your message stick. Tap the artistic members on your strategy team to come up with a logo or an icon.

Start a website, Twitter account, Facebook page, or all three! Post your fact sheet, supporting documents, details about events and fund-raisers, and progress updates. You can also invite people to download your logo to display on their own pages.

Launch a petition drive. Along with posting a petition online, plan to hit the bricks. Set up a table outside your grocery store or coffee shop. Walk the pick-up line after school. Knock on some doors.

Have coffee with the board. Reach out to the individual members of your school board, especially the ones who
might be passionate about or sympathetic to your project. Loop in your PTA /PTO . Ask to give a brief presentation during one of the meetings. You’ll have a captive, engaged audience, who will likely be eager to help you get the word out.

Build local alliances. Set up meetings with government officials and business owners who may lend support.
Contact local media. Draw up a press release you can send to the local education reporters for your TV stations and
newspaper. Just as important: Be sure your outreach includes your local parent bloggers.

Brainstorm fund-raisers and research possible grants.

You probably won’t get the district to pony up all the cash you need, so now’s the time to figure out where and how you can raise the additional funds. This will be a key detail when you present your case to the board.

Step 3: Take Your Plan to the School Board

The school board is the group that holds the purse strings— and the power to green-light new projects. Here’s how to
prepare a strong presentation to snag their votes:

Recruit audience support. Let other parents in your community know that it’s show time—you want as many people as possible standing behind you at the presentation (figuratively speaking). Think of ways parents who may not be available for that event can help out: Maybe they can give out something symbolic, along with a flyer about your cause, during drop-off or pick-up the next day.

Write your script. It will help you stay on point—and stay concise. These tips can help you structure your speech:

  • Start with an overview based on your elevator pitch.
  • Back it up with your supporting data on how the project will save money and/or improve learning long-term.
  • Offer real-life anecdotes to make the issue personal.
  • Wrap up with a memorable sound bite, like your slogan!

Be prepared to defend your position. Consider all the opposing viewpoints (see the importance of research, above). Anticipate the questions and know how you’ll answer them. Depending on how much opposition you expect, you may even want to hold a mock meeting with your strategy team to practice making your points.

Maintain a friendly and courteous tone. Seems obvious, but you actually will catch more flies with honey.

Say “thank you” twice! Of course you’ll thank the board for their time at the end, but it’s also smart to follow up with a letter. Not only does it push the sugar factor, but it also keeps your issue top of mind.

Leave materials behind. Give each board member a copy of your talking points and any relevant backup to have on hand during deliberations.

Rally your troops. If you can, plan to gather at least your strategy team for a postmortem and to keep the motivation
for your cause running high. Because no matter what happens this round, you know you’ll keep fighting for what your
children need—and deserve!