Always Learning at the Education Writers Association Conference

By Andrea Ruggirello, Director

“Education can’t save us; we must save education.” —Dr. Bettina Love, the William F. Russell Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University

At the 2023 Education Writers Association (EWA) conference, Dr. Love’s quote was shared during one panel on diversifying the teacher workforce, but the sentiment was present across the entire four-day gathering. Comprising education journalists, writers, and other media professionals, the association held its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in June with the theme, “Looking Back, Moving Forward” and a goal of examining the history of civil rights in education, the future of education, and the continued aftermath of the pandemic on learning.

The politicization of education and its consequences for students, teachers, and principals was an explicit topic for many of the conference sessions and presentations—but it was also alluded to in other conversations about teacher shortages, student voice, and out-of-school time. Former principals spoke about how pushback on topics like COVID mitigation measures and LGBTQ+ issues caused them to step down from their posts. Students implored journalists to listen to their stories about how policies and politics affect their learning experience. And teachers discussed the impact both COVID and political culture wars have had on educator recruitment and retention efforts.

At Hatcher, we’re already immersed in these issues. We’ve provided crisis communications support to our education clients facing pushback on their equity work as well as strategic guidance on communicating about topics that have become co-opted or challenged. But what we heard loud and clear at EWA is that these challenges aren’t going away anytime soon.

Another buzzy topic at the conference was artificial intelligence (AI). With the wide availability of ChatGPT, AI has been a hot subject in education news and beyond. The conversation at EWA on AI in relation to communications work focused on how to deploy the technology in a responsible way. At Hatcher, AI has long been a component of tools we use, such as Talkwalker social media listening, which helps us understand sentiment about keywords relevant to our clients. We’ve also used AI to help support our analyses of qualitative research, including focus group and stakeholder interviews, so we don’t miss any key themes or insights in our own reviews of transcripts and recordings. But like many other organizations, we’re being cautious and thoughtful about how we expand our use of AI. We know our staff’s creativity is core to our success. So, though we’re ready to embrace AI in ways that help us become more effective, we know it will never replace individual human thought and expression.

Finally, a core component of EWA that we look forward to every year is connecting with education journalists. The Reporter Roundtable is an annual session where we get to hear from journalists directly about trends they’re seeing, tips for meaningful collaboration, and the biggest challenges they’re facing. What we heard reinforced our approach to media outreach. The two biggest takeaways? Lead with relationship building and propose strong stories. Reporters are inundated with pitches every day, so what makes them open and read a pitch? A familiar name and pithy, targeted pitches. Education journalism has a crucial role to play because the field continues to be in the political spotlight. We’re eager to continue to grow our relationships with local and national reporters to tell stories that keep the public informed about the state of education.

We’re always grateful to spend time with our education colleagues (and clients!) and to deepen our understanding of the field. We’re honored to work alongside so many people working hard to save education and support our students. We’re already counting down to next year’s conference.