This spring, a partnership of California education groups came to Spitfire with a big idea: bring together 15,000 California teachers at 33 sites across the state for a first-of-its-kind day of learning led by teachers, for teachers. The summit would give teachers an opportunity to share ideas, build their networks and learn concrete strategies to help them implement the new California Standards in their classrooms. Best of all? It would be free.
But there was also a big hurdle: the summit would take place on a Friday at the end of the summer. The school year was winding down, teachers were making travel plans, and there was very little time to let them know about the event. Faced with ambitious targets and a tight timeline, the stakes were high for Spitfire and our partners.
Fast forward to July 31, when more than 15,000 teachers gathered across the state for Better Together: California Teachers Summit. The summit, organized by New Teacher Center, California State University and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, exceeded registration goals at 33 locations across the state – and had waiting lists at many sites. Featuring inspiring Ed Talks, high-profile keynote speakers Yvette Nicole Brown and Leland Melvin and special guest Kid President, the summit generated media buzz across the state. The event hashtag, #CATeachersSummit, even trended on Twitter (twice)! It was a powerful day of learning that brought teachers together to collaborate and re-energize ahead of the new school year. “[T]he best part of this summit is just meeting all these different teachers, and sharing ideas with them,” 5th-grade teacher Lucy Palmer told EdSource.
So how did Spitfire work with three diverse organizations to help recruit 15,000+ teachers to join us on one of their last days of summer, especially on such short notice? Here are four takeaways from the summit that hold important lessons for effectively using events as communication opportunities.
- Engage influencers early. We recognized that the best way to reach teachers would be word of mouth – especially from friends, colleagues, administrators and other trusted messengers. To reach those messengers, we needed to spread the word to top influencers and officials with a broad network of educators. Spitfire worked hand-in-hand with the organizing partners to develop and execute a strategy to engage those influencers early on, and as a result we were able to tap into their networks and their communication channels. The California Department of Education signed on as a co-sponsor, 15 education organizations officially signed on as partners, and hundreds more spread the word to make the summit a success. We also reached out to key social media influencers who helped us promote the event on a variety of platforms and participated in Twitter chats to further generate excitement.
- Meet your audience where they consume trusted information. Before we started promoting the summit, we spoke with teachers to find out where they hear about professional learning opportunities. Based on conversations with teachers and other stakeholders, we developed a targeted earned media strategy focused on generating in-depth preview stories in trusted education outlets like EdSource. We also tailored our social media strategy towards platforms that are widely used by teachers, such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. This included a paid advertising campaign on Facebook that specifically targeted teachers and regions in California that needed extra support. More than 89,000 Facebook users saw these ads in the six weeks leading up to the summit.
- Coordinate and tailor your message. With dozens of co-hosts, partners and supporting organizations promoting the summit, it was critical to make sure we had a clear and unified message. At the same time, we needed to adapt our message to reach a wide variety of audiences, from teacher candidates to subject matter experts to top education officials. Spitfire developed core messaging to guide outreach and then worked with our partners to tailor promotional materials for each audience according to their values and interest in the summit.
- Build a community that will last. The summit was all about creating a strong network of educators across the state to support ongoing collaboration. With that goal in mind, we built in ample opportunities for teachers to network during breaks and share ideas in small group sessions throughout the day. We also encouraged teachers to connect on social media before, during and after the summit. Over the course of one month, we saw our engagement on Facebook and Twitter triple. To keep the momentum going, we held a Twitter chat after the summit to give teachers an opportunity to share takeaways and lessons learned.
The California Teachers Summit was just the beginning of a community and a conversation that will live far beyond the event. It’s also a reminder that with smart communication planning, anything is possible.
Better Together: California Teachers Summit was supported by grants to New Teacher Center, CSU Fullerton, and Loyola Marymount University from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and the Silver Giving Foundation.