School Storytelling & The “So What?” Test

School Storytelling & The "So What?" Test

Do you have a unique school story — one that stands out from competitor schools, speaks directly to your dream families, and makes prospective students trust you with their success?

Often when I ask this question in real life, I’m answered: “Well, kind of. We have parts of our story. We have a strong mission statement, and core values, and a rich history.” 

To which I respond: “That’s wonderful. But that’s not a school story.”

And why not? Because your mission, your values, your history … these are all things that are meaningful to YOU as an organization. They are important and necessary, yes, but they have a specific role: to define why YOU make the decisions you make as an institution; to demonstrate how YOU address the challenges of educating young people; to showcase how YOU evolved into your current form.

These elements are meaningful to YOU — but not as much to your audience. And that’s why you need a school story – to translate those internal elements into something meaningful to your dream families.

So how do you do it? You start with the “So What?” Test. 

Want to put your school communications to the test? Download the “So What?” Worksheet from our FREE Resource Library.

The “So What?” Test is the best way to find out if you’re telling the story YOU want to tell, or if you’re telling the story YOUR AUDIENCE wants to hear — and that distinction is really important when we’re talking about storytelling.

(Remember the definition of story? “A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader. It’s all about the audience — not the storyteller.)

And here’s the best part: the “So What?” Test is super simple to implement. Ready for the steps?

1.) Read a piece of your school’s marketing content.

2.) Ask yourself, “So What?”

Yep. That’s it.

So what does this mean for the audience? Why would they care about this? What’s in it for them? What outcome does this provide for their children or family? So what?

It’s deceivingly simple, but it does require some hard work — because it means that you need to really think about every line of content you’re using in your communications and ensure that each one connects to an audience need or interest.

Not sure how to start the “So What?” Test with your school communications? Let’s use this fake School Mission Statement as an example:

Example School is a coeducational, college preparatory school that challenges young men and women through rigorous academics, innovation and community to mature as individuals and prepare to tackle the issues of the 21st century. 

To which we ask: “So What?” So what does this mean to parents and students?

You can go through each line of this mission statement, ask yourself the question, and push the answer. By doing so, you’ll get closer to the story your audience wants to hear – rather than the one you want to tell. It can be difficult, but in the end it’s a meaningful exercise. Let’s try it.

So what does “rigorous academics” mean? Perhaps…

  • Students learn to think deeply and critically; to ask smart, thoughtful questions
  • Students are challenged to think beyond their personal worldviews
  • Students learn how to study, preparing them for success in higher education

What about “innovation”? So what does that do for students? Perhaps…

  • Students learn concepts and strategies that allow them to easily adapt to and advance with emerging technology
  • Students have access to tools that help expand their creativity and scope of understanding
  • Students learn real-world concepts, not just book-based theory

How about “mature as individuals”? What does that actually mean? Perhaps…

  • Students explore their current passions and are exposed to greater opportunities
  • Students are encouraged to blossom into their full selves, without fear of judgment
  • Students are ready to pursue meaningful study in their area of interest

Because this is a made-up school, these are made-up, somewhat obscure answers. But you can see where this test is going … it’s pushing you to come up with concrete outcomes and attach them to the words you’re using.

Once you have the “So What”, you have the elements you need to craft a compelling narrative that will truly resonate with your audiences.

Want to try this exercise for yourself? Head over to our FREE Resource Library and download The “So What?” Test Worksheet. 

School Storytelling & The "So What?" Test
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