Private school kids have a certain reputation.
Homeschooled kids have a certain reputation.
Kids who go to public schools have a certain reputation.
At the moment I only care about the public schools.
Teaching 21st Century Communications, I am always thinking about a student’s online reputation, their online footprint. For those not well versed in the concept, imagine that everyone you meet is wearing a set of Google Glasses (glasses that allow you to see the internet, for one thing.) As they look at you, they see your name (face recognition software), your Facebook status, your Tweets, your Blog, and your online resume. They also can pull up with a little know-how and effort your IP address for each internet capable device you own and hack a list of every website every one of those devices has visited… ever. It is not impossible for them to also hack your text messages, photos, and emails: difficult, but not impossible.
What would they think of you?
This is your online footprint.
In modern times we are reasonably concerned with this footprint. I grew up much of the time in a very small town, however, where everyone knew everything about everyone and mom knew what I did at school before I got home. The community has gotten bigger, but it’s the same concept.
So this is nothing new.
We also have an educational footprint.
At the university level this idea is nothing new. Ivy League schools spend… well… lots of money each year to keep their brand looking good. Students who attend these schools look great. They have a strong educational footprint. At the grade school level this sort of branding was reserved for private schools.
Note that I said “was.” This should never have been the case. There are three levels that need to adopt this idea of their educational footprint: public schools, teachers, and students.
Each school needs to form a brand. Think of it like buying Ben and Jerry’s vs. a generic store brand of ice cream. Your patrons are already thinking this way. Many see their local schools as the generic store brand: cheep and barely acceptable. I want to emphasize that this is the way they see their local public schools. You may be providing B&J level education, but if they don’t know it, they don’t care. You need to attract students because you have the best teachers and the best brand. They need to know that employers and colleges will look at their diploma from your school and say, “Hey, that’s the school we’ve heard so much about. We want this kid.”
Any community of parents can typically give you a list of good and bad teachers. Teachers are easily branded. They talk about it all of the time. The problem is that teachers don’t seem to have any control over this. Just like the school, however, each teacher must understand that part of their job is creating their individual brand, making their individual educational footprint visible and clear. You are only as good as your products, so you need to make those products amazing. Getting your kids writing essays is standard, getting them writing editorials, interacting with community bloggers, and getting them to write their own blogs that make changes in local and state policies is your educational footprint.
GPA and SAT scores once were the important portions of a student’s educational footprint. That is not the case now. Certainly a 4.0 and 2400 are brand worthy still, but schools are now asking what those mean. They’re looking for the classes taken, how hard were those classes really, what other things did this student do? They want to know that you are more than just two numbers. Why? Because you are their product, or you will be. A kid who gets a 3.0 and scores 1100 may be the better choice when someone sees that she spearheaded a new community garden with a sustainable fund source that will keep it going for decades to come. The kid who did nothing but academics may make it in school, but they may never do anything to improve your educational footprint.
ADVICE for SCHOOLS
1) Hire the best: There are limits on what you can pay and other financial benefits, but making it well known that you hire the best teachers and that they have your trust to shape the school will go a long way. Make them know that you know and the parents know that they are the professionals. They know what is best. If you hired the best and they tell you about a change that is needed, you had better believe them, listen to them, and get the rest of your experts (teachers) to work through changes. Let them know that you see them as the experts in their fields.
2) Publicize: No one cares unless you tell them what’s happening. Maintain communications with the press. Have an active school website. Invite the TV cameras in. Let students spread the word through social media. You must get the word out that you are amazing.
3) Celebrate: Take time as a school to celebrate the accomplishments of the school, its teachers, and most importantly its students. This is not just a little announcement in the morning when no one can actually understand anyway. Have community events just like the Academy Awards. Pay for a billboard. Throw a party.
ADVICE for TEACHERS
1) Limits: The walls of a classroom should not be a limit. We are part of a huge world that is more accessible than ever before. Spread out and give your students room to learn. Textbooks are useful in the same way an encyclopedia and a worksheet are useful. If that’s all you’ve got, however, you’re guilty of obsolescence.
2) Reality Check: Make your classes connect to the world outside. Better yet, make it part of that world. Real world projects that will actually be used: try it. If what you are teaching stopped being part of the real world about a year after you graduated from college, you again are obsolete.
3) More: Don’t stop expanding. Get more education, even if you don’t need it. Steal lesson plans from others even if yours work. Take what is going on with other teachers and use it for yourself. One of the reasons to be a teacher is that you never stop learning. Then, make sure others know about it.
ADVICE for STUDENTS
1) Branding: It’s not just about taking the required classes. Start making a name for yourself. You’re into art? Cool. Make Math and Science and English about Art whenever possible. You will become known as an artist.
2) Push: If your teacher and school are not well branded, push them to be a brand. Take what you are doing that is great and get it out into the public. Let them know how incredible your school is. By helping them, you are making that diploma mean more for you.
3) More: Just because a class is not offered at your school or it doesn’t help you with graduation requirements does not mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it. Learn about iTunes U, MOOCs, and other crowd sourced educational opportunities. As I tell my students: No one should care more about your education than you do.