One of the pleasures of working at the Schott Foundation for Public Education is that we have the opportunity to work with and learn from our grantee partners who do incredible grassroots organizing work all across the country. These public education advocates lead campaigns in their respective regions, but on March 15 and 16 leaders from 22 of our grantee partners convened together for our first Opportunity to Learn Network Communications Summit. Experts on media training, message development, education, and social justice organizing led workshops to enhance these leaders’ skills.
Our guest presenters were Sally Kohn, Jeff Bryant, and Aliya Rahman. Sally Kohn is a CNN political commentator, a columnist and one of the leading progressive voices in America today. Jeff Bryant is the director of the Education Opportunity Network, an education media and communications project of People's Action Institute in partnership with the Schott Foundation. Aliya Rahman is Director of Movement Technology for Wellstone, an organization dedicated to building movements, progressive political leadership and technology and digital strategy.
We began Wednesday afternoon by introducing ourselves to each other and explaining the reasons we fight for public education. Many of the leaders in attendance had already worked together on campaigns and initiatives, some had admired each other’s work from afar, and others were learning about each other’s work for the first time. Aliya led a “Digital Toolbox” workshop, in which she discussed digital organizing frameworks, strategy, and tactics for today’s political and organizing climates. She reminded us that we are all organizers, and can use technology and data to better organize and that we shouldn’t let be intimidated by the myriad of tech tools available. As Aliya put it, we’re all “tech people” — “being a ‘tech person’ is about using tech for work we already know how to do.” Schott’s Creative & Online Communications Director Patrick St. John and Communications Director DeQuendre Neeley-Betrand then provided a crash course on beginner and advanced topics in social media promotion and advertising. Tips included how to target and maximize one’s audience, automate social media updates, and analyze an organization’s impact to help refine communications strategy.
The next morning began with a training led by Sally in which attendees learned how to better craft their message and make the most of media appearances — everything from what to say, to what to wear, to how to properly sit on a chair when on TV. Jeff Bryant then spoke to our current political climate and the importance of the conceptual, political, and moral framing with which we craft our messages. Jeff reminded us that facts are not enough: we’ve got to craft compelling stories to make our messages memorable and persuasive. We then broke out into four smaller groups to rotate through several sessions: an on-camera media training with Sally, a framing and messaging clinic with Jeff, a digital and social clinic with Patrick, and a Wellstone database preview with Aliya. The small workshops allowed grantee leaders to experience more intensive, personalized trainings in each area and to work through questions they had about their own work.
As is often the case with conferences, many of the most meaningful and collaborative moments happened outside of the formal curriculum of the day, during lunch hours, breaks, and evening events. At Schott we believe it’s important to bring our grantees together in the same place for that reason: the kind of collective insights and organizational cross-pollination these meetings encourage is key to a healthy and vibrant movement.
After the action-packed two-day training, we all – Schott staff included – felt better equipped to amplify our messages and shape the narrative of the fight for public education. The insight from our media experts, combined with the collaboration and networking of grassroots leaders across the nation, created an energy we hope to grow and foster as we continue to fight for public education.
Photo by Bryan MacCormack with Left In Focus