Nellie Mae Education Foundation
Extensive support for School Districts across New England as they transition to student-centered learning.
In May of 2015, NMEF engaged Imaj Associates for a 3-5 year contract to:
- provide communications training, support, and planning to seven school districts (District Level Systems Change grantees) throughout New England to improve the quality, frequency, and impact of the communication strategies they use with stakeholders and community constituencies, and to build greater understanding, support, and demand for student-centered approaches to learning
- support over twenty-five additional schools and districts (including Public Understanding and Demand grantees), in creating collaterals, branding, videos, campaigns, websites, and conducting workshops on communications, social media and partnership development.
In addition, Imaj has provided creative implementation support to NMEF for its own student-centered learning materials for several years.
- Provide an overarching framework for building stronger understanding, support, and demand for student-centered learning transformation locally.
- Map and evaluate existing and former communications strategies to determine what is or has been effective or unsuccessful.
- Facilitate a planning process with each district to identify specific and immediate short-term andlong-term communications needs that builds on previous work already done.
- Ensure the alignment of communications strategies with district improvement plans.
- Develop and/or enhance a strategic communications plan for each district that:Is practical, results-oriented, and achievable for local school and community leaders.
- Emphasizes the representation of traditionally marginalized voices in their community.
- Identifies priority audiences that need to be engaged in a systems-change process.
- Prioritizes two-way communication and dialogue between district and community stakeholders and decision-makers.
- Provides consistent, audience-specific messaging, methods, and mobilization techniques for each target audience.
- Emphasizes the representation of authentic teacher, student, and family voice.
- Recognizes the inherent challenges that come with issues of equity and identifies meaningful ways to address these issues in communications.
- Develop annual communications goals with each district and assist the district to identify ways to allocate resources to achieve them.
- Work with each district to develop a sustainability plan for continuing communications activities beyond the district’s grant period and firmly establish high-quality communications as a primary district priority.
- Guide the districts in allocating funding to support both the plan’s implementation and discrete communications projects that will further accelerate the achievement of district goals.
- Identify economies of scale – i.e. proportionate cost savings gained by increased production and efficiencies – across districts that will help accelerate progress regionally and sustain communications work.
- Share resources, best practices, and lessons learned among grantees.
- Create materials, websites, social programs, videos and more for grantees who wish to hire Imaj individually forimplementation.
CREATING A SOLID FOUNDATION
Imaj first conducted thorough research to gain full, extensive understanding of NMEF goals and overarching challenges, the New England “landscape” overview in education, overarching best practices, previous successful strategies and unsuccessful ones.
We also sought to gain full, extensive knowledge of – while building relationships with – the leadership, partners, and stakeholders of the seven school districts to fully understand the district, student population, community attitudes, local media influence, political scene, and funding/budget issues and identify key areas of need.
We then conducted a SWOT on each district and began to work with each to redesign existing plans, and if none existed, develop strategic communications plans that:
- Align with the goals of NMEF, in accordance with their model of student-centered learning.
- Include an overarching strategy.
- Provide messaging, methods and identify tools to create consistent, clear messaging using language, visuals, and interactive methods.
- Outline an overview of steps needed to educate, engage and change the conversation and manage change, and identify the metrics to measure when the conversation leads to demand.
- Integrate all communications venues, from social media to mobile to web to traditional media, and collaterals.
- Identify key values that resonate with different groups.
- Segment and prioritize SWOT analysis of overall and specifically for each district.
- Provide a roadmap – with steps, timeline and best way to spend budget in each area while sharing certain resources.
- Offer an outline for an advanced, interactive “webtool” to assist in all future planning and needs.
- Identify metrics to show progress.
DEVELOPING DEEP UNDERSTANDING AND CREATING DEMAND
The overarching strategy Imaj employed to engage the community was to tell the story of the transformation to student-centered learning and its positive impact through the voices of students, teachers, families and district leaders. One initiative in support of this strategy was the production of several targeted, compelling and informative videos celebrating the high level of student success within the schools. Featuring district superintendents alongside students, teachers, parents and community members, the videos give voice to the students in sharing their stories, show school pride, and build community support and understanding.
Another initiative Imaj implemented toward engaging the community was the development and production of an online hub as an educational resource, including a facilitator’s guide, for the districts use in creating a deeper understanding of, and a commitment to the districts’ work toward student-centered learning. The hub offers videos demonstrating student-centered learning featuring students and teachers, and a PowerPoint presentation outlining the district’s vision and the changes taking place to make the schools student-centered, as well as other informational and educational resources.
SUPPORTING STAFF AND LEADERS THROUGH TRAINING
Helping the districts understand and value strategic communications is an integral part of the support Imaj Associates provides. Toward this end, in addition to providing ongoing communications counsel through monthly meetings and regular communication, Imaj has developed and facilitated workshops for district leadership and key staff, including:
- Continuing to develop strategic communications plans and messaging
- How to most effectively use social media to engage your stakeholders
- A step-by-step process to define, create and live your brand promise
- Role playing to better understand and engage with community members
- Developing strategic partnerships that are aligned with student needs and goals
DISTRICT BRAND AND PROJECT SUPPORT
Our work for NMEF directly includes rewriting, planning and redesigning collaterals and ongoing design work.
In addition, seven districts have hired us outside of the NMEF contract to implement their immediate needs and/or their plans. The work includes:
- speech writing
- collateral writing and design
- social media strategy, content development, and management
- video production
- event promotion
- e-newsletters and e-blasts
- app development
- website creation
- modules for facilitators
- advertising campaigns
- ongoing communications support
We continue to develop updates to plans and micro-plans for every subsequent initiative as well to provide regular communications counsel, planning, and training.
Ongoing metrics were implemented to measure the success of planning and tactics. We carefully track social media analytics andevent attendance and are part of an eight-member technical assistance team that sets ongoing metrics which are measured by evaluators at EDC.
Our work to date with the districts including Hartford and Meriden, CT; Revere MA; Pittsfield, NH; Portland ME; and Burlington and Winooski, VT has afforded the schools the ability to engage their communities in developing a greater understanding and a deeper appreciation of the schools’ efforts to become places of student-centered learning. To this end, Imaj has provided direct communications counsel to district leadership, conducted workshops with school leaders and other staff focused on developing strategic communications plans, produced several videos and created educational materials. Our work has been highly valued by the districts; each has requested that NMEF continue to retain Imaj to provide communications support for their work through 2016-2017.