The Baltimore edition of the National School Public Relations Association’s National Seminar wrapped up tonight and with it the post-conference reflections begin. This time, as opposed to Charlotte in 2010 and Chicago in 2012, where I attended before, I set the goal to be fully engaged in as many professional opportunities as possible and it made such a difference as I was able to connect with more people, learn so much more and walk away with tangible ideas that I can go back and implement.
With that, here are the lessons I learned at this year’s NSPRA conference:
Be Fully Present
I am not embarrassed to say that I meditate. It is a practice I took up back in April, after hearing so much about it from my friend and colleague Heather Whaling. One of the key ideas around meditation (which isn’t as ethereal as you imagine) is to be fully present and more aware. This philosophy also applies to this year’s conference, where I attended 90% of the learning opportunities made available and felt I hit the jackpot with most of my selections. There is some amazing marketing and PR work being done in the education sector. I was truly blown away at what is happening from the brand standards guide of Des Moines Public Schools and the social media and content efforts of Lee County Public Schools in Florida, where they’ve trained over one hundred principal’s on Twitter, to the strategic brand rollout executed by Mobile County Public Schools and the intelligent way Houston Independent School District effectively communicated and marketed their extensive laptop 1:1 program. Being fully present allowed me to see more, learn more and connect more, and that is what professional development truly is.
Get Outside Of Your “Circles”
While it’s nice to hang with those people you already know, you can learn even more by being open to meeting new folks. With more school PR professionals finally utilizing Twitter, this conference offered the chance to meet many Twitter connections in real life. Around 10 of us held an impromptu “tweetup” in the hotel and several of my attendees from my pre-seminar workshop joined a happy hour after our six hours together Saturday. I also enjoyed lunch with a contingent of Canadian professionals (and learned about their universally funded school systems). While I was able to enjoy dinner and lunch and brief meetings with many of my Ohio colleagues, I am grateful for the dozens of new connections I’ve made with others from other states and Canada.
The Battle For Public Education Is Real
There isn’t anyone who works in public schools that isn’t aware of the challenges we face and the political football education has become. In Ohio, we are fully aware of the desire in some circles for more privatization and to further stifle learning by forcing more testing on our students. But oftentimes, we see only what is happening at the state level. Sitting in a panel aptly titled “Winning the Battle for Public Education,” my eyes were opened to the fact that it is not only Ohio undergoing these challenges, but it is nationwide. And it isn’t just random, but instead a full-scale strategic assault on public education as we know it. Two national campaigns were featured. I encourage you to learn more about Stand Up 4 Public Schools and Rise Above The Mark. Corporations and politicians have our schools in their sights with no signs of stopping their movement to monetize learning.
Share Your Knowledge
I had the honor of being asked by NSPRA’s staff to lead a pre-seminar workshop and also was selected to present a skills session. I was also fortunate to be asked to contribute to the project team that help research and write NSPRA’s newest rubric, this one on marketing and branding. I led a roundtable over the rubric on the final day of the conference. While presenting at the national level can be intimidating, I encourage you to do it at some point. This wasn’t my first time, but it certainly was my best, simply because I always end up learning as much from the participants than what they likely learn from me.
Here’s the Tumblr we used to share information ahead of the conference for my pre-seminar workshop on strategic social media.
School Marketing + PR Is More Critical Than Ever
Education is facing so many changes, so much conflict, so much misperception and misinformation and such an uncertain future that there has never been a more critical time to have full-time, skilled professionals leading the charge of facing down these challenges head on. Call it the “campfire experience” coming off a conference where, for the one time each year, we are surrounded by those who “get it”, but I am certainly proud to work for a district that values what I do and I am happy to see so many districts from around the country and Canada do as well.