Monday, August 27, 2012

8 Steps to Engineer Your 'Classroom Brand'

At the start of the school year, I had plenty of motivation for creating a classroom brand, but had to devise how I would implement my classroom brand in my physics classes and determine what it would require to get students to buy in to the brand. The classroom brand had already been chosen, TeamPhysics, but without much of a background in marketing, implementing the brand was a challenge. So, I looked at all that I knew of successful branding campaigns and put pieces together from each to form the elements of my classroom brand.

It required several steps to really engineer the brand to start. From what I learned about branding my classroom, here's what is important to do in order to get started:
  • Write your classroom experience sentence - 
I thought of Dan Pink's 'What's Your Sentence?' presentation on this. He challenges people to define their life's accomplishments (what they want to be remembered for) in a single sentence. I realized, after thinking about this, that most brands keep it simple, like Nike's Just Do It. So, I needed a sentence for my classroom. The sentence needed to answer the question: what do I want my classroom to be known for after students leave? Once I had this sentence, then I could go forward with the rest of the branding. After all, isn't it the most important thing to know what a brand stands for?
  • Design a logo for your classroom brand -
Every good brand needs a logo. The visual recognition alone is imperative to the branding concept. When I thought of a brand, there were really two choices: an icon logo or a word logo. For TeamPhysics, it seemed sufficient to use the word as the logo (like Google does.) To make it stand out and be unique, I thought I would craft the word TeamPhysics out of physics symbols.
  • Come up with a hashtag for your classroom brand -
If you're not using Twitter in your classroom, then this step does not yet apply to you; however, if Twitter is part of your educator world, then you need a hashtag for students to come together about your brand and about your classroom on Twitter. Research your ideas before making it official. Sometimes, hashtags have more than one meaning or acronyms have significance in a foreign language, and you don't want overlap or muddled conversations on Twitter. We went with #TeamPhysics, but over time this was used by people around the world who weren't associated with my class; so, next year I will choose something different. Perhaps an acronym with a year (e.g., tmphys12) can be your hashtag. Remember that social media can help extend the classroom experience beyond the four walls of your room.
  • You need a mantra for your classroom brand -
Think of the short sub-sentences that companies have underneath their logo. Tumblr has a good one: "follow the world's creators." This is something that students can remember and recite to others about your classroom brand. It helps build that abstract element of what the brand stands for. The TeamPhysics mantra is "Challenge accepted."
  • Your classroom brand should embody student-developed norms and values -
Not at all to be confused with classroom rules, norms and values are ideals that students seek to have in their classroom community. Develop these together in the first days of the school year and then promulgate them. A good example of a norm from TeamPhysics refers to what happens after whiteboard presentations or students volunteer. The norm is: everyone claps, and it's a golf clap. These are those behaviors that everyone wants to have going on but don't come from rules. Much like tipping a server at a restaurant is a norm, not a rule.
  • Classroom brand paraphernalia -
Start planning early to find out who your school or athletic department uses to get t-shirts made. Have students participate in the design of the shirts, choose colors, etc. Get them made as early as possible in the year. Encourage everyone to get one, and, if you can, find grant money, booster club or parent club support, to get everyone a shirt. You can have special days where students where their shirts, like test days (like game day support for a team.) It helps to promote the classroom brand and unify the group.
  •  Make your classroom brand ubiquitous to students -
Any handout, assignment, or assessment that students receive from you should have your classroom brand logo on it somewhere. Whenever you (or your students) talk about your class, make sure everyone is passing the pronoun test: do statements about the class contain "we" language or not? Classroom culture is not about teacher vs. students; it's about us together. Focus the language used in this way. Stop referring to your class by its course catalog name and start referring to it by classroom brand. Students don't "take physics with Mr. Abud" they are "a member of TeamPhysics." And, when we had our cardboard boat races in the spring, the programs all had "Presented by TeamPhysics" with our logo. It's really the little things that make it work.
  • Obtain survey-based feedback on your classroom brand from students from time to time -
Just like corporate brands obtain feedback from consumers to see how their brand is doing, it is important that students get feedback opportunities that are risk-free where they can share ideas for making the classroom even better. Anonymous surveys, class discussions, small group discussions and whiteboard presentations are all possibilities for obtaining this information.

TeamPhysics was one of the best ideas I have ever had for building classroom culture and establishing the learning climate I wanted to foster in my students. It fits with the way that I teach science and my philosophy of education. It gives the students something to be a part of and not merely feel they are just in another class. This can be really helpful when the going gets tough. Since physics is taught using the Modeling Method we are doing a tremendous amount of student-centered activity in groups as well as project-based learning. The atmosphere of the classroom is that of a team, and needs to be just that, in order for Modeling Instruction to work. Modeling Instruction doesn't work if you don't build rapport and the fastest way to building rapport is to promote a positive classroom culture.

The students really came together around the classroom brand and talked it up so much and so regularly that it did become something bigger than I alone could ever have made it. The principal would comment to me about how he noticed students regularly Tweeting about physics using the hashtag #TeamPhysics and that they seemed to be genuinely interested in the notion of 'physics as sport.' It was rarely homework to Tweet about physics. Instead, we would have #TweetYour______ Twitter activities during class, where students would share pictures of their labs, whiteboards, or even just their data. Also, we held class discussions, much like #scichat, on Twitter during class and played Kelly O'Shea's whiteboard mistake game using Twitter as well (#WhatsUpWithThatBoard.) Students outside of class would post comments or questions about homework, share photos of projects in the works, or just share links to physics related stuff they saw outside of school or online. When the students started sharing on their own volition about physics with the #TeamPhysics hashtag, I felt I had accomplished something with the classroom brand.

To round out our classroom culture, we had character building activities during the year, opportunities for community service, and celebrations of accomplishment.

The Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament is a good example. This single elimination challenge of the classic game has the winners of each round taking the losers with them to the next round as their cheering squad. This is the "biggest fan" stipulation. If you lose, you become the winner's biggest fan and cheer them on. By the finals, the class is divided in half shouting and cheering on one or the other student. There are plenty of character-building team-building activities out there. They take only a few minutes and can make the difference in sculpting your classroom culture from time to time.

In December, we adopt a local family whose name has been submitted as needing assistance for Christmas. The class divides up into groups and organizes purchasing gifts and food for the entire family for Christmas. Then, they have a wrapping party one day (complete with hot chocolate and donuts) and then choose a few students to personally deliver the gifts to the family. This is always a memorable opportunity for students and makes the class seem to be more than just 'learning physics.'

Donut holes or popcorn parties are easy to do, and they go well with activities in class. For example, if you have presentations coming up after a big project, get a bunch of popcorn for everyone to share and eat while they observe the presentations. Putting this extra tidbit into your classroom activities can make 'scary presentation time' into a celebration of accomplishment.

When it all comes down to it, there are so many activities and elements of the TeamPhysics classroom that stem from the classroom branding idea. For me, the classroom brand had to entail a sense of team, foster student-student and teacher-student rapport, help extend learning beyond the school day, and be something with which students could identify. Capitalizing on the popularity of the #Team________ concept on Twitter, and leveraging the power of branding, helped to create the classroom culture that I always wanted. The reason I believe it was successful now, looking back, is that everything I wanted my classroom to stand for was all represented in one centralized abstract thing, the classroom brand. Once your classroom brand takes off, other students and colleagues will start to take note. It will bring positive attention to your students and their classroom, which will reinforce the greatness of that classroom culture.


  1. Makes me want to go back to school, Gary. And join TeamPhysics! Have a great year.

  2. This blog was very insightful, you used a lot of examples from your own class and original ideas. No teacher I have had has used any of these ideas, and they are very revolutionary and new with all of the different types of products and things you can use to establish you classroom as a brand.

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