May the “Fours” Be With You

For Catholic school administrators who subscribe to this site, you are incredibly busy this week, since next week is Catholic Schools Week. It’s a phrase that I, to this day, detest. I rejoiced when NCEA (the National Catholic Education Association) moved to mindset that would “Celebrate Catholic Schools,” but the media somehow failed to pick up on the shift, and so we still celebrate “Catholic Schools Week.” If you’re a long-time subscriber to this site, you know why I’m not a fan of the phrase. If you’re new to the site, here’s the background.

When you communicate the message, the “actual” message comprises only about 8 to 10 percent of the message’s impact. That is, the “what” of what is communicated has the least impact on the message’s receiver. It’s why we continue to need to hear the message of the Gospel over and over again. It’s the reason why commercials air over and over again. About 55 percent of the message is communicated in the “non-verbal” presence that is associated with the message, and the remaining 35 to 37 percent of the message is communicated through “how” the message is delivered relative to the its tone, or in the manner it was delivered. It’s why parents don’t hear what their teenage children are saying when the child’s words are communicated with “attitude.” All parents see are the crossed arms, the rolled eyes, and the “tone,” in which the youngster expresses exasperation.

Further, we live in a “headline-oriented” society. Headline editors are paid to come up with as few words as possible to catch a newspaper or news site reader’s attention. Further, when we read, we don’t just look at the words; we “hear” the words we’re reading. It’s why deep down, we love when someone reads to us (so long as we’re even remotely interested in the topic, the storyteller delivers it in a compelling way, and the “tone” the storyteller uses is inviting and engaging). Proof? We hate lectures that are delivered by a monotone professor, yet love how Will Ferrel tells the story of Buddy the Elf to the little children at the end of the modern classic movie.

Speak these headlines, so that you can hear them: “Obama Wins.” “Space Shuttle Explodes.” “Terrorists Attack Train Station.” “Catholic Schools Week.”

Note how “Week” isn’t heard as a noun, but as a verb. Interestingly, there is a homonym for the word which is a verb and is spelled “weak.” Though we see “Week,” we hear “Weak,” and what we hear stays within our minds to form our mindsets, conscious or unconscious. Such formations are the essence of clever marketing.

Want proof of the mindset? Make a graph of total Catholic school enrollment in the United States for each year since Catholic Schools Week began in 1974. Note the direction of the line graph. That’s even through the 1990’s – the most financially successful decade in the history of the United States. I may be the lone voice crying in the wilderness, but even movements that started out as “weeks” – such as Hispanic Heritage Week in March – quickly transformed into “month” events. I believe Catholic schools would see a huge upswing if we just started celebrating “Catholic Schools Month.”

But for right now, it is what it is, and schools are feverishly planning events for next week, many of which will be undoubtedly cancelled or postponed in the Northeast due to cold temperatures and snow. This is the time that schools should be solidifying their enrollment for the coming school year, and not just “starting” recruitment efforts. If your school is one of those still in “kickoff” mode, your “kickoff” for the next school year begins when the current school year starts. Put that on your “Do” list for next year.

As for the time being, you may still be searching for some type of “remarkability” in your school – what certain trait (or activity, aspect or something that you might think is routine, but your parents think is something that makes your school just “awesome”) makes your school stand out from the crowd of other schools. Maybe it’s a “Buddy” program you have in place at your school, where the 8th graders buddy-up with the 1st graders or kindergarteners. Such a program reinforces a commitment to eliminate bullying in a school, since the “big kids” are given a responsibility for the little ones. It’s a great life lesson, too.

Perhaps, you’ve found those things, but you’re looking for a way to succinctly get the message out there. Consider what I like to call the “Four Marks” approach.

To explain, what are the four marks of the Catholic Church? The Catholic Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. A previous Marketing Matter spoke about The FACE of Catholic Education – Faith, Academics, Community, and Experience.

Some schools have adopted this approach in memorable ways. Padua Academy, an all-female High School in Wilmington, Delaware, uses four S’s: Spirituality, Sisterhood, Service, and Scholarship. St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania uses SJHS as their springboard for their marks: Sanctity, Justice, Honor, and Scholarship.

Just as every memorable song has to have a “hook” in order to make it memorable, these marks can act as a “hook” to keep your school top of mind in your prospective parents.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2014 (Original Publication date: 20090119)