Branding Can Strengthen Your Classroom Culture
A MiddleWeb Blog
The concept of “branding” has been around the business world for years, but has only recently made its way into education circles. Branding is the practice of developing a unique identity for your product – in this case, your classroom.
When something is branded, hearing its name immediately generates pictures in your mind, with positive and very specific associations.
For example, when you think of Apple products, you probably think of stylish designs and ease of use. Ritz Carlton Hotel brings to mind high quality, posh luxury. Pixar Entertainment is nearly synonymous with great animation and colorful characters. Hear the words “TED Talks” and you are probably reminded of thought-provoking speeches.
Brands shape the way we think. Brands are powerful. Teachers can harness that power. With a little thought, you can develop a brand identity for your classroom that can drive students to work harder, achieve more, and enjoy school more.
Finding Your Philosophy
So, how does a teacher establish a brand? Start with reviewing your philosophy of education. I recently did just that and used the following questions to spur my thinking.
What do you hold most dear as a teacher?
What truths guide how you interact with your students?
What was your best experience as a student? As a teacher?
What is your biggest hope for your students?
What do you think works in teaching? What doesn’t work?
After some deep reflection, I identified my philosophy of education in three main points.
- All students can grow and learn every day. High expectations for all students to excel together with goal-setting, assessment, and progress-monitoring can help all students make a minimum of one year’s growth in one year’s time. Teachers cannot make learning happen; they can, however, help students acquire the knowledge, skills, and tools so that students can make it happen for themselves.
- We must harness the power of a child’s natural desire to learn to motivate them to achieve new heights. Students are motivated by their own success. To help them learn to trust themselves as learners, teachers must help them see their own growth.
- Classroom management is foundational to teaching and learning. Unless a teacher has her or his finger on the pulse of the classroom and can easily facilitate student transitions, stay organized, keep disruptive behavior to a minimum, and have fun, she or he cannot effectively teach.
Developing a Brand Statement
Once I had firmly established my philosophy I further distilled it, shrinking it down to one sentence:
Students will only learn if they work and they want to work; a teacher’s job is to lend them expertise and then get out of the way!
Once that was done, I further boiled it down into a brand statement:
In Mrs. Platt’s class we work hard, have fun, and we learn!
When I examined the brand statement, it felt just right. When children work with me, I want them to know that they’ll work hard, they’ll have fun, and they’ll learn a lot. The brand was exactly what I wanted my students to think when they thought about my classroom. In fact, I felt that I had already established that brand and that it was evident in the work I do with kids.
To make sure this was actually the message I was projecting, I surveyed the students by simply asking a random sampling to finish the sentence, In Mrs. Platt’s classes we… I was thrilled to find that the students agreed with my brand statement! Below are some of the responses I got.
In Mrs. Platt’s classes we:
- have fun and enjoy ourselves while we work.
- work hard, have fun, and become more intelligent.
- know our hard work pays off.
- are hardworking and successful learners.
- are hardworking, mature, independent, responsible, and successful!
Now, to be fair, I have been teaching in the same school for eight years, and as the librarian I see all of the students each week. I taught their brothers and sisters before them. We’ve had plenty of time to get to know each other, and I’ve had plenty of time to subtly broadcast my brand. But, you can do it too!
A Brand in Action
Once you decide on a philosophy-aligned brand for your classroom, you will need to help your students internalize it, like mine did. Branding takes time and requires being consistent.
To establish a brand, it is imperative that you think about what you ask students to do and why. Make sure it aligns with your broad philosophy and fits with your brand. Then, when you ask students to do something, you must help them follow through. Students will not believe your brand unless they see you living it in action daily.
For example, if a teacher refers to her classroom as one that “gets the job done,” he or she better make sure that this statement is true—not some of the time, but all of the time (or at least very close to all of the time). Similarly, if a teacher claims her classroom is a place where students have fun when learning, she needs to incorporate games and laughter into the day. When your actions and/or expectations do not match the words and message you are using to describe your classroom, the brand will fall flat and won’t be taken seriously.
Another tip is to continually incorporate your brand into your classroom talk. Make it a part of your daily interactions. Refer to it in classroom discussions. Use it as a platform to discuss why you do things as you do.
In my class I might start class by saying, “Today we’re going to read an article on the rock cycle. It’s a challenging text, but I know you’ll all do fine because you always work so hard to learn! The article is super interesting, so it’ll be fun to read.”
Now imagine a classroom where the brand statement is, In this classroom we strive to meet our goals. The teacher might say to students on a Monday, “This weekend I did something that made me really proud of myself. I worked so hard to meet my goals as a runner and I finished my first half marathon!”
Last, share your brand widely! Put it on your webpage or school Facebook account, add it as a running head on assignments you hand out, and include it in rubrics to assess those assignments. Sometimes, the mere act of communicating the brand for your classroom goes a long way toward making it a reality.
Try this process yourself! Even if you don’t decide to use the concept of branding, taking the time to review your philosophy can be invigorating. When you do, share your thoughts in the comments below: What is your philosophy? What is your brand?