Core Idea #2: Identifying and Framing an Issue

Nowhere in ‘Humpty Dumpty” did it say he was an egg.  Maybe your inability to think outside of what others have taught you is what’s keeping you from putting him together again.   –Darnell Lamont Walker

identifying-and-framing-an-issueWhen we identify and frame our issue, we begin to

  1. narrow our focus from a general concern (i.e., testing is bad) to a specific issue (i.e. teaching to the test leads to overemphasis on a very narrow set of skills) and
  2. figure out what public misunderstanding allows this concern to persist.

Why is it important to focus on a specific issue? The current narrative is filled with so many misconceptions about teachers and schools and public education, it’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed. Because we feel passionate about all kinds of concerns that are impacting our lives and the lives of our students, we sometimes want to address all the concerns, all at once. However, if we really want to make an effective contribution to changing that narrative, we need to focus on some part of the whole that we want the public to understand better, something that impacts us because it is situated in our particular circumstances.

Our focus must be on something that is do-able and that is within our power to change. Articulating our concern and then framing it as an issue is part of the story of now, and it’s our first step toward making strategic change.

Narrowing to a single issue doesn’t mean that we have to reduce the complexity of a particular topic nor do we have to ignore the inter-relatedness of many educational concerns. Rather, it means focusing on one thing at a time, realizing that we can turn to another issue in the future.

Starting small can lead to big changes.

Framing the issue.  Once you’ve narrowed your topic to a single issue, it’s time to frame that issue. What is a frame?  A frame, according to the FrameWorks Institute, is “an organizing principle.  It is the way a story is told that triggers the shared and durable cultural models that people use to make sense of their world.” ( How issues are framed has everything to do with public perception and public perception has everything to do with how we derive “solutions” to these problems.

The basic idea behind framing is this: People are not blank slates; in fact, everyone already has particular frames through which they understand issues, frames that connect to people’s deeply held values and world views.  These frames are important to understand because all communication that people receive is perceived through their frames—so that while I might be talking about point x through my particular frame (a frame that goes back to the values I hold), someone else will hear the point I’m making through their already existing frame and the values they hold) and thus understand it differently from how I intend it to be understood.

So how do we change the current frames that surround a particular way of thinking?  First we survey the landscape to identify the frames that exist around a particular issue and understand why they are effective.Then we create new frames that might help others understand differently.  At the center of framing and re-framing is recognition of who you want to reach, what their prior experience has been, and how you might narrow in on the issue in a way that will make sense to that audience.

If you want to learn more about how to introduce teachers to these ideas, read In Practice: Identifying and Framing an Issue

Read More: Core Idea #3: Taking Action