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The ed reform world is fierce, as described in today’s POLITICO story, and too often, meddling in name-calling and Beltway politics takes priority over the real reason most advocates chose to do this work: to push for better standards and achievement for all students. The problem is that we spend too much time talking (or tweeting or blogging) to one another, when we should really be talking to the educators, parents, and policymakers who can make real changes for students. Here are three quick tips, from a session for communications professionals last month, to better tailor messaging strategies — all while ignoring the name-calling and sticking to what matters most: a better education system that supports and benefits all students.

“We’re not even at the kitchen table yet”

This was one of the most powerful things I heard at the session. We are speaking to one another — advocate to advocate — but not to parents, teachers, or students who have a perspective that often differs from those of us living and operating “inside the Beltway.” To ensure that our messages are heard, we must speak directly to those who can help students the most.

That means using clear language (no jargon), having a continuous, ongoing conversation, and presenting a message that our audience cares about (i.e., how this will help your fourth-grader get to college). Together these things can get us to the table.

Frame or be framed

Every issue gets framed — so frame your issue first or someone else will do it for you. Common Core State Standards are defined as everything from “high standards for all students” to “a federally-mandated curriculum.” To effectively reach our audiences and ensure that they have the correct information, advocates must figure out which frame is better and get there first. By framing the conversation on your terms, with your own words and values, it’s an easier place to have the conversations that we need to be having.

Hope beats fear

Consistently discussing poor performance and lack of improvement can really get you down. Why not talk about potential, high performance, big gains, and high standards as a way to let parents and lawmakers know that it can be done. Hope and potential beat fear any day of the week. So focus on the possibilities a quality education brings a child, not on the fear that we’re falling behind our international peers or that all of our children are failing. No one’s going to join a campaign to not be last.

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