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Editorial: The good–news story behind the story of education

April 25, 2017

In the fall of 2015, the Alberta Teachers’ Association launched a public relations and advertising campaign that set out to tell the story of education and the story of the ATA.

I hope you have seen the campaign, which has included ads on television, radio, movie theatre screens and grocery store divider bars, as well as online and in newspapers. The ads include storybook-style graphics of caring teachers working with students and colleagues.

The idea behind this campaign was to highlight aspects of Association work that most members of the public may not be familiar with. While many teachers, especially those who are active with the Association, are aware of the work we do in professional development, research and advocacy, the public is less aware. We know this because of the research and planning that went into the campaign.

In the spring of 2015 we conducted focus groups to talk with ordinary Albertans about education in general and then about teachers and the Alberta Teachers’ Association. We found that people knew and trusted teachers but were less familiar with the Association. Consequently, they were slightly less trusting of our organization than they were of teachers.

We found that Albertans had very little information about what the ATA is and what it does. We also found that people were surprised and impressed when we talked about some of our programs, like our international partnerships, our leadership in research around technology and our advocacy for mental health. On top of all that, we found that people have a better impression of the ATA when they feel the organization is looking out for the best interests of students — not difficult to predict but important to validate.

And so, under the leadership of our Communications, Advocacy and Public Education Committee, we developed a clear objective for the public relations campaign: that the ATA is seen to be a professional, respected organization that focuses on the best interests of children and learning.

While it may be clear to most of us that the ATA embodies the qualities described by this objective, the organization is not always perceived that way. Clearly, there was work to be done.

In June 2015, we conducted public opinion polls to establish a baseline for key indicators to measure the effect of the campaign. Now that the campaign is closing, we can compare the results of a poll conducted in March 2017 with what we saw in 2015. I think the results are impressive.

When asked, Albertans were most likely to express a neutral impression of the ATA, and when pressed on that, they said they lacked the awareness needed to form an opinion. But in the 18 months since this campaign began, the percentage of Albertans who had a neutral opinion declined by nine percentage points, while the proportion who had a positive impression increased by eight points.

The results are more impressive as we dig deeper into the factors that affect the overall impression.

In March of 2017, 76 per cent of respondents agreed that the ATA is looking out for the best interests of students, which is nine points higher than it was in June 2015. However, what is really interesting is that the proportion of those expressing moderate agreement stayed largely the same. Meanwhile, those expressing moderate disagreement declined by nine points, and those expressing strong agreement increased by six.

These numbers show that opinion has not only shifted from moderate opposition to moderate support, but it has also shifted by turning moderate supporters into stronger supporters. A similar shift occurred on three other measures: 89 per cent agree that the ATA is a respected voice on education matters (up 16 points); 83 per cent agree that the ATA enhances the quality of education in Alberta (up 12 points); and 76 per cent agree that the ATA is an expert authority on teaching in Alberta (up seven points).

An ATA that is seen to be a professional and respected organization that focuses on the best interests of children and learning is an ATA whose voice is listened to and heard. That has tremendous value for teachers as the ATA advocates on those issues that matter most to students and to its members. ❚

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