4 Reasons to Brand the Work We Do in Public Schools

Posted
6/28/2018
Amy Konen
Elementary School Teacher

When my teaching career began 25 years ago, I never had to face a lot of people who did not believe in public schools. People were grateful I did what I did--teach primary students; they would say to me, "I don't know how you do that all day. I respect what you do." Or I would get a lot of, "Wow! Good for you--I could never do that!" It always helped.

Parents knew that teaching was hard, working with many students on a daily basis is hard. Planning lessons, teaching 25+ kids to read was a huge challenge. Managing hormonal upper elementary students or working with five-year-olds all day took a special person.

Yes, all those things are very true. Those things have not changed today. In fact, a new combination of factors like poverty, parents working multiple jobs or making unhealthy choices, and exposure to social media has made it even more difficult. The difference, however, is that back then, parents agreed with us. They knew and supported and were thankful that we were in the classroom all day.

Now, are parents not grateful today? No, most still are very supportive, but there are some that question the work teachers do. With social media organizing the factions out there that question our work, now it is more important than ever that our parents and our communities know exactly what is happening in our classrooms on a daily basis.

Branding helps ensure that we are making the right first impression. If you listen to the community members and hear how they talk about their schools or other schools in the district, you may hear things being said about your own building that are simply not true. It is, however, the perception of those speaking, and therefore, their reality. Simply talking with them about what you know to be true in your building may not be enough. Afterall, you are biased because you work there.

Branding becomes critical to help promote the type of impression you wish to achieve. I have said to myself many times that I am "just a teacher with no real power in my building at the decision making level". Recently, I have begun looking at this differently, with the help of my principal husband who constantly reminds me that because I am a teacher, I hold much power to help create many positive impressions.

Here are four of my most important reasons to brand our work in public schools.

First Impressions are Still the Most Important

If you have ever gone on vacation and driven by other schools in other towns, what do you first notice when you drive by? If you see broken windows, graffiti tags, unmowed grass, weeds, debris all over the front of the sidewalk, huge gates, or locks on the doors, does it make you want to stop, run up to the front doors and enroll your child right away? The answer is probably not.

If your school is well-kept, inviting, and open, chances are better that parents will stop in and take a look around. However, it is important to go one step further. Whatever information goes home, needs to reflect the same values you hold in your building. Correct spelling, professional looking letters and a kind, welcoming or inclusionary tone proves very important.

Letting parents know we value them as a team member whose opinions are considered and important is critical in building trust and culture in our schools and our own classroom. If I send a letter home with all the "do-nots" in it, parents will get the impression that the focus is only on the negative.

Finally, when guests enter the building, even if they are not here to see you, making eye contact and smiling goes a long way when creating first impressions in your building. Go out of your way to smile and welcome them, ask if they have been helped or need anything. That simple conversation and smile will help our visitors feel welcomed into our schools. Many people do not have positive memories with school and if they are ignored or made to feel not welcomed, the feeling that schools--your school--is a bad place is more likely to happen.

Increase the Right Kinds of Communication

People already have an opinion of public schools whether they attended public school or not. They may have really had a positive experience and feel good about schools, or they may have had a negative experience and really have negative feelings toward schools. In either case, the things you communicate is largely what forms the opinion people have of your school.

If you only call and communicate the negative events then that is the experience your community members and parents will have with your school. There should be a ratio of at least 7:1 - seven positive points communicated to our parents for every one negative.

"Where do you find the time?," I hear many of us asking. There are so many things we need to get done during the day that communicating that many positive points seems overwhelming to some. For those parents with access, social media and technology really can be our friend here.

Two platforms I love to use, and that have made such a huge difference in my parent connections, are Classroom DOJO and Twitter…

  • Classroom DOJO -First, I use Classroom DOJO to send reminders, requests and celebrations daily. If I have a student that is recognized for some academic or other event, I send a shout out to all the families to honor that student. If it is time to schedule parent conferences, I do it over DOJO and they are so grateful that I ask them about their schedule before I just assign times.
  • Twitter -The second platform I use is Twitter. Our grade level has chosen a motto calledTeamGrit and on Twitter we have assigned a hashtag to it. Last year, we built the "why" behind TeamGrit and all year we worked as a grade level to promote and encourage grit in our work and our learning. Kids earned a t-shirt with Teamgrit on it, and starting this year we will continue to promote our brand by posting something daily about our learning and what is happening in fifth grade.

For those new to Twitter, a hashtag is a key-word that helps you organize your posts so it makes it easier to find later. Everytime I make tweet, I end it with the pound sign followed by the phrase " teamgrit". When parents get on and look that up, they will find all of our posts about fifth grade here. The more parents see what kinds of amazing learning their students are doing during the school day, the more support and buy-in I will have as their teacher.

This past year I just did all my posting on DOJO because I had been out of the classroom for an extended period while I was teaching literacy and working as a behavior specialist and I needed to just take on what I could manage the first year. Twenty-three of my twenty-five parents were connected on DOJO and, therefore, I felt it was a really good way to connect with almost everyone.

My other two parents were the ones I then regularly made calls to because they could not see what I was posting everyday. My parents who worked and could not take calls, appreciated the texting format because they could see immediately what was going on in class when they checked their messages.

I recently went to a garage sale and was introduced to a woman who did not have children in my school. Her comment to me was, "Oh, yes, I feel like I know you. I know so and so's mom and she goes on and on about all you do for her kids in class." That came from

DOJO and that came from communicating regularly about new events, celebrations, and facts from the day. It takes me less than five minutes to compose a DOJO message, attach a picture and send it simultaneously to all 23 parents.

I am very excited to use Twitter this year to get more out to my parents and my community. I am hoping to use Twitter to promote my celebrations and shout-outs and examples of learning, and my DOJO to send reminders and special requests or announcements.

Every time something is sent out on Twitter and community members and parents are reading about the events, it gives everybody something more positive to talk about because they have the information to be able to talk about your public school.

When you give people more events to talk about, they can't just rely on what others have said or what their past experiences at other schools are. Now they have current, fresh and positive examples to go over with others.

Create Strong, Positive Relationships with Parents

In the past, there have been some years where I really struggled with getting parents to participate and come to my classroom. I have discovered that since I have begun putting the time and energy and effort into creating a positive brand where I am focusing on kindness and grit, I have had an easier time getting parents into my classroom.

When I reflect on why it is different this year, it is not because I have a crew of parents who can participate. I have many parents working two jobs, struggling with health issues, families where the guardians are raising the kids and, as a result, they are not able to get into my classroom.

With my daily communications through DOJO, I have created my identity and parents have responded positively because I am reaching them on their terms. The texting allows them to continue with their very busy schedules, be included and involved in what is going on in the classroom, and build trust with those unfamiliar with me and our school.

When parents constantly hear and can view positive events and daily happenings in my classroom, they begin to trust that I am supporting their kids, and as excited about the things they are doing as the parents are. Once the parents understand and believe this, trust is built. That trust allows me to build a partnership with parents and that is when the magic happens in my classroom. Kids know that we are team mates and on the same page, and that further creates a positive climate.

Parents Feel More Connected to the School.

It is hard to feel connected when your child is at school all day long, comes home and says his day was fine and gives no more details, and the parents do not ever hear from the teacher. In this case, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Quite the opposite. In public schools, we are faced with large, overcrowded classrooms, and kids with all types of backgrounds and challenges.

Now, we take the same student who has recently gotten in trouble and the teacher calls home and leaves a voicemail about the incident. The parent comes home, tired from the day, listens to the message, and talks to her child who tells his side of the story. His side happens to leave out some critical details and now the parent has to decide who to believe. She does not know this teacher because she has minimal contact with her; the parent has no idea what happens at school because no one ever tells her anything so, of course, she is going to listen to her child.

Communication keeps all of us connected and it is so critical to foster the positive climate in your classroom. If that situation were to happen in a room where the teacher regularly tweeted out happenings in the class, texted or called the parents about the good things she saw the child learning, the parent would have a more positive view of the school and the classroom, and therefore, would be able to have a different type of conversation with the child.

If you are a person who regularly just makes negative phone calls home about a time the student got in trouble, has an "F", used a bad word, and so on, and never any positive celebratory calls or texts, then the only impression you are giving the parent is a negative one.

Yes, we are buried in overcrowded classrooms, testing, planning, correcting, and working with children who come to us with a variety of challenges. But if you can be that teacher who sets aside five to ten minutes each day to send out announcements about the positive things happening in your classroom, it will pay off by helping parents to connect and, therefore, feel very positive about their child being in your classroom and your school.

Not every parent can volunteer or be in your classroom on a regular basis, but every parent still wants to know what their kids are doing all day in the classroom.

Public schools can be such an important place for students to be. These environments welcome students from different cultures, income levels, and with different developmental abilities. They provide educational opportunity for every child in a community.

As you recharge this summer, reflect on your classroom and ask yourself, how is your classroom perceived by students and by parents. Then ask yourself how you want your classroom to be perceived by students and parents.

If you want to be associated with being effective, kind, and a partner with parents, then ask yourself what you have to do during the year to help the parents who are least familiar with your school get to that belief about you and your classroom. Impressions become critical. When you are consistent about posting daily about positive and exciting learning, smiling and greeting those who come into the building - whether they are there to see you or not - and diligent about sending professional-quality reminders and requests, you will establish your classroom vibe, and your brand. This will then shape how parents view you, your classroom and your school.

Amy Konen

Amy Konen

Amy Konen is a Nationally Board Certified elementary teacher.As a 23-year veteran teacher in public schools, Amy has taught grades 1-5, literacy, and most recently, worked as a behavior support specialist and coach.She will return to the fifth grade classroom in 2017.She also continues her mentoring work for future National Board certification candidates throughout the state of Montana. Amy earned her Master’s degree in reading and literacy and in 2000, was the recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) for her work in elementary math.In 2014, BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) selected Amy as the Teacher of the Year for Great Falls, Montana. She started the first and only Sensory Room in Great Falls Public Schools to provide behavior and socio-emotional support for all students in her elementary school.Amy believes in the power of relationships to inspire students to grow, learn, have courage, and be kind.
Amy Konen

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