The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Honored Alum welcomed for week on campus

Ambassador, leader in modern political communications, and former counselor to President George W. Bush Karen Hughes spent the majority of the past week on and around the SMU campus – beginning her time back at her alma mater serving as the keynote speaker at the Bush Institute’s AREL (Alliance to Reform Education Leadership) Leaders conference hosted Tuesday and Wednesday.

The AREL conference welcomed 100 of the nation’s leaders in education reform, according to the Institute’s AREL program coordinator Patrick Kobler.

“The majority of our participants [at the conference] were representatives from AREL’s network of 28 innovatively designed principal preparation programs, spanning 15 states and the District of Columbia,” Kobler said.

The focus of the two-day immersive collaboration was summarized by the Institute’s Director of Education Reform Kerri Briggs, who spoke to the Institute’s “deep responsibility to accountability” that resonated with the program’s participants.

“We all know leadership matters in the life of our kids, and this program was the first [to be created at the Institute],” Briggs said. “We’ve seen over the last decade that there’s been a lot of improvement…but we also know we still have a lot of work to do.”

Hughes’ keynote address unpacked the work and accountability Briggs asserted, offering the key tool of communication as means for growing the education reform movement.

“I want to start by challenging the way we think about communications,” Hughes said. “At its heart, effective communication is…strategic positioning.”

Hughes often referenced her time as strategic adviser to former President Bush (from 2001-2002) as many of her real-life, real-time examples for the importance of communication in any aspect of seeking support, gaining trust, and taking on the effective leadership role.

Putting it into context, Hughes explained that in the education field, just as in politics, the message that will gain active support is one the directly identifies “the fundamental things you want people to know.” From that, what the audience of the message sees as imperative in solving the issues must take on a prioritized role in creating any strategy.

“In the world of education…I suspect a key context…is the qualities of teachers,” Hughes said. “To communicate effectively, you must [address] that perspective first.”

Hughes used her “five Cs for effective communication” as the foundation for the rest of her address – delving into the importance of clarity, conviction, compassion, credibility, and consistency.

Hughes emphasized the importance of a well-formatted communication plan to make education reform a tangible and impassioning project for the American audience, making clear that not only does the message “have to be clear,” but it also “has to ring true.”

One critical part of this is to narrow down the necessities of the issue–what really needs to be said, and what needs to be done most.

“Clarity of focus is critical,” Hughes said. “It’s vital for a leader to focus with great clarity on the few things that are most important.”

Adding to the clarity and direct focus of a movement’s support message, Hughes insisted on the need to “begin with clear core values” – which “allows all the people [working on the issue] to move toward the same direction.”

Having this consistency allows for the “credibility” factor Hughes said is imperative to gaining support, and the “conviction” component that comes with that.

“People have to believe you, and you have to say it again and again and again and again,” Hughes said. “You look for someone who is passionate about what they do.”

Hughes remained on campus through Thursday, when she was honored with one of SMU’s 2013 Dedman College Distinguished Graduate Awards Thursday.

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