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

by Dr. Leslie Batty,  CRANE writer 


We are what we repeatedly do.

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.

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.




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


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.


 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

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.

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.

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.

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.