Monday, March 21, 2011

Stay on Message (#idesmar)

This is the second in a short series examining the blog post, "What We're Trying to Say Here..." Media Training Tips for Teachers by Roxana.

While Roxana's advice is aimed specifically for those educators who find themselves at a talk show or forum focusing on education, the advice is easily adaptable for general public school advocacy by any educator.

I loved West Wing on NBC. One of the little tidbits from that show that has stuck with me over the years to place during one of the elections (I can no longer recall if it was Bartlett's first election in flashback, the second election, or Jimmy Smit's election). The candidate kept getting the advice to stay on message and control the message. So, when I read Roxana's fourth principle, the idea resonated.

Principle #4: Stay on message.
When students ask questions in class, teachers give the most direct answer we can. We'd never get away with repeating slight variations on the same three points for forty minutes. Not so with the folks talking for the cameras. This explains why during the "question and comment section," politicians are more likely to repeat their earlier statements in a soothing voice than actually address our comments and questions. It is also explains the tendency of charter school principals to begin nearly every statement with, "At (insert name of charter school), we are committed to (restatement of charter school mission statement)." This guarantees that reporters looking for a quote from the meeting will have to quote a talking point. Rather than be frustrated by the disingenuous show, teachers would do well to concentrate on our own message, and give the media a chance to quote our side of the story.

In short, the idea is to answer questions by making the point you want to make and worry later if you have actually answered the exact question. When I do this, I do not emulate the politicians that Roxana's mentions. Instead, I blend a direct answer with my point. I want make sure I am responsive, but I also want to make sure whoever is listening takes away what I want them to take from the conversation.

The bottom line is that educators need to speak eloquently about how wonderful public schools are. Stay on message and they will remember what you tell them.

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