A marketer in education: Me as my product
by Yingzhao Zhu, originally published on Sep 14, 2021 on yingzhaozhucreates.com
“You can never go wrong by investing in communities and the human beings within them.” - Pam Moore (CEO, Marketing Nutz)
When I first switched my career in 2019 through doing a master of teaching (and get accredited), I had weighted light thoughts on how my past experience would impact my current career. I was cut off to be a high school teacher due to my language test scores not reaching the benchmark at the time of me submitting an application to teach in Australia*
(more blogposts on this to follow), so I decided to do early years teaching and won myself a bit of time to put myself together.
I am a marketer, and I am a teacher. "Teacher" was just the fancier title that i've devoted myself to work harder into. More exactly, I have been an early childhood educator working in daycare. Over the past 2 years that I started working in childcare and teaching, I've been lucky to get in touch with the youngest group of children one would ever think about teaching. It was never a choice for me until it became one, and I took it.
Entering a brand new industry that relies solely on doing "bare minimum" and qualification > quality of institution and lots of in-house training programs and internally outsourced learning solutions, I didn't even know if going to university and doing a master's actually nudged me anything in getting a job - because everyone seems to have gotten one really easily once they have what they had. The ride was up and down, but I kept picking up things along the way. From standing away from the kids observing them talk yet very hesitated to jump in, to using just a basket of literally any toys to comfort infants who don't know me, crying and screaming, to them looking at me and clapping, I've learnt about myself and the simple but sophisticated art of accepting life as what it is - but show and deliver it with a "wow I've never really known anyone else that did that" (like what we do in marketing)!
I've been mostly working casually, until half a year ago that I fully secured a 2-day week workload and got more consistency. I've been to more than 30 different independent childcares/kindergartens for shifts, with some I returned for a few times. Never experienced working casually, I experienced the uncertainty and last-min pull outs, as well as the flexibility and (relatively) higher reimbursement for opening to be spontaneous. It honestly can be a bit tiring as to constantly head out and meet new people, and being treated like an outsider due to a lack of consistency. But overall I still grasped a more or less larger picture whilst making my way up. Also, successfully cracking two intensive pracs in a year, completing comprehensive sets of learning reports in 20 days (from the first meet to the child) was realistically unrealistic. I love efficiency! But I also appreciate the time it takes to build relationships.
The youngest children are very different from the older ones, with one of the most obvious characteristics of obtaining feedback - you obtain really, really raw, but authentic feedback in regards to your teaching. They would respond to you with their body, their developing languages, and most oftenly a combination of both that can potentially leave you very confused. Also, working with children comes with lots of things to be aware of, plus the nature of combining care and marketing, In the process that I started to gradually figure out how to manage myself as a "product", and the marketing principles have really given me fresh angles in learning more about my new role(s), vice versa, it ties back to me understanding more about what I have been doing, gifting me a new interest in education, especially the early years.
So what do I find the most beneficial?
Know my "customers"
Whilst I missed my times of conducting events and bringing different people together, it comes down now to knowing that my job is to teach and care for the children. They can be any age, talking/not talking, having different interests and attachment styles to the usual educators they see, and can be curious or avoidant when I try to interact with them upfront. When I first started, I wonder, "how could I do this?!" Without adequate "research" (sometimes I got into the door and was told which age group I would be working with), I have to find ways that quickly get myself acquinted to them. Knowing their names and get a quick understanding of the environment is a must, and moving on, observing their behaviours quickly with some assistance from the permanent staff. Getting down to their levels, observing their plays, give them feedback, let them run around, and always be there when they need me... it was basically the ultimate same implementation of the strategies we use to understand our customers. That was clear enough, but also sophisticated enough to not be done properly because of the constant distractions.
Luckily, most of them have been really nice and easy to work with. By interacting with them, I gradually built up my own sets of values and originality in working with the different different but same routines and setups across different settings. Children want to be heard, be respected, and be accepted, and knowing that builds my spiritual strength to understand and grasp their needs, thus bonding with them quickly.
Set my own values and best practices
I signed myself up to several organizations to maximize my chance to get shifts. Much as COVID has really taken a toll on that, I kept looking out and asking for more opportunities. I can easily say that I could have done more (and I probably could), but it ain't like marketing campaigns, I sometimes just cannot get the voices cross, and that is ok!
So what do I do? I try to build up a personal working style that is as universal as it can get. Have a good storage of different age-friendly materials, know a bunch of nursery rhythms, and open my heart to get to know people (show true interest at least for the day), have made me more confident in doing my work. I had a few roadblocks before in my marketing careers, but when I looked back, none of them were necessarily associated with technical skills, but more interpersonal skills and confidence. Right, confidence! Children do observe and absorb energy very sensitively. So setting my own values and best practices, do much as I can, does help me to become a mirror both to myself and the children I work with - and I better make sure the mirror is bright.
The feedback here My "customers" are the children - knowledge and care consumers - I need to know the necessity so to put up a performance that makes them feel as comfortable as possible with whom they are more familiar. It really was a skill to build! Did the children talk about/laugh/cry/interact with each other, and in what ways? What are the keywords they used? How did I understand them, and did I ask for clarification/follow up if I can? Did I leave evidence? All these cues build up to a more comprehensive overview of the children's feedback to me.
For young children, the "Feedback" can be collected through the ways they respond to our quests. No KPI, no exponential growth, but everything would count towards building a mutually comprehensive image of a teacher-child professional relationship. The larger categorizations are:
Receptive language - verbal & non-verbal means for us to see how they have responded and if the information crosses through; and Expressive language - verbal & non-verbal means for children to give us their responses, which we get to observe and build up on. Both ways contain important points to collect information.
"Serve and return" has its gold position in this case scenario. With constant feedback - no matter they are straightforward or need to be interpreted a little bit - are what stimulates our brains, senses, and actions. Always ask questions, initiate conversations, grasp more information as I can through practices, with children and adults!
Consistency has granted me much more insights into what it could do when it comes to this relationship-building thing - and again, the same principle applies to marketing and pretty much everything else. That said, much as I looked back into my practices and realized it was all same principles but implemented in a different way and in different approaches, I started to gain more confidence that I could become a pretty good teacher.