[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

My city's public library is a wonderful place. It hosts a variety of well-attended events, has a phenomenal children's section, and serves as a real hub for the community. But its formal communications stink.

The very first time that you have an overdue book, the initial notice that you receive says that failure to pay your fines may result in being turned over to a collection agency. Ouch. When you request a book, the notification that the book is in says that failure to pick up the book promptly will result in a $0.50 fine. Huh? If you write a letter to the public library's director highlighting the somewhat draconian tone of its communications, you receive a letter justifying the library's terseness (trust me on this one). So despite all of the great things that the public library does, you're still left with a bitter taste in your mouth.

Seth Godin reminds us that every interaction with a customer / client / patron / stakeholder / visitor is a marketing interaction. It's an opportunity for us to build or erode our brand, a chance to increase or decrease the trust and goodwill of the people with whom we are interacting.

What's this mean for schools? Well, it means that every time a parent walks away unhappy from an encounter at school, that's a marketing interaction. Every time a teacher has yet another boring lesson, that's a marketing interaction. Every time a school board member puts her personal agenda ahead of what's best for students, that's a marketing interaction. Every time a member of the community walks through an uninviting building, that's a marketing interaction. And every time an administrator squanders an opportunity to be a leader rather than a manager, that's a marketing interaction.

Schools do a host of wonderful things. But they also engage in a number of individual and organizational behaviors that chip away at the trust and goodwill of their internal and external communities. We can bemoan the lack of student engagement / parent support / community involvement / referendum votes all we want, but our actions probably led to the problem(s) in the first place. Putting forth a glossy spin on the surface (We're the best! Support us!) does no good if we're not willing to look at our underlying practices as the marketing interactions that they are.