Four Strategies for Effective Educational Communication from Chen and Edutopia

Milton Chen, the longtime Executive Director of Edutopia, has a terrific new (2010) book, Education Nation.  John Robinson has very effectively reviewed and summarized the book at 21st century principal; as John says, “Chen’s book provides many ideas for educational innovation and reform. It is a great addition to the 21st century administrator’s book shelf.”

The book deserves more attention, and I intend to write more about it in the future.  Here now though, rather than look at the whole, I want to draw wisdom from just one short section, in which Chen describes the “four special strategies we employ at Edutopia to document and disseminate these stories.

What strikes me is that these same four, so effective for Edutopia, might be valuable guidelines for all educational blogging and on-line communications by educators.

1. At Edutopia, “we stay positive; we learn more from understanding success than focusing on failure.”    This is so important, and helps to make Edutopia a consistently upbeat and affirming place to go.

In my own blogging, this principle is largely, but not entirely, honored. Most of my writing is about what inspires me or about what is happening in my school or others that I want to share.  That said, sometimes I find it important to sharpen my point of view by calling out what isn’t working so well in education today, or responding critically to others who I think need to be challenged.   Sometimes I cannot resist standing up to defend my point of view and my educational philosophy from those who I think are dead-wrong.

2.  Edutopia uses “documentary films as our own “leading edge” to show visually what cannot be communicated in words… When I speak to groups, I always show our documentaries, and invariably, that’s what the audiences remember.”   Chen is absolutely correct about this, and Edutopia is a great resource precisely because it does use video so effectively.

This strategy saddens me sometimes, because the written word is so precious to me and I so greatly enjoy writing, but I know that my blogging and my presenting is always enhanced when I provide video, and like Chen, it is a priority of my own growth as an educational idea communicator to develop my own “video-voice.”  On my blog, I’m striving to showcase learning and educational developments at my school via video at least once a month.

3. “We focus first on what these innovations look like in the classroom, in what teachers and students do. So much of educational reform discussion is conducted on a general level… Edutopia aims to answer the question: How should teachers act and teach in the classroom.”

My blogging often remains far too high-level and abstract: Chen’s counsel is profound even as it is universal and timeless, like Strunk and White: show not tell, use vivid imagery, ground your readers in the actual practice. Many contributors here at CP though consistently bring forth colorful stories from their schools in ways which instruct charmingly detail by detail.

4. Edutopia “strives to present all of our material in clear language, free of jargon, comprehensible to a parent as well as a professor.”   Chen is right, of course: we need to win hearts and minds of parents, teachers, politicians, and students, and to do so we need compelling words which resonate and inform rather than obscure.

This is something, I think, which Connected Principals is succeeding at brilliantly.  The writing here is writing informed by many years of writing newsletters to parents, and by writers who have to communicate every day to parents, students, and teachers.

Wise counsel.  What other communication strategies do ConPrin participants think will enhance and  improve writing, blogging, and presenting about education?