An aligned and active school community can be one of your strongest assets, but its development is often left to chance. Here’s how Heads can unlock the potential of a cohesive and committed school community.
School communities can be the key that unlocks the latent potential of your school brand and the fuel that powers your momentum. It’s time to look beyond the traditional structures of the Parents and Friends (P&F) for the levers you can pull to intentionally build community at your school.
School communities are usually defined as current parents and alumni. Occasionally, some schools incorporate teachers and students into their thinking, but this article concentrates on your most valuable brand ambassadors: current parents.
Community — a group of people who share something in common — exists at your school by default and that is the biggest problem. In one form or another, organised or organic, positive or negative, your community has existed since the school was founded. Much like the concept of brand, you always have community, but most fail to shape it to become the powerhouse it can be. Here are just a few examples of how a community can add to your school’s brand.
It can position you as a trusted authority. When you provide valuable content and experiences, it demonstrates that you understand and care about your community’s problems.
It can provide an experience that goes beyond educating students. People are hungry for connection. Your school is ideally placed to bring people together at a more human, emotional and problem-solving level.
It can offer opportunities to innovate. Direct access to a group of highly engaged stakeholders offers an opportunity to establish a powerful cycle of enhancement, innovation and closer service alignment with the needs of your current families.
It can build loyalty. People who feel engaged and heard become advocates and brand ambassadors who spread positive word-of-mouth.
It can reduce advertising spend. In time, authentic word-of-mouth reduces your need to spend on paid advertising because you are perceived to be the school that families aspire to be part of.
Where to start
The first place to start is with your own mindset. The old thinking is that parents drop their children at the school gate and engage with you through the P&F. Your new mindset is to consider the whole family as your customer, to discover their unmet needs and, if there is missional alignment, to fulfil those needs. The solution needs to be found at the nexus between your mission and your community’s unmet needs. Fortunately, this often exists right in your sweet spot. Education.
Providing relevant, quality, educational content is a proven way to attract your community to engage with the school and to position the school as the trusted authority. This requires you to act like an educator first, a journalist second and finally as a designer.
- Be the education professional you are and offer content that is valuable, practical and helpful. To do that, you’ll need to learn what your community wants to know. Just ask them! At the daily drop-off and pick-up, in a survey and on the sidelines at sport: “What would you like to know more about?” “How could we make your family’s life better/less stressful/more fulfilling?”
- Now it’s time to think like a journalist and filter what you’ve learned, what your community wants, what content you can provide and the best media format by which to communicate it. It is in this step that you can develop the distinct style and channel that is the best fit for your resources, skills and school brand. Channels could include seminars, written topic summaries, podcasts, videos and more. Your tone should be in alignment with your brand, but could range from formal, academic and factual, through to casual, relational and intuitive.
- Only now is it time to think like a designer and begin creating exceptional, premium content in channels that support your brand. Do not scrimp. It is better to create fewer pieces of quality content than it is to fire off a multi-channel communication blitz that is unsustainable and quickly becomes low quality. Low quality content is free and everywhere. You have the quality advantage that most businesses would give their right arm for — a group of people who already trust you (they’ve actively chosen your school) and the knowledge of what they want. This means you can precisely curate the experience.
Intentionally building or reshaping a school community can feel overwhelming in scope and scale, so begin small. Get some early wins. Tell the stories of your wins to your Board and staff. Make the stories sticky (see ‘Memorable and portable’ on page 18).
Community building takes time and consistent application. Making small but regular deposits into developing your school community will compound over time and result in more and cheaper enrolment leads, shorter sales cycles … and a happier community.
- Community building is a brand investment.
- You need to think like an educator, journalist and designer.
- Community building has economic benefits.
- Start small and let your wins compound.