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Professional Opinion

Let data drive your school brand

How two schools developed more effective ways to tell their stories
Trish Rubin is a marketing instructor at Baruch College in New York and is the author of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning.
Trish Rubin is a marketing instructor at Baruch College in New York and is the author of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning.

Today’s schools often have no lead indicators other than state tests to answer, “How are we doing?” There’s another way.

“School brand defines each school’s values, culture and personality,” says Enrique Parada, cofounder of Project 77, a teacher sharing and engagement platform. “Data informs school staff about how a school can powerfully brand itself.”

In addition to data gathered by the central office, schools can build on information gleaned from stakeholders. 

A school can create data collection instruments that measure brand efforts based on relationships as the following examples from a recent branding boot camp show. These leaders now understand branding and why it matters to school leadership and culture.

The Promise Project

During their boot camp experience, Principal Alice Hom and Assistant Principal Yi Law Chan chose a brand action-research project that visibly changed the image of New York’s P.S. 124.

They researched school and nonschool websites for inspiration and were attracted to homepages that had large slideshows, featuring the “main product”—their brand promise. The website would be unlike most in their district. The crown jewel was their students.

“If anyone wants to know what we do best, they only need to see what our students are doing,” says Hom. “We are an inclusive community that strives to foster curious, compassionate and critical thinkers.”

To build the website, they needed content. They set out to draw the community’s attention to the curiosity, compassion and critical thinking that was occurring throughout the school. 

P.S. 124’s relaunched website (ps124m.org) represents a critical step in defining brand identity.  This “human-centered design” principle continues the momentum of brand by ensuring that the school’s stakeholders are at the heart of all branding efforts. When looking for data, school leaders must ask how they can create content that engages and resonates with stakeholders. 

A simple way to gather data in this case is to observe your constituents. See what excites or confuses them. During parent-teacher conferences, for example, teachers can ask parents to explore the school website on a laptop. Ask parents to provide their thoughts while navigating the site. These insights can inform design and determine whether the new brand is captivating its audience.

The Result Project

Janice E. Bruce, principal of New York’s Roland Hayes I.S. 291, didn’t know what to expect when she signed up for the boot camp. “I had no clue that all my current and past education and career experiences would coincide to create a vision,” she says.

A list of attributes identified in a staff and student survey became the school’s brand: “Challenge. Support. Accelerate.” This means that students are challenged to rigorous high school level curriculum with the appropriate support.

Bruce was surprised at how parents in her sixth-grade orientation meeting paid rapt attention as she shared brand theory. The parents now know that the school, part of the city’s Renewal improvement program, is on the rise, and Regents scores will be the “Result” that makes this promise of renewal real for families.

Bruce says she now feels empowered as the brand storyteller-in-chief and has worked to communicate the effort, which has also convinced teachers to buy in to the school’s core values.

School leaders are learning that “what is inspected gets respected” as a brand is developed. Measurement and data play an integral role—without them, storytellers-in-chief are vulnerable to perceptual illusions.

In bringing a brand to your school, use natural observations and tracking to identify friction that may cause a bump in the road when telling your story.


Trish Rubin is a marketing instructor at Baruch College in New York and is the author of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning.