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.




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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.


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


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.





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.


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.