Text size:

Articles

Marketing Your School's Episcopal Identity

Ann Mellow, Associate Director
May 2015

Summer is a perfect time to stake stock of how the school is articulating and presenting its Episcopal identity. Here are six strategies:

Name and claim the core values, norms, and practices that embody the school’s Episcopal identity.

"Episcopal identity” can be difficult to articulate, especially if people both inside and outside of the school have different ideas (or no idea at all!) of what “Episcopal” means. Naming the specific core values, norms, and practices that flow from being an Episcopal school can help to paint a clear picture of what “Episcopal” means, looks, and feels like at your school. The school’s chaplain and materials from NAES can help to outline the common characteristics of Episcopal schools within which to identify your own. This can be a great exercise for the administrative team, faculty and staff, and trustees. Most schools will discover that they are living out their Episcopal identity in myriad ways but may not have been naming them as such.

Develop shared language about what it means at your school to be an Episcopal school.

It’s easy to fumble with words when it comes to explaining the “E” in the school's name, mission, or identity. Unsure of how to approach the topic, we may fail to talk about it all or leave it to each person to express it as they please, for better or worse. Unfortunately, these explanations can come across as apologetic, confusing, or just plain unintelligible.

People are attracted to and respect clarity of mission and vision. Common, clear, and consistent language allows us to communicate effectively our school’s particular Episcopal identity with pride and conviction which, in turn, makes it more likely that the school will recruit, admit, and retain mission-appropriate families. Even those families who choose not to apply or to enroll their child will respect the fact that the school is clear about who and what it is.

Directly address your community’s most common questions and misconceptions about what it means to be an Episcopal school.

There are myths and misconceptions about every school. For an Episcopal school, these often relate to its religious identity in the context of a specific social and religious milieu. Some schools will need to focus on how the school lives out a particular kind of Christian theology. Others may need to articulate the school’s religious identity for the “spiritual but not religious.” Whatever the case, it’s best to address these questions proactively, confidently, and matter-of-factly, rather than wait for others to bring them up (often after their child is enrolled!) or to react defensively when they are posed (yet again!) in the admissions process.

Insure that the school’s website, social media, and publications reflect the school’s Episcopal mission, attitudes, values, and practices.

Websites are the first places people go to learn about a school. How and where are your Episcopal identity, mission, and values featured on the school website? Can this information be accessed in one or two clicks? Some schools have developed short tag lines that telegraph the school’s Episcopal identity while others create a high-level page that outlines clearly what “Episcopal” means at their school. Many schools have a dedicated section on chapel and religion that includes a welcome from the chaplain along with photos, videos, and/or chapel talks.

We all know that pictures are worth far more than a thousand words, especially when it comes to social media. Photos or videos of students engaging in chapel, community service, social action and advocacy, interfaith dialogue, or mentoring programs communicate volumes about the school’s core values.

Review the publications calendar for the year ahead. Include articles, photos and features that illustrate the core values, norms, and practices that flow from being an Episcopal school. A number of schools dedicate an entire issue of their magazine to what it means to be an Episcopal school. Columns from the chaplain, profiles of alumni or alumnae, and/or space dedicated to chapel, religious studies and dialogue, or social action are all ways to communicate the “E” word as a lived reality.

Intentionally address the school’s Episcopal identity in admissions tours, open houses, and interviews.

Take time to revisit how the school’s Episcopal identity will be articulated in the upcoming school year’s admissions process and events. It is helpful to be as specific as possible; for instance, when in the tour chapel will be addressed and what will be said by whom.

Finally, continuously educate students, parents, faculty and staff, and trustees about what “Episcopal” means at your school.

Word of mouth is the primary way that people learn about our schools. But even those who know the school well may be stumped when asked about its religious or “Episcopal” identity. Talking regularly about the school’s mission as an Episcopal school with trustees, parents, staff, faculty, and students not only strengthens their own understanding but gives them language to talk about it with others. Trustee and faculty meetings, parent coffees, weekly or monthly newsletters as well as sharing articles or resources that underscore the school’s mission and values are just a few ways to accomplish this.

Summer is a unique time for reflection, planning and pondering—including the why and how of being an Episcopal school.