I had a big reality check last year, after completing my first year as a Technology Integration Specialist (ToSA in all but name). My specialist friends and I did some great things last year; got tech into classrooms, led some great PD on PBL, tech integration and literacy, supported 8 innovators each, getting them to be the best they could be, and completed untold hours of training and coaching practice to get better at our jobs. It was the biggest, fastest, most meaningful growth of my career. My tech skills soared, my coaching sills were refined and honed to a razor edge, and I had a huge growth in my PLN, thanks to twitter and voxer and other social media apps repurposed for education. And my reward for all that growth and expertise? I got a fat 17% pay cut.
It seems that the specialist had done a great job of informing almost all of our stakeholders about the great things we were doing. All of them except our fellow teachers.
In retrospect, I can see it. We were constantly barraged with questions, seemingly with some malicious intent, about “what do you do all day?” We took the defensive. We circled the wagons and instead of being open and honest and transparent, we referred all of the questions to our boss. Not the best PR move for us, and looking back, we definitely misread the intent, but it is what it is. Now, with a year under our belt and a costly lesson just within view in our rearview mirror, we must swallow our fears, hitch up our jeans and get to work spreading the good word of the things we accomplished last year, as well as the good we are continuing to do this year. So, now we must become masters of marketing, and branding to repair the inadvertent damage caused.
Marketing for teacher can be a tricky thing. We are not accustomed to getting out there and selling a product to adults, our customers (read: audience) are traditionally the students. For many of us, the prospect of marketing ourselves seem silly at best, and downright terrifying at worst. But now, as ToSAs and Specialists, we have a duty and an expectation to be as upfront and public as possible with the benefit and need for our work. If not, you could wind up in a situation where your own customer base (the teachers we are here to help) could end up being our biggest critics.
We need to look at this in a structured way or we may get confused. It is pretty easy to do, and because we live in a world of Simon Sinek, we need to start with the Why?
The easy and quick answer to this is we need to tell our story, because if we do not, others will. And they won’t do it justice. Mostly, if we are not our telling our story, someone with an incomplete picture of the story will start telling it and filling in the missing spots with spurious information. You know your story, and you need to tell it, details and nitty gritty and hardships and challenges and successes. Put it all in there. We have a journey we are taking, which means we have a story to tell. Tell it with pizzazz and panache, and tell it true. People will get the whole picture and not fill in the missing spots with their own version of the tale.
What do we tell?
Well, everyone has a story to tell, but I would limit yours to the pertinent and job related details that make up your day to day. I know it seems tedious, and part of your reaction will be “who wants to know that?” But seriously, tell it. It makes you relatable and more human, and gives the tale an element of truth that you cannot get from the sports-highlight reel kind of storytelling. Talk about frustrations and successes, about the struggles of putting together a good PD, and that PD that fell on its face. Tell about your attempt to recover and make it better for next time. It is not all sunshine and lollypops, and if you tell the story that way, people will see it for what it is. Tell it true, and it will ring so.
But don’t make it one failure after another, something like that would make us look inept. Sprinkle them into the narrative, just enough to show how you overcame. Just a dab’ll do ya. Make sure you hit all the highlights of your particular position/situation. Tell about the successful implementation of one of your trainings in a classroom, talk up the new and wondrous things our teachers are doing, things that you showed them, about how they took what you presented and ran with it, made an awesome project or product and got students motivated and engaged in learning. The focus is on the teaching and learning, and while you are a part of that, the spotlight needs to be on the teacher using your training, and the students who benefit from that. That is, after all, why we are all here.
Where do we tell it?
There are several avenues for this, depending on your comfort level. In BUSD, we have a podcast that we run. We share a lot there, about the trainings and new things we are learning, and about the classrooms we go into and the strategies we love. It is a great outlet for us. We are not in it for the podcast fame (ha ha ha), but beyond getting our story out, it is a place we can reflect on practice and share that reflection with others, to help guide the way. The podcasts are as much for us as our audience, and that seems to work well.
Another avenue is what you are reading right now, a blog. There are a ton of edu-blogs out there, and I can see why. Blogging is a great way to share, sure, but like podcasting, it forces reflection and introspection. Why did that strategy work while this one failed? How did that class demo go so well this week and flop last week? How can I best bring info to my teachers and dose it out in manageable enough chunks to be useful and not overwhelming (something I need to work on, as you can see!).
Yet another avenue is a newsletter. There are some great newsletters out there, and some innovative ways of producing and distributing one. Google slides is a good tool, as well as the templates on Microsoft Word. My advice on this one is K.I.S.S., keep it super simple. Provide lots of links and summaries, and let your audience choose what interests them and what they want to follow up on. Give some info, but not too much as to be overwhelming. Get feedback and see what they like best and give them more. Feedback and interactivity are the keys to newsletter success.
When do I tell the story?
This can be a tricky one. Our answer for the first year was along the lines of “we are not ready to tell our story yet” and that did a whole lot more hurting than helping. Learn from us, tell your story often, and start telling it soon. It will all depend on your environment and your ability to read your customers/target audience, but even some of the foundational work we needed to do to get our feet under us would have made our teachers a little more understanding of our new positions and job duties. Be open about your learning and your path. We were reeling for our first few months, and it wasn’t surprising. All six of us were coming out of the classroom for the first time, and that first month or two is awash with emotions and fears, excitement and second guessing. Many of us missed the classroom, and we were thrown off our game, not having a classroom to set up, not making first day folders or worksheets, not having to learn new names. That itself is a story, and a compelling one at that. Teachers understand and would relate. It is a world upon its head, and important to share. Just make sure you limit it to one, maybe two stories and move on.
After that, the frequency of your updates to the story will be dictated by your customers/teachers/audience. Bimonthly would be a good starting place, and then you can adjust for your audience. There is a fine line between updating teachers and overwhelming them with too much info. Get that feedback and make sure your work is riding that line.
Who Do I tell?
This one is easy, tell EVERYONE. Your story and job reaches a quite a few people. It is not like your classroom, where you were reaching those in your classes and their parents. Now your reach has grown exponentially, and you reach many more teachers, and that means your impact reaches their students as well. You need to make sure you are reaching all the stakeholders, and you tailor that message to each of them. It doesn’t take much to tailor a message, a change in presentation sometimes is all that is needed. In our situation, it took a change of focus. When we presented to the Board of education, we had a slightly different focus than then presenting to our boss or to the teachers. The Board wanted to hear about student impact, and the Superintendent wanted to hear about how we are impacting teachers. Our teachers wanted to know how we were helping them help students, and parents needed to know what we were doing to make their students education better than it was before we were out of the classroom. It can seem daunting when all spelled out like that, but knowing that updates are all that is needed to make each of these happy and keep them informed helps.
What I would do different this year is really focus on the teachers, making sure they were kept abreast of what we are doing and making sure their questions were answered. They are our focus this year, they are our most valuable customer, mostly because we did such a poor job with this last year. Be aware of your most valuable asset and make sure you keep them in the loop.
How do we make it memorable?
There is a slew of ways to address this question, and your customers/teachers will dictate your best avenue of approach. For us, it was SWAG! People love getting things. We did a good job branding ourselves. No one could say they weren’t aware of us, but just because they were aware didn’t mean they understood what we did. A distinction we are working to remedy this year.
First of all, we had a great boss and Superintendent who helped us with a nice budget for swag. I have worked with district budgets, and that helped a lot with our branding crusade. In our small district, we have a budget in excess of $35 million dollars. In the big picture, we asked for $2000 for our SWAG. That was bout $10 a teacher. We would have been happy with $5/teachers, but we got what we asked for. We spent judiciously and were able to assemble a variety of tech and teacher-friendly give-a-ways. Some small beach balls, some notepads, some pens, some lanyards with flash drives on them, and headphones. All branded and all free for teachers coming to our PD sessions. It was a great icing on the PD cake, and teachers loved it. Do what you can, in your means, to get things into the hands of your audience.
Lastly, make your info easy to access. Some of the more memorable things we did cost us zero. We put together a menu of training options and passed it out to each site. It was arranged into three categories of trainings available: Teacher Trainings, Class Demos, and Admin PLC/PLN enhancements. By categorizing our trainings, a teacher could find the training they wanted easier, and it was a big hit. We also curated content on our website/LMS (learning management system) to make all of the best content readily available with a few clicks of the mouse. We had about 20,000 hits on our LMS last year, and 18,000 were on the Educational Services Resources page. That is a 90% hit rate, which is damn good. People appreciated and used the site as a resource for their classroom and to springboard to information they needed, that they knew we had available for them.
Trainings offered 2016 Menu of Options (feel free to steal, but if you do, can I get a copy?)
I have some resources below about marketing and some psychology of marketing and branding. They helped us tailor our message and get people to our PD. You might find them helpful in your situation like we did. I have also curated some resources on the Marketing tab on this site. Make sure you stop by and check them out.