Lesson 5: Craft Positive, Supportive, and "Connected" Messages
Words matter, especially on an issue as complex and potentially controversial as effective teaching. The key advice from these school systems and communications professionals includes the following.
Emphasize the positive. New evaluation systems are designed to support teachers, not sort them. Celebrate the dedicated teachers already in your classrooms. Believe that your teachers truly want to be effective and do what is best for kids and that you are supporting them in achieving the goals they already have.
Emphasize sustainability. Teachers need to be convinced that this focus on teacher effectiveness is not another passing fad and reform du jour.
Connect the dots. Help teachers, staff, and the community see how new evaluations are part of a larger strategy to increase educator quality (recruitment, induction, development, compensation, assignment, career pathways, etc.) and that educator quality is part of the even broader priority to improve student achievement (including implementing the new rigorous Common Core State Standards and related curriculum and assessments).
Avoid jargon. This is especially important when talking with parents and other nonexpert audiences.
"Make it about students, not teachers. Strip down all the jargon. Words like pedagogy, instruction, and curriculum just don't mean the same to parents as to educators."
— Melissa Erickson (Hillsborough County PTA)
Explain why effective teaching matters so much. Denver: “Change can’t wait. Teachers and students deserve it now.” Memphis: “An effective teacher can advance a student — any student — one to two grade levels per year. We must ensure each one of our students has access to an effective teacher in every classroom, every year. Their future depends on it.” Pittsburgh: “Great teachers do more than just raise grades. They change lives. In Pittsburgh and nationally, we are focusing on teacher effectiveness and emphasizing education as the key to our country’s future.”
“Walk the talk.” Actions speak louder than words. You can message all you want about aligning professional development and supports to your new evaluations, but if your professional development system is not up to the challenge, that is a big problem.
"It was important that we launched our Teacher Leader Academy a year ahead of the LEAP [Leading Effective Academic Practice] system to build capacity in our schools around teacher support. We also launched extensive, aligned professional development resources concurrently with the LEAP evaluation measures; we said LEAP is an evaluation and support system, and we had to prove we meant it."
— Jennifer Stern (Denver Public Schools)
Be careful of the nuances. For example, it is better to frame the work in terms of “effective teaching,” not “effective teachers” — the former is less personal. An “observation system” is not the same as an “evaluation system,” which includes observations as well as measures of student growth, student surveys, and other measures.
"Avoid too much emphasis on evaluating
effective teachers vs. empowering effective
teachers by talking about mentors and the
ongoing improvements and supports they'll get throughout the year."
— Melissa Erickson (Hillsborough County PTA)
Examples from the Field:
This Communications Implications from Education Opinion Research presentation, written by GMMB and based on recent research conducted by The Winston Group, Peter Hart, and Harris Interactive, offers advice on (1) connecting to what the public cares about; (2) using message frames that work; (3) connecting to other issues such as the Common Core and technology; and (4) communicating with specific audiences (principals and superintendents, teachers, African American and Latino parents, and the general public).
Good research can help you (1) learn about your key audiences’ priorities (what matters most to them) and (2) uncover misunderstandings, concerns, and questions. Both are essential to creating a strategy that engages and informs stakeholders on their terms — not yours.
The Big Picture: The Impact of National Storylines on Local Reform, written by Brunswick Group and GMMB, looks at the national conversation about education (including the 2012 presidential and state races); the impact of local news coverage of education; and how a single story in the Wall Street Journal rippled out through the media and amplified/clarified key talking points for and against the issue.
Primary Sources is a series of two in-depth surveys of teachers in 2009 and 2011 on a range of education issues, including teaching effectiveness.
Memphis City Schools (MCS): I Teach, I Am campaign
The Memphis City Schools Foundation launched the campaign as a strategy to drive community conversations around effective teaching. Early on in the teacher effectiveness work, teacher recognition was identified as a gap. The district had no programs to celebrate the most effective educators, which left no starting point to introduce a positive, constructive conversation about teaching effectiveness into the community. The campaign created one. It has four primary components:
- Peer recognition: More than 4,000 votes (about 60 percent of the teachers) were cast this year for The Prestige Award, which went to 127 of the district’s highest-performing teachers.
- Student recognition: The Golden Apple Award goes to teachers voted most admired by students.
- District recognition: A paid media campaign celebrates the accomplishments of the highest-performing teachers.
- In-school recognition: Teacher of the Month features appear in every school building.
|"The most tangible impact is expressed by |
teachers themselves — they feel like celebrities! They are recognized and approached wherever they go: on the street, in the grocery store, at church. And it often leads to a conversation about teacher and school performance. We're told anecdotally and in surveys that it's changed teacher perceptions about the workplace:
Teachers are proud to work for MCS."
— Diane Terrell (Memphis City Schools)
Pittsburgh Public Schools: Believe campaign
A key part of the district’s Empowering Effective Teachers work has focused on developing a brand identity around these efforts, called Believe. The goals of this strategy are to (1) begin a sustainable inside-out communications approach to highlight the work teachers are doing in their classrooms every day to increase student achievement; (2) reinforce that this work is a key district priority that will endure; (3) recruit 2011–12 career ladder candidates; and (4) introduce rewards and recognition opportunities and multiple measures of effectiveness. The district began by heavily communicating with teachers and staff and now plans to take similar materials (print materials, video, billboards, etc.) to parents and community members.
"The Believe campaign was designed to win
hearts and minds."
— Lisa Fischetti (Pittsburgh Public Schools)