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ETFO Celebrates 10 Years of Success: Bringing Elementary Education to the Forefront

Mary Morison


Political action and public relations go hand in hand. While our leaders and activists respond to government initiatives, solicit opposition party support, and lobby MPPs on both sides of the legislature, ETFO promotes its work and the work of its members not only with politicians, but also with other education stakeholders, the media, community activists, and the public at large.

From its inception ETFO knew that it would have to build a public profile for the federation and for elementary education and that its messages would have to resonate with its members and with parents. ETFO was aware that it had a powerful and important role to play, giving voice to elementary educators and the students they teach.

ETFO also knew that the first challenge it faced with the public and with politicians was to build credibility. We could not start our new life as a federation asking for support without demonstrating our commitment to elementary education. With this in mind, ETFO undertook two early public relations initiatives.

The Teachers Bring Learning to Life campaign had two important features. First, ETFO used its own members as “models” on the billboards, and we have continued to do so. Second, the campaign provided members (and their students) with bean seeds for students to plant and with supporting curriculum materials that demonstrated our message.

The second initiative – later titled From the Ground Up – started as a consultation with our members about what they believed needed to be improved in elementary education. From the results of the consultation we produced a report, brochures, and posters that summarized our beliefs about public elementary education. These beliefs, grounded in our membership, have informed much of our work since.

ETFO’s public relations campaigns are based on core messages that resonate with our members and reflect what we stand for:

  • It’s all about our students.
  • We care passionately about public education.
  • We are proud of the work we do.
  • We are working with parents to help our students succeed.
  • We are working to be the best teachers we can be.

Our campaigns were carefully planned to ensure that we built upon the credibility of public elementary school teachers, stayed true to the voices of our members, and crafted clear messages that would be easily understood.

Our public relations campaigns have taken many forms and have had different audiences. The primary audience is always our own members. Public relations campaigns support our members in their work and provide them with opportunities to share their work with the public. In some instances, our campaigns are specifically designed to support the collective bargaining ETFO does on members’ behalf. The first large-scale PR campaign ETFO undertook to support bargaining was Campaign 200 in 2004. This was followed by the No Substitute campaign supporting bargaining by occasional teachers. And for the past year and a half, ETFO has been engaged in the Close the Gap campaign. No one can have missed this campaign.

Other public relations work ETFO does is directed toward parents. ETFO has produced summer activity brochures for parents, welcome-to-school brochures, and billboards about fair funding and specialist teachers. We have distributed brochures questioning the value of standardized testing. We have circulated material advocating for teacher librarians and school libraries. While these support the work of our members, they are primarily designed to encourage parents and the public to join us in strengthening public elementary education.

ETFO’s public relations activities take a number of forms. We don’t just do brochures and billboards: we have prepared videotapes (now DVDs) and podcasts and bought advertising on radio, on television, and in newspapers.

But paid advertising is only a small part of our public relations work. And this is where political action and public relations intersect. Most of the work that ETFO does to bring elementary education issues to the attention of politicians and the public is done, day by day, by our leaders and our members. Our leaders speak to the media, to politicians, and to the community. Our members talk with parents and the public. And in all of these conversations, the message is the same: public elementary education is critically important and needs to be treated that way. Our students deserve nothing less.