Last fall, I listened to a teacher relate the following experience about my uncle, a retired principal in California:
As she walked back to her classroom one day, she noticed a man running from her room carrying her purse. She ran to the office to tell my uncle. He quickly set off with the school janitor in pursuit of the thief. The teacher described my uncle running down the road dressed in his suit and tie. He caught the man soon after and retrieved this teacher’s stolen purse. The teacher joked that while the purse probably only had about five dollars in it, it meant a lot that her principal would make such an effort for her. Then she asked, “How many principals do you know who would run two blocks in a suit to save a teacher’s snatched purse?” While this story exemplifies one man’s character, it also sheds light on the culture and atmosphere of the school.
Telling school stories that inspire, excite, entertain, and encourage your school community is at the heart of successful school marketing. Stories educate, inspire, and entertain us. They carry with them underlying themes connecting us to the organization and people involved. Storytelling and its scientific background affirms its relevance as a powerfully simple tool in school branding. Let’s look at how you can use this tool in your school.
Using Storytelling in Schools
As a school marketer, I’m sure you enjoy hearing your school’s success stories. When you witness or even hear about a moment that inspires, encourages, excites, or entertains, be careful not to just listen and go on with your activities. Take a moment to record the experience. These passing moments embody your school brand, demonstrating good things happening at your school. They are actual evidence supporting your school brand! Pass the good word along to your school community!
Gatekeeping is a process through which information is filtered. Journalism students learn that journalists are the “gatekeepers” of the news. It’s a sad-but-true fact that sometimes our schools don’t receive the coverage they deserve because the “gatekeepers” don’t think it’s “news.” But don’t despair! You are the gatekeeper of your school website! Fill your district news page with stories from around your district and your school news pages with stories from your classrooms and hallways. Then you can use your social media to drive traffic to your website where your audience can read those stories.
Your School Website is the Best Place to Share Your Stories
Your primary communication platform needs to be your school website. However, sometimes schools neglect their online home. If you take anything away from this blog today, let it be this: Your school website is the best place to share your stories, your way! Social media should not be the only place you tell your school stories. In fact, if anything, your school social media should serve as a secondary platform for your stories.
Ridgefield Public Schools does an amazing job of this. The school’s part-time PR4 Schools communications coordinator fills the news page on their district site with events, news, and stories from around the district. The stories support the district’s mission and illustrate the actual events taking place on a daily basis that contribute to their vision. The district ensures its community never misses a story by sending out a monthly newsletter that drives traffic to the website to read the whole story.
School Marketing Potential
There are a variety of ways schools can share their stories. Allison Anderson, an educator in Oregon, lists current and practical ideas for sharing stories with your school community on her blog. Your school strengthens its public image as it shares stories along the following themes:
Bonnie Leedy, CEO of School Webmasters, affirms that sharing your school’s stories is vital for school marketing for the following reasons. First, stories encourage enrollment. Your target audience relates with the solutions in your stories. Readers envision themselves (or their children) successful in that environment.
Second, stories help indicate differentiators. They provide authentic evidence of how your school differs from other schools, attracting those with matching interests and needs.
Third, stories encourage website traffic. Sharing stories on your website adds keyword-rich content, helping Internet users find your school website. When coupled with social media, your stories can get a lot of attention, and your school’s reputation and school brand surge.
Fourth, stories strengthen your relationships. When you tell a great story, parents and students will share it within their own circles, leading to increased enrollment and an enhanced reputation. You can build spirit, pride, and loyalty by sharing engaging stories.
And last, but not least, stories create staff engagement. Sharing stories with staff builds strong school culture. The result? Shared realities and embodied vision and values exemplified, thus fostering positive behaviors.
Science Behind Storytelling
In a recent TEDx talk about storytelling, David JP Phillips explains how stories affect us physically. Phillips describes the positive effects of storytelling using three components of storytelling.
First, make them laugh.
When you tell jokes and stories that make people laugh, you’re not only giving people a chuckle and a smile, you’re giving them something more. Listening to humorous stories increase our endorphins. Increased endorphin levels lead to increased creativity, focus, and relaxation.
Second, get them excited.
As human beings, we are programed to tune in to stories. As you share stories, your listeners get excited. If your story contains an exciting element, it will fuel their focus. Listening to this type of story increases levels of dopamine and affects your audience. Just by telling a story, your listeners experience an added measure of focus and attention as well as increased memory and motivation.
Third, don’t be afraid to share.
If you are willing, expose vulnerable aspects of yourself by sharing times when you experienced difficulty or stories of others in tragic situations. The effects on your audience lead your listeners to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity; they also feel more relaxed. Listener’s level of oxytocin increase. Phillips explains that the listeners feel “more human.”
There is an opposite to these story ingredients. Phillips warns against creating emotions resulting in unproductive feelings. Stressful situations, irritating noise, or negative feelings increase our levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which fosters feelings of intolerance, irritability, cynicism, poor decision making, impaired memory, and lack of creativity. Not a desirable result!
Functional storytelling—storytelling that builds trust, encourages relationships, improves memory and recall, and relaxes and focuses your audience is done using the three elements. You don’t need all three components in every story—but make sure you incorporate at least one in your school stories.
Tell the Stories
As you work to market your school, consider one game-changing mindset shift: become a detective at your school and gather stories directly connected to your school brand (in other words, those that relate back to your school mission statement).
If tackling school storytelling seems too daunting, consider School Webmasters’ PR4 Schools, website management, or other service lines. Think of the possibilities! With your full schedule, it may be easy to overlook school storytelling as “one more thing to do.” However, as you open up to the power of its potential, telling your stories truly could become your greatest school marketing tool.
So, what’s your story? How are you going to tell it? And who’s going to hear it? It’s time to invest in your school’s stories.
Emily Boyle, Content Strategist