George Lucas Educational Foundation

Use Talking Points to Keep the Complicated Simple

Use Talking Points to Keep the Complicated Simple

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I've been struggling to make sense of all the state and federal mandates thrown my district's way. I help lead a small system of three schools and 1,400 students so accountability is left to a small team of principals, supervisors, and central office administrators.

Early failures as an inexperienced leader taught me that complicating already complicated issues didn't help anyone. In fact, I did more harm than good and wasted others' time and energy. I've taken to simplifying matters now. It should not be seen as coincidence that some of our greatest leaders in business (Steve Jobs comes to mind) and the military (Eisenhower) rose to success by whittling down the complex to the simple. 

Michael Korda recognizes Dwight Eisenhower's rise to Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in his work IKE: An American Hero:

"One of IKE's greatest strengths as a senior officer [was] his ability to produce a simpler solution than anybody else's to a difficult problem."

I help my leadership team communicate simple solutions by having them repeat a mantra each year (what I refer to as no more than three "talking points"). I fashion the mantra out of what I know will be our core needs for a given school year. The talking points keep the mishmash of mandates and new initiatives simple so the problems with which the whole school community must confront are tackled slowly, surely, and simply.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Thanks for sharing, Scott, although the use of the words "Talking Points" makes me think mostly of terrible politicians giving over simplistic answer to complex problems instead of actual, nuanced policy. Could you give examples of what you're using this year or what you've used in the past?

Dr. Scott Taylor's picture
Dr. Scott Taylor
Superintendent- Highland Park Public Schools; Adjunct Professor at Rutgers and Montclair Universities; Ironman Triathlon All World Athlete 2015


The following is this year's list of points:-

1. Assessment is about "telling the story of a child." Our teachers and leaders need to know how we can improve our instruction to help kids.

2. Professional development will focus on learning how to read assessment data.

3. 2014-2015 is our chance to solidify the changes we've made in the last four years.

These ideas are simply stated and repeated often.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

They almost sound more like affirmations than talking points, although I can see why you may not want to use a word like "affirmations."

Maybe touchstones?

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I've seen people describe something like this before a game as the three keys, or the three key areas of focus.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

As an old English teacher, I appreciate that you took the time to get your thoughts and goals down to simple, clear language. I've always felt that too many educators take the "Why use one word when 20 will do?) route when sharing their ideas. If you can say what you want to say in fewer than 50 words, you have clarity around what you really mean and Clarity, of course, is the key to everything IMHO.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

The list seems like objectives to me. Objectives should always be short and simple, which you've done. You've taken the language of mandate writers and transformed it into a simple objective.

On a side note, I've always been taught never to use "Understand" as a verb in a objective. Then last year when my district buys this pricey literacy program, all I see is ..." Students will understand..." Crazy.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

I was fascinated to learn that, when developing the original iPod, Steve Jobs challenged his engineers to make any song accessible in four clicks or less. Anything more, he felt, was too cumbersome. The early campaigns for the iPod boasted 1,000 songs in your pocket, and any one was only four taps away. Only when you consider where we were -- carrying around CD albums and changing each disc by hand -- do you realize the effectiveness of this push for simplicity.

I mention all of this because we need to seek streamlined means to simplify the complicated aspects of our classes as well. Can the rules of writing, something especially daunting for students, be made accessible by focusing on four core elements? Are there four scientific questions that can guide inquiry?

In seeking simplicity we do not reduce complex ideas to simple forms. Rather, we provide the framework for students expand their thinking by supplying a basis that they can develop, expand, and personalize, making for an authentic learning experience.

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

I often stress the importance of this when it comes to our school communicating information with parents. I think the initial message and access to it needs to be simple, but to fully understand an issue and/or come to the best resolution, we need to go beyond the simple.

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