For the first time in two years, the Education Writers Association (EWA) National Seminar, the nation’s largest and most influential gathering of education journalists, leaders, experts, and communicators, was held in-person. While celebrating its 75th anniversary, hundreds of journalists and communicators converged in Orlando, Florida to discuss education topics, particularly “the pandemic’s effects on learning at all levels, from cradle to career.”

Education is an ever-present topic in the news. But over the past two years, a new spotlight has been shone on the field. There is now increased attention paid to topics ranging from hybrid learning due to COVID-19 to critical race theory in classrooms to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

A number of Fenton’s education clients sent representatives to EWA this year, including Tracey Lynn Pearson from The Kresge Foundation, and Laura Bornfreud from New America, who discussed the challenges of attracting and retaining talent in the early childcare education workforce and the effects this has on generations of children, families and communities.

Our leadership also played a role in the conference. Vice President Kamali Burke, who is based in Miami, moderated a community member panel titled “Doing It All? Traditional and Digital Communications,” in which communicators discussed navigating between traditional earned media and digital communications. Daria Hall, an executive vice president in Fenton’s Washington, D.C. office, participated on a panel “What’s Hot, What’s Not,” on what is in and out in communications. The conversation provided a pulse on how communications tools and issues continue to evolve.

Here are a few key takeaways from the “What’s Hot, What’s Not” panel on industry trends and best practices:

What’s In?

  • Next Door is a neighborhood-focused app where people can get local tips, buy and sell items, and more. Its hyper-focused zip code targeting reaches nearly 290,000 neighborhoods globally. It is quickly growing in popularity as a tool used by public agencies, including public school systems, through the NextDoor Public Agency Program, a free service that allows various government entities to launch Nextdoor neighborhoods across their municipalities. Our client, Battle Creek Public Schools, utilized NextDoor as a key tool to communicate with roughly 4,200 Battle Creek residents (17 percent of all households) and the larger community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first school district in Michigan to become a partner with NextDoor and used the tool with much success.

  • TikTok can be a useful tool for those with smart, catchy content that are trying to reach younger audiences. But the platform is also becoming a go-to platform for older audiences as well. As one of our digital colleagues, Sophia Galvan, shared in her TikTok guide: “TikTok is no longer just a platform for dancing videos.” TikTok can be a great tool for educators and school administrators looking to connect with their students. Nonprofits have seen success in telling stories about their organization’s impact and highlighting solutions being developed to support communities — so long as their message centers hope or joy in some way. Check out these cool videos from two of our clients: BCPS and Amnesty International. Some organizations may not be ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet — and that’s okay. Take the time to create a real strategy as well as thoughtful content that will resonate with the content that typically thrives on the platform. To get more pointers, read our guide here.
  • Podcasts are popular, but you don’t have to start one for your organization, which requires a considerable amount of time and resources. Instead, placing your organization’s spokespeople as experts on podcasts that can reach your target audiences is the better way to use this medium. About 80 million people listen to podcasts each week and listenership is high among diverse audiences. Hope Credit Union’s CEO Bill Bynum was recently featured on Sunday Civics, a weekly show that teaches civic education and engagement using the current political landscape. Bynum discussed HOPE’s report about the impact of predatory loans on communities of color in Memphis.

What’s Out?

  • Media statements can still be an important way to share your organization’s message with reporters on pressing issues, but no reporter is waiting for commentary on the topic du jour. If you are a prolific thought leader, a journalist will often reach out to you. But because the field is so crowded, it may not be the best strategy for every announcement. That said, if you feel as though you must put out a statement of some kind, you should go through the exercise of determining if your commentary is adding to the noise or elevating the conversation. If it is simply a “statement of solidarity” on a hot topic in the news, it is best suited for social media, particularly Twitter as well as your website. This ensures you are on the record but not cluttering a reporter’s inbox with the same message several other organizations have already shared. It is important to remember that, when it comes to breaking news, you have 24-to-48 hours to issue a statement. Don’t be the organization sharing a statement in reaction to a big story a week after it happens. You risk your organization becoming the story.
  • “Learning loss” is a term that refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education. News stories continue to emphasize student learning loss due to the pandemic, but this term puts the responsibility on the students for the loss of knowledge instead of the systems that educate them. A preferred term is “interrupted learning.”
  • “Minority” is starting to fade as a term used to describe communities of color. More organizations are using inclusive language that doesn’t “other” people of color, such as the phrase “people of the global majority.” Some are even refraining from using acronyms like BIPOC in formal communication that often lumps together people of color who may have distinct cultural experiences. Other popular terms like “historically underrepresented” are also be changed to more historically accurate terms like “historically excluded” since you can’t have underrepresentation without first being excluded.

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