Talking About Change

Change is hard. So is talking about change. Use the tips here to create a story with a compelling problem statement that can mobilize your audience.

Toolkit_revere2Those working tirelessly to put students at the center often forget that they are ahead of the current public conversation. Today’s media remain heavily focused on stories about standardized testing, accountability, teacher’s unions, school choice, and, most recently, Common Core State Standards. It’s a conversation that goes round and round and round again, mostly between power elites and the media.

Ironically, the public is often left out of the public conversation on education redesign! So how do you bring the public into a more productive conversation? How can you talk about change so that it enlightens rather than scares, so that it mobilizes rather than demoralizes the people in your communities?

Answer Why, What, and How

Your story should have three parts. Typically, education reformers begin with the HOW, leaving out the WHY and the WHAT. But your audience needs to be grounded in all three parts of the story:

  • First, you must answer the WHY questions. “WHY does America’s educational system need to change?  WHY does it matter to everyone, even those who do not have children or grandchildren in school?” When people understand the rationale for change, they are more likely to support it.
  • Then, you must answer, “WHAT is the nature of the change?”  When people can see a blueprint or plan for action, they are more likely to feel comfortable with the change, especially if there is a reasonable time frame and an opportunity for course corrections along the way.
  • Only then, should you explain HOW. “HOW will you accomplish your goals?  HOW will your policies and programs achieve the desired outcomes?”

Rethink the Problem Statement

It is important to begin your story by articulating the WHY through a clear and accurate problem statement. In today’s public conversation, the given problem statement often has to do with student achievement, namely, that students (or teachers or parents) are not working hard enough or smart enough—as measured by standardized test scores. What invariably flows from that is: whose fault is it? The blame game ensues, with no productive solution in sight.

When you instead make the problem statement about a changing world that requires a changing educational delivery system, a different public story results. Blame and shame are off the table because a changing world is everyone’s reality. This problem statement helps people get engaged, because Americans love nothing better than to solve a problem that has real solutions in sight.

For tips on how to talk about specific topics that frequently arise in the conversation about education and learning; such as school budgets, system redesign, and the achievement gap; see the Additional Resources section.

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