How important is a school district's brand?

Response from “Ask Former Trustees – Clear Creek ISD Chapter”: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander, Dee Scott, Win Weber

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

“If people believe they share the same values with a [school], they will stay loyal to the brand.” – Adapted from Howard Schulz

“If you don’t give the [community] the story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you.” -Adapted from David Brier

What is a school district’s brand?

Borrowed from the marketing world, branding is the way identities are created and sustained. A district’s brand represents its reputation and perception, both internally within the district and externally across the community, the state, and even nationally. When discussing public school districts, a brand also refers to the cumulative image of the district and what distinguishes one district from others.

A district’s brand starts with its students’ performance the competence of its teachers and all other staff in dealing with people, processes, policies, perceptions, and politics. Many districts cultivate their brand through its communications strategies, from its logos to its signage and presentations. The district’s brand often evolves organically, generated through public perception, social media, word-of-mouth, daily interactions, and – most importantly – the performance of the district.

Why is a district’s brand important?

A brand can be the foundation of trust, loyalty, and identity. Just as a starting point, internally, a school district’s brand affects staff hiring, parental involvement, teacher job satisfaction, and even academic achievement and athletics pride.  Externally, a district’s brand impacts everything from community pride to real estate values to parental engagement and volunteerism. 

Further, aligning branding, district culture, and community culture can create a more harmonious environment for the district and the community.

What are ways a district creates its brand?

The community’s trust in a district’s brand relates directly to the trust the community has in its school board, superintendent, and historical ‘performance.’. Next, the parents’ trust in the district’s brand starts with their children’s teachers and schools.

Next, school districts’ brands can be traced to the stories a district relates about itself as well as those the community tells. Some stories, which become the narratives the district builds upon or is haunted by, are academic ones; others may sports-related; others may be about how students and teachers are treated. For example, districts’ websites and social media postings, receptionists who meet people and answer phones, and teachers are a district’s first contacts for most people. They are the unsung heroes of creating positive brands. The roles of board members, senior leadership, and strategic planning also are major contributors.

To monitor a district’s commitment to sustaining a positive brand, one need only look to the messaging across all groups to assess its alignment, positivity, inclusivity, and reach.

What does it take to build or to break a brand?

To build a positive brand, a district should have a strategic commitment to the process, a core and consistent message, an awareness of it many audiences, self-awareness about its own identity, and a long-term view of branding. It takes time, dedication, honesty, and transparency.

There are various ways to destroy a district’s brand, but the most common means is to lose the trust that people have in the district to educate students well and to allocate and budget wisely.

While most people’s concerns are addressed satisfactorily, there always seems to be a minority of parents or citizens who are not happy with their district. In an era of overreactions, hyper-partisanship, and scurrilous troublemakers (online and otherwise), it is also important to recognize inappropriate, false or misleading words and actions that threaten the trust a community has in its educational cornerstone and its hard-earned brand.

How can districts counteract the brand-busters?

a. Put students and students’ needs first.
b. Treat every interaction with every parent or citizen by every staff member with civility and respect. Public education is also public service – in every sense.
c. Communicate positive messages and positive tone.
d. Tell the truth and be transparent.
e. Live the district’s core values and mission in each interaction – and that means everyone!

 

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