Does your school district have an image problem? If so, it probably doesn’t need a new slogan, a new logo, or a new “look,” according to a trainer and a communications specialist from the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA). What’s commonly needed is improvement in what happens at board meetings, they said at Monday’s National School Boards Association’s Annual Conference session on “Building a Brand Image at Board Meetings.”
A brand is not a logo or tagline, said Eric D. Randall, NYSSBA’s editor-in-chief. “A brand is a mental and emotional association,” he said. “It’s what people expect from a product or organization.”
A good brand for a school board involves perceptions that the board really cares about students, listens to citizens, and has a rational decision-making process, he said.
What happens at board meetings can either reinforce or contradict such perceptions, said Darci D’Ercole, NYSSBA’s deputy director of leadership development. She said boards should work on improving processes, structures, and habits.
Good processes include using parliamentary procedure, holding well-organized public comment sessions, and having operating procedures that govern how to respond to poor behavior by board members.
Boards can improve performance through organizational structures such as having a board self-evaluation instrument. It’s also important to review the results in a relaxed forum such as an annual retreat.
Finally, boards will gain trust when they maintain a culture of good habits that allow for disagreement without being disagreeable. It’s important to minimize intentional interruptions of one another, use respectful body language, and make decisions based on data, not alliances, D’Ercole said. All of this fosters a better brand image and community support, she said.
The board’s brand and the district’s brand are linked, Randall said. The board’s professionalism and priorities should match the district’s messaging.
Can an individual board member enhance the district’s brand? Yes, he said. His advice:
• Be a braggart. Ask your superintendent for talking points.
• Motivate district PR staff by noticing their work.
• Wear a pin or district emblem.
• Participate in outreach and favor engagement in all forms.
• Turn at least one alienated critic into an engaged participant.