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More Netflix, Less Blockbuster: A Need for School Districts

If the last decade felt like a whirlwind to you, you’re not alone.

The rapid evolution of technology over the last ten years has made communication more efficient, but left many of us feeling dizzy, a bit tired, and even a little overwhelmed. People, companies, even entire industries, have been forced to adapt (read: Netflix, Uber, Amazon) or die (read: Blockbuster, countless big-box stores, the record industry).

But industry isn’t the only sector that finds itself at a crossroads. Despite the promise and potential of education technology, many K12 schools also find themselves on the verge of extinction.

To survive and thrive, former school principal turned author and edvocate Eric Sheninger says educators need to come together to rethink their mission and reshape the work they do for schools and families.

Here’s what Sheninger suggests:

It starts up front—with communication
“In a world where technology is becoming more and more embedded by the minute, it is incumbent upon leaders, regardless of position, to replace the conceptual view of school with a more meaningful one,” writes Sheninger on his blog.

This shift starts with communication.

Though many districts have adopted social media and other digital tools, most still rely heavily on traditional forms of communication. And, while districts are really good at broadcasting, or getting their message out, they often struggle with two-way communication—specifically, with listening.

Transforming the way districts communicate is the first step toward transforming the way schools approach learning. Inviting feedback from the community is essential to that transformation. The key for schools, says Sheninger: meet stakeholders where they live and communicate with them on their terms, using their channels.

Build your brand
In an era of increased competition and choice, parents and students need to feel a connection to your district or to your school. Absent loyalty, you have nothing. Strong communication is the first step toward creating a strong brand. In short, your school or district needs to find a better way to tell its story.

Sheninger encourages school leaders to be the “storyteller-in-chief” for their districts. “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will,” he warns.

PR is important. But if you’re just pushing messages out, you’re missing the point, he says. The most successful schools are adapting by engaging their community, and by focusing on the whole experience. Call it customer service 101 for schools. (Want more on the K12 customer service movement? Read the School Leader’s Definitive Guide to Quality Customer Service.)

Make big change
Communications, public relations, and branding are three important ways to transform the how your community feels about your schools. But there are others:

    • Student engagement, learning, and achievement
      At its core, student achievement is driven by quality instructional design and more targeted assessments. Though digital solutions often enhance or accelerate these aspects of student learning, there is no progress in the face of bad teaching.
    • Learning spaces and environments
      Learning needs to happen in spaces that emulate the real world and empower students. Give some thought to redesigning your schools and classrooms. New innovations could pay big dividends for students.
    • Professional growth
      It’s sad, but true. Too many classroom teachers view today’s professional development as stagnant or generally unhelpful. Sheninger suggests it’s time to rethink the way we teach our teachers.
    • Opportunity
      The worst thing you can do is put on blinders, he says. School leaders need to be constantly in search of innovation.

If you follow Eric Sheninger’s blog or social media, you recognize each of these tenets as pillars in his concept of digital leadership.

How has technology changed your district’s approach to communication? Do you have a strategy for building your brand or reaching out and responding to community members? Or, are you still trying to catch your breath?

Here’s one way to engage your school community in planning for the future.