11/12/2013 03:40 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Learning How to Best Communicate About Education

How do you share with parents and the community that one of the biggest changes in our schools is underway? That is the dilemma in Oregon and almost every state as the new Common Core State Standards begin to be fully implemented. These standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn in order to be career and college ready, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

As a case study, we are proud in our state to look at a local example of successfully rolling out education transformation. The Sherwood School District wanted to increase its professional development offerings for educators back in 2008. The district superintendent at the time was Dan Jamison, who now serves as Chalkboard Project's vice president of education policy.

"We decided we would hold these professional development sessions for teachers every two weeks in the afternoon," Dan recalled for me. "This would allow teachers to reflect on their instructional practice and review data. But it would also mean we would need to let students out early and that is tough in a district where there are a lot of two-income earners and no one home in the afternoon."

The district initially tried a traditional approach of sharing news about the plan with parents. Dan and other leaders in top positions at the district level tried to explain what was going to happen and why it was important.

"We ran into a buzz saw," Dan remembers. "We pulled the whole plan back and rethought everything. We quickly realized that if we explained the changes first to the principals and teachers and got them on board that it would be easier. People trust their principal and teachers."

This school site-based communication approach worked. An online poll showed support for the plan running 60-70 percent after the neighborhood school leaders led the communication charge. The staff also agreed there was support that hadn't existed before.

In fact, national surveys show this to be an effective approach. A Gallup poll found teachers to be the fourth highest rated profession for ethics and honesty in the U.S. (nurses top the list; lobbyists are at the bottom).

Furthermore, 41 percent of people believe that a company's employees rank higher in public trust than a firm's PR department, CEO or founder, according to Edelman's 2013 Trust Barometer.

As states like ours and others look for ways to build awareness and support for Common Core, we suggest they learn from this example from one of our districts. First, inform the neighborhood teachers and principals and then let them share the messages with those in the community who know them best.