Author: Evan Robb

Leadership:Let’s Build Our Brand!

As a new school year begins, take time to reflect on how you can promote your school to parents, staff, and students.  Reserve time to build your school’s brand!

In this blog, I am posing some questions for educators to reflect on as you think about creating and promoting your school’s brand.  Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company or school with what people actually do think about your company or school. And vice-versa. Jay Baer Convince & Convert by Jay Baer with Amber Naslund who wrote The Now Revolution.


How we communicate and how our communication is interpreted is important as you work to define your school’s brand.  Certainly, we can all find inspiration from Eric Sheninger’s well-known quote, “ Either you tell your school story or someone else will.”

How you tell your story requires you to be  intentional. Communication will happen no matter what, but without some thought and planning, it might not be the communication you want nor the type of brand you want to define your school. So, how is your school telling its story?  What do the current communication methods say about your school? How are you controlling the narrative to form and communicate your school’s brand?

Reflect on my top 7 questions and thoughts, then decide which ones you and your team do well and where you can improve.  Pick three or four new focus areas to be part of your communication and branding plan for the new school year.

  1. When a person comes to the front door of your school does signage say visitors please report to the main office or does it say visitors must report to the main office?  This may seem small but words send messages and inform people about a school.
  2. Does your front office staff give a great impression to all who enter the office?  How they communicate tells people a lot about the principal. Do office staff have training on customer service? First impressions always count. Ensure that every person who enters your main office experiences a welcome that generates positive feelings.
  3. Is there an updated calendar on your school website?  Who updates the calendar and how often?  Updated and communicated school information sends a message that you care about informing and communicating all the events and activities that are part of your school. If done well, what does this say about your school?  If done poorly, what might people conclude?
  4. If your school is using Google, are staff using Google Sites or Google Classroom?  If yes, have you communicated standards for updating and formatting?  Or are some staff using this great way to communicate while others are not?  If so, what does scattered communication say about your school and you as a leader?
  5. Does your school have a schedule for parent newsletters?  Do grade levels or teams send parent communications home on a set schedule? Consistent and coordinated communication should always be the goal. What message is sent when schedules are not followed or one group in a school communicates much more than another group?
  6. Consider a school-wide positive communication effort to connect with families.  I have no doubt that all schools have some staff who make positive calls to parents. However,  imagine the impact on parents  if all staff commit to making at least two positive calls during the year for each student they teach.
  7. Is your school using social media to effectively connect with families and tell the story of your school?  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free and can communicate messages the school needs to send.  Do you have a plan for who manages social media in your school along with defined expectations including a minimum number of communications per day?  Social media communicates what you value.  If a school only Tweets out athletic information, what does this communicate about what they value? Balanced communication to celebrate all the great happenings in your school sends a powerful message!

I started my list with an easy change; the others are more challenging.  Communication is like a garden; it needs sunshine, water, and sometimes some weeding.  I suggest choosing no more than four focus areas for the year ahead.  It can be tempting to choose more.  Avoid doing too much as this can derail successful change.  


Finally, I encourage a purposeful plan to communicate in a coordinated manner.  A well-coordinated plan will advertise your school’s story and brand with a core message: “communication matters to us!”

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Leadership- Linus and Letting Go

Years ago I had a staff member who liked to proclaim to me how late he stayed up each night to grade student journals.  I responded by saying it did not sound productive, and I would find a new way to manage journals.  Now my response was not what he expected, but it did make him wonder whether his use of time was productive or beneficial. Reflection resulted in the teacher considering letting go of something he had held onto for a long time.

Sometimes in education, we do things for no real reason other than we have always done it that way.  Sometimes our thinking alone holds us back. Just like Linus in the Peanuts cartoon, we cling to a blanket. Our freedom to let go of any Linus blankets we hold is critical for us to prepare students for their future and find greatness. It can be hard to let go of something you love or to change how you think.  Letting go of something holding us back is almost always a good decision.

As we think about a new year it is important to remember that out plates are only so large, sometimes we need to let go of things, other times we need to change our thinking.

I am sharing ten reflective questions for you to consider.  For each, add the words, “what if” as you read through.

  1. I reflect on several practices in my school or classroom that may no longer serve a purpose?
  2. I look at my room, change the design, and make it a more interesting space for students/
  3. The way I grade was based on best practice and research?
  4. Every day I make a choice to be positive and encouraging?
  5. I try technology that I have not used before in my building or class?
  6. I start using Twitter to connect to a professional learning network?
  7. Each day I model a growth mindset to my colleagues and students?
  8. When an opportunity comes to join in, I say, “Yes”?
  9. When I encounter negative people I tell them to stop?
  10. I commit to being the educator I always thought I could be?

One of many amazing aspects of education is each year we all have a new start.  This year make a priority to foster growth in students, and expect the same for yourself!

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Leadership- Hey, It Was Ok For Me

For any organization to become successful, employees must let go of thinking that is detrimental to themselves and new employees.  In education, this can be the assumption that if an experience worked for you for many years, it must be good. I call this “the it was okay for me mentality,” and it needs to stop.  Kids deserve much better.  


What follows is a list of poor advice shared with me by teachers and administrators during my career.  All of these are bad. Do not believe them when they come your way. And I guarantee that some will definitely come your way.


Don’t Smile Until Christmas:  This is a ridiculous statement that lives in schools and is often communicated by veteran staff.  Would any adult want to come to work and be scowled at for half a year? Of course not.  A smile is universal; it works anywhere on our planet.  All students and adults should be greeted every day with a smile.


I Taught It, They Didn’t Learn It:  This is an excuse that should never occur in a school.  It is the job of an educator to help students learn.  If an assessment shows students did not learn, then take the professional route and find a new way to help students understand.   


Start the Year Hard:  This is sometimes used to scare students about the year ahead, and to allow the teacher to assume a very dominant, controlling position in the class.  This is also silly! Who wants to start a course with failure?  Adults and students always do better when we build on success. Lift others up instead of tearing them down!


We All Have a Bad Class:  This is an unfair comment that lumps students together in a negative way.  Successful educators never lump students together and pass group judgment.  Often, the students who give you the hardest time need you the most.


Plan Out Each Day of the Year:  Once I was told that I should have each day planned for the entire year before the year started.  This makes zero sense.  Good planning is based on the needs of students, and each day and throughout the year they will be different.


Our Demographics Give Us Bad Scores:  This is an excuse and worse yet, a racist comment.  Great educators believe all students can learn, they do not accept the color of skin, where they live, of their families lack of money as reasons to be less than nurturing and supportive.  


I am sure you have heard some or all of these.  They may seem funny but they hurt students and have for a long time.  My list could be from the present or from 100 years ago, it is time for these beliefs and slogans to stop.  Collectively, we want to be seen as professionals. When you hear these sayings, remember each one erodes the professionalism of our field and does not support students’ growth and learning.  

Read the options that follow carefully, before choosing. You can remain silent when you hear such comments, but this choice is a slippery slope for handling situations you do not agree with. You can agree and then do the opposite. However, consider the importance of being true to yourself.  This choice will not help such a goal.  The option that I favor and have adopted is to ask the person to not say these words anymore. Make sure you explain why, so the person understands your reasoning.  This may be the most challenging way to respond, but I assure you it will make you feel better about yourself, your professionalism, and your commitment to students.

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