Truth Should Not Be Subjective

In an era of “alternative facts” and opinion masquerading as media, the truth can be a hard thing to find. Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack writes on how New England Patriots QB Tom Brady’s claims that “everyone has different truths” and the recent analysis that President Donald Trump has made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims since assuming office is incredibly dangerous, particularly for the communications profession.

As I write:

No, truth is no longer evident; truth lies in the eye of the beholder. And that should be unacceptable, particularly for communications professionals. For those of us who deal in information, it becomes essential that we prize truth as our most coveted commodity. We should defend our positions and our organizations with all of the zealousness that our positions allow. But we must do so recognizing we can never, ever lie. There may be elasticity in advocacy or in flacking, but there is none in the base truths on which communications and public engagement is based.

Give it a read. I swear it is all true!

 

All About Eva (and Charters and Success)

It’s often not easy to have a thoughtful, meaningful discussion of charter schools, their goals, their metrics, and their impact on both students and society as a whole. The very topic of charter schools these days brings out the best and worst of most people, with the mere mention of the organizing structure polarizing a discussion to the cartoonish stereotypes of status quoers and the privatizing profiteers.

So one really has to hand it to Elizabeth Green (along with Chalkbeat and the Atlantic) for demonstrating that such a rich exploration of the minefields that are charter schools, Success Academy, and Eva Moskowitz is indeed possible.

That most will neither fully agree nor disagree with Green’s Atlantic piece is a testament to how impactful it can be. Green is particularly reflectful in connecting the impetus for K-12 education reform with her own work, writing:

I became disillusioned with the status quo too—but later, and with more trepidation. At the news organization I co-founded in 2008, now called Chalkbeat, reporters began covering reformers whose aggressive plans to close district schools and replace them with charters seemed to inflame the very parents whom the reformers said they aimed to serve. And the district-hating almost always came with a thuggish brand of teacher-bashing. I knew bad teachers existed, and I knew many of them were unfairly protected. But the idea that merely pruning the bad apples would save schools was unsupported by evidence or reason. Fire the rotten 10 percent, and who exactly did these reformers think would fill out a 3.8-million-person workforce? Vilifying teachers and their unions was surely counterproductive because it alienated the same overloaded foot soldiers who would ultimately be responsible for turning around poor-performing schools.

Pulling out quotes from the piece, though, just doesn’t do it justice. Everyone and anyone who is involved in K-12 public education needs to give Green’s piece a read. And we all need to look for how the conclusions she reaches, and even the stories she tells, reflect our own work and what we can learn from it.

Readers also need to head over to Chalkbeat to take a gander at Green’s companion piece on WHY she wrote the Moskowitz piece in the first place. It is just as illuminating to the entire discussion.

The full Atlantic story can be found here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/success-academy-charter-schools-eva-moskowitz/546554/. Be sure to give it a real, deep read. It is worth the time.

Ultimately, we need to have more conversations like those that Green poses in her pieces. Personally, I continue to reflect on the lessons learned during my time in education reform, as well as my initial motivations, the hard realities I had to confront, and the behind-the-curtain moments that should give us all pause. If one isn’t self-motivated to pursue such topics, Green’s work is sure to spur it.

 

Donald Trump as Social Media’s Howard Stern

Our national obsession with the Twitter habits of President Donald J. Trump continues. But as we rush to critique the latest overnight bursts, as former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama recently have, maybe we need to recognize that Trump has mastered the medium that so many of us merely play in.

Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack explores how Trump is using forums like Twitter as they are intended, shying away from the better angels calling for editing, review, and restraint when it comes to social media.

And as usual, I take it a step further, comparing Trump’s Twitter skills to the radio prowess of Howard Stern during the shock jock’s heyday at WNBC, while Michelle Obama’s model is far more akin to slices of processed cheese.

Give it a read here.

Men, We Can Do Better

With new allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault rolling in on a daily basis now, it is time for men to have a very real discussion on what is appropriate – and what is not – when it comes to our dealings with others.

This isn’t about being a better husband or father. We need to drop the qualifiers. Thus us about being a decent human being.

As I write on Medium:

Finally, if you have to ask if something is appropriate, it is a good bet it is not. If you have to defend your actions because so-and-so also did it, they what you did is indefensible. If you justify what you have done by stating that it isn’t as bad as what someone else did, you really have no justification for your actions.

Please give it a read. Sadly, these are the conversations we need to have these days.

Don’t Buy Those Farewell EdSec Cards Just Yet …

For the past week or so, social media has been all a-twitter (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) with rumors of the demise of the Betsy DeVos administration. Far too many people have been sharing news stories from shady fake-news sites declaring EdSec DeVos was leaving the Trump Adminustration, was being pushed out of the Trump Administration, and was generally being cast aside.

Yes, some of these shares were from people I know who post anything anti-Trump, truth be damned. But even respected voices like the AFT’s Randi Weingarten shared the information with the screamer, “breaking news!”

Many of those questionable news sites sourced the rumor back to the respected publication Politico. Such citation gave the whispers even greater respectability. And it forced Politico to share the following with its readers this morning:

VIA POLITICO’S MORNING EDUCATION: Articles are making the rounds online that cite a POLITICO Magazine profile of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and claim that education “officials” expect her to step down. That is NOT what the POLITICO article said, and there’s no reason to believe DeVos is on her way out. What the POLITICO article, written by Tim Alberta, did say: “Anyone betting against DeVos serving all four years of Trump’s first term – which, she tells me, she plans to do – is underestimating the sense of duty and moral righteousness deeply embedded in someone who could be doing just about anything else right now.”

The false reports have gained traction. Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers president, who is a constant DeVos critic, tweeted one, calling it “breaking news.” The posts appear to be built around a single quote in the POLITICO profile. Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy – not an education “official,” as many of the posts claim – said in the POLITICO piece that “in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. …” Toch took to Twitter to clear the record: “Was tallying DeVos odds in @politico, not suggesting her plane’s idling at National with a flight plan to Michigan. I give her a year.”

Despite what we may think, wanting something to be true isn’t proof of its veracity. As long as President Trump has faith in his EdSec, Betsy DeVos isn’t likely going anywhere. As long as the EdSec believes she can have impact, she isn’t likely vacating the top floor of Maryland Avenue.

 

One Fish, Two Fish, Trump Fish?

For educators these days, there is much to drive the inner activist. From DACA to CHIP, from proposed federal budget cuts to policy roll backs, there is much happening in DC that affects teachers and students in classrooms throughout the United States. 

All of which makes it far more frustrating that some educators choose to draw their battle lines because the First Lady dared visit a local school and read The Cat in the Hat. Frustrating, but true. 

Over at the BAM! Radio Network, we take a deep dive into the topic, hoping that bring some Lorax-like wisdom into a fight lacking it. Give it a listen. 

Of Public Engagement and Dan Yankelovich

I often scoff at those who rush to Facebook to tout the death of the latest movie star or musician, cynically believing that they are far more interested in the clicks that come with sharing an obit of a “famous person” than they are in the loss they might feel over the individual’s passing. But over the weekend, I felt a great loss reading of the passing of Daniel Yankelovich. And it is a loss the entire PR, public affairs, and marketing profession should feel.

I’ve often declared that I am a disciple of Yankelovich’s public engagement model, a process developed while he was at the Public Agenda Foundation. In reflection, I realize I am not just a disciple, but I am an evangelist. The Yankelovich model has been a centerpiece for my professional work, a way of thinking that has driven much of what I’ve done since my mentor first taught it to me nearly 20 years ago.

Many in the communications profession may be thinking and doing like Yankelovich without even knowing it. It is based on the premise that effective public – or community – engagement is more than just a one-way information system, one where the communicator continues to push out data, facts, or opinions in hopes that target audiences consume it.

No, the Yankelovich approach requires stakeholders to take specific action. It realizes true success comes by moving from informing the public to building commitment to a solution to finally mobilizing the public around specific actions.

There is a great difference between making stakeholders aware of a concern like the need properly installed car seats or improved public education or taking 10,000 steps a day to the more sophisticated level of informed public opinion necessary to reach consensus on both the problem and the possible solutions, generating a sense of urgency that ultimately leads to the action of adopting a change and integrating it into day-to-day behaviors of all involved.

The Inform-Build Commitment-Mobilize Action process can be broken down to understand the steps necessary to move through this process. Using a seven-stage model developed by Yankelovich and the Public Agenda Foundation, we can analyze the process of engaging a target audience and moving them from uninformed bystander to an action-oriented group. These stages are:

  • Becoming aware of the issues
  • Developing a sense of urgency
  • Looking for answers
  • Managing and persevering through resistance
  • Weighing choices
  • Intellectual acceptance
  • Full acceptance

In applying these seven stages to our key audiences, we must recognize that each stakeholder group may be at a different point along this continuum. Understanding this is critical to designing and implementing the appropriate tactics to move them to action. Many a plan has failed because it was based on the assumption that one size fits all audiences.

As a society, it if often easy for us to recognize there are problems in need of our attention, but many do not agree on what those problems may be or what actions might successfully address them. And, unfortunately, too many people believe that there is nothing that can be done to fix these problems. When a problem has existed for a long period of time, people stop seeing it as a problem and start seeing it as a situation.

Once individuals believe in the interpretation of the problem, they are ready to commit to a solution. That means transforming one’s mission into a call to arms to demonstrate to a variety of audiences, in dramatic and memorable ways, that these solutions are the right ones to improve efficiency and success.

Once people feel that an issue is urgent they begin to demand solutions. If we have been successful in defining the issue in our terms, it will be easier for us to state solutions convincingly. In this stage, people will demand action from a range of stakeholders. This is a good time to organize meetings to introduce specific actions that our audiences can take to help us reach our goal.

Inevitably, some people will reject the proposed solutions. This leads to the most difficult stage of the process. Some audiences will be reluctant to face and accept the trade-offs that come from choosing a specific plan of action and opponents will try to poke holes in our ideas. This resistance may be heightened by misunderstanding, narrow thinking, wishful thinking, or resistance to change. The best way to avoid this resistance is to ensure that everyone is involved in the process and that all of their concerns have been heard.

Only after pushing through this resistance can people begin to weigh their choices rationally and look to a variety of options for moving recommendations into practice. At this stage, stakeholders should feel that they have a range of choices and a reason to make them. As leaders in this process – with a special awareness of how decisions are made – we can clarify the pros and cons of each decision and allow time and opportunity for deliberation.

It is then we can mobilize for action. Changing attitudes and informing the debate is not enough. Just as a politician who has convinced 60 percent of the public to support his/her issues, but who has not succeeded in convincing them to go to the polls on Election Day, will lose the election, advocates for change or improvement cannot accomplish their goals unless supporters move from passive acquiescence to active engagement. We succeed when stakeholders are actively supporting its solutions.

Once our target audiences are engaged because they believe in the merits of our position, they will need to know what we want them to do to help accomplish these goals. So it is important that our communications and organizing efforts include specific actions that supporters can take to help us reach our goals. In addition, we will also need to make it easy and feasible for them to take these actions.

From there, many will agree that our efforts are valid and will produce desired results, but may not be willing to change their behavior or adopt the change. We must recognize that this is a temporary stage and that, with patience and continued effort, they will get there. It is important not to expect too much, too soon. The process of moving from awareness to action takes time.

Given time, incentives, and opportunities to consider their core values in light of challenges and needs, our audiences should reach the final stage of full intellectual and emotional acceptance of the importance of improving their community. Of course, different target audiences will reach these stages at different times and go through them at different rates. We may need to tailor the same event or materials to perform different functions depending on where in these stages specific members of our audience stand.

When it comes to public engagement and community change, the issues we often confront are topics as driven by emotion as they are by fact. As a result, too often, stakeholders decide that inaction is the best action, out of fear of taking a wrong step or alienating a specific group. For that reason, the Inform-Build Commitment-Mobilize Action model is one of the most effective methods to educate key audiences on the need for change and the long-term impact such efforts have on strengthening communities and nations across the globe.

Dan Yankelovich taught me all that. I am a better communicator because of it. And the engagement efforts I have led in education, healthcare, and workforce development are better for it as well.

(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.