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.”
What is it about storytelling that is so captivating? I’ve always been impressed by the relative ease in which a master storyteller is able to connect with others. I’ve also noticed that a good story always evokes a response. If I’m being completely honest, there are times I’m envious of a great storyteller’s ability to deliver a message to a completely engaged audience. I occasionally catch myself thinking, “If only I could deliver a story like she can…I’d probably do more public speaking if I had that kind of charisma.”
Kids don’t require master storytellers…they just need somebody savvy enough to pen a few lines or to speak on their behalf. I’ve come to embrace the notion that our students are counting on us to tell their stories. They are also counting on us to muddle through our own vulnerabilities to champion an important narrative. Students need us to be “story savvy.”
Being savvy simply means that we understand or get the sense of something (Dictionary.com, 2014). It’s similar to a person that’s tech savvy. An individual that’s regarded as tech savvy understands the problem-solving required to learn new technologies. An educator that is story savvy understands the value of sharing students’ stories, and effectively communicates them in many ways…including conversation, social media, and other Web 2.0 tools.
Here are five steps to help you be a “Story Savvy” educator:
S – omebody Else
Believe it or not, somebody else is probably already telling your school’s story! It’s true…so you may as well share your authentic observations and professional reflections. After all, who would you rather share important information about your students and school? It’s important that our communities hear from us. While you’re at it…share your school’s story with passion and transparency. We are in classrooms on a daily basis and see the amazing work our students are doing firsthand; we have a reason to be excited! Be sure to keep the stories you share positive and altruistic and let somebody else share those other kind.
A – cknowledge
Acknowledge the heroic efforts of staff and parent volunteers. Sharing encouragement and affirming the teamwork it takes to make a school great is an important narrative. We cannot do it alone, so why not give thanks to the people that make it all happen. An attitude of gratitude is contagious…pass it on! Acknowledge the difference our teachers are making in your stories.
V – oice
Student voice matters. Be sure that your stories empower kids to develop their capacity to communicate, create, collaborate, and think critically. Better yet…foster students’ leadership potential by passing them the microphone and providing an authentic audience. Their voice is typically more impactful and interesting than ours anyways…let them speak and be sure to listen!
V – ision
Vision doesn’t talk but people do! How many times have you been on the sidelines of a soccer game and overhear parents discussing your school’s vision? (Insert cricket sound effect here.)
There is a better way to communicate your school’s vision with remarkable clarity and that’s through stories! Highlight activities that exemplify your vision for a 21st century student learning experience. Even better…let your students share the work they are doing that aligns with steps towards vision. Your vision comes to life through the pictures of smiling students and emotions associated with their successes.
Our school community and tax payers have made a tremendous investment in our schools and we can be accountable through the results being achieved. Share those stories! Your stories can serve as a pathway to a better future and vision attainment.
Y – our Words
If a tree falls down in a forest does it make a sound? If a principal types a newsletter that nobody reads is it a compelling story? Your words matter, so why not share them in a relevant format? Leverage social media, video podcasting, and innovative new mediums to connect your words to those you serve in a manner that they prefer. People will tend to fill in the blanks if your words are absent. Communicate with constituents so they are informed and able to support the important work being done for our students.