In education, we often hear how we need to be more business minded. In the education world that is not always our natural inclination. And while I feel there is some truth to this, as evidenced in this article, I do believe it is worth saying that the model of public education is much different than most models found in the private sector.
That is not to say there aren't business principles that we could use to help improve the educational experience for students. I do think there are things to be learned from the “business world.” Marketing strategies are one of these principles.
Most of the time, we don't think about marketing when it comes to our schools. Every school is an essence in a competition for students. Because of this, telling the story of what makes us better than the alternatives is important. Schools where I have worked did not have large public relations budgets, or even personnel, but that is not to say there are ways that schools can make an impact when it comes to engaging and meeting the needs of their consumers.
This might feel as though “marketing” is outside of your wheelhouse as an educator. All we need to do is stop to think about what marketing does well in our own lives. Here are some thoughts about how marketing can look in a classroom or in a school. Keep in mind that I have not learned any of this through business courses, only through my experience as a lifetime consumer.
- Simple Messaging - There are times when it is hard to explain what it is exactly do in schools. At the elementary level parents can understand the basic concepts in reading, writing, and math, but as soon as students become older what we are trying to prepare them for can be confusing for parents to understand. Because of this schools and classrooms need to have simple messages that are clear and what the expectations and outcomes are. We need to define success and share our progress toward that success often.
- Logos - At a district or building level this might already be in place, but if not I would encourage consideration. A logo is not just an icon, but can help tell the story for a district also. A classroom logo is kind of a fun idea. Students could create this and use it on all of their publications, newsletters, and decorations around the room. It would give students ownership and voice in the classroom.
- Telling the Story - People learn through stories and remember them better than other forms of information. Schools, districts, and especially classrooms can share their new learning and successes through stories. This is much more effective than just sharing data or basic information.
- Staying on Message - Schools have a lot to juggle. Between academics, extra-curricular activities, and fine arts programs there is a lot going on. It is important for the leaders of a school in district to stay on message though. Maintaining a focus on what is truly important helps to convey clear ideas to parents and patrons.
- Social Media Presence - Most schools and classrooms have a social media presence, but how many teachers think about it from a marketing standpoint? Usually, we are just sharing about classroom activities and upcoming events. Teachers should consider how their tweets and Facebook posts can hit on some of the areas already mentioned, such as telling the story, staying on message, and being simple and concise.
- Engaging the “Customer” - As we think about marketing we must think about how we engage our consumer. The “customer” in our schools are the parents who bring their children to us each day. Instead of just one-way communication coming from us to them, we should consider how we can engage them and allow them to tell their “story” to us.
- Honesty and Damage Control When Needed - Another part of marketing that typically will only happen at the building or district level, is “damage control” or responding when something bad happens in the district. But I would contend that a classroom teacher can also market to their parents when it comes to this. By sending out notices about bullying more information about late work to the entire class, or character education reminders, teachers can be proactive when difficult conversations arise. Obviously, sharing specific student names and information is not appropriate here, but using the messaging we have put in place to reinforce our expectations for students makes a lot of sense.
- Know “Where” Your Customers “Live” and Be There - Good marketing strategies land in the laps of the customers. Think how Facebook ads pop up directed specifically at your interests. Advertisers know that is an effective place for ads for a specific demographic. But as a teacher, how do you know what tools your parents are using? Depending on the age of the students there might be more parents on Instagram than Twitter. Surveying parents to gather this information can be critical as we try to engage them.
As you can see there are lots of things to think about when it comes to marketing our schools. The value in doing this important and the process can help schools and buildings maintain a clear understanding of who they are and who they want to become.
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