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Cross-Boundary Leader: Virginia B. "Ginny" Edwards (NJ EPFP 87-88)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, August 3, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Virginia B. "Ginny" Edwards
(NJ EPFP 87-88)

Virginia B. “Ginny” Edwards is the president of Editorial Projects in Education and the editor-in-chief of Education Week and Before joining EPE, she worked at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and was an editor and reporter at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY. Edwards is a board member at the Center for Teaching Quality and a member of the advisory board of TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

Education is all about working and leading across boundaries; it equally involves policymakers, practitioners, funders, and thought leaders. We sometimes think that one specific thing is the “essential ingredient” that will change everything, but all of these pieces work together so it’s important to be able to work with these different groups.

Data and Information Challenges

People often talk about wanting good information, research, and data to do their work better, but there is a lot of evidence that, even when it is available, they do not use it. I feel that the supply side of that is well-attended-to; there is a lot of good information out there about what works, as well as research and data to inform policymaking and practice. I think the real challenge is whetting the appetite of the demand side so that people use good information grounded in research and data.

Another challenge regarding data is that many people use biased data and self-select the information they want to use and that aligns with what they are trying to do. This self-selected information doesn’t just pertain to research data—it includes news and opinion journalism. We tend to default to following information that we believe in or agree with and this creates an echo chamber, calcifying what we think and why we think that way. It can be disheartening to see situations where honest conversation is encouraged, but people talk past each other and are sometimes disrespectful because there is a difference of opinion.

This is also related to the notion of media and digital literacy. Everyone—both kids and adults—need to be able to discern and make sense of what they’re reading, whether it’s in school or out of school, and judge it as an opinion or straight reporting.

Social Media

One of my clichés here at Education Week is “get hip or die.” Over the past 10-15 years, newspapers and magazines have been completely disrupted by the internet, just like music and TV and movies have been. Ed Week specifically was incredibly upended at the beginning of the 21st century, and so we worked to reimagine what we could do to remain relevant and useful. Now a majority of our business is digital, in addition to our print editions and live events.

We see ourselves as students of new-media opportunities and how to use such new approaches as social media to further promote the work we are trying to do. We still believe in improving schools and outcomes for kids, families, and communities, and we are just now doing the work with different tools, like social media and digital storytelling. One benefit of social media that we don’t have with print is that it’s an interactive two-way street and allows us to connect with each other and with our readers and users. Social media has also become a strategy for disseminating news. People don’t go to news website homepages as much as they used to; they prefer to sample and scan their news via social media, blogs, and email. This change in how our audience receives their news led us to change how we share it with them.

Education Media Changing Over the Years

Education Week launched in the early 1980s, when I was in Louisville covering education for the local newspaper. Back then, people didn’t know what was going on in other parts of their state, much less across the country; education news tended to be very locally focused, except for occasional association magazines and newsletters.

When Ed Week came along, it changed that dynamic pretty quickly. Before it launched, the initial market research indicated that no one cared about national education news and only wanted to know what was happening at the local level. Ron Wolk, our founder and first editor, ignored that research and saw the potential for Ed Week, particularly after major national education policy work like the A Nation at Risk report. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, it became much clearer that education was a national conversation and that states could learn from each other, and it was during this time period – in 1997, actually – that we launched Quality Counts to help provide that state information.

Now, largely because of the internet, education media is much more widespread and typically of high quality. There’s more competition in the niche education market and capacity in daily markets is increasing again, although unevenly, around the country. The downside to having such a large media market is that users need to have media literacy to differentiate between factual news and opinion because it tends to all be out there together.

Leadership Lessons Learned

As a leader, it’s important to be intentional about having a vision and building capacity around that vision. Leadership is an everyday activity—it is part of how you run meetings, how you create culture, and how you interact with your colleagues. Creating an organizational culture that you want to be a part of is a big part of this. I often say that our organization is an extremely humane place to work because we care about and support each other and our work. When colleagues care about each other and feel that they matter, work will be better and employees will be more productive and creative.

EPFP Experience

My experience as an EPFP Fellow was very significant for me and my career. At the time, I was working at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on early childhood issues, and EPFP helped me be able to connect the dots and think about it in the context of what we were all doing across sectors and inside and outside of schools. It was a great opportunity to step away from my day-to-day responsibilities and think with others about our work in different ways. For me, it reinforced the importance of context and remembering that issues are not just black and white. Instead, we need to celebrate the messiness and cross-sector nature of our work.

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