Encore! The reality of Season B admissions

 

by Pam Mason-Norsworthy
CRANE strategic partnerships manager

 

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
–Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

‘Twas a time in the independent school world when prospects contacted schools in the fall then visited some weeks later. They submitted applications sometime around the holidays then waited for the mail carrier to deliver the hoped-for good news just as the crocuses—or daffodils and dogwoods in the case of southern climes—were preparing their spring show of color. It was a simpler time.

But a convergence of realities has transformed the traditional admissions “season” into a continuous loop—or at the very least, a Season B. Our new digital lives mean applicants wait longer to apply because they can hit that “submit” button on the iPad at the eleventh hour—or perhaps, long past it.

What used to be the first hurdle prospects needed to clear to demonstrate serious interest has transmogrified into a hurdle for the admissions team to clear: “They inquired. They visited. They emailed. They called. They started an application. But how do we get them to complete and submit the darn thing?”

The rise of the Millennial parent

 

Millennial parents are doing their demographic research and in many markets, are well aware that the fewer number of four-year-olds out there means that their child won’t necessarily get turned down just because the paperwork is late. In their book Millennials with Kids, Jeff Fromm and Marissa Vidler assert that today’s parents want a very tailored and individualized education experience for their children. And perhaps that begins with the application process, where they may test the school’s willingness to consider their family’s particular situation and timeframe outside of published deadlines.

With qualified families operating on their timetable—not the school’s—social media, earned media, and website newsfeeds must tell a compelling story all year long. Not just in the fall when admissions season kicks off. Not just during the weeks before Open House. Not just as a reminder when the application or financial aid deadlines near. But ALL. THE. TIME.

So how can schools respond?

Even well-reputed schools must increasingly go beyond simply posting adorable photos of the sixth-grade field trip with the caption “Sixth graders had a great time at the Air and Space Museum!” Instead, they must help the uninitiated decode the message in the photos. And whenever possible, must tie the event or activity to pedagogy, academic program, and school culture.

Sixth-graders got an inside look at how history, physics, and politics merged during our visit to the Air and Space Museum. We examined how the Space Race catapulted engineers, scientists, and mathematicians to new discoveries— all to ensure the Russians didn’t get too far ahead of us! It’s part of our Cold War study, which students incorporate into grade-wide presentations later this year.

While this kind of post requires a bigger investment from the communications team—to connect with the teachers involved to get an authentic picture of the value of the experience—it also does far more heavy lifting in appealing to prospects than a straight-tell caption could ever do. While we’d all like the admissions work to be wrapped up in late spring, technology and market forces have changed the game. So remember to shape every public-facing message through a marketing and positioning lens all year long—not just in the fall. And have a little patience with those running-late Millennials. They simply want to make the very best choice for their child. And that, increasingly, takes time.

 

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Resolutions

by Dr. Leslie Batty,  CRANE writer 

It is always during a passing state of mind
that we make lasting resolutions.
Marcel Proust

It seems as if the new year just started, but here in Atlanta we’re swiftly rounding the corner into spring. Our dogwoods and our Blue Ridge foothills and our weather-beaten, ill-fated Falcons banners are awash in a glorious, clear light.

As we look back on the winter that was at the crane offices, we notice that 2017’s herd of new year’s resolutions has already been rather dramatically culled. Originally they included the tried and true inclinations to climb more stairs and eat less caramel, to practice gratitude and get to bed at a decent hour. A few colleagues pledged to watch less television and one was determined to spend more time roasting more things in a Big Green Egg.

scrabble-resolutions

Most of these promises were left out, in what passes for the cold here, sometime in early January.  Now, at the three-month mark, it seems the resolutions that survived are ones that aligned most closely and meaningfully with our existing values. Our nature-loving colleague has made good on her promise to hit the mountain trails twice a week. Our resident bibliophile is plowing through his book-per-week at top speed. The office sugar junkies/caramel disavowers, however, have long since slunk back to the candy drawer in our company kitchen.

The bottom line seems to be that we strive most strongly toward more of whatever already resonates with us. And perhaps that’s why new year’s resolutions, for all their storied fragility, tend to be substantial rather than superficial. The best resolution—the one most deeply felt and the most likely to stick—is really just a promise to circle back to the best of what’s already in us.

The same undercurrent of authenticity shapes our work at CRANE year round. Our clients don’t come to us to be reinvented, but for help to reintroduce their existing, differentiating truths. To flesh out what they already do beautifully. To better connect with the kinds of students and families they already serve brilliantly. Together, we resolve to create powerful, enduring messaging that sticks—because it connects to the best of what was already there all along, waiting to be excavated and exclaimed.

Magnifying Glass Old Book Dark Globe Lantern

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Making your magic marketable: translating teaching for best-fit families

by Dr. Leslie Batty,  CRANE writer 

aristotle

We are what we repeatedly do.
–Aristotle

We live in a mysterious world where, every day, things happen that defy explanation. We’re not just referring to mental telepathy, housecats riding Roombas, or just about every aspect of the current presidential campaign here.

We’re also talking about people expertly knitting socks and easing pineapple upside-down cakes out of pans and onto platters perfectly intact—all without the slightest intimation of how to explain the technique of what they’ve just accomplished. Turns out, doing and explaining are two vastly different feats.

It’s no surprise, then, that sometimes we see even the best educators struggling to explain themselves. To define their pedagogy. To tell us how they do what they do so well.

And we find that even truly awesome teachers can retreat into the shorthand of buzzwords. Or simply knit their brows or throw up their hands in frustration. And, good gracious, rightly so. It’s hard to explain how teachers teach and how learners learn—to pin down that kind of pure magic—in mere words.
magic-book

This presents a pressing dilemma. If transformative teaching is so difficult to define—even for experienced teachers—how can we ever hope to convey an illuminating, inspiring sense of how it all works in your school, in ways that reach prospective families?

The answer lies in backtracking from wobbly ontological abstractions to something much more concrete. In short, we ask educators better questions: Not what is your teaching philosophy? but what do you do in real time for real students?  Not tell us about your methods but show us your best moves. And when we pose the right queries, we get the most revealing and relevant responses. We get stories and examples and memories—and profound, powerful insights into how your school helps students learn.

Toward a clearer view(book)
A few years ago, St. George’s Independent School was puzzling over how to make their innovative methods more accessible to Memphis, where tradition is vitally important and classic pedagogy is deeply respected. Fortunately, St. George’s teachers are intentional, reflective, and effusive about their teaching, and they were able to flesh out how the SGIS approach woProcessed with VSCOcam with m3 presetrks in human, anecdotal terms.

They detailed day-to-day activities and outlined year-long projects. They described assignments and shared touching, specific, individual outcomes. And at the end of our discussions, we funneled these vibrant slices of the St. George’s experience into vivid scenes.

At St. George’s, your child also inventories the supplies for a make-believe pizzeria and tracks the movements of an imaginary herd of buffalo. Later, he studies photosynthesis on the sun-dappled paths of a nearby nature preserve and hikes through a cavern to explore the bat habitats he’s been studying in class.

Instead of listing subjects and skill sets to tout what St. George’s students are learning—addition and subtraction, ecology and history—we offer a series of snapshots to show prospective parents how they learn.

At St. George’s, your child also uses scientific principles to design a golf course. He applies an understanding of forces and vectors to the construction of nine holes and adds an electronic circuit to notify players when they sink a putt. And then he donates the game to the junior kindergarten for field day.

Rather than unleashing an avalanche of jargon to claim experiential learning, problem-solving assignments, project-based learning, service learning, and real-world concepting, we invite prospective families to view all these methods through the lens of a single, multi-disciplinary project.

Starting with evocative examples of what your teachers and students do every day in the classroom equips your school with the details you need to translate your transformative pedagogy clearly and compellingly. Like a cat on a Roomba, the best teaching can’t really be explained. It must be seen, if only in the mind’s eye, to be believed.

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. When a faculty member convinces her institution to collaborate with Crane MetaMarketing on a full branding program, she receives one free Roomba as a referral bonus. Actually, I don’t think that’s a thing, but we should really think about it.

  2. This took me back to when I was writing my first teaching philosophy. It is certainly a struggle to put effective teaching into words, even for an English professor, so it’s wonderful to see your creative solution to that dilemma. The only problem is that now my cats are demanding a Roomba.

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Once upon a time: calling forth folklore to better position your school

by Chanda Grubbs, CRANE writer 

The words of the bards come down the centuries to us,
warm with living breath.

–Padraig Pearse
Irish poet, educator, activist

once-upon-a-time

Whether you opened your doors 300 or 30 years ago, you’ve got tales to tell. And while some may be the stuff of myth, others present invaluable opportunities for adding depth and further authenticity to your messaging.

The stern but beloved teacher who was known to make classes run laps in the cold for not taking an assignment seriously symbolizes an enduring commitment to academics. The first athletic triumph over a rival recounts tenacity and a burgeoning sense of school spirit. And whispered rumors of “haunted” buildings before campus renovations mark the intentional transformation of your physical environment.

Yet, so many institutions’ stories begin elsewhere—with talk of “academic excellence” and a parade of numbers, facts, figures, and nice-enough platitudes.

So we propose a more powerful way to share your school’s enduring relevance. What if your school’s value proposition today could harken back to your school’s distinctive beginnings?

Finding your folklore

Consider this student’s recollection, of his first day of school at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Imagine the first class of the first day, six or eight children shuffling onto the downstairs porch to shake hands with their first teacher. I was noticing how my shoes grated on the concrete floor. My indifference vanished in a swirl of amazement when Mlle. Thioux said, “Bonjour,” to me. And began giving directions in French. That was the tone of Mrs. Hocking’s school, then but a marvelous experiment. Everything was over our heads all the time. But within reach. We were always pulling ourselves up to exciting new levels.

Beach erosion threatens seaside homes.

The sensory detail (shuffling downstairs, shoes grating on the concrete floor) mixed with almost mystical language (vanished in a swirl of amazement, a marvelous experiment) help crystallize this story as a very important moment in time. And more than 100 years later—this same immersive and enchanting learning thrives on Shady Hill’s campus, embodied in the school’s unique Central Subject approach.

And here’s a tale from Branksome Hall, an all-girls’ school in Toronto, told to us by an alum:

I was at a track meet a couple of years ago and another school’s tent started to blow away. All their girls just stood there screaming under the tent. Our girls said, why don’t they just hold onto the tent? A Branksome girl holds her own tent.

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 The elements of craft

All folklore contains three common elements: timeless relevance, a shared belief, and a memorable takeaway point or lesson.

Timeless relevance
The Shady Hill and Branksome Hall stories remain as meaningful today as 40 years ago (and as they will 40 years into the future) because they crystallize a moment that speaks powerfully to the very essence of the institution. A story that continues to be told by your community is a story worth telling, and retelling, to prospects.

Shared belief
Every school community holds distinctive values that influence how the school operates year after year. For Shady Hill, encouraging the imaginative, intellectual bravery of each incandescent mind, no matter a child’s age, represents a foundational principle of the school. In the case of Branksome Hall, the school community believes that young women should learn to be independent and courageous. Each story demonstrates a core belief, which not only reinforces internal cohesion but can serve to attract best-fit families.

Takeaway point
“A Branksome girl holds her own tent.” These seven words succinctly and memorably communicate one of the many transformative outcomes of a Branksome education.

Each story’s lesson holds an opportunity to communicate what your school and only your school instills in students.

Good stories transport us, change us, inspire, encourage, and teach. So when puzzling over how to convince another raft of prospective families that your school isn’t only great, but different, consider that an entire history of stories waits to be rediscovered, collected, and retold. The first step is to listen for them.

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20 for 20: Lessons gleaned—and applied—after two decades of CRANE

September 1, 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of Crane MetaMarketing.
We’re lifting a glass to salute our founder,
Patti Crane,
and sharing a bit about all she’s taught us along the way.

Late summer 1996. The Olympics have just wraPatti Crane headshot_2016pped in Atlanta, Georgia, and just north of town, Patti Crane opens Crane MetaMarketing Ltd., the culmination of her already two decades in the educational marketing industry. With CRANE, Patti builds upon her lifelong mission of serving as the transformative reframing partner to independent schools, colleges and universities, and nonprofits.

Twenty years later, CRANE has thrived precisely because we’re first and foremost a learning organization, continually thirsting for new ways of thinking that can, in turn, inform our clients’ thinking. And while this learning ethos began with Patti, over the past two decades it has transferred to everyone who has had the good fortune to call the cranesnest home.

Here’s a glimpse of the work and life lessons we’ve learned from Patti, from our time at CRANE, and on behalf of our clients.

CRANE faces blog2

People
Patti believes when you find good people to work with, you shape the job around their gifts.

Patti leverages CRANEs as her partners, rather than her employees. She empowers those around her, soliciting questions and welcoming contributions—whatever our job title—to ensure a thoughtful process that arrives at the best solution.

There is great power in team: when each member brings insight and perspective, a good idea advances into brilliance.

Right roles are crucial. When trustees, school administrators, and CRANEs are in their ideal roles—doing what each does best—superb outcomes result.

Work
Trust your gut. If you stray too far from it, remember to circle back and re-look at where you started.

It often takes days, weeks, or months to get to the glorious, final “aha” moment. So celebrate that moment with a big bang on the desk and a loud cheer!

Speak truth—even when it’s hard. One of the wonderful things about working with mission-driven organizations is that they, too, are learning organizations. They don’t shy away from the hard conversations.

If an italic cap F has a slightly different angle than the lower case L—this is unacceptable.

Know your knowables. Some of the greatest insights emerge from deep context. Do your homework and the dots will (almost) connect themselves.

It’s never too late to rethink everything. Don’t close the door on creativity just because you think you’ve “run out of time.” There is always time to get it right.

There is always a third way. When trying to decide between two less-than-optimal options, go back to the beginning. There is always a third path; you just haven’t spotted it yet.

It’s important to learn to not say some things you’re accustomed to saying.

Shoebox it. When you’re working on a complex problem, there are times when you just need to put it in a box and shove it under the bed until you’re ready to tackle it again.

Life
Empathy wins every time—with clients and with colleagues.

Every day presents an opportunity for growth. And then, after those days pile up to form a year, and those years a decade, you’re awestruck at just how far you’ve come.

Don’t be easily offended. You learn far more from a critique if you can appreciatively listen.

Open your eyes, your ears, and your mind, and all you need to solve a problem will be right there in front of you. Now the fun part is putting the puzzle pieces together.

Courage is more than half the battle.

The truth is not so much “out there” (as Fox Mulder might say), but in here—within all of us, individually and collectively. And we must do all we can to bring it out.

Intangibles
Patti squealing with delight over your font selection means you have gained the ultimate affirmation.

Clocks are simply suggested reading. Patti has more clocks and watches than anyone, but don’t be misled: they aren’t tools. They’re accessories.

Using methods somewhat indecipherable, Patti detects the slender, clarifying ray of light where others see only clouds of confusion.

There is no substitute for really good coffee!

Getting to the airport early is for wimps. There’s always another option.

Introverts really run things. We just let y’all loud ones think otherwise.

38109554 - origami paper bird on abstract background

Twenty  years ago, we had a Clinton in the White House, a gallon of gas cost $1.22, the Dow Jones surged over 6000 for the first time, the Spice Girls were singing “Wannabe,” Braveheart was Best Picture, and Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov for the first time.

The more things change. . .

Twenty years later, CRANE continues to learn anew on behalf of our clients, while always remaining true to our founding (and founder’s) vision: that true differentiation emerges from within, that agape, or unconditionality, is the driving force behind transformative partnerships, and that the ultimate aim of the metamarketing process is to distill an institution’s highest shared truth so that prospects convince themselves.

. . . the more they stay the same, after all.

Thank you to all of our clients over these past two decades. Our work is only as good as your amazing institutions. And you inspire us every day.

Oh, and that was technically a 25 for 20. That’s another lesson Patti has taught us. Exceed expectations.

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1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful encapsulation of the transformative power of CRANE, and of Patti’s visionary leadership. Congratulations on the last 20 years, and best wishes for the next!

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Precise, interesting, and true: how modifiers can invigorate your school’s marketing language

by Dr. Ann Gelder, CRANE writer 

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
–Stephen King
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Can Stephen King help you market your school?

Stephen_King,_Comicon

Surely no one knows more than Stephen King about the road to hell—or successful writing. And many education professionals seem to agree with his view of modifiers. Adverbs as well as adjectives, they believe, are at best unnecessary adornments to the central message, and at worst insincere, even false.

But is spare, unadorned prose the best path for conveying your institution’s identity?

At CRANE, we take King’s point as a caution, not a doctrine. We believe there’s another road, paved with elegantly deployed modifiers, that can lead prospective families, honestly and effectively, to choosing your school.

King dislikes adverbs for two main reasons. First, as he explains in On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft, they can indicate weakness in the surrounding prose:

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really needs to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door?

You’ll get no argument from us on the importance of active verbs (He closed the door rather than The door was closed by him) or of specificity (choosing slammed vs. closed). Making such decisions, word by word, sentence by sentence, remains critical to good writing—whether it’s a suspense novel or a school’s About Us page.

We also agree that the context of every sentence matters. You can’t expect one sentence, and certainly not one adverb in that sentence, to carry the show when the rest of the actors aren’t doing their jobs.

But what if you have met these requirements? Does that render all adverbs—and adjectives—unnecessary?

Not—as King himself suggests here—if you need to make fine distinctions in meaning. And, because you’re writing about what makes your school stand out from all other top schools in your area, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

By all means, ask yourself if firmly really needs to be there. But remember that sometimes, the answer is yes. Other times, you may still need a modifier—just a different one.

Which brings us to King’s second point:

dandelion-1399996_1920

[Adverbs] are like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day … fifty the day after that … and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally,  completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.

It’s certainly possible to overuse modifiers. Especially—as King hints—if those particular modifiers are not good. Of the three adverbs he highlights here, two—totally and completely—just can’t do the work. Sensing their inadequacy, the writer (that is, the struggling writer King’s pretending to be here) starts piling on more of the same, in an effort to shore up the words’ weakness. The reader, in turn, detects the writer’s lack of confidence, and so misses or doubts the underlying message—the lawn, as it were.

On the other hand, profligately is an interesting, specific adverb that looks bad only because of the other, unhelpful words leading up to it. To us, that’s a crucial distinction that King’s anti-adverbial zeal glosses over.

Instead of categorizing all modifiers as weeds, what if you carefully plant only precise, interesting, and true modifiers in your prose? Might the beautiful green expanse of your message leap forth even more vividly?

Take a look at the Portrait of a Graduate page on the website of St. George’s Independent School,* paying special attention to the adverbs and adjectives. What do you think?

SGIS_PortofGrad

*St. George’s is a CRANE client.

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Warming your website welcome letter: from navigational chart to intriguing invitation

by Dr. Ann Gelder, CRANE writer 

The newest computer can merely compound, at speed,
the oldest problem in the relations between human beings,
and in the end the communicator will be confronted
with the old problem of what to say and how to say it.

–Edward R. Murrow

murrow

In approximately one million ways, computers have compounded the problem of what to say, and how we say it.

Your school’s website presents a case in point. Especially as busy, distracted, often anxious prospective parents comb through your site—plus those of five or ten or more other schools— looking for … what, exactly?

AP offerings and athletic teams, college matriculation lists and tuition costs—yes, no doubt. But above and beyond the nuts and bolts, your prospects seek a way in.

Not just your admissions procedures, but the key to understanding who you are as a school. For that, more often than not, they turn to the Head of School’s Welcome page.

And then, just possibly, they turn away again.

Because, just possibly, the welcome letter wasn’t quite what they were hoping for. Instead of quickly and powerfully conveying what your school, and only your school, offers, the letter might, for example, dash through a few paragraphs of generic jargon (“We value critical thinking, diversity, and a whole-child approach”), followed by a brief and probably unnecessary site-navigation guide (“Click on Athletics to learn about our sports programs”). And so, rather than “Welcome! Come on in!,” the prospect may hear, “Move along. Nothing more to see here.”

We’re not saying that every school’s welcome letter reads like this. Even if many do, they haven’t necessarily lost a prospect. But a less-than-optimal welcome letter represents a missed opportunity to draw the prospect further into your school’s world.

So what goes into a really welcoming welcome letter?

Writing Clipart 349

Take a look at your letter, and see if it includes these essential elements:

  • A clear, differentiating statement of your school’s vision. What kinds of individuals, thinkers, and citizens do you help create? How and why? *

At Langley, we know children’s social and emotional acuity is critical to their academic success—that’s why we intentionally nurture both in equal measure. We graduate uncommonly optimistic, grounded, poised, and kind learners and thinkers—citizens of the world, wholly prepared to thrive in the nation’s top high schools, and to lead lives of integrity and self-defined purpose. (Elinor Scully, The Langley School, McLean, Virginia)

  • Specific, differentiating examples of your vision in action.

Trevor’s school architecture embodies [our] commitment to children. Student-centered common spaces define the Trevor experience. Here, teachers and students collaborate in a dynamic manner, and together, navigate a classic curriculum that leads to academic mastery, innovative thinking, and a global perspective. (Scott R. Reisinger, Trevor Day School, New York, New York)

  • A compelling sense of what it’s like to learn and grow at this school every day, not just for students, but for parents, teachers, and staff members, too.

You hear, in the laughter and excitement of our lower school students, the lure of curiosity and the thrill of discovery. You see, in the faces of our middle school students, the joy they find in discovering emerging interests and latent talents. You feel, in the passionate exchanges among our upper school students, the confidence that comes when sustained and focused investigations reveal to them their own values and convictions. For all of our students, learning is powerful and transformative, and it’s a great pleasure to watch it unfold. (Christopher P. Garten, The Seven Hills School, Cincinnati, Ohio)

  • A warm, engaging voice that doesn’t just tell prospects who you are, but actually embodies your school’s and your head’s (merged) personalities.

When I walk through our light-filled hallways and see our 4th graders discussing the nuances of evolution and revolution then and now, Kindergarteners installing Goldsworthy-inspired art in our hallways, 2nd graders preparing to present their history of the Seaport to a community board hearing, 4-year-olds performing plays based on original beanstalk stories that grew out of their study of edible plants… I know we have unearthed a secret that many have spoken about but not enough experience: powerful, deep learning is joyful. (Allison Gaines Pell, The Blue School, New York, New York)

In each of these letters, the schools, through their heads, express themselves. In a few paragraphs, they give prospects a memorable and meaningful sense of who they are, what they do, and—always, always, always—why.

sm-Oakwood_ATP_0515126_LR* *Disclosure: Each of these schools has been a CRANE client.

 

 

 

 

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Notes from the CRANE library: “Leadership on the Line” by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Notes from the CRANE library” will be a regularly occurring feature 
of In the Fold, as various CRANE team members share their thoughts, 
reflections, and insights on what we’ve been reading 
and why it is (or isn’t) relevant. 

by Pam Mason-Norsworthy  
CRANE strategic partnerships manager

Principled leadership seems a rare commodity these days. Political candidates shift viewpoints to better align with the latest polls. There’s the boss (you may have met one) who reverses course based on the last person to buttonhole him behind a closed door – only to shift again if prevailed upon by someone else. Companies hire consultants (imagine!) to provide direction, thinking it better for outside experts to direct change and absorb the aftermath lest it be poorly received.

Have we reached the point where it’s simply safer to NOT stand for anything – at least, nothing too specific?

Lship_lineIn Leadership on the Line (Harvard Business Press, 2002), Harvard Business School faculty members Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky say “Not so fast,” proclaiming that “to lead is to live dangerously.” To reform and re-energize a failing school, company, or other system, a courageous, steady leader equipped to engineer adaptive change – not simply a technical fix – isn’t just preferred, but required.

For our purposes, let’s imagine Amazing Academy has an enrollment challenge. Insiders mumble that the stern and strident admissions officer doesn’t help matters. A technical approach to solving this problem might involve hiring a smiling face to greet families more warmly, installing more user-friendly software for applicant families to use, or improving the coziness of the waiting room décor.

The tougher approach, which Heifetz and Linsky’s model strongly endorses, would be to ask questions that extend far beyond the admissions office–questions that get to what’s really going on. While it’s certainly germane to ask What is the experience applicant families have with us?, more telling and useful answers might result from a broader consideration of the issue:

What does our community say about who we are? What might they misunderstand? Are we delivering on our mission? Do families understand our pedagogy? Our school culture?

Suddenly, we have framed the enrollment challenge in a much more profound, if unsettling, way. Solving our problem now will require a meeting of the minds from across the school to honestly assess what’s happening not just in admissions, but in the classroom and elsewhere. Faculty and staff members and administrators alike will need to examine their contributions to the current challenge. It may mean comfortable, familiar roles must be reinvented, adapted, restructured. And none of that comes easily.

Walking individuals successfully into this new reality will require a skilled leader equipped to design a thoughtful process. A leader who understands the issue cannot be solved by edicts and mandates emanating from the Headmaster office. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it this way: “The task of the leader is to get their people from where they are to where they have not been.”  Therein lies the peril—and the solution.

cartoon3

Problems requiring adaptive change, say the authors, are inherently more complex, more riddled with minefields. They cross departmental boundaries and prompt resistance in a way that problems that can be solved by a technical fix do not. But they can also be long-reaching and transformative—a shift of course rather than a stop-gap. The wise and respected leader knows that ignoring the issue and leaving it for the next guy is simply not an option.

Heifetz and Linsky provide an engaging how-to manual to help each of us muster the courage to do the right thing for the institutions we serve and love. It’s a useful tool for anything from strategic planning to leadership retreats to staff professional development. And don’t let the book’s slightly older publication date scare you off—the principles of adaptive change remain strikingly relevant today.

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What we talk about when we talk about voice, part three

What we talk about when we talk about voice” will be a running series of blogposts on the 
topic of good writing in general and good writing for educational institutions in particular.

by Patrick Kelly
CRANE editorial director

Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea;
not only that one thinks it but also feels it.
–Friedrich Nietzsche

Style, personality, and prose that makes readers into believers

Independent schools don’t want to attract customers. They want to create believers.

And, before the initial campus visit, before the shadow day, before the parent coffee and the new family orientation and the first day of class, what does a school have at its disposal?

Writing.

Let’s go back to East Bay School for Boys. Here’s how the school starts the “Our Story” section of the school website:

East Bay School for Boys started with girls.
(http://www.ebsfb.org/node/48)

Who’s not going to keep reading that? Who doesn’t get a sense of personality, of intelligence, of wit and style and confidence from those eight words?

http://theunnovelist.com/best-opening-lines/
http://theunnovelist.com/best-opening-lines/

We remember great opening lines for a reason—they generally subvert our expectations, and establish a style that does not solely rely on facts.
I am an invisible man. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. It was a pleasure to burn. East Bay School for Boys started with girls. It fits right in!

 

Clintondale High School, a “school of choice” in metro Detroit, gets to the heart of the matter this way:

Something had to change.
(http://www.flippedhighschool.com/ourstory.php)

That simple, declarative, and powerful statement grabs attention and is the perfect frame for Clintondale to tell its story about how the entire school adopted the “flipped classroom” model. There’s no slow windup, no throat-clearing, no jargon-laden strings of prepositions flimsily held together by weak verbs.

Instead, there’s voice. There’s personality. There is style and substance and verve and the feeling that you are not going to be bored by reading this. There’s a compelling reason to keep going—and, perhaps, to become a believer.

Here’s a “Welcome” from a head of school that doesn’t simply say “Thank you for visiting our website! We hope you enjoy learning about our school through this virtual portal!” but paints vivid pictures of what she sees each day:

When I walk through our light-filled hallways and see our 4th graders discussing the nuances of evolution and revolution then and now, Kindergarteners installing Goldsworthy-inspired art in our hallways, 2nd graders preparing to present their history of the Seaport to a community board hearing, 4-year-olds performing plays based on original beanstalk stories that grew out of their study of edible plants… I know we have unearthed a secret that many have spoken about but not enough experience: powerful, deep learning is joyful. (http://www.blueschool.org/welcome/
Full disclosure: Blue School is a CRANE client).

http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2013/02/14
http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2013/02/14

As humans, we’re naturally drawn to stories. To voices that sound interesting and like a real person might actually be talking to us through this otherwise cold screen, or from this glossy piece of paper. To styles that, as Nietzsche said, convey not just information, but feeling.

Stories—whether a novel or a viewbook, a poem or a direct mail series—and voice necessarily live in concrete details. They dwell in the land of the specific. And they activate imaginations in ways that The Official Style never will. Whenever we can describe in detail what fourth-graders are actually doing, instead of how “we challenge them through a rigorous and age-appropriate curriculum,” everybody wins. The school, yes.

And more importantly, all those readers out there, for whom we’re writing in the first place.

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What we talk about when we talk about voice, part two

What we talk about when we talk about voice” will be a running series of blog posts on the 
topic of good writing in general and good writing for educational institutions in particular.

by Patrick Kelly
CRANE editorial director

One reason that people find it so difficult to write stories
is that they forget how much time and patience is required to convince through the senses.
No reader who doesn’t actually experience, who isn’t made to feel, the story
is going to believe anything the writer merely tells him.

–Flannery O’Connor,
“Writing Short Stories”

Moving from abstraction to story

Let’s pick up from where we left off with a simple conditional that we probably can all agree upon:
If The Official Style and abstract language obscure meaning, then story reveals meaning. And yet, quite counterintuitively, story—that most familiar and natural form of human communication—somehow gets lost, forgotten, overlooked in the everyday descriptions of what schools do and how schools do it.

www.thecatholicthing,org
www.thecatholicthing,org

Now, Flannery O’Connor may have been talking about fiction, but her precept about the vital nature of sensory description holds true for all writing. And no, writing about education, about pedagogy, about teaching and learning merits no exception.

Think of it this way: Just as it takes a lot more effort, time, and expertise to teach in an inquiry-based classroom than submit to rote lecturing, it takes similar measures of nuance and craft to describe what’s going on in an inquiry-based classroom than it does to state: Our students learn through an inquiry-based process.

It’s a lot harder evoking and bringing to life an interdisciplinary English-U.S. history project where a small class deconstructs
Huck Finn against the backdrop of the Compromise of 1850 than simply stating:

We apply an interdisciplinary approach while utilizing a classic curriculum, blending the best of both worlds.

http://www.recoveringlazyholic.com/need-to-want-less
http://www.recoveringlazyholic.com/need-to-want-less

But as you probably already know, the harder thing is almost always the right thing.

Just look at this partial list of outcomes—see the full list here: http://www.ebsfb.org/node/26 —from the East Bay School for Boys, one of the most concrete, sensory, picture-able—and because of all that, inspiring—lists of outcomes we’ve ever come across:

By the time he graduates, each EBSB student will have:

  • Conducted a conversation in a foreign language about something that he has
    read in that language;
  • Analyzed a meaningful passage of another’s writing and declaimed it with passion
    and from memory;
  • Disassembled, diagrammed, rebuilt, and written instructions for something
    electrical or mechanical;
  • Sowed, grown, harvested, and eaten his own vegetable;
  • Held and cared for a newborn baby;
  • Mentored another boy in something in which he feels confident; and
  • Produced or performed a work of art.

This list tells a story about this school. It tells a story by painting vivid images of what these eighth-grade boys do. Can’t you picture a 13-year-old boy in one frame tending a garden, in another wiring a circuit, and perhaps most strikingly, cradling a newborn? Isn’t that the exact kind of 13-year-old boy you’d want as your neighbor, your friend, your son?

The voice of this school lies, as is so often the case, in taking the time to paint specific descriptions instead of falling back on the easy footing of generalization and abstraction. Of telling a story through sensory description instead of defaulting to status quo edu-speak. Of splashing a bit of unexpected art on the blank page instead of submitting to sameness.

And putting forth that extra effort yields such memorable results, such powerful imagery.
It truly makes all the difference.

Tune in next time for Part three: Can/should your writing have personality? And is that or isn’t that a rhetorical question?

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