Teton Science Schools started with a simple idea: natural science should be taught in nature.
Over the years, that idea has grown into a mission of inspiring curiosity, engagement and leadership through transformative place-based education. Born from a field science program in the 1960’s, Teton Science Schools now encompasses a breadth of programs — from summer camps and graduate learning to wildlife tours, an independent school and professional development opportunities — that span both sides of the Tetons and beyond.
As we’ve grown, one question has continued to loom over the heads of our staff, our students, our families and the communities we interact with on a daily basis: how do we talk to people who don’t know about us about what we do?
For most people, their understanding of TSS has been framed by the programs they have participated in or heard about.. K-12 student? I’m a junior in high school at Journeys School. Tourist? I took a wildlife tour in Grand Teton National Park with Wildlife Expeditions. More seasoned staff members or participants may have gone on to list multiple programs when discussing Teton Science Schools — what we did, and how we talked about it, was siloed.
In June 2017 we decided to step away from this siloed approach in favor of one that better encapsulates who we are — a singular organization with one mission, stronger together — OneTSS. Connected to this, we realized we needed to tell our story better.
Who is Teton Science Schools?
What is place-based education?
And what makes us truly unique?
Alongside these broader questions were more challenging ones like:
Does our name, Teton Science Schools, still reflect the core of what we do?
How do we unify the two campuses of our independent school?
In March of this year, we began to answer these questions with guidance from Campbell and Company and CB White, communications strategy and market research experts, respectively. Our outcomes were clear:
- Find the most powerful, versatile, and simple way to communicate place-based education.
- Communicate a clear and consistent external message across all programs.
- Evaluate “Teton Science Schools” as a brand.
- Define the brand and messaging for TSS’ independent school.
It’s October now. So what did we find out?
We Are Teton Science Schools
Going into this process, evaluating “Teton Science Schools” as a brand (i.e. as our name) was a big task. How do you uncover 50+ years of sentiment, impression, perception and value? What’s really in a name?
Turns out, there’s an art, and a little science, in figuring it all out.
Over the span of three months, our partners researched our materials — our website, articles, curricular resources, internal communications, etc. They got to know who we are, what we do, and how we talk about ourselves. They spent three days with us touring facilities, experiencing programs, conducting workshops and conversing with staff, students, families, and community partners. They followed up with 1:1 interviews to go deep with Board members, program participants, alumni and parents. And then, with all of this background, they conducted two surveys with: 1) people who already know us (TSS sample) and 2) individuals outside of the Tetons who don’t know us (national panel).
With almost 1000 survey responses and a plethora of qualitative data, our partners deconstructed, analyzed and pieced back together the heart of who we are here at Teton Science Schools.
And here’s what they found: Teton Science Schools should remain our name.
People, both within our local community and throughout the national education community, strongly recognize and value our name and the organizational associations that come with it. More importantly, our community is emotionally invested — we have a pool of over 200,000 program alumni over 52 years with a positive connection to our name.
But that’s not all. They also found that for those stakeholders closest to the organization, the name wasn’t fully conveying the brand experience those people were familiar with. In the words of Executive Director, Chris Agnew:
“While we began in the Tetons and continue with deep roots here, our programs span the country and globe. While we began focused on science and continue with many strong field science programs, our programs now span the breadth of learning embedded in place.”
So, how do we create clarity and meaning in a name that means so much to so many?
Their recommendation: a tagline.
Learning is in Our Nature
Meet our new tagline.
Remember the simple idea that Teton Science Schools was founded upon? Turns out, nature is still an important piece of our identity. But unlike its singular meaning 52 years ago, “nature” now takes on a double meaning — human nature and the natural world — to express a few key ideas that complement our name:
- Every person is naturally curious and driven toward learning, and education should focus on activating that curiosity and channeling it toward meaningful learning experiences.
- Learning in and through nature is a uniquely powerful experience.
- Teton Science Schools as an organization is always learning and growing and is grounded in its connection to nature.
So, yeah. Learning is in our nature.
But the big question still pervades: how do we talk about Teton Science Schools to people who don’t know about us?
As TSS Executive Director, Chris Agnew, shared in a recent blog, we needed a way to describe the breadth and impact of our work to those who hadn’t yet experienced it. So we’ve adopted a brand anthem, a way to briefly share our vision and passion with those intrigued by what we do.
“Every day, we learn through the world around us. When we dig into the soil and discover the story of an ecosystem. When we open up to the people and the communities whose stories are part of our own. When we journey beyond our comfort zone and gain a new understanding of ourselves — and of our world.
These are the experiences that teach us most because they reach us most deeply. And these are the experiences at the heart of Teton Science Schools for more than 50 years.
Learning is in our nature. In the classroom, in the community, and in the wild, Teton Science Schools creates authentic educational experiences for 15,000 learners and leaders every year — the kind of experiences that bring you closer to the people and places all around you, deepen your understanding, and give you clarity and courage to make change in your world.”
Though words don’t always do justice to what we experience out in the natural world, we now can take the concepts, ideas and feelings from the three paragraphs above and weave it into our own words, our own stories, our own place-based experience. And if you’re looking for a way to talk about the impact Teton Science Schools has had on your life, now you can, too.
Stay tuned for next week’s post revealing our partners’ findings related to our Independent School and the reveal of its new name!