Reframing the Public Story

Individuals have deeply held ideas and assumptions about education and reform that may prevent them from understanding and supporting student-centered learning efforts. Learn about a powerful way to tell your education reform story to garner maximum buy-in.

In order to identify the key elements necessary to reframe the public story, The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, along with a consortium of other education foundations, engaged the FrameWorks Institute to conduct a multi-year investigation into how Americans think about education, and how education reform advocates might change the national conversation on learning.

They found that public thinking is structured by deeply held beliefs about learning and education that, without intervention, will prevent your stakeholders from understanding the intention of student-centered learning. To determine what educators are up against, they researched and mapped the “swamp” of default cultural models, the basic ideas, assumptions, and expectations the public holds regarding education and reform. The full results of Framework’s comprehensive communications research can be found in Putting it Back Together Again: Reframing Education Using a Core Story Approach. In the Charting the Landscape section, you will find clear descriptions of the default cultural models they uncovered, followed by explanations of the disconnect between these public assumptions and current thinking by education experts in the Gaps in Understanding section.

Elements of the New Story

How do you help your stakeholders shake up their thinking and beliefs? FrameWorks researchers created “frame elements” – values, explanatory metaphors, messengers, tone, etc. –they hoped could reshape deeply held cultural models. They tested these “frame elements” through qualitative and quantitative methods with a wide array of American voters to see which ones could move people to new ways of thinking.

Frameworks then used the most successful values and explanatory metaphors to help create a “new public story” about student-centered school redesign and its component parts that is more in line with current thinking by education experts and advocates. The new story includes the following parts:

In the New Story

  • What’s at stake with education reform?
  • How should education work?
  • What are we trying to improve?
  • What threatens educational outcomes?
  • How do we improve education and learning?

They found to get people to think collectively about solving a social problem you should employ collective value throughout the story you tell. These types of values announce, “WHY does this issue matter to everyone in our community?”

FrameWorks also found explanatory metaphors helped people think and talk about issues in a new way. Some of the explanatory metaphors that resonated with the public included:

Metaphor Examples

  • An Educational Orchestra to describe system coordination
  • Pollination Points to explain the flexibility of learning space and time
  • Cooking with Information to describe effective teaching and learning

To read the “new public story” in full and learn how to effectively use the values and metaphors uncovered by FrameWorks, check out the Redirections section of Putting it Back Together Again: Reframing Education Using a Core Story Approach.

Putting it Into Action

These values and explanatory metaphors can be used in a reframed story about student-centered education reform in your district.  Many districts and schools are already using them with great success. To see an example of how they can be applied to a specific policy or program proposal–in this case, Vermont legislation that is highly student-centered–see Framing Vermont Education.

The FrameWork Institute’s report also lays out 12 common traps anyone communicating with the public should avoid, and language and metaphors commonly used to discuss education reform that can, in fact, lead to unproductive public thinking that blocks change.

Learn More

The following resources can provide you with more information about the FrameWorks’ approach to reframing public conversations to achieve buy-in for meaningful change:

Toolkit Overview »