Keys to Engaging Thought Leaders
Last month at Learning Forward's 2011 Annual Conference, René Islas, Hayes Mizell and I facilitated a session on engaging business and thought leaders. Our attendees had some great ideas for building relationships with community members to advance professional learning goals.
In preparing for the session, I remembered an article Hayes wrote for JSD about a year ago, where he gave very concrete strategies for engaging thought leaders. In "Thought leaders: Who they are, why they matter, and how to reach them," he defined thought leaders as those whose ideas influence the ideas and actions of others.
After reflecting on this article and on the discussion from our conference session, I've crafted a list of considerations for communicating with those beyond our field, based on what Hayes wrote and the insights of our participants.
Define your goal. The folks in our session were careful about what they hoped to achieve with potential new partners. They knew that educators approaching businesses might immediately be perceived as having their hands out, asking for money. While financial support is often part of what educators are seeking, the relationship between educators and community members can encompass so much more. For example, a respected business leader's willingness to advocate for effective professional learning is extremely valuable and can have lasting impact.
Know your listener. Community members may have a limited understanding of, or even a negative perception of, professional learning. Think about what their entry point to this conversation might be. Do they value on-the-job learning for themselves and the employees in their businesses, even in lean economic times? Is their entry point to professional learning through the future employees they hope to hire, and therefore the educators those future employees need today?
Tell a good story. While the research on the teacher's role in a student's education experience is foundational, on its own, that information may not motivate listeners to embrace professional learning as a cause. Consider how the story of effective professional learning best comes to life with those you approach. Is it through examples that include local educators and students? Is it news about high-achieving schools in other locations - even other countries? And remember, telling a story doesn't mean you don't need data. Results are always compelling.
Be consistent - and persistent. Meaningful relationships happen over time, so one phone call, one visit, one elevator conversation isn't enough. Plan to speak with your desired allies repeatedly, in different venues and with ever-deepening but consistent messages. Scaffold the information you share, just as you do with other learners.
Make a commitment, get a commitment. Because your relationship will continue over time, plan your next steps. Perhaps you will need to find information for your new partner, or schedule a school visit. At the same time, you'll ask for a commitment; perhaps your new ally will agree to a next discussion with you or will invite you to a board meeting or community event.
Reaching out beyond our circle of professional learning believers will be an important step to achieving the Standards for Professional Learning. Let's be as intentional with this step as we are in our work with educators and students.
Director of Publications, Learning Forward