By: Cora Goldston
Sarah Rand is a Partner Engagement and Communications Consultant with the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC). As a member of the MWCC team, she provided strategic communications support for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) in late 2015 and early 2016. Sarah talked to us about how she supported MDE and how she applies lessons from this work to other contexts.
What is your professional background?
I started working as an elementary school teacher in a rural Washington community. While teaching, I wanted to improve my teaching practice but didn’t have access to quality education due to the school’s limited resources. Seeing the disconnect between research and classroom practice, I was inspired to enter the research field. I earned a master’s degree in learning sciences and then went on to do research at the University of Chicago. As a researcher, I realized that quality research about instruction wasn’t reaching its key audience—educators. Educators weren’t incorporating important findings into practice because research reports can often be dense and lengthy. To encourage educators, such as teachers and principals, to look at key findings, I tried other approaches to communicate clearly, including social media, blog posts, and interactive online documents. My current work focuses on making research more accessible to teachers and administrators so that they can use the research to improve practice.
Can you describe your MWCC work?
Our strategic communications support in Minnesota started in fall 2015. Taishya Adams, the MWCC state manager for Minnesota, worked with the MDE communications team to get started. MDE wanted to continue to improve their stakeholder engagement efforts by using different strategies, including blog posts and infographic visualizations of research findings. MWCC provided examples to MDE like this infographic created by REL Midwest. MDE was interested in expanding beyond just disseminating information and resources to their stakeholders and really engaging with stakeholders using multiple strategies.
I led a workshop for MDE’s communications staff on strategic engagement strategies that included sharing examples of good blog posts and talking about best practices to communicate with the diverse stakeholders that MDE engages (e.g. educators, policy makers and community members). The workshop led MDE to develop a communication template and engagement plan template that can be used to develop a strategic plan for communicating and engaging with stakeholders for any MDE initiative. The template has been used to support MDE efforts to communicate and engage with stakeholders about English Learner, early childhood, and social studies standards initiatives at MDE.
What takeaways from your MWCC work can you apply to other communications projects?
Sarah Rand talks about her work with the Midwest CC.
One major takeaway is that I’ve learned more about the context within the state education agency. When doing communications, it’s helpful to understand the constraints and pressures that states face including funds for communication staff and technology. I’m working on a new project with the Michigan Department of Education, so knowledge about state education agencies will be useful.
What is one fun fact about you?
I have a dog named Luna Beyoncé!