Reflections from the 2014 Independent Schools Conference

Click the image to download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint

Click the image to download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint

Last weekend I attended the ISNZ 2014 conference titled “Agents of Change” in Auckland, along with a number of staff and Board members from St Andrew’s College. Our Rector, Christine Leighton, had asked Francesca Eathorne (Head of Communications) and myself to co-present at a 1 hour workshop around the theme of Innovative Marketing, Communications and Blogging.

The quality of the keynote and plenary speakers was outstanding and, interestingly for me, most of them came from outside of the education sector. This enabled them to share insights from a wide range of backgrounds including business consultancy, technology incubators, advertising, governance in the health sector, along with some educational specialists.  A review of some of the speakers is further down this post.

In the 1 hour workshop presented by St Andrew’s College, the Rector started by talking about the importance of reputation and reinforcing the branding of the College through the promotion of our student voice. She showcased this through two student-led videos:

This Is Us:

Three Years On:

The delegates attending our breakout session actually clapped at the conclusion of the second video, suggesting the continued resonance of earthquake stories from the Canterbury region.

Francesca Eathorne then talked about the progress in the Communications Department at St Andrew’s College over the last four years, highlighting this beautifully with the “then” and “now” of the following marketing images:

“Then”

Standard Advertising Material from 5 years ago

Standard Advertising Material from 5 years ago

“Now”

Advertising from 2014 showing students in action

Advertising from 2014 showing students in action

I finished off our workshop, suggesting what does this innovation look like at the “classroom” or “teacher” level, and chose to explore this through the lens of blogging and contributing to marketing through sharing the College’s eLearning stories. To do this, I selected a few screenshots from various blogs around the College including:

  1. Year 2 Class Blog – focused on giving simple information on learning to parents
  2. Yr9 Science Class Blog – focused on videoing and recording the teaching moments in a class and allowing students to contribute notes and review their learning at any stage
  3. Teacher Reflection blogs – two examples that are used as part of their professional reflections for their Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC)
    1. Sitting on the Classroom Mat
    2. Exploring Modern Learning Environments
  4. Official eLearning Blog – this blog, show casing innovative and engaging eLearning stories from around St Andrew’s College.

This message tied in nicely with the earlier comments from Francesca Eathorne, as the stories on this blog have been picked up and re-blogged elsewhere, including the following websites:

Finally, through this blog promoting our teachers’ innovation in the classroom, we were approached by Bradley & Montgomery Advertising Agency on behalf of Microsoft to explore creating some videos of our teachers talking about use of MS OneNote in the classroom. These “unintended” marketing opportunities have reinforced the importance of celebrating the stories of our teachers and students in a range of different ways and tied in nicely with messages from the keynote and plenary sessions.

Some Reflections from a number of the Keynote and Plenary Speakers

Brian Sweeney, a Kiwi living in the USA and co-founder of SweenyVesty Consultants, challenged us how we can leverage the four big “I’s”

  • Ideas
  • Innovation
  • Inspiration
  • Identity

This challenge was further extended by an exercise in reductionism  – could we sum up our “brand” into a single word. I found this harder than it sounds! He also shared an interesting question: are we motivated by our existing knowledge, or by our ignorance (and therefore a desire to learn more). When it comes to education, he suggested, a great question is better than a good answer, as it pushes learners forward and challenges learners.

Frances Valintine founded the Mind Lab by Unitec an incubator of technology and education and her message included the point that if you want to see where technology is headed, align yourself with the disruptors in technology today. She suggested that Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are going to be significant players in education in the coming years. She also referenced the role of 3D printing as a disruptive technology, creating everything from new hip joints to makeup

Peter Biggs opened the second day, he is the current CEO of Clemenger BDDO Melbourne. Some of his messages included:

  • Have a purpose in life, not a plan. When you have a purpose that you are passionate about, you will figure out how to achieve that (a message many of our students may benefit from)
  • He also reshaped the time honoured tradition of creating a strategic plan. His suggestion was a strategic intent was more effective, as this allowed for flexibility and responsiveness to changing environments, whilst still operating within a wider framework.

To support this idea, he encouraged the delegates to watch the following TED talk from 4 Star General Stanley McChrystal entitled Listen, Learn … then Lead

Echoing Brian Sweeney from the previous day, Peter challenged everyone to be able to define the “why” our schools operate the way they do in the size of a text message. The example he provided was Walt Disney – the “why” for that organisation was simply: To Make People Happy. Similarly, Chipotle, a Mexican restaurant chain, has a simple “why” message: Cultivate a Better World. As Independent Schools look to position themselves in a competitive market, understanding the “why” is a good start.

Other presenters also contributed significantly, but I particularly enjoyed the presentation of Dr Stephen Holmes, the co-founder of the Knowledge Partnership. Whilst acknowledging it as a crude, but at times effective, analogy, he likened students to the “products” of our schools, and the parents as the “investors.” If this is the case, how do we showcase our products – the students – and celebrate their success? Another challenge was to be known for “something above all else.” To test this, would the majority of ten random people on the street say a similar thing about our College?

The particular focus of Dr Holme’s message was around Positioning Through Pedagogy – how can Independent Schools focus on their point of difference through definable pedagogical difference. Given that many of our parents/investors are with us for between 5-13yrs we need a continuity of vision that will resonate with them for an extended period of time.

Overall, I found the 2014 ISNZ conference to be excellent and I was privileged to be able to attend and help co-present a workshop session as well. Unlike many education and tech conferences that I attend, there was a noticeable lack of tweeting from the delegates, although Mark McGuire has curated the few tweets on the #ISNZ into a Storify post that you can read here.

I am sure that the messages shared by the Keynote and Plenary speakers will continue to be discussed by those that attended and the ideas will filter through the College as a whole.

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