Welcome to Talking About Teachers and Teachers’ Unions – a toolkit compendium of research on how Americans think about the role of teachers and teachers’ unions, and how to increase public support for policies and programs that support reforms to improve America’s educational system. As FrameWorks concluded from an extensive review of related media coverage:
“The shallow, stereotyped and overwhelmingly negative coverage of teachers’ unions places them in a defensive position in the national news media and forces them to fight an uphill battle for deeper public appreciation of their connection to meaningful reform. Teachers’ unions will undoubtedly need to focus communications efforts on explaining what teachers’ unions do, and not simply what they oppose.”
A decade of FrameWorks’ research demonstrates that effective communications can help engage the public’s thinking and engagement with issues as complex as child mental health and climate change. Here, we demonstrate how an empirically based communications strategy can bolster understanding about the American education system, including the external network of people and resources that is needed to improve it, and garner the necessary support for progressive, meaningful education policy reforms and programming alternatives. By effectively explaining the role of teachers and teachers’ unions in reform, we demonstrate how the reform narrative benefits from this inclusion.
Based on research findings from several years of multi-method studies, this toolkit provides application materials, guides, and resources to front-line communicators for deploying recommended framing strategies to shift the public conversation about education reform and the role of teachers’ unions. It is complemented by an ongoing project to develop a Core Story of Education, resulting in research on public attitudes to skills, testing, digital media and learning. To access these additional materials, please visit the FrameWorks Institute’s website issue pages on Education and Digital Media and Learning, respectively.
This toolkit was developed by the FrameWorks Institute for the joint partners in this research – the Ford Foundation, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
- Get in Where You Fit in: The Role of Teachers' Unions in Public Conversations About Education Reform
This new MessageMemo summarizes the findings from FrameWorks’ research and provides front-line communicators with a communications map for improving the public’s understanding of the linked topics of teachers and teachers’ unions in education reform, and for shifting support for education policy alternatives. Also included are embedded video recordings of FrameWorks’ Senior Fellow elaborating on the research findings.
An interactive version of the MessageMemo is available. (requires Flash plug-in)
- Framing Education Reform: A FrameWorks MessageMemo
This interpretive piece recounts findings from a two-year inquiry into American thinking about education more generally and education reform. As such, it provides a useful backdrop to this toolkit and offers several frame elements – e.g., values and metaphors – to further communications about teachers and teachers’ unions.
E-Workshops and Trigger Videos
- Education Nation: Building Public Will for Education Reform
This e-workshop is an hour-long, highly visual web-based tool that will take you through the research findings on education reform generally, provide insightful video elaborations on reframing the topic, and test your framing IQ in a series of interactive exercises.
- Trigger Video: Thinking About Teachers and Their Unions
This short flash presentation provides a quick overview of the research methods and its findings, drawing from on-the-street interviews and interactive group discussion to demonstrate the challenges communicators face, and the power of the reframing tools.
This section provides a variety of framing tools intended to help advocates understand and apply the research findings and recommendations on how to talk about teachers’ unions.
- Talking Points
Serve as reminders of the core frame elements needed to communicate effectively about teachers and teachers’ unions. These can be used in preparation for media interviews, editorial board visits, or other public communications.
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Highlight a few common questions about teachers’ unions and education reform, with examples of effective and less-effective responses to each.
- Sample Op-Ed
Provide three examples of how to apply the framing strategies on teachers’ unions to the format of guest editorials in a newspaper:
- Supporting High-Quality Teacher Preparation Is Key to Improving Schools
- Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week
- Remodeling Our Education System to Support Effective Teaching
Key Framing Guides
- Navigating the Swamp. This is a graphic representation of the “swamp” of dominant patterns of the public’s thinking about the role of teachers and teachers’ unions. This visual serves as a reminder of the already existing themes in public thinking that front-line communicators must address.
- You Say…They Think.
Provides an analysis of a series of frame clashes – you say one thing and the public thinks another – and shows how common communication frames about teachers and teachers’ unions can get “eaten” in the swamp.
- Basic Message Template. This template is an outline of a message frame for communicating about the role of teachers and teachers’ unions as an integral part of meaningful education reform efforts. The Talking Points, FAQs, and Sample Op-Eds also in this toolkit show a variety of ways to apply this basic message template.
- Understanding Teachers’ Collective Role in Reform: Mapping the Gaps Between the Expert and the Public Understandings of Teachers’ Unions as Part of Strategic Frame Analysis™(2010) This report examines how experts and the general public understand the topics of teachers, teachers’ unions, and unions more generally. FrameWorks compares these expert and public understandings in order to “map the gaps” that exist between these groups. These “gaps” represent specific areas where reframed communications can bridge expert and lay understandings to improve and encourage new ways of thinking about education reform efforts.
- Painted in a Corner: How the Media Frame Teachers’ Unions and Education Reform (2011) This report examines the media presentation of teachers’ unions and education reform by identifying and documenting the way existing frames about teachers’ unions are embedded and presented to the public in the context of media stories about education reform. More than 500 print and broadcast stories are coded and analyzed for their impact on public thinking.
- Getting on the Right Side of Change: How Peer Discourse Sessions See the Role of Teachers’ Unions in Education Reform (2010) This report details the research findings from a series of Peer Discourse Sessions conducted by the FrameWorks Institute with groups of civically engaged U.S. citizens on the role of teachers’ unions in education reform. This report offers an interesting contrast to the individual interviews, revealing how people in group situations discuss their views on the role of teachers’ unions.
- Building Support for Teachers’ Unions: The Role of Values Framing (2011) This study uses an experimental survey design with a large, national panel of respondents to identify a value—Pragmatism—that effectively inoculates against negative messages concerning teachers’ unions and creates a space for a constructive conversation about education reform that promotes positive views toward teachers’ unions.
- Teachers on the Rise: Increasing Support for Teachers' Unions Through a Simplifying Model (2011)
This report describes research that is focused specifically on enhancing: (1) Americans’ shallow thinking about what teachers need in order to be effective and (2) Americans’ view of the role of teachers' unions as plausible supports for teachers and the overall education reform effort. FrameWorks designed and tested a simplifying model or metaphor called Scaffolding, which was found to be effective in creating, extending and expanding the public’s understanding of the supports needed for teachers. This metaphor was also successful in opening up opportunities for productive discussions on the positive role teachers' unions can play in education reform.