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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.

 

 

 

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.