One of my absolute favorite things about working with teenagers (something that I have been doing for twenty seven years) is being their advocate. Unfortunately, students have many different hurdles and valleys in their lives. It is sad to see this happen even in education. This question excites me because I think it speaks to the mission and vision of district officials: to be advocates for their students!
In order to be an advocate for students, as opposed to being an obstacle, there are three things that need to happen.
First of all, being an advocate means that you work hard to build relationships with students. There is no way to advocate for students if you do not get to know them, their wants, their desires, their needs, etc. I really thrive on building relationships with students, so this part of advocating for students is very easy and natural for me. Principals who do not know their students create more obstacles than bridges.
The second step of advocating for students is having the courage to speak up on their behalf when their voice is not being heard. Unfortunately in education, many times the best interests of the students are not always at the forefront of decision making. Rightly so in some instances as school district personnel and administration have to balance things like liability, safety, and law. However, students need advocates to help them overcome these hurdles so that they can find success in school. This leads me to the third prong of advocating for students.
The third step in advocating for students is finding solutions for them in a team oriented culture. Building a team oriented, solutions based culture is something that I find inspiring. My strong background in athletics also makes this a natural thing for me. It is thinking outside of the box to support our students. I am an outside of the box thinker, and like to support my students the best that I can. Sometimes this means thinking of “other ways” to advocate for them.
One example of this three pronged strategy that I’ve used as a Principal was our graduation last year. A high school graduation is a major milestone for our students. Due to the COVID pandemic, most high schools were not able to hold a traditional graduation. However, our school had the largest attended graduation in the entire County of Los Angeles according to Health Department officials! It started with one simple meeting on zoom with myself and my senior class. I wanted to let them talk about their frustrations when they found out that the normal city facility would not allow our graduation ceremony to happen. I wanted to give them a platform to discuss their feelings, and more importantly, I wanted to let them know that I was listening to them, and was going to work hard on a solution. That is the first step in being an advocate.
As I said above, the second step is having the courage to be their voice. I went to my boss, our Superintendent, to express their frustrations, and I asked for permission to create a solution. It was a healthy conversation, and she agreed with my plan to find a solution.
Next, I started on a solution right away. My outside of the box, solution based mindset led me to an entirely different city, the city right next door! I knew that they had a minor league baseball stadium. After months of hard work, I am happy to report that we had an outstanding graduation. I created a plan that allowed for each graduate to bring six family members. The plan was submitted to the very stringent LA County Department of Public Health 4 months in advance. After several renditions of going back and forth with them, they approved our plan. Many folks reported to me it was the best graduation ceremony in the nine year history of the school! This example is one of my favorites of being an advocate, not an obstacle, for our kids. Many school leaders would have taken the easy way out, and just not thought of something outside of the box like this. It was a major undertaking for me personally, and for my staff. It was my first graduation as a Principal as well.
Another example of being an advocate for students comes in a picture that sits right next to me near my desk to remind me about what it means to be an advocate for students. Here is the picture.
I’m standing behind Dashwn Lee who is signing his National Letter of Intent back in 2016 to go play college football. This happened, in part, because I recognized that the young man had the talent to play at the next level, I encouraged him to do so, and helped him and his mother navigate that path. When I first told him that he had the potential to earn a scholarship, he laughed, and thought that it wouldn’t be possible. The school I was at during that time was not known for turning out a lot of college football players. In fact, I believe he is the only one that went on to play from that team. I sat down with them, and explained the process. Next, I reached out to many different coaches I know, to introduce him to these coaches. Finally, he received an offer to go play. This was one of the proudest moments of his life according to him and his mom! That is what being an advocate is all about!
I could share 100s of examples of being an advocate over the last 20+ years but these are two of my favorites: one that helped our entire senior class and their families celebrate a tremendous accomplishment, and one of just one student and his mother doing the same!
Chris Fore serves 1,800 students and more than 100 staff as a Principal at a school in Southern California. He has a Masters degree in Athletic Administration, is a Certified Athletic Administrator and served for three years as the President of the California Coaches Association. He coached high school football for 17 years, including 8 years as a Head Coach. He is also a court-certified Expert Witness in athletically based court cases. Fore is the CEO of Eight Laces Consulting which specializes in helping coaches nationwide in their job search process, and provides dynamite resources for coaches. Fore has been named to the Hudl Top 100 Coaches, and the Top 5 Best High School Football Coaches to follow on Twitter by MaxPreps. Follow him!