Like many others, the first time I saw Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, I was enthralled. As he perched himself atop the desks proclaiming, “O Captain, My Captain,” his students (and I) couldn’t help but stare with halted breath. What words would he speak next? How would he change his tone, his voice, his gestures to keep the boys engaged? Any current-day educator looks to this film as the Holy Grail of teaching, the pinnacle for how to be. While there are endless reasons for this, the ones I emphasize here are those that anyone who wants to capture a teacher’s attention should keep in mind.
First thing to understand: If you’re creating content for teachers, you’re making a wise decision [Tweet it]. There are over 3 million public school teachers in the United States. The scope of reach is wide if you make it meaningful and interesting for teachers. Moreover, teachers are experts at sharing. They share lesson plans, assessments, ideas, books, and yes, online resources. If you capture the interest of one educator, you’re likely going to have the rapt attention of quite a few more by association.
Now, for the lessons that you can learn from Dead Poet’s Society.
Always have a hook
John Keating, Robin Williams’ character, embodied this lesson perfectly. He knew how to alter his voice, his body and his words to make students listen attentively. And he did it all within the first two minutes of a lesson. In nearly every education class, teachers are taught to have a hook; that is, a way to grab students’ attention immediately so that they care what you’re saying and doing.
As a content creator for this demographic, you need the same thing.
This does NOT mean exclamation marks, blinking lights or over-the-top shocking statements. It doesn’t mean stirring controversy where none is needed. It DOES mean giving teachers something valuable and engaging within the first three sentences. Show them why they should care about what you’ve written.
Keating repeatedly tells his students carpe diem, or seize the day. He explains that it’s all fine and well to talk and dream, but in the end, it’s the action that’s going to lead to the prize. All of the talking gets you nowhere without having a plan of action you’re willing to implement [Tweet It]. Same goes for content you want teachers to read. Teachers spend their day on the go. They are the masters of juggling a hundred balls in the air at once. Yet each ball must have a purpose, and that purpose must relate to an action. If you intend to keep a teacher’s attention, you should give them something practical. Offer them a study guide to supplement a lesson. Show them how they can integrate your product into their lessons. Provide them with ideas for how students can learn by going to your venue. It isn’t necessary to offer a giveaway, discount or sweepstakes (though those things are nice, too). The key is in how you show them to seize the day and take action.
Change the angle
Keating teaches that when you think that you have something all figured out, it’s time to reposition your perspective. If you really want people to break through the status quo, he explains, you need to get your listeners to think in new and innovative ways. Give them a fresh perspective. This lesson transcends into marketing for teachers. Educators are aware that they’re a highly sought-after demographic. They are inundated with emails, mailings, blogs and flyers. Yet many of these marketing tactics employ the same techniques and reiterate the same messages. Instead, cause your readers to think, to try out a new approach. While educators often say they don’t want to reinvent the wheel, they do want to be on the forefront of something great. Help them get there.
As Keating emphasized, “Dare to strike out and find new ground.” Do something that you haven’t done before. For company’s seeking the attention of teachers, the time has never been better to heed this lesson. It’s not sufficient to put products up for sale with a shopping cart system anymore. Optimize your website so that it is discovered through teacher’s organic searches. Devise engaging content to encourage inbound links that places you at the top of search engine results. Your material should bring repeat visits. Per Keating’s advice, try strategies that you may not have tried before: podcasts, video testimonials, case studies, web casts and interactive content. Strategies that were sufficient a decade ago are no longer relevant. Update your approach and take educated risks while doing so.
It’s amazing the lessons that can be learned from a movie made in the 1980s. As a content creator, it’s your role to deliver the best material possible. You need to inspire readers to follow their passions, to chase their dreams. Refuse to underestimate the impact you may have on another person’s life, especially that of a teacher’s.
5-Star writer Sylvia L is a regular blog contributor, research professional and social media connoisseur who supports herself through freelance writing and running a small business. She holds an advanced degree in educational leadership and an undergraduate degree in English. In addition to being a writer, she recently served as a secondary teacher and the Director of Education & Special Needs at a large Head Start preschool program.
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