Category Archives: Branding and Buzz

Branding and Buzz

Communicating with the Community: Getting the Message Right

I attended messaging training this summer while at the Association for Middle Level Education Affiliate Summit. The training was put on by the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 16 leading education associations all focused on improving learning in America's schools.

I know we are facing some communication challenges presently, and I suspect some of you are, too, so here are my notes on that session (cleaned up a little).

Key Questions to Shape Your Messaging:

  • What's your issue/messaging challenge?
  • Who should you be reaching out to?
  • What's your ask?

Key Findings from National Public Opinion Polls and Survey Data

  • Recent growing support for teachers
  • A belief that there is a lack of adequate funding
  • Rank local schools high but think country's schools are in trouble
  • Parents want to know how their child is progressing

Common Assumptions (from that national data)

  • The community can be influenced primarily by parents, students, teachers
  • Top education problems & issues: motivation, character, discipline, effort
  • Student success and teacher effectiveness = caring
  • Choice is good
  • Reforms need a lot more money
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to go to college
  • Individualization is needed to strengthen basics (not for innovation)
  • Education is a limited commodity (there is only so much to go around)

Common Agreements (from that national data)

  • Public schools are key to a nation's economic future
  • High quality pubic education is a right, not a luxury
  • Public education benefits society
  • Innovation is important, but don't experiment on my children – we need improvement
  • Goal of pubic education is the preparation needed to support our country's quality of life

Values That Work in the Community (from the national data)

  • Education is a shared investment
  • The current system needs updating to prepare students to live in a rapidly changing world
  • Improving education requires a practical set of iterative steps toward an ultimate goal
  • Issues of equity are about the distribution of resources, not about bad people (maybe about unlucky people, not bad people)
  • Don't say “my child” say “every child”

 

QR Codes & Fostering a Strong Home/School Connection

Mauri Dufour is one of our kindergarten teachers in Auburn, an early adopter of iPads in primary grades, and is an Apple Distinguished Educator. Over the past year, Mauri has explored the role of QR codes in her classroom.

Last March, she took some time to tell me about how she uses QR codes to connect with her students’ families.

Highlights from Mauri’s video:

  • Each Friday, her students each make a video for his or her family about that week’s literacy center
  • Students must explain the “why” of the lesson, as well as, what they did in the center
  • The QR code makes it easy to share the weekly video with the family
  • This has helped foster a strong Home/School connection
  • Mauri describes how she worked with parents to make this happen

Despite working in a high poverty school, the QR codes have helped create much stronger parent involvement and communication than might otherwise be expected.

Social Media for School Leaders

I just returned from the national middle school conference (AMLE12) in Portland, OR.

While there, I attended a wonderful session on Social Media for School Leaders by Howard Johnston and Ron Williamson. Their presentation showed a wonderful balance of the realities of today's viral communication and the school context.

The presentation addressed the role of social media in five areas:

  1. Social Media and Schools
  2. School Safety and Crisis Management
  3. Communication
  4. Productivity
  5. Professional Growth

What they made clear is how important a tool social media is to schools and school leaders, and the enormous opportunity lost when schools shun social media. They raised the following questions suggesting why school leaders might want to pay attention to the potential of social media:

  • Do you communicate with students, families and staff?
  • Do you monitor community views about your school?
  • Do your kids use social media?
  • Do you need to stay on top of cutting-edge educational topics?
  • Do you need to promote good news about your school in the community?

And they recommended a 5-step plan (in part, based on findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project) related to social media and school safety:

  1. Learn about social media and how it works
  2. Recognize that most teens use it responsibly
  3. Don’t attempt to ban it
  4. Help students, families and staff know about how to manage social media
  5. Focus on responsible student use

Johnston and Williamson provided a great list of resources available to school leaders:

 

Introduction to Twitter for Educators: 12 Resources & Strategies

The irony is that at the same time my district has banned Facebook and has a team working on a social media policy, our administrators are learning how to use Twitter for both Branding and Buzz and their own professional development.

(Well, maybe it isn’t irony. I think maybe it is exactly the Yin and Yang of social media that has schools confused about what to do with it. On one hand social media seems to lead to distraction and bullying. On the other hand, it is a powerful marketing tool and tool for building a professional learning community.)

Auburn’s administrative team will soon get a brief Introduction to Twitter inservice. These are the resources I will be sharing with them.

What other resources would you share? (please add your suggestions in the comments)

 

Getting Started with Twitter:

 

Leveraging Twitter as Your Professional Learning Community:

 

Leveraging Twitter for Building Branding and Buzz Around Your School:

 

Leveraging Twitter for Teaching and Learning

 

Is Middle School All About Grade Configuration?

There is a new study out which concludes that students take an academic plunge when they go to a 6-8 school rather than a k-8 school. The article is called The Middle Level Plunge.

At first glance, it seems to be a reasonably well designed study comparing student performance in a 6-8 school to those in a k-8 school (the old grade configuration dilemma!). Their fallacy is in essentially equating the 6-8 grade configuration to “middle schooling,” and actually say “Our results cast serious doubt on the wisdom of the middle-school experiment that has become such a prominent feature of American education.”

Here is the response that I posted as a comment on their article:

Thanks for adding to the research on the impact of school grade configuration. I especially appreciate that you didn’t just study the grade configurations, but also tried to control for various explanations, including teacher experience, school characteristics, and educational practices. You have defined each of these clearly in your article.

I am concerned, however, with your using the term “middle school” to mean the 6-8 configuration schools. You are clear that this is your definition in the article, but in middle level education circles, the term means something very different, and I fear your conclusions about 6-8 grade configuration will be misinterpreted as conclusions about middle school practices. Readers should be able to make their own distinctions, especially when the writing is clear, as your article is, but you and I both know that in our “sound bite lives” there are too many people who will see the words “middle school” and think that your definition is the same as my definition.

For middle level educators, “middle school” is essentially a set of developmentally appropriate educational practices applied in the middle level grades (generally considered grades 5-8), without regard to the grade configuration of the school housing those grades. Readers may find helpful the numerous resources available on the Association for Middle Level Education website (http://www.amle.org).

Further, the school characteristics and educational practices you examine are not those that define middle school practices. I would have looked for the characteristics defined in AMLE’s This We Believe (http://tinyurl.com/865xggv), or the Turning Points 2000 recommendations (http://www.turningpts.org/principle.htm).

Again, I am not criticizing your study or the clarity of your writing, but simply sharing the unfortunate possibility of confusion for school decision makers trying to make informed (especially research informed) decisions based on your article and the use of the term “middle school.”

Perhaps, I could invite you to refer to the schools in your study as “6-8 schools,” instead of “middle schools.”

So, my big objection is defining “middle school” as a grade configuration, and seeming to conclude that “the middle school experiment has failed” and the possibility that decision makers will interpret this as if it were our definition of middle school…

I want to be clear, though. It is right and proper for researchers to select a term, define it, and use it in their article as they define it. It is expected that the reader will read such an article closely and critically. The authors of this study have done nothing wrong. Could it have been better (more clear to a wider audience) if they had done it differently? Yes.

But it is also right and proper for a reader to add their critique (politely and professionally) to the conversation though avenues such as comments on posts.

(For those of you exploring the Lead4Change model, this is a Branding and Buzz issue. Situations like these go directly to the issue of public perception of our initiatives and what role we play in communicating our vision. It is on us to try to correct misperceptions and to work toward the integrity of models we subscribe to.)

 

It’s Your Turn:

Are you a middle level educator or advocate? What are your thoughts about this study? I often ask you to post your comments here, but perhaps this time, you could post your comments on their article. And maybe you’d pass the word to your circle of middle grades contacts and they could comment, too…

 

7 Social Media Articles to Help Your School’s Communication Impact

Schools and educational organizations are starting to realize that even though they are doing great work, they need to get that message out to their parents, communities, members, and constituents. “Branding and Buzz” is one of the “Supporting but Necessary” components of the Lead4Change Model, and encourages schools and organizations to state their case for the work they are doing, communicate with their community and beyond, tell their story, and present their evidence.

So begins my recent Bright Futures blog post on schools using social media to get their message out.

The post points readers toward the Social Media Examiner, a wonderful resource for helping organizations leverage social media. In particular, I highlighted 7 articles focused on getting the most from Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.

A lot of schools already have a Facebook page. Some are even using twitter. Others have administrators or teachers who blog. But are they using these avenues to connect with parents, communities, and colleagues as effectively or with as much impact as they could?

I think these 7 articles can help insure that schools do. The articles share wonderful tips from folks who are getting the most from their social media. Where can a school start?

Use the post as a jumping off point. Do a deep dive into one or the articles, or have your staff or leadership team jigsaw a couple of them. Your school could take what they learn and decide on a couple things that they want to try out.

The Bright Futures Partnership did just that. We read the article 26 Tips For Writing Great Blog Posts, and decided on 5 or 6 things we were going to try (look for changes coming to the Bright Futures blog and see if you can spot which tips we put into action!). By the way, reading the article also allowed us to pat ourselves on the back for 5 or 6 things we were already doing!

 

It’s Your Turn:

What are your best strategies for getting your school’s or educational organization’s message out via social media?

 

Auburn’s iPad Research Project on the Seedlings Podcast

Seedlings is a great little podcast that, although about educational technology, is really about good teaching and learning.

So I felt honored when the Seedling hosts invited me to return to talk about Auburn’s research on their Advantage 2014 program, best known for giving iPads to Kindergartners. You can download that podcast and access related links here.

This was a follow up to the previous podcast, where we talked both about Advantage 2014, and Projects4ME, the statewide virtual project-based non-traditional program, where students can earn high school credit by designing and doing projects, instead of taking courses.