Toot Your Own Horn!
The importance of running your own PR campaign.
~Rick Hunt, Rockport Elementary Principal
I have had the opportunity to be a part of a number of school settings throughout my career. I have taught or been part of an administrative team in both urban and rural settings. I have been a part of both traditional public schools, and I have had the opportunity to lead two charter school programs. As both a teacher and administrator, one of the things I learned early on and in every setting is you need to be ready to toot your own horn. You have to be ready to be your biggest advocate. You have to tell your story. You have to sell your program.
With all that we have to do as educators, this may seem like one more thing on your plate. In truth, it isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time and energy to construct moments and messaging that project the image and message you want to convey to your stakeholders and community. However, I can assure you that doing so can be one of the most powerful tools in helping you shift culture and climate in and around your school.
What are the benefits of tooting your own horn? What are the returns on your investment of time and energy?
- Positivity is contagious. If you are promoting the positive things that happen in your school and telling the stories you want told, others will start to capture that energy and share those positive stories and vibes. This happens both inside and outside the school. When teachers and students hear positive messages, see and hear reinforcement on the good things they are doing, and participate in celebrations… they gain a positive energy that can change outlooks and efficacy. Outside of school, parents and other stakeholders hear positive messages and the value they place in the school program goes up. They begin to say things like “We have a great school.” “My students love their school.” “That school is somewhere I would want my kids to go.”… and suddenly the energy around the program is filling the school itself. When a parent projects positive energy about the school, the teachers, and the programs, their students will carry that energy with them into the building.
- While many of you may not be experiencing enrollment issues, many schools are. Enrollment brings funding. Each student is attached to critical dollars. With increased competition for students in many areas, declining enrollment in rural and other areas, and the post COVID shift to online or homeschool programs schools are seeing enrollment declines. Enrollment declines decrease funding. Tooting your own horn can be the difference in retaining students and even gaining students. If you are able to retain or gain even one student, you have added north of $5000 to your program. That can’t be overlooked.
- You gian the opportunity to celebrate students, teachers and others in your building and school community. Celebration is important. We all know that when we spotlight good behavior in the halls and classroom, others pay attention and often emulate that behavior. Crafting the right ways to celebrate is important. Tell the story behind the celebration, highlighting the time and energy that built to the win. Like any great story create the setting, build the suspense, and bring everything to a big finale.
So how with all that you have to do can you possibly get this done? What are some strategies for getting out your story, building energy around your program, and banking positivity energy in and outside of your school?
- Build a key communicator network. Find those parents and community members who have a stake in your successes. There are parents that want to tell anyone who will listen how awesome their school is compared to any other. You have realtors, apartment managers, and other business people who need a successful school to point to and talk about. I have had breakfasts and lunches with my key communicators. I lure them in with a donut and coffee or maybe a rectangle pizza slice (do you know how many people LOVED those and will do about anything to get one with a small carton of chocolate milk?). Then I tell the great things we are doing. I share the talking points they can share outside of the school
- You have your social media champions inside and outside of your school who just need the right message to share. Parents will post and repost a fun picture of their student. Craft a story, tie it to photos of students, and suddenly every family member has shared that post with everyone that has followed or friended them. The power of social media can’t be denied. Use it, and keep it fresh. Make sure you are posting almost daily. That will keep your key stakeholders coming back to see what’s been happening. And you don’t have to do all that work! Use the power of denim! Give a jeans pass for a good article or pictures of a great activity. Teach the team to market your program with you. Celebration and positivity are contagious. The thumbs up and likes and comments start to generate a desire to get the wins. Use the social media system. It works!
- Take those articles and send them to your local media. Have a quick distribution email list where you can forward those stories that shine. Every news outlet loves to plug in a feel good story. They often have a minute here or a few inches of text space there to plug in something fun. Take a moment to learn how to write a good press release. It isn’t rocket science, and if your team knows how to do it they can do it for you. Find a way to give a little bonus if a team member gets published! Heck cover a duty for 15-30 minutes. That’s a lot less time than if you’d had to write the article yourself.
- Make tooting your horn something that is embedded into your program. Build it into your evaluation system. Have teachers submit a win sheet at the end of year. Have them share the things they have done that are above and beyond. You can’t always see all the awesome that is going on in your school. Have teachers submit a list of things that they’ve done outside of the norm. They can share things like going to a students out of school sports event, taking the time to send every student a welcome back card at the beginning of the year, or all the extra personal professional development they do on their own, extra home visits, buying things for families… the hundreds of things they don’t ever want or seek credit for. Compile those. Share them back out to your key communicators. We did a push to have every teacher visit no less than 25% of their students’ homes outside of school. As I gathered the above and beyond sheets, I found that we went over that goal and hit 40% of homes visited. I shared that with my key communicators. Our stakeholders loved that our teachers would go that extra mile. We not only shared the data and news, but we shared the why… when a teacher takes fifteen minutes to visit a student outside of school, a new bond is created. That bond pays into a positive relationship, and positive relationships with students pay into better academic results. The positivity around the push took root. The next year, one teacher started taking selfies during her visits and posting them on her door. Suddenly every student in her class wanted a visit. In a week every teacher was doing much the same thing. That year every teacher did a short home visit to every home. 100%! The positivity inside and outside of the school was tremendous. Teach your teachers to brag a little. Put some swagger in their walk, to pump their fist… Often teachers don’t do this naturally. Make it a part of your program.
- Get a little crazy. Be attention seeking. Find the fun ways to celebrate big things. I do a read-a-thon every year. I challenge the students to a schoolwide reading goal. Then if the student hit that goal… I do something off the wall. A year ago I slept on the roof! At the end of the day the entire student body came out to see me to the roof. Then that evening, I invited families to come back out and I read books and stories while students sat below and listened. That night I did facebook posts to prove I was still up on the roof. The craziness was covered by three local television stations and several local papers. I ensured my message was crafted as I shared with each outlet…we are working to help our students be the best they can be. I focused not on the event but the story that led up to the event. That students were becoming lifelong readers. The crazy drew the attention, and once the eyes were pointed our way… we told our story. Get crazy! Draw a crowd!!
The power of tooting your horn can’t be denied. The positive energy it creates pays huge dividends. You will see a positive change inside your school, and you will generate more positive energy in your community partnerships outside of the school. Toot your horn loud and toot it proud!!!