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
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!
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your school’s playground is outdated and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
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
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.
Spread the Word
It’s time to inform and motivate the
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
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
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
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
Take Your Plan to the
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
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
* 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
* Wrap up with a memorable sound bite, like
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
Leave materials behind. Give each
board member a copy of your talking points
and any relevant backup to have on hand
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!