Demystifying the kindergarten experience: Yes, it’s still fun!

kindergarten students

Kindergarten…it’s a time filled with memories of the smells of paste (who wasn’t tempted to eat it at one point in time), imaginary play (house, anyone?), learning how to sit still (I still remember my yarn place on the floor), and listening to stories.  I remember learning how to use scissors, writing letters, and even learning how to read.

Over the past couple of years, a number of stories about kindergarten have made their way around social media—many with a negative slant about the state of kindergarten in our nation, calling it “too academic” and with calls for more “play based learning”. I’m not arguing that play-based learning isn’t important, but such stories bring up images of  five and six year old children sitting in straight-backed chairs, repeating times tables and engaging in rote memorization activities.

As a mother of three children ages 13, 11 and five, I have struggled with these stories, particularly as I interact with younger mothers who have not had experience with the school system yet, and are afraid that kindergarten will suck the joy of learning out of their children.  These stories don’t align with my children’s kindergarten experiences from 8 and 6 years ago (my youngest starts kindergarten next year).

As a marketing and PR consultant for school districts, I also felt like these stories were off base—I have walked through a number of kindergarten classrooms throughout the state of California over the past few years and have found children engaging in art, some academics (for the record, children actually do enjoy learning things like math, science and letters…and savvy and creative kindergarten teachers make this learning fun and engaging), with a balance of play time and lots of social emotional learning time where students discover different ways to manage conflict, make respectful and responsible choices, and learn how to be independent and interdependent in different ways.  This hardly sounds like the stuff that would break children’s sweet spirits or ruin their love for lifetime learning.

Yes, kindergarten has changed over the years, and no, I’m not blind to the fact that every child’s and parent’s story will be different–there will be some who have incredibly positive experiences, and others who have negative experiences…and then there are all the stories in between.

Yet, the PR and marketing consultant side of me desired to highlight positive kindergarten stories from colleagues in districts throughout the state of California. And guess what? Kindergarteners still get to have fun, move around, be creative…and they even get more hands-on learning experiences than we did in school!

Before I provide some great examples of kindergarten classes from around the state of California, here are some tips on how to turn around negative or false perceptions of the kindergarten experience:

  • Create videos of your kindergarteners in action: Video is the best way to showcase the experience of busy and active students
  • Hold a kindergarten parent information night: Rocklin Unified held an excellent info fair for TK and kindergarten parents, and included booths from the school’s library and other services. See the video here.
  • Provide kindergarten parents an opportunity to tour kindergarten classrooms: Parents want to see a kindergarten class in action so they can visualize their child in the classroom.  This can remove the mystery of “what will my child be doing all day?” from their mindset about kindergarten.
  • Appoint a school ambassador to answer incoming kindergarten parents’ questions: Find a current kindergarten parent (or two) and a kindergarten teacher who would be willing to be the point of contact for incoming kindergarten parents.  Although your office staff can answer questions, they don’t always have the comforting voice of someone with recent experience in that classroom.  Also make sure that these people are scanning local social media groups for questions from parents and providing accurate answers.
  • Develop a kindergarten welcome kit: In addition to registration information, include a “What to expect in kindergarten” and FAQ page, along with contact information in case parents have additional questions.  Take a poll of current kindergarten families and ask for some shareable quotes to find out what they wished they could have known about kindergarten, and make sure you include those answers in your welcome kit, as well as some great testimonial quotes.
  • Consider adding a “New Kindergarten Parent” tab on your schools’, district’s websites: Make sure parents feel welcome and can find information easily on your websites–include the info that you would include in the welcome kit, a video, tour opportunities, and contact information.  Include an inquiry form that parents can complete if they want more information or if would like to request a tour.

Note: Ensure that these resources and opportunities are available to parents a couple of months before kindergarten registration.

Here are some great examples kindergarten classrooms across the state!  Many thanks to Harry Katcher of Poway Unified School District, Jason Scholl (formerly of Los Altos School District), and Diana Capra of Rocklin Unified School District for sharing these examples from their districts.

Hour of Code-Poway Unified School District, Chaparral Elementary

Who knew kindergarteners could learn to code?  Well, when your teacher helps you learn how to use a BeeBot to move to pictures and letters, you get to have a 21st Century hands-on learning experience!

Kindergarteners learning to code

Picture used with permission from the Poway Unified School District.

 

Los Altos School District: Offering an active and engaging kindergarten experience

Check out this video to see how kindergarten students move, create, experience outdoor gardening, lead, and thrive in a nurturing kindergarten environment.

 

 

Rocklin Unified School District: Singing Kindergarten Teacher at Breen Elementary

Winter Hungerford, a Rocklin Kindergarten teacher, engages her students with music. Winter believes strongly in using music to engage all students in learning. She also believes music is linked to improved cognitive function, increased language development from an early age, and positive social interaction.  Click on the picture below to view the video.

Rocklin Unified School District: Valley View STEM Lab for Kindergarteners

Instead of doing self-made science experiments by eating paste, these kindergarten students get to learn about science in their own science lab.  Click on the picture below to view the video.

 

If you have some examples of how your district makes kindergarten fun, nurturing, engaging and an overall positive learning experience for your youngest students, please send me an email!

Launching a Communication Ambassador Program

Ambassador programs have long been a successful approach for membership building among chambers of commerce, churches, and other organizations, including private schools.  The primary reason why these programs are successful is because people are key to building trust with other people–and when people talk with someone they already know, the trust component is incredibly high.  Real people will always trump social media and slick marketing materials–but, those components are important tools to a successful ambassador program.

Important note: While your Communication Ambassador Program may be districtwide, your efforts will be focused at each school site.  Parents–and school site staff–are tied to a specific school, and they will be most convincing and compelling speaking from their direct experiences with that school.  Remember, your schools are what make up your district, and your district will be well-communicated and marketed if its school sites are excelling with communicating through engaged ambassadors armed with great communication tools.

Before You Begin

Get your communication house in order

  • Branding: Ensure that your brand is strong, both visually, in messaging, and in practice.
  • Timing: The worst time to launch your program is in the middle of a crisis, but your communication ambassadors can be an incredible resource in reputation management following a crisis (just make sure that you choose–and train–your participants carefully).
  • Communication Tools: Make sure that you have well written and designed rack cards or postcards for each of your schools, talking points, updated website content, and great social media posts. You want to make sure that every person’s touchpoint with your communications is consistent, well-messaged, and visually appealing.

Set your goals

  • Define what you want your communication ambassadors to accomplish and measurable goals:
    • Do you want to reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community?  Do you want to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media?  
  • How will you know you are successful in these efforts: Make sure you define success in each aspect where you want to engage your communication ambassadors.

Decide who you want to approach as ambassadors

  • Parents: Parents are easy to target for some districts–and this may be a huge challenge for others.  Ensure that your parent ambassador base reflects your district population ethnicities, languages, income groups, and cultures.
  • Staff: Staff members’ roles as ambassadors might be different than those of parents, with some cross over (such as talking points, social media engagement,reaching out in the community).  Consult your district’s employee contracts and agreements, to determine whether their role as an ambassador may be considered voluntary or as part of their regular responsibilities.
  • Great communicators: In whatever language they speak, your ambassadors need to be great communicators who are also willing to further your district’s and schools’ messages and talking points.
  • Trustworthy: Remember, these people are an extension of your district and its schools.  When identifying participants (see more information below), ensure that you also understand peoples’ motivations for becoming an ambassador–if you sense someone has selfish or political intentions, steer away from approaching them.

Engage your principals

Your school site principals play a key role in the success of the ambassador program.  Engage them early in the goal setting and ambassador selection process.

Identify participants

A Communication Ambassador is a selected member of the your district’s affinity-building team. Chosen because of their passion for the schools, credibility among peers, connections in the community, and desire to advance the school and district, Communication Ambassadors are instrumental to expanding the reach of the school and district in the community, growing school enrollment, and increasing affinity among parents currently in the district.

Work with principals and directors in your district on helping to identify these individuals.

Invite Participants to a Launch Meeting

Once you have identified your ambassadors, you will want to invite them to a launch meeting. You will want to send a personal invitation to the parent and then call to follow-up. It is important for them to know that they are not committing to this program for life. It is always a good idea to include a description of the communication ambassador program so that the invited participants have a basic understanding of what to expect.

The meeting should be informal in nature, such as a brunch, lunch or BBQ, and schedule meetings in the morning and evening to accommodate parents’ schedules. The key is to schedule what works best for your district and parents.

Inspire Communication Ambassadors at the Meeting

During the launch meeting you will want to inspire the participants by sharing with them the importance of their role as word of mouth ambassadors. Realizing that they are already in the role of an ambassador, your goal is to increase their involvement intentionally in key areas.

Every communication ambassador will be encouraged to “nudge” two to three friends to consider the district’s schools. In addition, every communication ambassador will help with open houses and mentoring relationships with new families.

Initiate Efforts in Focused Areas

Remember the goals you established? Once you have inspired your communication ambassadors and discussed the roles mentioned above, you will want to highlight other areas of focus. Communication Ambassadors can help you reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community, as well as help to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media.

By highlighting these areas, you can ask your communication ambassadors to select an area that they would like to focus on during the year. Then, ambassadors will be able to form teams based on their area of focus to help you expand your reach in the community.

Involve Communication Ambassadors

Once you initiate the efforts of your communication ambassadors, you will need to facilitate their involvement throughout the year. However, make sure that you do not make your program about a bunch of meetings. Instead, the communication ambassadors can be encouraged to be involved in their area throughout the year through personal contacts and team meetings. In addition, it can work well to set up a closed Facebook or Google hangout group for your ambassadors to connect in real-time. You can use this as a tool to encourage their involvement throughout the year.

Need more help?

Need help launching your program?  Sounding Board can help your district with any or all of the steps with this process.  Give us a call at 916.673.8868 or email Heather at hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net.

We like to give credit where credit is due–this blog post was inspired by The Enrollment Catalyst.

 

10 Ways to use Instagram and Pinterest to Market Your Organization

Photo-based Instagram and Pinterest have built followings based on the compelling, fun and interesting photos posted by users…and in Pinterest’s case, providing decorating, clothing and other sources of inspiration to its millions of users.

Corporations to small businesses are boosting their brand identities and expanding their reach using these free services…why can’t your district, COE or non-profit organization?  Your brand is about great programs that advance important outcomes—education, interventions to help students be successful, making learning fun, great teachers, great staff members, improving a social good, and more.  I’d be willing to bet that there are hundreds of photo opportunities each day.  And with Instagram’s availability on just Apple iOS and Android mobile phones, your photos are available to quickly build awareness and loyalty in a personalized approach.

Here are just a few tips* how you can use Instagram and Pinterest to take your organization’s marketing and communications to the next level.

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