Key Takeaways for District Leaders
- Consider how to frame your district’s story
- Get to know your local education reporters, as well as the ed-tech trade press
- Leverage other resources in your district to help spread the word
- Keep it simple, avoid jargon and acronyms
If you don’t share your district’s story with the wider community, someone else will—and it might not be a flattering picture. So, how can you share your ed-tech successes and build support among parents, community members, the media, and others? That was the focus of a recent conference session for school district chief technology officers.
During the annual Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) conference in Washington, D.C., on April 6th, I co-presented with Charlene Blohm, president of public relations firm C. Blohm & Associates, on how to maximize your value as a school district CTO by communicating more effectively with both internal and external stakeholder groups.
Here’s some of the advice I shared about communicating externally with parents, community members, and the press:
Consider How to Frame Your District’s Story
What story are you trying to tell? You’re probably doing many terrific things in your district—but how can you communicate these succinctly and effectively to a wider audience?
To help you develop an elevator speech that concisely summarizes your district’s story, here’s one model that I’ve found works well:
- Start by stating your district’s vision or mission in the first sentence.
- Then, describe how technology supports that vision, using one or two sentences.
- Finally, describe what results you’re seeing (or you hope to see) in a single sentence.
Here’s an example: “In the X School District, our mission is to graduate students who are independent thinkers, creative problem solvers, and effective communicators, so they are ready for 21st-century success. To meet this challenge, we have given every student in grades 4-12 a digital device, and we’ve redesigned our curriculum so that it is project-based and grounded in an authentic context. Since we’ve taken these steps, we have seen a 20% increase in math proficiency and a 32% rise in ELA proficiency on our state end-of-year exams.”
You can use this model to help introduce your main district story—but also to describe each individual component or success within that larger story. This is the same basic format (challenge, solution, results) that many case studies follow. If you’re pitching a story to a publication, you can use this summary as your pitch, and if you’re writing a full-length article, you can use this paragraph as your lead and then unpack each of these elements with further details in the main body of the story.
Get to Know Your Local Education Reporters, as Well as the Ed-Tech Trade Press
As circulation falls and advertising revenue dries up, newspapers are struggling to find additional revenue sources—and reporting staffs are having to do more with less. While that might not be good for our democracy, it creates an opportunity for you to help share your ed-tech successes, as local newspapers are hungry for content.
Get to know the reporters who cover your local education beat, and use the model I’ve described above to pitch them story ideas about what you’re doing successfully in your district. Make yourself available as a source for any local education-related stories they might be doing, and you could do the same for reporters who cover technology trends, too.
The same situation holds true for the national ed-tech trade publications you might already be reading, such as eSchool News, THE Journal, Tech & Learning, District Administration, Scholastic Administrator, EdSurge, and Ed-Tech Digest. These publications are hungry for content as well, and they’re always looking for articles bylined by educators and administrators in the field—which offers a great opportunity for you to showcase your successes to a national audience. (And this, in turn, can boost your credibility within your district, making it easier to gain buy-in and support for your ed-tech vision.)
Look for the editorial contacts for these publications on their websites. Introduce yourself and volunteer to serve as a source for any stories they might be working on. Become familiar with their editorial calendars as well; if you know a publication is planning a feature on mobile learning, and you have some experience with this topic, you might pitch your own district’s story for this feature.
Leverage Other District Resources
If you have a communications department in your district, leverage the expertise of these professionals to help you tell your district’s ed-tech stories. They can help you share your stories by developing story pitches and/or ghostwriting articles for you under your byline, but they might not be familiar with the ed-tech trade press. That’s where it helps to collaborate, as you can help them understand what’s going on in your district and what media outlets they can share these stories with.
If you don’t have a communications department who can help you, consider working with your ed-tech vendors instead. They are always looking for happy customers to serve as subjects of case studies, and their public relations teams can help you pitch stories or ghostwrite articles under your byline to showcase your successes with their products. (Just make sure you’re aware of your district’s policies regarding product endorsements, so you don’t violate any district policies.)
Keep it Simple
Know your audience. Avoid education jargon, acronyms, and so on. When writing, use an informal, conversational tone. The average newspaper article is written at a sixth-grade reading level. And even articles for most ed-tech trade publications don’t get too technical, because they are intended to be read by superintendents and school board members in addition to CTOs.
For other tips on telling your district’s story, check out our superintendent’s guide to social media series.