School branding is a hot topic in education and for good reason; our students are counting on us to be crystal clear about who we are serving and what matters most. School leaders must advocate for kids with every decision that’s made. This includes decisions about a school’s “brand.”
When it comes to your school’s brand, do not make people guess! Share the stories of the amazing students and staff in your school.
It’s important to understand what I mean when I use the term school branding. A school’s brand is synonymous with its ethos and culture. It’s more than a mascot or motto. The brand is comprised of the student learning experience, stellar staff, parent partnerships, and community support. A school’s brand is also a promise. The brand promise is what we openly aspire to be, and with this promise comes a unique level of transparency and accountability.
A school’s brand is comprised of the total experience of stakeholders; it represents the very ethos of a school including past traditions and future direction.
As principal and lead learner at Greenwood Elementary I have the privilege of seeing some of the most talented students and staff in action every single day. I’ve done a lot of listening, observing, and reflecting the past four years at our school. I’m extremely excited by our district’s vision and equally excited by the direction our school is heading. The image above represents what I think our brand is all about. Let me explain…
- Great Students: Our school’s brand is all about kids; they come first. Period. Spend some time in our classrooms and hallways and you’ll see what I mean. We take the responsibility of partnering with families to raise great kids very seriously. We invest in their capacity to think critically, celebrate their effort, nurture their hearts, and help them learn from mistakes that are made along the way. We understand that to be successful in the future our students are relying on us to foster 21st century skills. They’re depending on our foresight and support as they learn how to create, communicate, and innovate in a digitally connected age. We love our students enough to adapt ourselves as learners so we’re better equipped to serve them!
- Great Staff: Research has shown a very strong link between teacher quality and student achievement. Research also demonstrates that the relationships teachers form with students serve as critical underpinnings to learning. In layman’s terms, teachers matter and they matter a lot. Greenwood’s staff understands the awesome responsibility associated with being a teacher. On a personal level, I consider teaching one of the highest callings…only surpassed by the important work that moms do. We are blessed to have great teachers at our school and they help deliver on our brand’s promise. We also want to attract the very best employees to work with our children. A school’s brand not only represents its staff, but also communicates its values to prospective employees. This spring I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of job applicants. I’ve found that some of the most impressive candidates know exactly what they want in a school and district. They are paying attention to the brand.
- Great Stories: Stories are an integral part of our culture. Stories teach us lessons, celebrate accomplishments, and pass along the values we hold dear. It’s no different in schools. The amazing things our students are doing should be shared. We truly have some awesome kids in our school and district. Our students and staff work too hard for us to ignore their stories or let somebody else tell them. A school’s brand must include the voices of the “difference makers” in the classroom that are making the magic happen each and every day. We are blessed to have an exemplary staff, amazing group of parents, and PTA that give generously of their time, talents, resources, and love for kids. They are helping us write the best story ever…our students’ story!
I absolutely love the willingness of students, staff, and our community to innovate and engage in possibility-thinking. We’re trying to connect in some new ways including the use of social media as a learning and communication tool. We’re putting students in the center of their own learning and it’s a paradigm shift. A 21st century pedagogy will look, feel, and sound differently than what we’ve come to believe education is. Our staff is immersing themselves in true “learning work” including integration of iPads as tools to enhance student learning, Project Based Learning, Flipped Instruction, Genius Hour, Math Workshop, and more. Together we’re amplifying our students’ voices and connecting kids with an authentic audience for their learning.
If you ask why a school would consider branding I would share one heartfelt answer, “For the kids.”
When a new ballpark is constructed millions of dollars and a lot of fuss go into who gets to name the stadium. Corporations are seeking long-term brand awareness. They want their names connected to the newest stadiums and most prestigious franchises. Last year, Levi’s agreed to pay the San Francisco 49ers more than $220 million over 11 years for the naming rights to their stadium.
Somewhat ironically, it really isn’t about the name at all…it’s about the experience. As a hometown Minnesota Twins fan I do not drive to Target Field because of that iconic red bulls-eye. For me it’s about the sights, sounds, smells, and experience. It’s about pursuing excellence and creating memories. There’s the tailgating, mascots, team chemistry, and epic victories (or pursuit thereof). All of these things coalesce to make the “brand.”
There are some similarities between our schools and ballparks. The experience our students, staff, and communities have with schools is far more important than the name posted above any given entrance. Yet, that name is important because it is inseparable from the brand.
At our school the brand is all about kids. It’s about the process and excitement of learning, relationships, creativity, passion, and a strong commitment to teaching character.
Our brand is strengthened by the countless hours staff invest in their own learning and professional development. They are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever had the privilege to serve. People often tell me that, “At Greenwood staff will drop what they are doing to help students and one another.” (Although it’s a little long, I kind of like that thought for a stadium name.)
Our brand is also forged from a strong partnership with parents and the community. The brand and promise come to life when everyone is working together synergistically in pursuit of common goals; high achievement for each and every student, a personalized education, and meaningful relationships.
The relevance of our brand increases when it encompasses the rich tradition of excellence in our district as well as the meaningful integration of emerging tools and technology that will prepare students for their future. Our brand is not only comprised of our students’ past successes, but also our vision for their future. This is where our brand becomes more of a promise…a perpetual and dynamic effort to get better for kids.
We have the humbling responsibility of working with students that possess limitless potential. Their time is now. Our kids are counting on us to put them in a position to thrive today and excel tomorrow. That’s the brand promise.
What’s your school’s brand? What is the experience you aspire to provide your students? Make it worthy of naming rights!
School Photograph by Lauren Ingwaldson