As an effective advocate for music education, keep the needs of students central to any advocacy discussion, and use only student-centered statements to this end. Whenever you’re writing to, meeting with, or calling decision makers, keep these tips in mind:
Visiting the State Capitol and Legislative Offices
During the committee work periods and throughout the legislative session, public hearings are held on many bills. This is also a time when advocates can be meeting with individual legislators in their offices. An effective presentation by concerned constituents will often have a great impact on the ultimate fate of a bill.
Your presentation can be very effective because you will be speaking as someone whose students are directly affected by the proposal being considered, because you have special knowledge of the subject, or because you represent a viewpoint similar to that of many of their constituents. To ensure that your presentation is as effective as possible, consider the following protocol and procedures:
- Double check the date, time, and room number of the hearing or location of the office. Room numbers in the Capitol will indicate the floor and location of the room. You can verify this information with the Legislative Hotline 800-362-9472 or https://legis.wisconsin.gov.
- If this is your first time speaking to legislators or elected officials, you may want to invite or join another educator who has past experience with this kind of advocacy.
- Obtain the names of the individual legislators who represent you and the members of the committee that will be hearing a bill (this information can be found at www.legis.state.wi.us). They may prefer to meet with you in their home district. It’s often helpful to be aware of the legislators’ backgrounds – occupations, hometowns, interests, etc. Find out or ask about their personal involvement in the study of music (or the involvement of their family members).
- If speaking at a hearing, arrive early. Many of the hearing/meeting rooms are not large and they may fill up.
- Be prepared to wait. There may be other bills or business to be heard before the one that interests you. In a hearing, it can be difficult to judge how much time each speaker will take. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait some time before being called upon to speak.
- If you are speaking before a legislative committee, you will be asked to fill out a registration form with your name, address, and who you are representing (if applicable). Also indicate whether you’re appearing in favor of the bill, in opposition to it, or for information only. If you are speaking with an individual legislator in their office, you will most likely first speak with the aide (who may also participate in the meeting).
- If you have traveled some distance to appear before a committee and will be returning home that day, note that fact on the registration form. The committee chairperson will often call such witnesses early to allow for their travel time.
- Be well-prepared. This is an opportunity to teach about your viewpoint. Have your thoughts logically organized for your presentation. Write a one- or two-page statement of your position (typed). Begin with introducing yourself, stating your address, and sharing a brief background of your teaching and general leadership experience. If you are speaking at a hearing, follow with a simple statement of your position. Tell the legislators what the bill will do for the students you serve. Keep it clear and concise. Stay focused on your topic and keep your message succinct to honor your legislators’ time. Finish with a concluding statement and quick thanks.
- While it is fine to read your statement, you may want to look up a few times during your testimony to make eye contact with the legislator or committee to emphasize certain points. It can be effective to tell a personal story as long as it relates to the need to support (or need to reject) the piece of legislation being discussed. Beforehand, it may be helpful to time your testimony and practice with a friend or co-worker. Generally the rules ask that speakers keep their statements to a limit of three minutes.
- Take questions and answer the ones that you can immediately. Otherwise, offer to look for and provide additional information at a later time.
- Be professional. Keep the lines of communication open. Listen carefully and respond calmly. It is important for you to leave the room with a clear picture of what was said and who will need follow-up communication.
- Follow through on providing additional material if this has been requested. Make a special effort to also thank the aide, principal legislator, or legislative contact who may have helped you to set up the meeting. Plan to follow up with an email or letter thanking the legislator or committee for the visit and offer to stay in touch if more information is needed.
- Watch this video with Rep. Sondy Pope (2020) for inside tips on talking with your individual legislators: Presenting an ASK to Public Officials
- WMEA offers a Drive-In Day every year for music educators to schedule meetings with their elected officials and train advocates on protocol. There are also leaders in the WMEA advocacy committee who can help if you contact them.
Visiting with Local School Board Members Individually and at Meetings
School board members are also elected officials. They work closely with administration and faculty within a school district. Protocol for engaging with school board members can vary across the state and regions. Here are some ideas for developing a relationship with members of the local school board:
Learn About the School Board in the District
- Learn the names of the members of the board.
- If you live in the district, make educated decisions when voting.
- Find out if the BOE (Board of Education) members have children in music classes.
- Find out if the BOE members have a background in music and other arts study.
- Learn about current issues that have been front and center for the local school board.
- Participate in interviews with school board members organized by educators/education associations.
Engage Members of the School Board Who Are Your Friends and/or Parents of Your Students
- An occasional phone call or visit might be in order. Always use academic and supportive vocabulary. Engage BOE members as colleagues who have more of a role in decision making.
- Always be available for questions that they may have regarding the academic subject of music.
- During times when issues directly affecting students in the music classroom arise, reach out.
- Read op eds and articles in the local newspaper.
- Include one or two school board members in seminars, summits, or other meetings.
- Include a school board member on a concert performance. They could introduce a guest artist or teacher, play or sing in the ensemble, read a poem or text that attaches to a piece, etc.
Interact with the School Board as a Whole
- Keep track of the meeting schedule and agendas. These are usually posted on the district website.
- Encourage an introduction to a meeting for students to perform.
- Invite school board members to visit specific music classes, concerts, and other special events like Fine Arts Week/Month performances. Always be aware if school board members are also parents and will be attending public performances.
- When requesting permission for trips, tours, or special projects, etc. attend a meeting to give a short presentation. Bring students along.
- Form an advocacy committee in the music support group and organize rotating meeting attendance at school board meetings for note taking and visibility.
- When music students or faculty are recognized for exemplary work, ask to have it shared at a BOE meeting.
- Encourage parents and family members to engage the school board as parents for all children in all subjects supporting a well rounded education.
Protocol for Engaging Individual BOE Members and the Whole Board
- This will vary from district to district. Engage the assistance of teachers who have done this. Get information from the district office on contact information.
- Find out from BOE leaders or the district office how meetings are organized. They should be able to share with you who to contact if you would like to speak, bring students, and propose a topic for discussion.
- If you want to write a letter or email to school board members, consider engaging an administrator in this effort to keep them in the loop. If that is not possible, share your thoughts with articulate parents who can complete the task. This may also extend to communication outside of board meetings, but you will have to do a little research to discover the best action that will help students. This can change at any time in any district.
- Engage union/education association leadership or representation for personal concerns only. Keep contractual discussion, disagreements, and political discussion out of communication about children and their musical learning needs. Everything is political with a small “p,” but your teaching contract and your position should not be confused with what students are receiving in the classroom. Speak about FTE, scheduling, budget, curricular offerings, and student engagement separately from talk about negotiations, contracts, teacher issues, and local politics as much as possible.
Enlist the Assistance of the School Board
- During budget times: Hand select thoughtful, calm, and articulate family members, faculty, and community members to present about the importance of the arts and music education in particular if necessary.
- During the school year: Include school board members in policy discussions when possible.
- All the time: Share news of graduates from the school district–where they end up and how they credit their music study for their success. This can relate to music and non-music careers but is most impactful if it includes students who studied music during their K-12 years in the school district.
- When grant writing is necessary for special projects in music classrooms, request letters of support from chosen school board members. You can even tell them you’re willing to write the letter or give them a template if they don’t feel they have the time. They can always edit before signing and sharing.
- Invite the members of the school board to attend a music support group meeting and structure the agenda to share information and engage parents and BOE members in discussion.