Market Your School With Design Thinking: Testing Makes Perfect

School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other, and in this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think nonlinearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Testing, Testing, 1, 2

You’re here. You’ve gotten through the brainstorming, you’ve faced the challenge you defined, and have come up with a prototype that is as foolproof as you can get it—the only thing left? Test it.

“A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better.” This is just one of many valuable insights provided by the d.School at Stanford on “Why” testing is such a crucial phase. Here are some more of their valuable insights:

  • To refine prototypes and solutions. Testing informs the next iterations of prototypes. Sometimes this means going back to the drawing board.
  • To learn more about your user. Testing is another opportunity to build empathy through observation and engagement—it often yields unexpected insights.
  • To refine your point of view. Sometimes testing reveals that not only did you not get the solution right, but also that you failed to frame the problem correctly.

An important step in the testing phase is to truly engage your audience with the prototype. This can carry varying levels of difficulty with it, depending on the prototype in question, but rarely will you get actionable and meaningful results without observing the user experience in a tangible way.

The testing phase requires user participation and therefore can vary with regards to time: for example, you’ve determined that your school would benefit from having a more prominent digital footprint that is more user-friendly and you’ve gone ahead and updated parts of your website—the next step is to collect data. This can take a while depending on your sample size and the frequency in which your community visits your site; however, perhaps you get to this point and realize that nothing happens… that’s what we mean when we say that design thinking is iterative.

It’s possible that your community has undergone changes, or the competition has shifted in some way. Testing is a great way to make sure that you’re still on track with your original vision, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to empathize all over again. We understand that some schools, districts and organizations may not be able to move through this process at a breakneck pace or even execute all of the steps. Don’t worry. If that is the case, it is important to repeat the empathize and define the steps of the design thinking framework.

Design thinking is an adaptable and powerful framework that, when done well, can become a valuable mindset in your toolkit. This dynamic, human-centered approach to solving problems can create a culture of creativity and care and is certain to help your school stand out from the pack.

For more, see:

This is the fifth post in a series on using design thinking to market your school. For more in the series:

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


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Market Your School With Design Thinking: Troubleshooting Ideas With Prototyping

School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other, and in this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think nonlinearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Get In The Sandbox – It’s Time to Prototype

Here’s the phase where you get your hands dirty. In the prototyping phase, you are able to fail forward, running into problems and obstacles and allowing them to shape your end result. The most obvious example of prototyping comes from a product perspective, but when working with something less tangible, like marketing, this phase can manifest more strategically—think about timing, naming, communication, locations and more. IDEO provides 6 Tips for Prototyping a Service, which are briefly outlined below:

  1. Determine the moments that matter.
    What are the points of maximum impact? How can you be strategic and maximize the effect of your efforts?
  2. Be on the lookout for early indicators.
    What are the early signs that indicate room for improving your prototype while still in the prototyping phase? Remember to keep stakeholders in mind and a spirit of ideation afloat.
  3. Tap the creative potential of those who are delivering the service.
    Ask good questions of stakeholders. Keep a “Yes, and” attitude.
  4. Use time-based moments.
    Continue to reflect on the process and note the ways in which you can better support in the coming phases.
  5. Ask people to imagine a more idealized version.
    Use rough drafts to jumpstart visioning around the ideal product/service.
  6. Use constraints to force yourself to stretch.
    Push yourself through acknowledging the limitations at play, while also introducing additional limitations to spur creativity and continue the ideation process.

For an effective prototyping session to take place, the room should be primed with “design elements.” This happens naturally when following the ideation phase (when done well), as participants already feel heard and creative. This could be done through the intentional use of a room or could be done offsite in your community.

Similarly to the ideation phase, movement is important in the prototyping phase. This can be physical movement, rapidity of designing, agility in shifting from one idea to the next, etc. Through all this movement, it is easy to establish tunnel-vision on an idea that you think is the most interesting or the most promising—remember that likely, this solution is not for you. Keep your audience in mind and lead with the empathy component rather than strictly innovating for innovation’s sake.

Don’t forget to be scientific with it! It’s ok to identify certain elements/variables that do or don’t work and use that to inform or enhance a different idea. Remember that the design thinking process is iterative, meaning that within each prototype you are likely using all other steps of the framework: empathizing, defining, ideating and testing. It’s not necessary to carry any one idea above your head as you wade through the varying steps in the process.

The prototyping phase can be done in groups or alone; really any configuration works. The important part is making sure that everyone is contributing or is put in a position that makes them comfortable to fully participate. Prototyping is a chance to truly hear from everyone and to watch the passion come out as you work together to address an important challenge.

For more, see:

This is the fourth post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking. For more in the series:

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


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Market Your School With Design Thinking: Best Practices For Ideation

School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other, and in this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think nonlinearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Unpacking Ideation

Brainstorming is widely considered the fun part, that’s why so many people skip directly to this phase. This is where it really starts to feel like you are making progress, where you’re solving the problem and it feels like nothing can stop you. In fact, you can bet that ideation is a part of nearly all problem-solving meetings, kickoff meetings, etc., regardless of the industry or who is leading the meeting. Although brainstorming is widespread beyond the education marketing space, that doesn’t mean that it is always done well and with the proper amount of intentionality. Here are a few evergreen, industry-spanning tips to create an effective culture of brainstorming:

  1. Clearly Define. Make sure that everyone in the room or involved is on the same page through a clear definition of the problem and the rules of the discussion. i.e. assume best intentions, raise your hand, don’t speak over anyone, etc. You want to make sure that everyone is as comfortable and in the loop as possible to encourage participation from all parties.
  2. Yes and… We don’t believe in saying “no” in a brainstorming session and have seen the benefits of letting people ride ideas and use creativity in realtime to leapfrog from one recommendation to, perhaps, a more dialed in one.
  3. Room Control. We love elaboration, in fact, that’s a large component of prototyping, however, brainstorming is not the time for people to explain their full idea; nor is it the time for someone else to try and pushback with an alternative angle. Depending on the scope of your problem and the size of your brainstorming group there can be some wiggle room here.
  4. The Great Equalizer. It’s important to include and hear stakeholders from all sides of the problem at hand. In the case of the school: teachers, admin, school board, parents, students, local businesses, etc. You can even try various methods of redistributing power and leveling the playing field—a very effective one is making the CEO, or your team’s leader, write down the brainstormed suggestions on the board.
  5. Capture All Ideas. You never know when one idea that seems like a passing thought at the time may jumpstart just what you need after the session. Write everything down—this also helps everyone to feel heard and like they made a valid contribution.
  6. Sort It Out. Share out the collected ideas and put them into organized sections for ease of use in the coming phases. Be sure to hold on to all ideas, even the ones on the fringes—you never know what will come in handy.

An effective ideation session is largely dependent on trust, inclusivity, listening and being heard—key tenants to keep at the core of facing challenges for your school and your community.

For more, see:

This is the third post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking. For more in the series:

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


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Design Thinking For School Marketing: Defining the Challenge

School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other. In this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think non-linearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Defining the Challenge

Once you’ve explored the empathize phase and think you have a grasp on what makes your community tick, the next step is to define the challenge/solution at hand. It’s important to keep a broad enough mind that you don’t miss the real cause, but be specific enough that you are able to adequately ideate solutions in the next phase.

Examples of how understanding your community can inform the define phase:

  • It enables you to leverage a multi-media campaign to better appeal to a community with mixed-age groups, literacy proficiencies, and touchpoints.
  • It helps to know how the story of the school is being received pre-marketing campaign so that you can have an optimal impact with your efforts.
  • It helps identify the location of the current challenge: is it students and community, parents and school, businesses and school? Perhaps it is something outside of the walls of the school altogether.
  • It enables you to latch on to the momentum of other community efforts and become more of a catalyst for change than an inventor of it.

During the define phase you can also assess any pre-existing data that you may have: website analytics, the number of students enrolled year over year, social media engagement, newsletter participation, demographics, etc. Using this information you will be able to better figure out if your current communication avenues are working or if, perhaps, they could be re-imagined during a design session. This is a great place to reflect on the way your school is perceived in the community and to see if your school’s story is being accurately portrayed. It will also help you to know channels that need to be optimized or dropped to most efficiently and effectively spread how awesome your school is.

The defining of the challenge can be dependent on a number of factors: perhaps this challenge stands out because it affects the most people, or maybe it is the challenge that you think you will be able to most effectively solve. The important part here is to keep your school/team on the same page. For Marketing Directors and anyone in charge of the community-facing channels of the school, this can be the hardest part. Getting your team and faculty to recognize the strategy and difficulty in doing something as nuanced as boosting enrollment is not an easy ask—with that said, it’s amazing how much easier a Marketing Director’s job becomes once everyone is on the same page. Similar to the empathize phase, asking questions is a great way to begin to stumble upon the root of the problem. A question as simple as “why?” when asked with dedication and vigor can peel away many of the surface level gripes and perceived obstacles to get at what the true challenge is.

Once this initial challenge has been crafted into a concise and intentional challenge statement, you can think about moving forward with ideation. You can begin to focus on telling the updated story of your brand and truly engaging the community that your school desires to serve.

This is the second post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking. For more in the series:

For more, see:

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.


Design Thinking For School Marketing: Empathize With Your Community

School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other. In this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think non-linearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Empathize With Your Community

Design thinking is a unique framework due to its emphasis on two phases that many other frameworks/mindsets don’t address: empathize and define. When these steps are overlooked, leaders often end up missing the core problem due to poorly diagnosing the needs of their intended audience. When your audience/community is different from place-to-place, as is the case within the education space, a “one size fits all” approach is likely to fall short. As micro-schools and personalized learning continue to grow and school districts shift to fit the modern age, it has become more urgent than ever to immerse yourself and tailor your strategic marketing plan to the specific community that you are trying to serve.

Empathizing means walking in the shoes of another to gain an understanding of their feelings and perceptions. Applying this to the marketing of schools, it comes down to understanding the potential of your community as well as putting in the legwork to see opportunity the way they encounter it on a daily basis. Leading with empathy oftentimes indicates having a “design mindset” which combines an understanding of the customer/community with the agility and problem-solving know-how of practiced design thinkers.

It is important to note that there must be an underlying understanding of your community before launching an effective community-building initiative. The desire to figuratively tear down walls and make the community the classroom is exciting and well-intentioned, however, it can be misguided when not well-informed about the people you are trying to reach and serve. Initially, asking yourself some questions may not only serve as a valid litmus test for how well you understand your community but may also spark some campaign ideas as well:

  1. Where are prominent places in your community where people go?
  2. Are you a part of these places? How might you be more involved?
  3. How might we better engage with our local businesses?
  4. How might we take students into the community?
  5. Are there opportunities for breaking bread with the community?
  6. How might we re-imagine our communication methods to encourage more contributions from the community?
  7. How might we empower new leaders and advocates within our community?

If getting to know your community starts with an event or a campaign, be sure you are capturing contact information! Once you have a good database of contacts, don’t be afraid to strategically send out a survey or hone in on local concerns and trends to figure out the questions that are being asked. It is important to remember that the impact can be varied, and many “solutions” are a first step in unraveling some of the more difficult problems. A framework from the Reform Support Network identifies how it is possible to move up the ranks from Inform, to Inquire, to Involve, to Inspire. Inspiring and positioning as a catalyst for growth is the true goal of all great educating and community building.

Some communities are fortunate enough to have passionate community builders already committed to breaking down the perceived barriers between schools and the community. Should your town be fortunate enough to have a pre-existing program or organization, talk to them! Some compelling and effective examples of these that we’ve seen are DC Pave, Kindred and Valley High School.

The empathy phase doesn’t stop, and like the rest of the design thinking framework, it requires consistent diligence and iteration. Developing a good understanding of the underlying concerns, habits and successes of your school community is essential to differentiating, driving enrollment and maintaining school satisfaction in the age of choice.

For more, see:

This is the first post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking.

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.


6 Ways to Market Your School Without Social Media

Social media can be exhausting. Knowing when to post, how much to post and what to post is a cyclical series of questions that seems to keep the answers just out of reach. While there are tried and true tips and tricks to maximizing engagement, a school’s marketing lead can have varying degrees of success through these channels.

While social media is a valuable asset to a school’s storytelling efforts, there are additional channels for effective communication. If you’re getting tunnel-vision or kicking the ground about low engagement or lack of original content, we have a few strategies you can use to fill those gaps and revitalize your school’s marketing strategy.

1. Lead with student voice. Families and school communities want to see what students are working on. With this in mind, you can select student ambassadors, have students help with the school’s newsletter or make a point to display student work in the community. Not only is this a great marketing technique, but it also dramatically increases student engagement and learning. There are various ways to let students lead: ranging from student-led conferences to exhibitions of student work. This also enables students to solve real-world problems that extend outside of the walls of the classroom and into the community—a great way to symbiotically project the school’s brand and connect the community.

2. Identify local business partners. We’ve noted many schools in the last few years that are making a push towards real-world learning. This trend implies increased conversations between schools/districts and local business owners. Because this line of communication may be underway in your community, this bridge between schools and local businesses could be an easy relationship to continue to nurture. If the foundations for these relationships have not been laid, it is worth identifying key stakeholders, or businesses that have a large impact on students—either from a workforce perspective or a product perspective. Depending on the size of your school’s community, local business owners can oftentimes be parents of current or potential students. It’s remarkable what word of mouth can do.

3. Hold community events. Events are a great opportunity to gather with your community and allow students to show what they know.  Consider leaning on some of your local business partners (mentioned above) for a change of scenery and using an offsite location. If the goal of your event is to boost enrollment and your school is a place that shows off its successes well, host it there. Prospective parents will love to envision their child walking the halls, and prospective students will benefit from the added comfort of being familiar with the space.

4. Use your school website as a channel. School websites are essential. Optimizing your school’s website should be the first thing you do when looking at improving your marketing efforts. Making user experience as intuitive as possible, and the mission/values of your school as clear as can be, is one of the fastest ways to boost enrollment. Also, if your site is not mobile-friendly, optimizing it for mobile can make a world of difference with regards to enrollment rate, retention rate and general engagement. Studies have shown exponential mobile-browsing growth in the past five years, and predict that more is to come. As of January 2019, DataReportal reports that 48% of internet usage was from mobile devices, contrasted with 26% in 2014.

Mobile’s share of total internet time from 2014-2019 graph. Courtesy of DataReportal.

Your school website can be more than simply a place for enrollment. Start a blog that discusses the goings-on in the school. A pipeline of information that the school considers important is a great way to keep parents in the loop and engaged. The site can also be the home to parent testimonials, student spotlights, event calendars and more. It can provide a familiar hub to current and prospective parents alike.

5. Newsletters. I know, including newsletters is kind of cheating. Is a newsletter social media? For this post…no. Newsletters are the most foolproof way to reach parents, community members and families of potential students. The most important part of a newsletter is to make sure it is valuable, to not send them too frequently and to make sure you are:

  • Updating your subscribers with news that is pertinent to them.
  • Emailing with a clear call-to-action. This means using language, buttons, sign-ups and surveys, to give your subscribers exactly what they need so that you can get exactly what you need.

One of the best ways to make sure that your content is always relevant is to segment your newsletter into various groups using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform like MailChimp. Not everyone on your list needs to stay privy to all of the news items/information that your school has to offer. As a result, you can intelligently sort your subscriber pool into prospective families, current families, business partners, community members, etc.

6. Do your research. Word of mouth is a huge benefit (or downfall). Parents are likely to trust the word of other parents. As a result, it can be exceedingly helpful to gather data on the opinions of your current families through a brief and to the point survey.  Should these results be favorable, these can be turned into testimonials and used as value propositions on the website. If they are not favorable, you will have a starting point to address pain points other parents may be facing and can market directly to these fears/weaknesses.

For more, see:

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


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Promoting a School-to-Home Community

One area that educators might reflect on over the summer is how to foster a better connection between home and school. There are so many tasks that we have to do on a daily basis and without a doubt, our primary responsibility is to provide the best learning experience and support for all of our students. Regular communication to keep parents informed about upcoming events, such as assessments and class or school activities is important. There also needs to be opportunities for sharing student work directly with parents, so that parents see and participate in the learning experiences of students. We have to strive to make that home to school connection.

Although many educators have their summers off, this represents an opportunity to use the extra time to think about and reflect on the prior school year, to look at the different tools being used to communicate and also to explore some new ideas. We always have room to grow professionally and being intentional about fostering these vital relationships is critical.

Today we have so many different ways to communicate the great things happening in our classrooms, share student work and involve families more than we ever could before in the education of their children. While all of the traditional forms of communication (phone calls, emails, or papers sent through the mail) still work and are still used, sometimes we benefit by taking the opportunity to explore different ways of connecting with our families.

Depending on your role or the grade level that you teach, there might be required forms of communication or specific times you must interact with families. But using the different tools available today, creating an access point for families to connect with teachers, to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the schools and more importantly, to have real-time access to important information that they need when they need it is possible within seconds. Technology clearly serves a purpose when it’s used for this, and there are many benefits in trying even just one new way to make that connection stronger. Before deciding on any specific tool, it is important that we first consider any possible barriers that might limit the opportunity for families to come in to the school or to access resources when they need them. When we start with a strong and collaborative partnership created between home and school, it will positively impact student performance.

Finding the Best Ways to Connect

It is important to find something that provides quality resources, centralizes school information, and which facilitates the creation of a virtual space for students and families. Schools have many options for providing a more consistent, effective and reliable way that leads to higher family engagement and better communication between school and home.

It’s not always about the specific tool, because there is definitely no shortage of tools out there from which we can choose. Rather it’s about finding a new strategy or tool and thinking about what is now possible that otherwise might take extra time, not be accessible to all families, or has a steep learning curve.

Here are five ideas for fostering that home-to-school connection and building a community that will lead to greater success for all of our students, not just those in our classroom.

  1. Publish a daily blog or class reflection: Involve families and students more in what is happening in the classroom by publishing blog posts. Whether it be a daily recap or weekly summary, inform families about upcoming events, projects, assessments, and even provide helpful links for families to use to review the content material with their children.
  2. Careers and community connections: We know that students need to learn in authentic ways that bring in real-world learning experiences. A good way to learn about the families and to involve them more would be to invite them to share their careers or community events. Using a blog such as Kidblog, a class website, a Skype meeting or even a classroom visit, we could create a closer connection and surround students with truly unique learning opportunities. Depending on grade level or content area, this can tie into project-based or place-based learning, helping students to expand their community and global understanding. 
  3. Communication platforms: There are a lot of tools that create that instant connection between home and school. Some options are Bloomz, ParentSquare and Remind. Each of these are easy to get started with and offer a range of features from messaging and sharing photos and files (Remind), to more extensive features including conference signups, volunteer lists, and more. Going beyond these platforms, another option is to use a tool like Buncee, to create a class syllabus, newsletter, multimedia presentation to share student work. A few years ago, I created a Buncee to send to parents who were unable to attend open house and included the important information and links as well as recorded audio to go along with it.
  4. The show must go on: During the school year, there are many events such as open houses, student showcases, concerts, or sporting events that often don’t match family schedules. It is important that families are able to participate in these events (in some format) so they can make that connection with school and their child. With all of the tech options available for student creation, why not have students use a tool like Synth to create a podcast to describe class and school events with a peer, or create their own personal podcast. Synth has the option to include videos and links. Another idea is to use Flipgrid to create ‘grids’ and teachers can set them up for different topics, for students or families to introduce themselves to one another, or even have a class news show.
  5. Virtual tours and more: Try something different and use some of the augmented and virtual reality tools available to give a tour of the classrooms, the school, or share student work; or have students create their own representation of learning to share. Using an interactive tool like Nearpod, you can include videos to show the school, virtual field trips, polls and collaborative activities. It would be an innovative way to get to know families and for them to learn about you and your class. Or try Google Tour Creator and create a tour of the school and have this resource available for new students and their families. Or something like Metaverse to create an interactive story, for something different that will highlight student creativity too.

Deciding where to start is the hard part, but there are so many options that even if you try something and it does not go as you had hoped, many other possibilities exist. Best advice, just choose one idea, gather feedback from families and parents, and decide if it is a good fit for you and your classroom needs. If not, move to the next choice on the list and share what you learned and the impact it had. The idea might not work for your specific parent/family connection, but it might be something you can use in your teaching practice.

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3 Texting Tips to Nudge Incoming HigherEd Students to Success

By Brian Kathman

As higher education staff, you ask a lot from prospective and current students before they even arrive on campus. From completing college applications to registering for classes to applying for financial aid, students have an entire maze to navigate before their first day of class. But what do students need from YOU in order to get these tasks correctly finished in time? And why is it important to “nudge” students in the right direction?

According to research published by Dr. Benjamin L. Castleman and Dr. Lindsay C. Page, 10 to 40 percent of college-intending students fail to matriculate in the fall following high school. Their research shows that this is especially prevalent in low-income families. Factors that contribute to this phenomenon include absence of school support, confusion over paperwork, lack of parental guidance, and the very human tendency to procrastinate.

The good news is, there’s a simple strategy that can help address all of these issue- direct, personalized text messaging. The same research from Castleman and Page shows that personalized text intervention from education staff helps to significantly increase student awareness and comprehension of pre-matriculation tasks. So, what are the best ways to communicate with students via text to get the job done? We’ve pulled together our top tips.

Keep it Short and Simple

The reason texting students about important upcoming tasks and deadlines is so effective is that it breaks down complex information into bite-sized reminders. This means you need to be strategic about the information you’re sending via text – there are certain things students want to hear from you in order to truly benefit from your communication. To ensure you meet student expectations when it comes to the texts they receive from you, follow texting best practices when planning out your strategy. Take time to send the right message, and be sure to include only pertinent information. Students want a quick recap of the specific information they need. And be sure not to go overboard with abbreviations – students don’t need you to be “hip” with the lingo you use. Finally, most students reply to your texts within 90 seconds, so don’t leave your students hanging when you get a response.

Build an Effective Strategy

Once you’ve identified the right kind of content to send students via text, the next step is strategy. You’ll be reaching students directly on their phones, so you’ll want to build a text campaign that is purposeful and efficient. The first place to start is to identify the desired outcome you want to achieve by texting students. Do students need extra help when it comes to enrollment-related tasks? Have you noticed a pattern of incomplete FAFSA applications? Do students tend to have a lot of questions around housing options? Identify these student pain points and how you plan to negate each with text reminders. Next, set deadlines related to these goals – when do students need to know the important information you’re sending their way? Once your text reminders are out the door, set aside time to respond in a timely manner to make sure students are getting prompt answers to any follow-up questions they may have.

Get a Response

Anytime you send out a text – whether personal or professional – there’s the dreaded wait time. If you don’t hear back, thoughts run through your head like, “Did I say too much?” “Did I say the wrong thing?” The same concerns may come to mind when you text students. The best way to battle these fears is to personalize your texts before you send. Students don’t want to feel like they’ve been part of a mass text blast, and they’ll know if they have. If your messages read like a canned or plug-and-go text, it’ll be obvious that you didn’t take time to personalize. Students are much more likely to respond if you send them an individualized message. Text reminders work because they reach students directly – but don’t take for granted the importance of personalization.

The best way to reach students with information and support is no longer necessarily through email – it is often directly through their phones via text. With the right text content, strategy and personalization tactics in place, you’ll be able to nudge students in the right direction.

For more, see:

Brian Kathman is CEO of Signal Vine. Connect with him on Twitter: @briankathman. 


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If You Believe in Your Work, Start Talking About It

If you believe in what you’re doing, you should be talking about what you’re doing. It can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there, and it can feel self-serving to talk about your success when what you really want is to help students, but the simple fact of the matter is this: Whether you’re a K-12 teacher, principal, business owner or nonprofit leader, if you’ve found a new way to improve students’ learning, students everywhere deserve a chance to benefit from your discovery.

The only way to make that happen is by talking about your work and gaining recognition.

If you haven’t yet started sharing your work publicly but are starting to realize that you owe it to your fellow educators to share your ideas, here are three simple steps that can help frame your thinking and planning around your future communications.

Know Your Why

Of course, as a first step, it’s crucial to know why you want to spread your message (see our recent post on this subject). Ask yourself: am I doing this for the benefit of myself, or the students I serve? If somebody else had this idea, would I want to support them?

People have become more sensitive to marketers trying to “sell” them things, and the best way to avoid this is to cultivate a genuine attitude and organizational culture that places students first. At SXSWedu last year, I spoke with an EdTech startup sales rep hoping to get coverage on Getting Smart who said to me “we’re really excited to be doing this work–we know universities all across the country have deep pockets that they’re willing to throw at the latest EdTech.”

While I admired this sales representative’s honesty, I did not admire his motives–and his company’s name has not made it to Getting Smart, or any other publications that I have read.

Determine Your Audience

This may seem a bit “Communications 101” at first glance, but the idea has taken on new weight in the digital era. As people today are inundated with sensory input from a vast range of media sources, they become better and better at tuning out irrelevant “noise.”

The only way to stand out is to determine the person you are trying to reach, where you can find them, and what message they want (but don’t yet know they want) to hear. I really like audience personas as a way to think through the outreach strategy for (and tone of) my writing. Another good strategy that we at Getting Smart like is keeping up to date with education trendsetters on Twitter.

If you wouldn’t send the same physical letter to a superintendant and a teacher, why would you do that with emails?

Set a Plan

Now, the hard part. Options for setting a communication plan abound, and ideas range from paying for a booth at a conference to trying to gain media attention. But these are expensive strategies, and they don’t guarantee success. What is the ground level for talking about your work?

We (as you are likely well aware) are big fans of using digital tools to connect with different audiences–the only requirements are time and effort (though an ad dollar here or there doesn’t hurt). If you’re just getting started, try these approaches to three classic platforms that will likely feel a bit fresher than the old “You’re the one millionth visitor!” pop-up ad:

  • Social Media. We’ve written a pretty in-depth guide to social media, so I’ll keep this brief. Suffice it to say, whether you’re seeking to develop your personal learning network or engage in the important conversations through any of the hundreds of popular education hashtags, social media is probably the first place to turn.
  • Email Marketing. If you’re not a digital marketing professional, you might not be aware of how email marketing has evolved to allow intensely personal communication with much less effort than would have been required even five years ago. Marketing automation can be a good option for those selling a product to many potential customers, but for those just getting started, contact segmentation through platforms like Emma can be more than enough. I recently spoke with Emma’s Director of Customer Success, Cliff Corr, who told me that a number of universities (such as Notre Dame and University of Minnesota) had organized successful email campaigns with Emma by focusing on “communicating clearly with personalized messages.”
  • Blogging. This is our bread and butter. Over the many years of our blogging, we’ve learned quite a few lessons, but here are the three most important:
    • Keep it personal. Statistics and explanations are great, but they can only get at the logical part of the brain. If you really want your work to resonate, you need to tell a story that people can identify with.
    • Give people something they can use. Be sure to give your audience some next steps to take when they’re done reading, but be careful how you frame them. If the only course of action for people interested in your ideas is buying your product or service, then it’s not a blog post–it’s an advertisement. And advertisements purporting to be blog posts tend to alienate readers.
    • Start Small. Starting and maintaining a blog is a big undertaking. Not sure if you want to devote that many resources? Dip your toes in the water by sharing a post with us.

At Getting Smart, we believe that the powerful communication of good ideas is one of the best ways to positively impact education on a large scale. If you feel the same, we invite you to share your message with us by emailing [email protected] Or, if you’d like a partner who can help you strategize a more robust campaign, shoot an email to [email protected]–she’ll be more than happy to see how we can help.

For more, see:


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How To Get Published on Getting Smart

Have you ever thought about submitting your original content to Getting Smart for publication? We love guest posts that feature innovative work you or your team are doing that impacts the future of education.

We often get questions around what we look for in a blog in order for it to be accepted for publication, so here are some guidelines, tips and examples of the types of blogs we look for to help you get published on our site.

Getting Started Blogging

  • Our audience is mainly superintendents, principals, teachers and other education leaders, so blogs should to be written to address their needs, interests and concerns.
  • Our blog is focused on helping invent and highlight the future of learning, so we look for posts that explain and showcase best practices, lessons learned and forward-leaning strategies for powerful and engaging learning experiences.
  • As you are writing your blog, ask yourself: “Does this piece provide insights into the invention of, and strategies for moving toward, the future of learning?”
  • We prefer to use Google Docs (we do also accept Word docs), and have created a template you can copy and use to layout your blog.

Submitting a Blog

Here is a breakdown of what we look for in blog content submitted for review to our [email protected]:

  • The blog itself should be between 500 and 1,000 words.
  • Our goal is always to run thought leadership and evergreen content, so we look for blogs that discuss new ideas and share new thoughts around a variety of education-related topics (see the Topics pull down menu on our site for more).
  • We love using original/personal photos, graphics, diagrams, etc. within a blog, especially if they show students in action (proof of permission to use student photos is mandatory).
  • We definitely want to give your credit for your work, so please include this bio information at the bottom of your blog:

NAME is TITLE at SCHOOL/ORG. Follow them on Twitter: @HANDLE

Guest Blog Examples

Here are some examples of the types of blogs we’ve published:

Parent-Teacher Communication in a Multilingual School District

Design Thinking: Teaching the Importance of Empathy in Business

7 Ways to Become A More Connected Educator Today

What’s Really Better: Workforce Training or Four-Year College?

Using Student Feedback to (Actually) Drive Change

What To Avoid

We strive to publish quality, unbiased content on our blog, so please keep the following in mind:

  • We prefer guest posts to be written by authors with credible experience in the education industry.
  • We do not accept posts that use sale language, heavily promote a company or share links that are irrelevant to our audience.
  • If it’s clear that your post is designed solely to serve as content marketing material or SEO link building fodder, we are significantly less likely to publish it–err on the side of caution!
  • Even high-quality, well-written posts may not fit our defined editorial viewpoint of writing about the cutting edge of education, so submitting a blog does not guarantee placement.

Have any questions about blogging for us not answered above? Email us at [email protected] and we’d be glad to help. Happy blogging!