I was shopping at Costco when I saw a school board member right there in my path.

From Costco to the Curriculum Advisory Committee – Elevator Speeches that Work

By Cathy Dagostino-Hamilton, Local Organizer for the Escondido Alliance for Arts Education

The Challenge: How do you build relationships with school board members in your community? 

Strategy: A little bit of nerve and a well-prepared elevator speech

Story: When I started working with the Alliance’s Local Advocacy Network I was a concerned, resourceful mom with a strong belief in the value of the arts. I had seen first hand how they had helped my daughter connect and learn at school and read research that backed up my experience. But I didn’t have relationships with local school board members who made the funding decisions about arts programs – how could I get my message across? 

Get to know your school board members

You may find they or one of them may live in your own neighborhood. That happens to be the case for me and once I realized that, I began to notice her around our local area, walking, shopping, and at community events. Don’t be a stalker! I do not follow her around! I just take opportunities as they are presented. As it happened, I didn’t have to wait long. I was shopping at Costco when I saw a school board member right there in my path.

Rather than feeling intimidated or self-conscious, I took a moment to look at the melons she was looking at and introduced myself, reminding her that I recently spoke at a board meeting. We had a nice, friendly conversation about the value of arts education and recent changes to a local arts center. I ended up inviting her to a local arts festival that was coming up at one of our schools. She thanked me and said she was so glad I took the time to stop and update her and she was now going to make a point of attending the arts festival.

These chance encounters have happened to me in multiple places - the grocery store, a community tour of one of our local parks, a grand opening of an art show at the municipal gallery, even an art class that I attended with an administrator, and after school board meetings or during breaks. I never let an opportunity pass by where I can’t think of some way to connect with a school board member that is in my path. 

Refer to relevant issues

One tip that may be helpful is to refer to relevant issues and things they are working on other than arts education. By doing so, you show a genuine interest in the school district and the challenges the district is facing and the value you have for these underpaid public servants (in our district the stipend is $400). Nothing energizes a school board member more than hearing one of their constituents show appreciation and connect with the work they are doing on our behalf.  
Expect a response and action

I followed up my chance meeting at Costco with an email including details about the arts festival.  In expecting a response, I was able to have her attend a local arts festival and inspire her with the work that one school was able to accomplish in regards to arts education. 
I always expect a response or action and make sure to ask questions about what is most recent with the budget or what happened at the last meeting. I often ask what is coming up on the next agenda and if it looks like it will affect classrooms. 
Acknowledge the work they are already doing on behalf of the students 

I always acknowledge the work school board members are doing. When I ran into the school board member who I invited to the arts festival the next time, I followed up with a conversation about what a wonderful festival it was, how glad I was that she was able to attend, and thanked her for reporting back to the rest of the school board. 
Thank them for giving you their time 

I always thank the person for their time and support!
If done right, elevator speeches aren’t really speeches. They are an opportunity to share your passion, your gratitude and relevant information with decision makers. Through these chance encounters I have created a great relationship with my school board members and I have done the same with administrators as well. 

After two encounters with the Superintendent of Instruction, we have been invited to speak at a principals meeting and share our plan for a pilot arts program. In October, our Escondido Alliance for Arts Education will present to the Curriculum Advisory Committee. We are truly seeing a vision play out that began three years ago with the start of our Local Alliance. It has taken time, hard work, lots of networking and vision, but we are seeing that vision come to fruition through building positive working relationships with key people in our school district, school board, and community.

TIPS for G-R-E-A-T relationships through Elevator Speeches
Get to know your school board members/administrators 
Refer to relevant issues
Expect a response and action
Acknowledge the work they are already doing on behalf of the students 
Thank them for giving you their time and caring about/advocating for arts in education