Be proactive! Accentuate the positives about your local association! Remember—teachers are the education experts! Stay on message! Community engagement is critical!
These are just some of the lessons learned by IEA members and leaders who have attended communications trainings offered on a regional basis and facilitated by IEA Communications Director Dave Harbison. Part of the IEA’s ongoing emphasis on professional development, these trainings are broken into two related but separate sessions—an overview training lasting about an hour and a half, and advanced training of three to four hours for small groups of local leaders.
A group of leaders from Regions 3 and 8 recently participated in advanced training at Nampa High School. After introductory tips on how to reach out to and interact with reporters, the group got down to the real nitty-gritty of the advanced sessions—practicing and critiquing mock on-camera interviews. The leaders started with an easy going interview focused on sharing a positive story, then took on the challenge of a more confrontational interview with Harbison grilling them about a controversial topic.
“I had the opportunity to practice a TV interview and critique myself, which I found very helpful,” says Pierrette Madrid Harris, President of the New Plymouth Education Association. “Even better, I got a second chance to do another interview and improve on my first attempt.”
“We work with our members on important techniques like bridging and pivoting to stay on message and most importantly, staying calm under pressure,” says Harbison. “Just like these amazing educators learned teaching skills to apply in their classrooms, we hope these trainings provide them with the skills they need to present themselves and their locals in a positive light and handle adversity when necessary,” he says.
The training also takes a deeper dive into understanding the motivations and responsibilities of reporters, as well as when and how to utilize press releases, media advisories, informal media pitches, guest opinions, and letters to the editor. Determining key messages ahead of time and then staying disciplined with them is critical to ensuring the right messages are being heard by the right people.
“The information about how to present the message—be positive, stick to key points, restate your message—was so helpful,” says IEA Board member Lori Steiniker of Payette. “I feel ready to handle any situation where I might be interviewed about any issue my local might face,” adds Erin Paradis of the Vallivue Education Association.
The Importance of Community Engagement
Another aspect of these trainings focuses on the role community engagement plays in helping professional educators and local associations put their best foot forward. In an environment where deep-pocketed groups are trying to undermine teachers, public education, and labor organizations with inaccurate and negative portrayals, a grass-roots approach to showing who IEA members really are and what they stand for is crucial.
Several ideas for local associations to connect with their communities were discussed, including:
- Partnering with school athletic or other extra-curricular programs
- Building relationships with cultural organizations or colleges and universities
- Organizing community service work—food banks, coat drives, highway cleanup, etc.
- Getting involved with groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, VFW, and Elks
- Organizing around education-related events like American Education Week and Read Across America
- Providing information about events such as parent-teacher conferences and bond/levy elections as well as issues like poverty, hunger, and social justice
Many local associations are already involved in their communities and connecting in the ways described above and many others. These trainings stress the need for branding community engagement efforts to portray IEA members for who they truly are—dedicated, hard-working, passionate educators who are a part of the communities in which they live—and proud of the work they do in and out of the classroom.
The next IEA communications training will take place Friday, April 26 in Pocatello. Contact Communications Director Dave Harbison at firstname.lastname@example.org or Region 5 Director Mike McLamore at email@example.com for more information.