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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Leaders Should Brand Their Schools

By Tony Sinanis — December 04, 2013 5 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Tony Sinanis, the lead learner from Cantiague Elementary School on Long Island, New York.

Social media is a topic that intrigues many of us. It provides us access to some of the best resources that will help us become better teachers and school leaders. Social media helps us create relationships through our PLN, which helps us find support as we go into uncharted territories with our staff and students. The progressive educators in my PLN have inspired me to work outside of my comfort zone.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend (and present) at the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in Baltimore. One of the highlights of that experience was when I heard Eric Sheninger speak about using social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to tell our story and embrace the idea of branding our schools. Even though this was the first time I heard Eric’s presentation, it immediately resonated with me. He hit the nail on the head - we, as Lead Learners in our schools, had to devote time to branding our school and telling our story!

Think about the Golden Arches - everyone knows they symbolize McDonalds and that is a space where a person can get a cheap meal. Think about Apple - everyone knows they are synonymous with innovation and changing the world with the iPad! Branding is key. Telling our stories is critical! Eric’s idea, although progressive and some may disagree with it, is an area that is important for leaders as they negotiate their way through the toughest economic time they have faced.

As the lead learner of Cantiague Elementary School, I wanted to influence the perception of our school by sharing the daily realities. I wanted to help brand Cantiague as the best elementary school on the planet! Why should we allow people to create their own perceptions, which could be rooted in misinformation, based on word of mouth or what is published in the local paper?

Branding, which typically associated with the business world, is exactly what our schools need today! There is so much bashing of public education in the media today and the landscape of public education is not a pretty one. As educators - whether a superintendent, classroom teacher, support specialist, or the Lead Learner of the building - we still control everything that happens in our schools. And since we control what happens in our schools (even with state/federal mandates and policies, the final execution is our call) we know there are awesome techniques/approaches/experiences unfolding in our schools so let’s capitalize on them and spread the word; let’s brand our schools; let’s fuel the perceptions; and let’s create our realities!

Although we have worked diligently as a staff to tell our story, it occurred to me early in the school year that a voice was missing from our story - the voice of our students. Yes, the children were at the center of our story - their learning, thinking, creating and collaborating was at the center of our story.

In fact, our children are our story and so giving them voice in the process seemed critical. Without hearing from our children, how can we ever be sure that our brand experience is matching our brand promise? Yes, we say we value 1:1 instruction but do our children value it? Yes, we say we care about the development of the whole child but do our children feel that concern? The list could go on and on but without actually hearing from our students, we would never be certain of the answer.

In September, Curt Rees, a Lead Learner from Wisconsin introduced many of our combined PLN to the Touchcast app. This was a free video app that allowed me to film up to a five minute video that could quickly be uploaded to YouTube and shared with our entire community within minutes. The best part was that it was an app I could access from my iPad and with minimal directing skills (it is questionable if I have any directing skills) I was able to create a fun and informative video featuring our kids. These video updates are released once a week and each week they feature a different class.

Starting in fifth grade, I am working my way down to Kindergarten. The week before a group from a particular class is scheduled to film their video, I touch base with the teacher and ask him/her to select seven students from their class to be featured in the video. Each child chosen is assigned a grade level (K - 5) or a special area (art, music, etc.) and they have a day or two, depending on when we film, to get as much information as possible about their assigned grade/special. During their lunch period on either Wednesday or Thursday, we get together and they decide what they want included in the video and we collaborate on the details of how we want the shoot to unfold.

In the end, they have control over what is featured and their voice is telling our story. It generally takes about 20 to 30 minutes to discuss and shoot the video and they are back to class by the end of recess so they have not missed any valuable learning time. The end result has been AWESOME as our children have created some of the most adorable videos and the feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

Here is a sample of one of our recent video updates, which are all uploaded to my private YouTube channel...

In addition to telling our story as a school and helping promote the Cantiague brand, these videos have led to a recent collaboration with schools from across the country. For example, we created a Thanksgiving theme video that featured students from our school, a school in New Jersey and a school in Minnesota. Check out the clip here...

Not only are we giving our students’ voice in telling our story but these video updates have led to collaborations across the country, which supports the idea of the 21st Century Skills we believe in and promote in our school. So, the next time you start thinking about telling your own story before someone else does, don’t forget to access the best storytellers in your school - your kids!

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.