Looking up

Today, we wait for a change in the light. Just two hours south of the path of totality, Atlanta will see an impressive partial eclipse this afternoon. We’re told the moon will blot out more than 90% of the sun’s rays and create a dazzling “diamond ring” effect that our local meteorologists have been hyping for weeks.

It’s impossible to listen to the descriptions of the eclipse—night elbowing its way across an afternoon sky, a steep drop in temperature, the song of crickets at midday—without imagining how startling all this must have all been for people living hundreds or thousands of years ago. No weeks of news coverage, no NASA website to consult, no sales promotions on Moonpies. Just a sudden shift into unexpected darkness.

But for us, the eclipse is a happy event. This afternoon at the office, we’ll have lunch together then step out on the terrace to pass around the few precious pairs of safety glasses we managed to secure.  We’ll watch the skies change and the light shift and for a moment, we’ll all probably feel a little smaller in the grand scheme of things. And the very thing that must have unsettled our ancestors will give us cause to celebrate, to wonder, and to reflect.

That’s the difference preparation makes.

We’re in a season of celebration, wonder, and reflection here at CRANE, which goes well beyond the magic of today’s eclipse. Changes are coming—exciting, energizing changes that we’ve been planning for carefully over the course of several years. We’re ready and we’re thrilled.

And we hope that over the coming days and weeks, our supporters—our friends and families, our creative partners, our colleagues, and our extraordinary clients—will celebrate with us as we unfold all our carefully laid plans.

Please stay tuned.

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.

Photo credit:  HowToStartABlogOnline.net

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.

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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.