“Mission lacks meaning …having a strong brand strategy is critical.” (M.L. Kadison, NAIS Independent Ideas, 2017)
Summertime, circa 2017.
Another year of mad marketing come and gone. This just in: mission is dead—it’s all about brand.
Another year of nearly pulling our hair out to stay in the moment and out front, at once, another year of edgy memes and wild strategy meetings. Good news: I think The Grauer School brand is poised to go viral starting this summer as we launch the next wave of education. No more sitting around watching other memes ascend.
Sure, in this very column, week after week, we did the opposite all year: We kept bringing up the old stuff: Socratic instruction, outdoor education, holistic and portfolio evaluation, arts across the curriculum, astronomical college acceptance rates, expeditionary education, and quite a few other age-old educational models that impact learners in profound ways–even though they are tough to brand. We have not gone viral. Yet! But we’re poised.
So far, when I send things up the digital flagpole, they usually get, say, 5 or 10 “forwards.” I’ve actually seen up to 49 likes. By comparison, we have a popular alumna who posted a photo of her new haircut, which got 400 likes (not just thumbs, but hearts) in two days.
This summer all that changes. Time to program an autocorrect, reframe, and rebrand. If you are reading this blast, you are first to hear. Today, with this post: our next wave, guaranteed to go viral in the new school year. Please repost: At Grauer next term, every class is to be run on an adaptogenic lifestyle platform and by a contemporary zeitgeist guru who issues brain dust to each learning unit, bringing about increased brain function. (Our exclusive brain dust is an organic potion that stimulates alpha brain waves for creativity, while increasing neuron velocity and connectivity. The ingredients include lion’s mane, shalajit, astragalus, rhodiola, stevia [obviously], and maca [obviously].) As headmaster, I will serve as a powerful influencer and cosmic beacon for those seeking open learning and celebrity-level wellness spaces. In fact, Gwyneth Paltrow and Arianna Huffington are my co-influencers. Our new educational programming platform is already scheduled to be featured on The Eastern Bachelor hosted by Shalala Chantal “Astralanga” Woodsley, herself well-known for her edu-vice (including local clay production across the curriculum and holistic hair analysis integrated into the chem curriculum). Grauer has managed to concentrate the zeitgeist of contemporary feminist celebrity into pure form, like a superextract distilled from Einstein and Krishnamurti (and a few contemporary lifestyle gurus we will reveal in succeeding HubSpots). I may even have to put my headmaster career on hold to launch our new edu-product line, which includes the wellness ball, moon juice (an extraction of cucumber-jalapeno and cacao bark tinctured with almond milk), treadmill desks, cruelty-free keyboards, and edu-friendly aromatic soy accelerated learning candles. These trending classroom products are scalable and predicted for (programmed for) virility in our school’s upcoming, robust Instagram branding grab, exploding the Twitterverse. At that time, our school’s in-house herbalist and media pundit, age 14 but enrolled in advanced placement, shall launch our greatest educational innovation to date, a new-educators’ daily diet including how shou wu, silver needle tea, pearl, Quinton shots, bee pollen and chaga, a diet which is being studied by Jezebel editors who have already been spotted on Melrose Place on a tote-bag photograph, hunkered in a Japanese soaking tub over turmeric lattes. “Those herbs are literally ancient,” they whispered. The Internet feedback is already writing itself.
So, as I think you can see, we shall surely soon be viral and I can get back to being head of school. On the other hand, what if all we really will ever be at Grauer School is 200 students and teachers gathering in small groups every day, listening, writing, calculating, and playing? I can’t even imagine a simpler, more direct way of teaching and learning than in our classes. No rows. No bells. No advanced placement—just authentic placement. Just teachers and students connecting in unselfconscious realness. Will we ever survive the viral Infowars to come?
Here is the point of this exercise: Education is a conversation and you have to compete for the right to be heard. This competition has rules, and the rules, oddly enough, are not based on either rationality or human learning needs: they are based upon status quo. Grauer year after year churns out data on student engagement and college placement that is superior to competitors, and this data is disregarded by large schools and a general public that has grown accustomed to brandable bigness and sameness. So, here at Grauer, it sometimes boils down to a single, hard question: What if our school were both the highest quality, most logical program and the hardest to brand?
Would we flip that formula if we even could? Would we trade our real work for a viral brand? What if success really meant this: Reese Witherspoon will be a school mom and will “Like” or blog about us, even once. Forget quality surveys and student outcomes. Forget the shrinking middle class, forget the diversifying demographics and the competition! We would have a hit on our hands. (Thanks, Reese, I know you’re reading.)
A fellow school head said to me recently, “Grauer is 20 years out in front of the rest of us.” I know a faux-compliment when I hear one. What that really meant is: “You do not seem saddled with status, standards, and expectations, and this concerns (or even threatens) many of us”—the educational equivalent of the toxic encroachment.
“Out front?” Maybe it is time to come pure and clean and admit that Grauer is equally “way back.” Far from being edgy and out front a generation, our style of experiential learning was advanced by Montessori a century ago. Our featured mastery learning is a concept from the 1960s (Benjamin Bloom). Our arts across the curriculum are straight out of Waldorf education. Portfolio education was advanced in the 90s. The Socratic circle is thousands of years old. The one-room schoolhouses of the Old West had much in common with Grauer’s age-mixing, personalization, connectedness, authenticity, and community. In fact, environmental/outdoor education and age-mixing were the only educational “tactics” for tens of thousands of years. What if The Grauer School founding myth is just too simple?
As in-the-moment movement makers tune in to the flow of marketing alchemy and viral abundance, I fear The Grauer School has little chance of becoming the planet’s next inflection point. Maybe we live in the past, not even the present moment. What if we have zero chance of going viral?
And now I am just finishing my daily exercise routine, it is the end, I am lying in the perfect pose yogis call shavasana, peaceful abiding, what we all aspire to according to the gurus. My dog Paco sits on the bed, chin on paws, looking down at me and his eyes are saying, “Why do you try so hard?”
It is the human condition, I know. Put your shoes back on, life’s a muddy road. Next year we will be farther along. We do great work.
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