Five Things I’ve Learned in 2015

Since this is the season of celebrating traditions, I’ll continue the one I began in 2007 in the spirit of being a life-long learner.  This started out as a “Three Things” article, based on research that shows the average individual can only hold three things in mind at the same time, but some can hold four (http://www.livescience.com/2493-mind-limit-4.html.  Accessed 20151228).  But realizing that’s average, and average is not the expectation of the parents today’s faith-based schools serve, we need to move to at least five.  That fifth element is what Dr. Peter Senge found completes the system.  His landmark text, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization,” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Fifth-Discipline-Practice-Organization/dp/0553456342) is a “must-read” for today’s organizations attempting to solve complex problems.  If your school is experiencing complex problems, then here’s your reading assignment.

Also notice that the five things listed below are not numbered.  Numbering makes our mind automatically think that “Number One” is the most important thing, or where a process should start.  In reality, ALL things need to work together to create an overarching learning, goal, or target.

Here are the five things I’ve learned in 2015 (notice that they all flow into one another):

“The Architect” – A personality assessment I took this year showed that I’m seen by others as “The Architect,” which made a lot of sense to me.  I want “the best” for family, friends, clients and those I come in contact with.  Pairing that trait with the second strongest category creates the profile title, and that second category is congruent with the way we learn.  We’re not ready to have the full impact of new ideas thrown at us all at once, and therefore require a “small steps” approach – setting the foundation first, then building upon that to reach the vision that we hope to achieve.

Leadership Requires Vision – After all, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).  All schools require joint leadership today, which usually takes the form of a leader and a board.  There are schools of thought out there today that speak to the successes of “Board Governance,” while others speak to “individually led” schools as the model of success.  In my experience, both approaches have a flaw, in that there is an “either/or” assumption rather than a “both/and” one.  Successful schools today embrace the positive aspects of both approaches as they temper each other.  The “Why” of the school is the result of the interaction of the leader and the board.  The “What” of the vision is the responsibility of the leader; the “How” of bringing that vision to fulfillment is the responsibility of the board.  No parent is going to be excited about enrolling their child in a school if one of the comments they hear is about the economic difficulties the school is experiences, or the struggles that may happen between board members and leadership.

Immediacy is an Expectation – Today’s parents, today’s board leadership, and some school administrators want answers and action, and therefore, expect results NOW.  Unfortunately, there are NO quick solutions to any of the problems schools are experiencing today.  A system of Advancement must be put into place in every school.  It’s a system of 5 systems – Development, Retention, Enrollment, Asset Management and Marketing.  Failure to institute all elements of the system or adhering to a linear approach (that is, sticking to a mindset of “Let’s do one thing at a time,”) will result in the continuing pattern of shrink-merge-shrink-close that many former schools have already experienced.  Further, it must be realized that short-term timelines will bring short-term successes, and significant successes will only happen in the long term.  School that keep planning on a year to year basis offer limited or no hope to their families, also contributing to their eventual demise.

Everyone Wants To Do 2 Things at Once – We actually need to keep in mind those five elements of advancement at the same time, but in reality, our cognitive brains can only do one thing at a time.  Contrary to popular belief, our brains are not wired to multitask.  We can certainly keep several things in mind, recognizing the importance of the connections, and juggling priorities, but translating the cognitive to the kinesthetic funnels those things down to “doing” one thing at a time.  It’s the importance associated with focus, and it’s the “one word” that can significantly change productivity.  There is no possible way to “focus” on doing five, four, three, or even two things at once.  Something will be missed…perhaps something important.  If that happens, then the mind “fills in” what was missed with something that it thinks should be there, based on experiences and other stored information.

As an example, many faith-based schools today are looking to both cut expenses as well as plan for the future of their school.  A plan will be developed to do both things, but the plan was based on demographic projections and past trends, and didn’t take into consideration the thoughts of the customers (read, parents) or the donors that support the school with revenue generated from enrollment as well as revenue generated from generous contributions.  In gaining those additional insights and doing additional research, a plan for long-term sustainability may be developed, but doing so may require a first step of an influx of cash to set the system in place.  Unfortunately, because the influx of cash doesn’t cut expenses (even though there may be a donor who may want to fund the plan), the plan could be dismissed.

It’s All About “The Experience” – The root of problems facing faith-based schools today isn’t enrollment, isn’t the teachers, isn’t the curriculum, isn’t the leadership, and isn’t the parents – it’s all of it.  While school may be able to demonstrate the presence of an enrollment process, an excellent curriculum, awesome teachers, visionary leadership and concerned parents who are already part of the school community, those elements must combine to touch the mindsets of the parents and guardians you’re trying to enroll in your school via marketing and enrollment processes (and yes, those are two distinct processes).  Further, schools can provide learning opportunities, but they must be reinforced, practiced, and advocated in the home.  If parents aren’t concerned about a student’s classwork because they have to go to work after school to provide for the family’s income, or have other issues in the home which will result in some children not achieving to their fullest potential.  Schools need to realize that they not only need to teach the children.  They may also need to teach the parents.  Keep that thought in mind, and then listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Teach Your Children Well” from the perspective of an observant third party.

In the spirit of the season, rather than focusing on “What has this world come to?” let’s change the order of those words and focus on “What has come to this world.”  The birth of the Savior, and what we must do to as His followers to build His kingdom for the glory of God.  May the Prince of Peace grant us peace in 2016.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2015 (Original publication date: 20151228)