Education Writers Association: Lessons Learned

My blog series — #PitchTips — kicks off today. And for my first blog I’m bringing you a recap of what our team learned from attending a recent conference for education media. Hoping this will help improve your practice. ~ Devin

By Devin Boyle, Director of Media Relations

Two weeks ago I joined education reporters from across the country in Boston for the Education Writers Association Conference to talk edu story angles, edu policy, edu politics, and—on an unrelated note—the Red Sox v. Yankees. (Don’t ask me who won the series. A baseball fan, I am not.)

The conference, organized around the theme of “The Quest for Quality and Equity,” was a chance for journalists to learn from each other, discuss trending topics in education and honor the best education writing over the last year. For those of us in communications it was also a chance for us to learn from members of the media.

Over the course of a few days, our team got a glimpse into what journalists think will be the top storylines of 2016, and what they’re looking for in pitches from communications professionals. Below are a few things we learned. Shoot me an email if you want to brainstorm story ideas or have any questions about what works best in pitching (

Storylines Likely to Be Covered in 2016-17

Journalists gave their take on what they think will be the trending topics of 2016-17, ranging from diversity of the teaching workforce to new stories tied to Common Core. Here are a few to pay attention to. These will give you a few good starting points for story angles when crafting your pitches.

  • Trauma in and out of school;
  • Diversity of students and teachers;
  • Common Core implementation; and
  • K-12 assessment.

What Media Need From Us

Reporters receive hundreds of email and phone pitches a day. It’s important that we make every word we say count when we’re sending them our story ideas if we want them to write about what we’re pitching. Below are two ways we can make our stories heard.

  • Grassroots Resources: Media want to have lists of teachers, parents, school leaders, etc. from across the country willing and ready to speak with them when stories tied to education at the grassroots level pop. When pitching, we should always let reporters know that we can connect them with the resources they need on the ground. (#PitchTip ~ Have a person(s) and/or program(s) you can list as example resources in your pitch.)
  • Research: Comms folks should always do their research before reaching out to media. They should know what storylines the reporter has previously written and whether or not what comms professionals are pitching would be relevant to the reporter they’re pitching to. (#PitchTip ~ Mention something you liked or that made you think in a recent article written by the reporter you’re pitching to.)

Now What?

These are just a few #PitchTips to get you started. Come back to our blog again to find out how to refine your pitches so the messages you want to be communicated hit the news hard. If you’re looking for tips on branding, read Rhyla’s blog here; if you need some digital advice head on over to see what our digital expert, Jeff Stovall, has to say.

Thanks for reading! And, please follow me on Twitter @devin_boyle and our team @Collaborative_.

Writing a Great Call to Action: Going Beyond “Click Here”

I admit it, I’m guilty of relying on the “Click here for more information” sentence. It’s a lazy and ineffective way of making a call to action. If you’ve been relying on “Click Here,” it’s time to step up your call to action game with the following tips.

Make it Actionable

Provide a clear next step for your user. Explain the benefit the user will get when they take action. Kahoot provides an exciting call to action that tells the user exactly what they’re getting.


Another great example comes from Stoodle.


Make it Emotional

Calls to action that include emotional appeals will lead to more clicks and more conversions. Strategize on how you can tap into a user’s curiosity, fears of getting left behind, love and anger. The call to action below appeals to a user’s sense of belonging.


Make it Short

Be direct and keep it short.


Make it Easy

Don’t make your call to action complicated.


No matter what you want your user to do—subscribe, register, download a document or provide feedback—take a step back, put yourself in your user’s shoes and develop a call to action that would compel you to act.

A New Model for Teacher Preparation

The Baltimore, MD-based Urban Teacher Center (UTC) recently celebrated a major milestone: its inaugural class of 20 teachers graduated this June. These educators made a four-year commitment to UTC’s newly launched program in 2010 and, as recent graduates Adrienne Williams and Yeoman Payne explain, it has been a tremendously rewarding pathway into the education profession.

UTC’s founding partners were driven by two beliefs when they created the alternative teacher preparation program:

  • First, that schools must have a guarantee that every teacher they hire will significantly improve student outcomes.
  • Second, that teacher educators are responsible for following through on that guarantee.

By building on lessons learned from other innovative programs, UTC accelerates student achievement in the nation’s highest-need schools by recruiting outstanding teacher candidates, equipping them with state-of-art training and linking certification to student performance results. UTC participants go through a four-step process before they are certified as teachers. Participants also complete a dual-master’s degree in education and special education through Lesley University.

What also makes UTC’s program unique is its emphasis on using data effectively to improve teaching and support student learning. Recently, at a Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) report briefing, UTC Teacher Antoinette Smith participated in a panel discussion regarding NWEA’s new study, Make Assessment Matter. In this study, NWEA surveyed more than 2,000 students and educators on their perceptions of assessment. Additionally, Antoinette guest blogged on NWEA’s website to weigh in on the findings from the study and about the power of looking at data collaboratively. (See more about Make Assessment Matter on this blog.)

Collaborative has had the honor to work with the Urban Teacher Center since its inception and is proud to see the organization’s impact continue to grow. Earlier this spring, UTC received a $1 million grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to develop the next stage of its impact strategy (see also “Why the Dell Foundation Loves the Urban Teacher Center”), as it expands its influence in Baltimore and Washington D.C. public schools. And this month, UTC welcomed its fifth cohort with 112 prospective teachers—making up their largest class yet.

Congratulations to UTC and its new graduates and good luck to the new cohort of 2018!

A Courage Gap and an Action Gap

Comments Off on A Courage Gap and an Action Gap

We have achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. But more important, we have a courage gap and an action gap. What is outrageous is that we don’t have a knowledge gap. We know the importance of extra time and getting great teachers before the children who need them. Until adults show the courage to close the action gap, we won’t be putting children’s needs first.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan
2014 Education Writers Association National Seminar

Social media and the education space

I’m often fond of saying that the education community is typically one of the last to truly embrace new technologies. We lagged healthcare and other spaces when it came to moving onto the Internet and using websites to improve information sharing. We were slow to platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, and some could say we still struggle with maximizing the reach and opportunity they afford, at least compared to other spaces.

Twitter seems to be a different story. In recent years (and recent months), we have witnessed the enormous education-focused power of Twitter. To get information out to teachers and school leaders and parents. To engage in conversations with individuals and organizations we might not regularly get to spend time with. To spotlight issues and concerns that may not receive the attention of the mainstream media. To raise awareness, understanding, and action on the key policy, research and instructional issues of the day.

Connected Educators, an effort started by the U.S. Department of Education a few years ago, is the perfect example of the possibility. ESchool News named it one of the top 10 ed-tech stories of 2013. During Connected Educators Month (October 2013), there were more than 600 events and activities, with participation from more than 330 national, state and local organizations. More than 13 million educators and others were reached via Twitter alone, generating an average of 4.6 million impressions a day. The numbers are more than impressive, but it is also a great example of the power of Twitter in advancing important issues, particularly with educators. Continue reading

Making Assessment Matter

To paraphrase from the classic movie Major League, “in case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the chatter and recent urban legends you haven’t, student assessments have managed to have positive impact here and there, and are threatening to be seen as a positive part of the teaching and learning process.”

Sure, student tests aren’t the Cleveland Indians finally making it to the playoffs, but we have long seen the same negative feelings and concerns attached to testing as we did for the Indians before “Wild Thing” Vaughn pitched them out of the cellar.

The improving public perceptions of testing is best seen in a new research survey conducted by Grunwald Associates on behalf of the Northwest Evaluation Association. In Make Assessment Matter: Students and Educators Want Tests That Support Learning, NWEA surveyed more than 2,000 students and educators on their perceptions of assessment. Interestingly, this seems to be the first significant study that actually asked students what they think about the tests they are taking. Continue reading

DC Public Education Infographic

The landscape of public education in DC is currently evolving.

In order to make sense of potential changes in local public education and where you can go for answers, it’s important to first understand the uniqueness and complexity of our public education system. It is unlike any other.

Collaborative developed this graphic to show the local agencies and decisionmakers in DC public education, starting with those closest to the student and moving into key areas of governance and oversight.

Visit LearnDC to explore more information about our public schools.

Three Parental Engagement Tips

Parental Engagement
(n). A process that can be so rewarding when done successfully. A process that can also go horribly wrong if done incorrectly.

To avoid the most common pitfalls, here are three tips, based on Collaborative’s extensive work with parents, to get you off to a strong start in engaging parents in your community. Continue reading

Getting Common Core Implementation Right

With states, districts and educators working to ensure that all students graduate from high school “college and career ready,” we are hearing more and more about Common Core State Standards and their impact on the classroom, particularly with regard to testing. What seems to be lacking from that discussion, though, it a meaningful chronicling of what successful implementation of the standards means. Until now.

This week, the Learning First Alliance rolled out a new podcast series—Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core. In LFA’s own words, “to help those committed to the standards ensure the proper implementation, the Learning First Alliance is spotlighting those communities that are working hard to get Common Core implementation right. These podcasts tell their stories. Continue reading

Problem solving, PISA and potential

From 21st century skills to Common Core State Standards, the education community continues to focus on the need to equip all children with problem-solving skills. Any educator knows that it isn’t enough to simply memorize facts. Successful learners need to know how they get the answers and how they can apply that process to other scenarios.

This week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA 2012 problem-solving results. Continue reading