Creating an authentic brand to support teacher retention
In my previous blog on teacher retention I wrote that given Brand and Marketing Communications strategy is rooted in responding to emotional needs, and teaching is such an inherently emotionally highly-charged job, a strong, authentic Brand and Marketing Communications strategy can be put to effective use to improve retention.
I think it’s also useful to recognise that before we ‘bash the teacher bashers’ who do play a part in teachers wanting to quit, that the reason people like parents often do bash teachers is that they do care about education and child welfare, or in the case of the media reflect society’s rightful concerns. Whether the ‘antagonistic-concerned’ understand the complexity of delivery and outcomes in formal education or not, it is in the school’s own interest to communicate proactively to respond to their emotional needs.
A brand isn’t a glossy badge with some straplines that look vaguely appropriate. Brand values aren’t “we’re going to have a great school”. It’s about what makes the school different and you really need to embark on a journey to ‘know what you are’ to start with. So here’s a little look at a branding ‘journey’ and the journey itself is as important as the outcome in the value it brings.
Start by engaging the most prominent stakeholders – the pupils. Not only will pupils have a great insight into how they see the school and how it could be better, but they will give the feedback on teachers they are hardly ever asked for. If two of the top five reasons for becoming a teacher are ‘making a difference’ and ‘helping children enjoy learning’ then wouldn’t it be satisfying for the teacher to know this is happening? Teachers bear the brunt of a hell of a lot of negativity on a daily basis – some teachers speak of ‘psychological abuse’ from children and but that doesn’t mean unspoken positive feelings towards teachers aren’t out there to balance the story. The teacher did not start teaching to help children ‘get higher grades’ so although a teacher wants to turn out a good set of grades for the sake of helping students jump necessary hurdles and furthering their own career prospects, emotionally what they want is to know is whether the children are enjoying learning and they’ve personally ‘made a difference’ to their lives. With some students this may seem clear, but some do give mixed messages, or are extremely quiet; seeing 30 students in a class maybe once a week may not give a sufficient opportunity to divine feedback.
All the good feedback must be channelled clearly into marketing communications and built into a brand ‘story’ – what are the themes emerging? What are the teacher strengths in the school? Marketing communications based on this process will be entirely authentic. Not only will this make teachers feel better directly but it will be incontrovertible evidence to lay before the community and parents showing the value of staff.
The same exercise should be undertaken with parents and among the teachers themselves regarding their peers, management and the culture of the school as a whole. From those real responses the school’s strengths can be distilled, and what it aspires further can be pinned down and be decided upon in consultation with teachers. After all, a school can have a vision and not worked out ‘all the answers yet’ as to how to deliver it or face challenges, but what is important is that everyone has their eyes on the same defined goal, a sense of value of belonging to a school that knows what’s it about and a desire to reach the goal as a team.
Translating this vision into communications with stakeholders and genuinely how the school works is the next vital stage; this will include for example a review of policies, procedures, ways of working, activities, community engagement programmes, special features, and school ‘traditions’, that can be initiated or revived. The brand is created with the teachers as drivers, it becomes ‘real’, and is then internally marketed to the teachers and other key stakeholders like the pupils and the community, who so directly affect the teacher’s quality of life.
A strong authentic brand and positive marketing communications with a clear message will affect pupil applications, and local community standing. Not only will low community standing give teachers lower leverage with less-than-supportive parents, schools with vacant places can become known as ‘dumping grounds’ for excluded pupils from other schools, leading to an abnormally high level of classroom disruption.
Going through a branding process based on this research and then pinning down the essence of the school is so important because it defines and gives credibility to the teacher’s identity as a teacher at that school. Achievements of the school reflect well on them. When things don’t go so well they can still be proud that they are part of a team that is strong because it has a plan; a school with strategic management is more likely to see progress, and keep a positive mind-frame for that exhausted teacher who is starting to question – will this ever get any better? Can I really cope with this?
If you’d like to find out more about how to create a strong brand and marketing communications strategy to help improve teacher retention in your school or MAT, please give me a call on 07792 503 815