One of the challenges often facing public schools is that of providing them with an identity that resonates within the school and community. Historic and heritage elements embrace private schools in a way that does not translate to their public school counterparts. Whenever leadership and key teaching positions are advertised for private schools, there is a focus on the depth and breadth of the school’s history. That does not happen with advertising for appointment to government schools.

One of the reasons for this lack of individual school recognition is that government schools tend to become locked into systemic expectation. They are considered as a whole, or at best as blocks or categories. There are ‘urban’, ‘regional’ and ‘remote’ schools. Policies are developed with large clusters or groups of particular school types in mind.

This characterisation seems to hold true in every State and Territory. Administrative changes are considered with a large aggregate of schools in mind. Curriculum development and interpretation is made in collective terms, the intention being that modification will have an impact with emphasis for all schools.

Schools in the private sector proudly market themselves by name. Their individual ‘stamp’ is upon publicity outreach. Marketing by Catholic and Independent School Associations draws upon the traditions being developed by schools under their control. Private schools and their associations focus on public relations and marketing strategies emphasising students and outcomes, rather than policy and procedure.

Liberal Policy

The enlightened attitude of private schools to public relations helps create community awareness. Visibility afforded by media outreach means these schools become well known within the wider community. Departmental policy often restricts government schools from achieving anywhere near the same outreach.

Comment on systemic policies and procedures should not be part of public comment offered by schools. That commentary is the prerogative of departments and belongs within the domain of professional associations and teacher unions.

However, the reluctance of Education Departments to allow schools to celebrate their successes free from regulated monitoring is short-sighted. The need to obtain departmental approval to go public, also means that good news is old news before being released. Where it applies, that restriction is anachronistic and distrustful of school leaders.

Careful planning before implementation is a key to successful PR outreach. That preparation should embrace staff, school council, the parent community and students. Part of this is making sure that the community knows beforehand of upcoming television, radio or print media events about their school.
Notwithstanding rules and regulations imposed by systems, the individual stamp and character of a school can be promoted through planned and thoughtful marketing. Quite simple strategies can have an ongoing impact. Some suggestions on developing a public relations profile are offered.

Create appealing and interactive web sites that are student focussed. People interested in particular schools from an enrolment viewpoint, want to know about engagement with students. Carefully planned and regularly updated websites assist families making enrolment decisions. They also keep the school community fully informed about happenings and events.

Consider embedding within websites, a page that visits school history, past celebrations and remembrances. This helps viewers understand the depth and breadth of school experiences that have been part of its culture. It is also a section of the site that former students may revisit and use in conversation with others.

Ensure that school mottos and logos are prominently displayed. It helps if these symbols are talked about and written about for the sake of understanding their significance. Their inclusion on school uniforms, letterheads, electronic correspondence, school newsletters and other publications keeps them to the forefront of awareness. An occasional explanation of their origin is informative, serving as a timely reminder of school ethos and values.

School newsletters that are regular, pupil focussed and inclusive of highlights have more appeal that those which are simply statements of school policy, practice or procedure. Humdrum newsletters will do little for school promotion because the community is more interested in what is happening for students. While electronic newsletters are popular, production and circulation of some print copies helps, because not everyone has access to or preference for online communication.

Consider a ‘wall of fame’ featuring news and photographs of key school events and student achievements from the past. As a highlight feature, this should be periodically updated. Space availability would be limiting, but the wall could point to additional detail housed online or archived within the school.

Annual updates might include whole school photographs. A photo gallery could also include key school groups including student councils, house captains, staff, school council or school board members and so on. A significant pictorial history can be created within a relatively short period of time. It is wise to consider displaying these photographs in a location or locations where they can be accessed by students and the community. From experience, I know these displays attract constant streams of viewers, including past students and ‘children now adults’ coming to revisit and remember.

Annually produced yearbooks, often attracting business support and sponsorship to help defray printing costs, can offer great wraps on each school year. They become a special and unique history of schools, allowing glimpses into the past. Yearbooks are often shared by students and school families. This helps spread the word about good schools, over time contributing to the building of traditions. Yearbooks can be produced in print or DVD format, the latter becoming great gifts to share with others.

Celebrating historical occasions by opening the school to the wider community is impression creating. These might include the opening of new or upgraded facilities, celebration of school anniversaries (10, 20, 25 years since opening) and so on. These occasions have great appeal to local media – providing they are told of these events beforehand, so programmed coverage can be planned.

Creating history walls, walkways, garden bed edging and pathways that embed the names of past students, staff and others with connection to the school provide a chance to reflect on those who have gone before. Pathways with naming bricks of students, families and times of association allow people to ‘walk up the years’ of people history. In some cases there might be provision for such pathways to be extended, to include those who will be part of the school in years to come.

Print media stories might be kept and filed. Placing copies of recent clips in front offices and school libraries for perusal by visitors and students helps maximise the value of publicity. As they date, these stories could be filed into folders, indexed and added to the school’s archival collection.

Murals depicting aspects of the school’s history and development might be considered. There are often external wall spaces around schools which would lend themselves to a visual historical record . Artists in residence might lead such projects. A commercial artist supported by local business sponsorship might be another option. (I’d suggest that once completed, murals should be painted with anti graffiti paint to counter any possible graffiti attack)

Honour Boards acknowledging students for academic, citizenship, sporting and other accomplishments, if added to annually, are ongoing reminders of school successes. They instantly consider the culture of development offered by the school back through the years.

There’s are many other activities that could be added. Costs involved with some of these suggestions could be considerable. Business support and sponsorship can help defray expenses. There would also be other fundraising opportunities.

How to Develop a Sharing Culture

School prestige is enhanced if incoming staff and leaders accept, appreciate and acknowledge the institution they inherit. Upon arrival, it helps if they take the time and have the conversations which make them aware of inherited school nuances. A hallmark of many prestigious and private schools is that successive groups of staff, students, school councils and parents keep adding to precepts and priorities which have been building reputation. Accepting school history and ethos, then working toward further building and consolidation makes sense and contributes to their ongoing success.

This approach is one that underpins the philosophy of private schools. As public schools strive to build profile and enhance reputation, it is one that should become part of Education Department culture. Many government schools have a lot to offer. Education Departments, schools leaders and those within individual schools should not shy away from going public with their stories of celebration.

An attitude of ‘our school is a good school and we like to keep it to ourselves’ is anathema. It is also selfish. It will ultimately deprive that school of the success and recognition it, and it’s community deserves.

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