(Originally posted on FC Superintendent.)
By Joe Sanfelippo
When is the last time something amazing happened in your classroom? I’ll help you out…the last time you had kids in your classroom and they were engaged in learning, it was amazing. To think that we have people in this world that have the skill level to engage a group of children of varying abilities, backgrounds, races, needs, and interests is amazing. The work done in schools all across the world is spectacular. Kids gather…learn…leave…and make the world we live in a better place. So…amazing happens all the time.
The idea of branding schools isn’t about selling kids or making false promises…it’s about promoting the amazing things going on for those who don’t have the opportunity to experience it on a daily basis. The percentage of people in your community who have kids in schools is relatively small. When we were looking at community data for a referendum, about 20% of our community was made up of households who had students in our building. That leaves a huge void in who has knowledge of what goes on in our building and who does not. Telling the story of the wonderful things happening in schools to the kids who see it all the time is simply not enough. Students understand the experience because they live it…we need to make connections to everyone else because the 80% can be an incredible asset to the 20% who walk through the hallways. That large percentage is the group that tells the stories of their community and their experience with the school system. Schools have the chance to be the piece that communities get behind and provide an identity to those who live within the boundaries. Some community members will come to you…they will show up at games, concerts, school plays…and when they do, the performances on courts, fields, and stages is only part of the story. The feeling they have when they leave your building is the one that gets talked about at dinner tables, local restaurants, and work the next day. Others will not…but if they both are speaking the same language and can identify with a brand it helps you build a great deal of social capital and celebrate the wonderful work of kids. Here are 3 things we discussed when building our brand in Cricket Country:
Get a Win Early
We started a Facebook and Twitter feed before the school year was up and running a few years ago. We had a Red Carpet Welcome Back to School for teachers where students lined an area of the hallway and when all of our teachers walked out of a meeting on their way to lunch the kids screamed…yelled…took pictures…asked for autographs…made it feel like the Oscars. They were awesome. We got some media coverage and it ended up on CNN.com for the day. One event…and we were off. We had something to celebrate and it was fun to see it grow.
Find something and go.
It’s really that easy. People see the golden arches or the swoosh and know exactly what it means. The Fall Creek Crickets put Go Crickets on everything…everything. Shirts, window clings, bracelets, umbrellas, stress balls, Frisbees, lanyards…everything. We throw t-shirts out at games, give away bracelets, ask who needs window clings…whatever we can do to get the word out. The financial investment we put into “stuff” is minimal in comparison to the amount of social capital it builds.
We use the #gocrickets hash tag all over the place. Staff, students, and now even parents are using the hash tag…as social media continued to grow we needed to find a presence in that space…having our community own that through a shared voice has been an incredible feeling. Identify your brand and then promote it.
Never give up the opportunity to say something great about your school
The issue is not about what is happening in schools, it’s the perception of what is happening. The reality is that everyone didn’t have a great school experience when they were younger. The thoughts and feelings they had as students often linger to a point that their perception of what it was becomes the reality they convey to others. That perception can change…if your voice, and their new experience, are positive. The interactions you have through social media and face to face have an incredible impact. If your focus is on the positive things happening in your building the take away for those who don’t see it everyday is so powerful.
I am unbelievably fortunate to work in a school district that has outstanding teachers, great families, and a supportive school board. I understand that this is not the case everywhere, but the opportunity to change the perception of what your school district is starts with you. We are with kids everyday…we see their smiles, growth, and accomplishments. Those are the stories that build pride and community. As a school district you can hope that the words of your students and parents reach the 80% of the population who are not there everyday. Or…you can take to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, local media, games, and community events to spread the amazing story of what kids do all the time. Our story is special and so is yours…TELL IT.
Joe Sanfelippo is the Superintendent of the District of Fall Creek. He is also the Co-Author The Power of Branding & Principal PD. He shares his insights on his website, FC Superintendent. Follow Joe on Twitter at @Joesanfelippofc.