I had the privilege of meeting in Kearney recently with the Nebraska Association of Elementary School Principals’ (NAESP) leadership cohort. Kristine Luebbe, director of Programs & Partnerships at the Nebraska Department of Education and I have been working to develop collaboration between the NAESP Leadership alumni and First Five Nebraska’s active Policy Leadership Academy alumni. There’s tremendous potential to impact early childhood issues by teaming up these two skilled and energized groups.
Kristine extended me the invitation to present to the group about advocacy work that is equitable, grassroots-based and focused on long-term impact. As is often the case, citizen leaders want to be powerful activists for their community’s families, but need concrete tools and strategies to be effective.
Challenges in community engagement
Despite the built-in infrastructure of the public school system, elementary school principals find themselves coming up against many of the same challenges in community engagement that I hear from child care providers and educators: a sense of invisibility in their communities and the misunderstanding of the crucial role child care and early education play in community vitality. In fact, a common theme in the advocacy work of building an early childhood movement in communities is how to communicate value and urgency to those immediately affected by the issues and those in the periphery.
As a group, we identified the challenges unique to each neighborhood school in the room and spent time collaborating on possible solutions and concrete steps—both to address the immediate problem but also in a way that built a strategy for the longer term. This path brings a different perspective than the way we are often enculturated to tackle much of our advocacy work regarding administrative policy. Our educators and school administrators are so busy with the immense and important work of keeping our elementary schools operational that advocacy and community engagement can feel like an overwhelming task.
Power of collaboration
Enter the power of collaboration. In our session, we identified specific ways elementary school principals have a unique and important role in partnerships that build ongoing movements. They will join the Policy Leadership Academy alumni who will work from their unique roles and skill set. This combination of talents and training will be one of the crucial leadership links involved in long-term impact and policy influence.
During their program, each participant of the NAESP Leadership cohort will choose several core competencies to focus on to deepen their skills. It was invigorating to see many of the cohort members choose the competency related to community engagement and equity following our time together.
Plans for intentional collaboration continue to develop. As the legislative season approaches, I think we can expect big things from the teamed-up efforts of the PLA and NAESP alumni to make a difference in the early childhood issues facing Nebraskans.