Schools have never been in the spotlight as much as they are today. Even those people outside the immediate school community are concerned with what’s going on at schools. The health and safety issues facing school children, their families and educators also touch just about everyone.
Many more sets of eyes are focused on what and how well your district is doing. Time for an image check. Does your school brand and reflect all the great professional educators you work alongside?
Now’s a good time to start aligning the people who personify your district with your school brand. By personalizing your schools, you become more accessible and more engaging, building stronger relationships with parents and others.
School culture = brand + people
Spoiler alert: brand is not just the new district logo or school signage.
Sure, a professional look is important to your district brand, but beauty is only skin deep. What's more important is living the brand promise. How your district staff engages your school community is where culture meets brand.
The elements of brand we're most familiar with – logos, colors, fonts – are important, and relatively easy to change. Communicating the spirit of the brand, however – imbuing it throughout the entire school community – is not so simple or quick to accomplish.
"School is really about the brand and the people. The day-to-day interactions are how you live your brand, and show just how professional or nurturing a school district is."
Steve Williams, CEO and co-founder,
Campus Suite digital school communications
It's one thing to write a mission or brand message in your school communication plan; it's altogether different to get your staff to live the brand promise.
"School is really about the brand and the people," said Steve Williams, CEO and co-founder, Campus Suite school digital communications. "The day-to-day interactions are how you live your brand, and show just how professional or nurturing a school district is... I see it at work at my kids’ schools.
“Articulating and living your brand or school culture starts with good leadership – one that embraces communications as the best vehicle for engagement. That's not automatic. Unfortunately, not every school administration is schoolcomm savvy.”
Besides the district staff, the students and parents themselves form the culture of the school. Schools need to communicate their brand in a way that resonates emotionally with students, which will directly and indirectly reach the home.
When people feel a message, they are more likely to remember it and respond.
Putting a face with a name
Getting to know the people who are responsible for leading the district, the school or the classroom starts with personalizing the school experience through communications. What percentage, would you say, of your parents know what your school leaders look like?
A big, easy step to personalizing communications is as simple as including headshots in your staff directory listings. A photo brings to life all the individuals who are responsible for engaging your parents. and should be part of a personal digital signature that is for any staffer who engages with parents.
Here are two examples from staff directories. Which one would you say better invites interaction?
So when your superintendent fires off his famous and wildly anticipated "message from the super" or your principals are communicating with ongoing building-level emails, begin personalizing and include a recent headshot photo in their digital signatures. Be sure to include key administrators, administrative assistants and teachers, of course.
3 steps to help live the school brand:
In addition to having school leadership that embraces the importance of a professional, nurturing school culture, you need the right direction to steer your brand. Focus on these three areas to begin shaping and living your school brand.
Learning how your staff, students and parents feel and act about your school is a good starting point. Measuring your school culture starts with questions about school perceptions that need to be asked using surveys. Your staff, students and parents can tell you where you stand and where you need to be heading with your brand. Survey results and communication objectives drive the messaging strategy that’s at the heart of your brand refinement. Keep the surveys coming, too. Lather, rinse, repeat...
2. Brand assets
While you’re refining your brand messaging, take stock of all your communications vehicles – digital and non-digital. Your district and school websites, newsletters, emails, social media, voice and text notifications are the key channels. Don’t neglect your non-digital branding touchpoints: signage, community relations, open houses, school board communications – even grounds and maintenance – to assure they’re aligned with your branding.
3. Social messaging
Begin embracing tactics like unified messaging and social media to build consistent branding that sharpens your image and promotes engagement. Take every opportunity to fill up your social media channels with examples and messages that can shape very positive images of your school. Let’s face it, parent visits to schools are growing fewer and farther between, so a steady flow of content through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can create and keep connections to the school experience.
Here’s an example of how Hudsonville (MI) Public Schools use social media to demonstrate their school culture. A teacher of 41 years with Hudsonville, Larry Byle made a lot of people feel good even after he passed when he made sure the following note was included in his obituary in the Grand Rapids Press. The school posted it on their FB page:
This social messaging says a lot about that district. Personal glimpses like these into the people who comprise your schools form the heart of personalizing your district.
Your next step?
School districts are leaning hard on communications these days. School administrations and school boards are making decisions on health and safety issues they never imagined. Your school community – taxpayers, local media and others – are also demanding more transparency. Through it all, everyone is expecting a steady flow of correct, up-to-date, correct info.
But don't let your website and other channels don’t turn into mere listings of policies and events. A positive and consistent brand needs to be lived and conveyed by how you communicate.
Your brand promises what families can expect from their experience with the school, and it comes down to personal experiences and relationships.
Take stock of your school brand by asking your school leaders four questions:
- What do we want our entire school community to feel about our school?
- How would you characterize our school brand? Responsive? Professional? Consistent?
- Does our district have a brand message strategy?
- Does our district have a communications plan?
With general school health and safety concerns presenting big obstacles for welcoming parents and others to school grounds, it’s doubly important to personalize your school through digital channels.
Creating and maintaining a positive school culture rely so much on communicating the school brand you wish to convey and personalizing the school experience.
About the author
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.