A Primer For PTO and PTA Representatives on Painlessly Scheduling School Assembly Programs

If you are charged with arranging assembly programs, enrichment programs, cultural arts (or whatever your school likes to call them) for your school, and you are new or just looking for a new idea or two, it can be a daunting task. Assembly programs play an important role in our educational system but you do not want to take students out of class without a very worthwhile reason.I scheduled programs for my school for many years, and I had a great time seeing how those shows touched the imaginations of the students and inspired them to learn. If you have the same responsibility I think you will find it very rewarding! However, in the beginning it can be an intimidating prospect.Thankfully, there are many types of programs and many different presenters available! In fact, part of the problem is the great variety available. How do you choose?Today schools are under great pressure to make sure students score well on standardized testing. Though it is fun to bring in a purely entertaining program like a clown or a juggler, it is far more beneficial to the growth of your kids to bring in something which is also educational and which will augment and contribute to the educational process. Thankfully, today it does not have to be a choice between education and entertainment. You can have both! There are now a large variety of very entertaining programs available which are designed to support one or more areas of core educational content.Here are a few ideas for types of educational school assemblies:- Science Assembly Programs (Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy etc.)
- Natural Science/ Live Animal Assembly Programs
- History Assembly Programs (Lincoln, Washington, Ben Franklin etc.)
- Writing Programs and/or visits from Authors
- “Character Counts” Assembly Programs
- Anti-Bullying Assembly Programs
- Self-Esteem and Motivational Assembly Programs
- Fine Arts / Ballet, Music, Opera
- Children’s TheatreThere are others of course but these are the assembly types most commonly found.Before you begin you will want to know what the school has had in the past, and how it was received. Ask if there is a record of individuals and companies that the school has worked with before. Though it is tempting to bring back a popular program every year, it is usually a mistake. Familiarity breeds contempt! If a well-liked presenter has another program to offer, try that, but it is advisable to avoid having the students watch the same program twice. If you really do want to bring back something popular I would advise waiting at least three years in between. Working with a company that offers many different programs is one way to ensure quality while allowing for variety. Large companies will also keep a record of what your school has seen before and so aid in insuring that you do not inadvertently reschedule a program too soon.Next, you will want to gather input from the staff and principal. See if you can find out from them which academic areas could use a little boost. Ask if parents and staff have heard good reports about programs or presenters that have visited other schools in your area.Armed with this information you can begin to investigate what is available to you. If you live in a large urban area there are most likely many options open to you. However, if you are located in a more rural area you will be more limited in what is available. Some large companies have presenters that travel to all locations, but individual performers are often limited to working in areas close to their homes. If they do travel farther afield they will usually charge a hefty fee for travel costs and lodging. Always check to see what “additional” fees are involved before scheduling anything.Somewhere, in the school office, or in the hands of a teacher or past PTO parent, there may be an “assembly folder”, stuffed with brochures and flyers all mailed to the school over the last few years. If there is no folder then you will want to turn to the Internet. But beware! The Internet has radically changed the task of locating assembly providers. In the past it was easy to tell the reputable companies and individuals from the fly-by-nights simply by the quality and presentation of their brochure. But the Internet allows anyone at all to make themselves look as solid, professional and reliable as the very best, established presenters. Seek out referrals from schools in your area.If you are looking for science, there is a lot from which to choose, ranging from Science Museums and University outreach programs, to magicians and other entertainers who offer science oriented programs. This is an important distinction. Assuming that you are looking for real educational content that is entertaining, you will want to be on the look out for what we call “Magic Shows in Drag”, and avoid them. Many entertainers, whether they be magicians, ventriloquists, jugglers or puppeteers look for ways to market themselves to schools by claiming their programs contain educational content. Sometimes this is true but the “educational content” is often nothing more than a few code words thinly veneered over what is essentially only a pure entertainment “act”. While often delightfully fun, these programs usually offer little in true curriculum-oriented value, and I recommend avoiding them. While I suppose it is theoretically possible for a juggler to use his skill to teach chemistry, the odds are that the program will really be about juggling. Look for individuals or companies where the program content is designed from the ground up specifically around the subject matter and where the entertainment factor is a byproduct added later rather than the opposite. If the advertising material features a lot of glitter and stars, or a ventriloquist’s dummy then you may want to look elsewhere for your science program.Historical topics constitute a big percentage of school assembly programs. You may find performers able to offer programs on almost any historical character, from Julius Caesar to Teddy Roosevelt. Sometimes a single assembly may deal with several different characters. Examples would be a shows that deal with former First ladies, or famous women in history. Sometimes they deal with the history of a particular region or era or both. In Michigan I often worked with a fellow who did a show specifically for 4th graders about Michigan history and in particular about the lumber industry. The 4th grade teachers requested it every year because it so well supported their curriculum goals. (In almost every state it seems the 4th grade studies the history of their own state). In Ohio they like Thomas Edison because his story fits their core values so well. Programs dealing with specific cultures such as African American, or Native American history are very popular. But, generally speaking, the most popular characters to impersonate tend to be Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Martin Luther King and Harriett Tubman (this may vary in your part of the country) and all are popular with schools.Obviously, not all actors are created equally. In historical programs this becomes really important. How the material is presented varies greatly. Some actors simply walk in, in character, and begin to speak. In this case, the realistic appearance and the knowledge of the presenter in regard to the character he/she is presenting is very important, but still, it is second in consideration to how well the actor can handle the audience and keep their interest. Some are simply magnificent. Others are not. The talk-only approach is always a gamble and can fail miserably in the hands of a less than wonderful actor. However, when the actor is good, and the storytelling skills are well honed, this approach can be spellbinding! I have seen teachers simply amazed that their students could sit in awestruck, enraptured silence while an actor in costume simply employs the skill of an old-time storyteller. You do not have to have a lot of whiz-bang props to entertain the children of today, despite what many people believe!Some historical presentations rely on additional props and visual aids to boost the shows success. Others use music. In fact some historical programs are almost all in music! I have even heard of some history shows where the performer used ventriloquism. Whatever style is used, even an average quality historical program can really help to bring history alive for the kids and pique their imaginations making them want to learn more.Writing programs are tricky to get across in the assembly format. I have only seen two types that I thought worked. First, you can schedule a visit from an author of books for children. There is thin ice here. Often parents can become “groupies” towards famous authors and schedule a visit just to see them in person and secure a signed copy a their book. If the writer also happens to be very skilled at engaging an audience in person then you are fine. But writing is often a skill practiced in solitude and writers are often not engaging in person. Moreover, they are often expensive (sometimes outrageously expensive!). For my school I found it more beneficial to bring in a classical mime! He worked with the students while they wrote stories and then performed the stories for them the same day. This was extremely effective in promoting an interest in writing, and the excitement lasted for weeks following the program.There is always a demand for school programs supporting character development, self-esteem and, especially anti-bullying. These programs range wildly from extremely effective to totally ineffectual. Because the material is a “message” rather than a presentation of scientific or historical facts, these programs may use any of a number of entertainment techniques to channel the attention of children, from rope twirling to BMX bikes. As with the “Magic Shows in Drag” discussed earlier, it pays to read between the lines in the promotional material, and always try for trusted referrals or references.Lastly, we have the Fine Arts. Classical Music, Opera, Ballet and true Children’s Theatre can all be brought into schools. In a time when funding for the Arts is being reduced in schools, there is a lot of demand for other ways to interest children in these art forms. Not all schools have access to professional orchestras or Ballet companies, but in areas where access is available these companies often offer outreach programs that can be very good. Children’s Theatre Companies are well loved by kids, and they do tour. They are usually available in most areas, albeit at a price. Remember that theatre most always involves more than one performer. Generally speaking, the more performers in a group the higher your cost will be!Speaking of costs, school assemblies vary widely in price. Some are jaw-dropping expensive. Some are surprisingly reasonable. Some are even… gasp!… FREE!Hospitals sometimes provide programs on, say, Bike Safety, or maybe Healthy Nutrition. It does not hurt to check around your area. Local police may have a Dare program or may be willing to arrange a session around their canine unit. Local retired experts in various fields can sometimes be drafted. In some places NASA offers an outreach program. And Ronald McDonald has three free programs that are quite good I am told. So check around and you may be surprised what you find.Paid assembly programs range from inexpensive to very expensive. Usually, there is a set fee for one presentation and additional fees added on if you need more presentations or Hands On Workshops. As I mentioned before, performers often charge for travel and accommodation so be sure to check that out to be sure what your final cost will be. A basic range for a 45 minute program (depending what part of the country you live in) may start as low as $200 and can range up to as much as $3500!If you are adept at Grant Writing, you may want to check around online and see what is available. And do not forget to ask presenters and companies about discounts. Many performers will give you a break on price for scheduling several programs with them or for coordinating more than one school together so that the presenter can do two schools the same day or a block of schools together in the same week. Also, presenters really do not like to have days when they do not work. If you do not mind working quickly at the last minute and can be flexible with your schedule you can often find a “deal” on a date that is right around the corner and save hundreds of dollars! It never hurts to ask. To save face, and the embarrassment of admitting they are not sold out, some companies will claim to have “grant” money available. Though possibly true, more than likely they just have open dates about to go to waste and are willing to drop their price to fill the date, but are trying to make it sound better. The downside to last minute bargain hunting is that, like with any kind of bargain hunting, you will not have much control over what you get. The best course is to always try to pick your programs far enough in advance that you can get both the program and the date that you want!There is something out there for every budget. I have had some great programs that were very inexpensive, and others that were far more costly than they were worth, but generally you get what you pay for!You may also wish to try and find out how often a performer actually performs. The best shows and performers work a lot, often five days a week throughout the school year. This allows them the experience to continually hone and improve what they do. But some presenters may only work occasionally, and, with inactivity, they can become “rusty”. Busy performers are usually that way for a reason!Lastly, be prepared for a lot of back and forth in scheduling. Many individual presenters schedule themselves. Obviously, if they are performing in a school when you call then you will need to leave a message and begin a game of phone tag. Larger companies, representing multiple programs, usually have a staffed office available during business hours to answer your questions and arrange your dates. Even then, you may still need to engage in some back and forth, but you will, at least, not be totally at the mercy of a performer’s schedule.And most important, try to pick things you think you will like yourself. If you are going to do this job, you may as well have as much fun as the kids!

Hiring a Social Media Manager: 21 Questions to Ask

The Social Media Manager is becoming the go-to person for businesses who require assistance with their online marketing efforts. It’s no secret the impact social marketing can have on a business and the advantages its brings. And it’s also no secret that most business owners cannot handle their social marketing all on their own.A Social Media Manager does a whole lot more than just posting status updates on profiles. Social media management encompasses figuring out the who, the what, the when and why. Who does your business want to reach? What is needed to reach them? Where are they most active? Why should we use social media as part of our marketing efforts? Many businesses are finding that outsourcing or hiring someone to manage their campaigns is becoming an important part of using social media for marketing. An outside individual can usually see the bigger picture more clearly.Social media management is a position that has attracted a huge amount of attention and membership in recent years. I see the main reasons for its popularity as:- Low entry barriers- A high demand for the services- Big rewardsBut is it really for everyone? Honestly, there are now a lot of social media managers. Some very, very good. Some really, really bad. So how do you filter out the bad ones and find the good ones? Well, the good social media managers will know their stuff and they understand what it takes to be successful.Here are 21 questions you can ask your potential social media manager and what the better answers should look like…1. How do you define success?The amount of followers isn’t the only sign of success in social marketing. A social media manager should be able to help you define success on a strategic and tactical level, in order to support your larger marketing goals. If a social media manager has a limited view of success, or is unable to explain performance measurement beyond the volume of audiences, they won’t be able to provide you with higher level strategic solutions.2. What sort of results can we expect?A good social media manager will manage your expectations and let you know what results you could achieve. Remember that social media managers are not psychics. They should act on your behalf using the best practices of the industry, but there is a lot that is out of their control. They should be able to give you a rough idea of what they bring to the table based on their previous results and experiences. If a social media manager cannot communicate this effectively to you, then they probably don’t have the level of experience you need.3. How is ROI defined in social marketing?Contrary to popular thinking, ROI can always be measured in social marketing. But it can be perceptual. What are your goals? Were they achieved? If so, then you had a positive ROI. Did your campaigns help your business in any way or have any positive effects? If they did, then you were successful. Social marketing ROI is not always tied to tangible business benefits. Ask the social media manager which factors can be measured and how they will be reported to demonstrate the value they bring to your business.4. What social platforms do you specialise in? Why would these particular platforms be right for our business?Different social networks have different audiences and practices. Not every network is right for every business or industry. For example, how could a pharmaceutical company possibly engage in drug marketing on Twitter? The reality is that most businesses can take advantage of the networks out there in some way, but if there are limitations, you want your social media manager to be aware of them.5. Should we be on every social platform?A social media manager who has done their research on your business should know your target audience. How this is answered is the key because it provides you with an instant understanding of their perceptions of your business. If a social media manager extends your business visibility to many networks, then your marketing efforts may spread too thin and mean some of the campaigns might suffer. They should pick where your target audience is already situated and focus on maximising performance on those platforms.6. Would Google+ be worth using for our business?This should highlight the extent of your potential social media managers Google+ knowledge. Google indexes Google+ content faster than content posted anywhere else. It’s a platform that has grown rapidly since its launch in 2011 and is now one of the main social platforms. A social media manager should know this and should understand whether your target audience is present there, thus viable for your business, and how Google+ can be leveraged to fulfill your wider marketing objectives.7. Could you give us an example of a limitation on a social platform that you have experienced? How did you overcome this?A social media manager should know that social networks come with limitations; API calls, bandwidth limitations, character limits etc… If a social manager has never run into limitations and hasn’t experienced how to overcome them, then this likely means that they are not very experienced. In fact, they will probably be completely new to the social landscape. Asking how they overcome any hurdles with their past or current clients will give you a good indication of how they respond to adversity.8. Can we run a “Like and Share to Win” style contest on our Facebook page?If a social media manager does not know the answer to this, then move on. Its imperative you find someone who knows the rules and guidelines of each and every social platform and who will not have your business in violation of any Terms of Service. As a heads up, on Facebook you have to use a third-party app to host the contest and cannot use the ‘Share’ button, ‘Like’ button or require a comment in order to be entered to win.9. Have you ever had to handle a social marketing crisis? If so, could you provide an example?Asking a social media manager to define what that ‘crisis’ means to them can highlight their level of experience. If their biggest crisis consists of miss-typing a URL on a Pinterest pin and not noticing until their client asks why there’s so many messages about broken links, then chances are they are vastly inexperienced. It’s also insightful to ask what steps they took to resolve the crisis and how the situation was handled.10. Could you show us some of the clients or projects you are currently working with?Any reputable social media manager will show you their client accounts. And be proud to do so. Some profiles will probably be doing better than others depending on each campaigns goals and strategies. If they dodge the question or cannot show you anything, then it should rightfully lead you to think they are hiding something. Social media managers who take pride in doing quality work should want to show you their portfolio. Imagine turning up to a sales pitch without a product sample. Clients would never even think about placing an order unless they can see what they are buying.11. How would you allocate our social marketing advertising budget?A social media manager should be able to describe a plan for how best to allocate your advertising budget and how they would know if it’s successful. Specific metrics and KPIs should be given, analysed and reported. The choice of advertising platform will also allow you to gauge their perception of where they think your business should be promoted, in what format and to what audiences.12. What will our responsibilities be as a client?A social media manager doesn’t operate in a vacuum. They will need to be in the loop with your other marketing activities. You’ll also need to provide any necessary resources and wider marketing information or materials. A social media manager should have clear guidelines for their role, and yours as a client. This should typically be communicated to you prior to establishing a working relationship.13. What are our competitors doing in social marketing?Any social media manager who values your work opportunity will do initial research before sitting down with you. If they doesn’t know what your competitors are doing, it should raise alarm bells. A social media manager should be able to give you insight into the way your competitors are using the major social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube right from the offset. This can always be researched fully later, but will give you an idea into their proactiveness and organisation.14. How do you evaluate new social platforms? How do you stay on top of the latest updates and innovations in Social Marketing?The social landscape is always changing. Even the most experienced social media managers need to refine their skills, update their strategies and practice new techniques. A social media manager should have experience with building engagement and showing results across multiple platforms and with several different tools. There are some platforms considered to be the juggernauts right now, but remember the days of AOL, MySpace and eBay? Would you hire a social media manager who pitched engaging your I.T customers on MySpace? I doubt it. The point is that the social landscape is dynamic and a social media manager should be constantly evaluating new platforms and making recommendations to you on whether they are suitable for you to explore.15. Do you offer community management in your Social Marketing services?Social engagement doesn’t end when you publish your Facebook page. In fact, creating profiles is often the ‘easiest’ part of the process. The execution of the community management strategies that follows is the more difficult (and more expensive) element. It is important to know how your social media manager approaches community management and what strategies and tactics they will use to interact with your audiences. If you don’t know this, then you will have no clue on how they will manage your brand online. You should have guidance and offer feedback into how your business is positioned and wants to be perceived online.16. Do you have your own blog? Do you currently write content for various Social platforms?Social media managers should practice what they preach. You can ask to see their blog in action and see if they are posting regularly. Being a social media manager is about so much more than updating Facebook and Twitter. Content should be balanced, otherwise your social streams will either be giant advertisements or lists of interesting articles that they came across. A good social media manager will be able to write effectively, allowing you to have a constant stream of interesting and engaging articles. They will also be SEO savvy and content will be optimised to have the right keywords in the right place, ultimately linking back to your business. You can ask to see what articles they have already written so you can determine whether or not their style of writing would fit your business.17. What blogs or social sites do you regularly read?Social marketing is always evolving and effectively marketing on social platforms can be a bit like trying to hit a moving target. Google+, for example, had become a commonly used tool for 40% of marketers within only a year of launch. That is a huge gain in such a small space of time. This is just how social marketing works. New blogs and social sites come and go within the blink of an eye. A good social media manager should stay on top of these changes, which means a lot of reading. They should be able to list multiple reputable social sites and explain why it is they follow them.18. What is your understanding of Edgerank?Social media managers that know their trade will be able to explain about Edgerank to you. Edgerank is basically what runs Facebook posts. Without knowledge of this, they will have little insights into how to properly optimise Facebook campaigns. Edgerank determines who sees what, when they see it and how often it’s seen. It also provides a good picture into their technical knowledge and understanding of social marketing.19. What do you think is the most important thing a Social Media Manager should be doing?A solid answer you should look for would be something along the lines of ‘monitoring’ and/or ‘listening’ to your audiences within your social domains. It’s quite an ambiguous question, but the answers will provide insight into their general thinking about managing your social campaigns. The key word many fail to incorporate is social. If answers are not somewhat geared towards a social dynamic, then they have missed the point completely.20. Could you tell us a story?These type of answers are commonly used in interview processes to see how someone reacts to a random question. In this instance, it’s actually a well-thought out question for two reasons. Firstly, if a social media manager has the ability to tell a compelling story, that will give you a huge advantage in all levels of your social marketing activities. Secondly, it puts them under pressure and you are able to gauge how they handle something unexpected.21. Why should we hire you?I honestly don’t like this question but I think it is fair to ask a social media manager this directly before hiring in order to see how they can sell themselves. This could have strong implications if your campaigns are tuned towards sales and lead generation. A social media manager should demonstrate how valuable they can be to you and what makes them different or valuable in your situation.There are definitely more questions that could be asked. Some will no doubt be specific to your business or industry. Hopefully, asking questions like these will help you determine the right social media manager for your business.What questions would you add to this list?One final thought though… I don’t think this is a position that should be taken lightly, or seen as an entry-level position. A social media manager will speak the lifeblood of your business to an indefinite amount of customers. The skills needed to fulfill the diverse tasks of varying social marketing campaigns means both expertise and experience is crucial. Would you trust an unproven CEO to run your business in a new direction? Would you trust an unskilled social media manager to guide your brand online?

School is Where the Home is – Home Schooling

Schools are learning institutions with set values and philosophies that they tend to inculcate in their method of teaching. Usually, a parent’s decision as to which school to send their children to are based on precisely the values and philosophies that these institutions are known for. If however, as a parent, you feel that no school or learning institution share your values then perhaps you are better off home schooling your child or children.It differs from regular, traditional schooling only in the sense that the child learns all the regular lessons except that he or she does not learn this inside a school room.It is important to note however that home schooling should include taking field trips, incorporating music and physical education into the child’s curriculum, and other duties involved in a regular school day like grading papers and such. It is also important that the child’s social development not be taken for granted.One of the main contentions in home schooling verus traditional learning is that the child or children may not be able to exercise and develop social skills properly since they are not around other children that they would otherwise be in contact with inside a traditional classroom. To get the most out of this schooling method and to know if it is for you and your child, below are links to really good resources on line.This site is one of the largest resource you will find on the Internet because of the amount of useful content it has in it. Even better is the fact that this is a non-commercial site which means that the site will not try to sell you anything so that anything you read or learn from the site can be considered neutral as opposed to sites that offer information as a marketing tool to sell their products.The author of the site is a parent who actually does home schooling for his children. You’ll find useful and empathetic answers to your frequently asked questions on this site.The Advantage for SocializingAs mentioned above, one of the biggest concerns raised against is that home schooled children may not be able to develop social skills as well as children who are taught inside a traditional setting. In this particular site however you will find an article by someone who was actually home schooled as opposed to learning inside a classroom.Here you will read about how learning at home as opposed to in a classroom did nothing to deter him from developing the proper social skills needed for a fully functioning adult in our society.Look out also for other useful links found in the pages of the article to point you in the right direction on learning more about it and other rich resources on line.Learn in FreedomHere is another great resource online that showcases what’s new and current in the schooling world. The page is straight forward and easy to navigate, and puts more meat into their content rather than their appearance. This a great site to get started or improve.