Friday, January 25, 2013

Is Your School a Luxury Brand?

Allow me to begin with an analogy...
No one is willing to spend $3000 on a handbag that is being sold from the back of a truck in an alleyway. When someone is willing to spend $3000 on a handbag, they go to Louis Vuitton. Not simply because Louis Vuitton is known for making quality handbags, but also for the experience. Have you ever seen a Louis Vuitton store? The one near me in Korea is quite an experience for the shopper. First, only two couples are allowed into the store at one time, because LV is going to give personal attention to each customer. The salesperson will offer you tea, coffee, juice, or water. There is no rushing or pushing to buy. It is a calm, relaxing environment. If you do decide to make a purchase, extras are thrown in for free -- extra straps, name tags, etc. Luxury brands get away with charging what they do, because they provide a quality product and a quality experience in purchasing the product. 

The fact is that in international education most of us work in very expensive private schools. And as much as we possibly don't like to think about it, there is some marketing that needs to be done. When parents drop a large amount of money on a child's education, they deserve to feel like they are getting what they are paying for plus some extras. One thing that doesn't impress is nickel and dime-ing families. Stop and think about your school. Is it a luxury brand offering a luxury experience? Or, is it a luxury brand being sold out of the back of a truck in an alleyway? Are you charging for services that should be included as extras?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Three Take-Aways from Alan November's (@globalearner) TCIS Visit

Over the weekend Ben Summerton (@bensummerton), Steve Katz (@stevekatz), and I (@tsbray) had a chance to go to TCIS and listen to Alan November (@globalearner) talk about education. Many of the thoughts and tools that Alan shared weren't new to me, but it was great to hear a noted speaker and educational guru confirm what we are doing at KIS. The three main take-aways for me were -- the importance of having students ask their own questions, the importance of effective and efficient searching, and the importance of authentic global audience. I'd like to thank Joseph Fambro (@krea_frobro747) and all the teachers who helped from GSIS and TCIS to make the Alan November event happen... And of course, I'd like to thank Alan November.

The importance of asking questions: 
Students certainly don't need us to spoon feed them answers to questions, what they need to be doing is generating their own questions and finding answers to those questions. Innovation and creativity will never truly develop, if questions aren't asked. Sadly it is difficult for many students to ask their own questions, because they have never been taught how; or, they have had the fear of not being correct forced down their throats. Learning is about asking questions and learning how to find answers to those questions. In order to compete in the modern world, students will need to understand how to learn and that won't happen unless they know how to question. The people in my generation were expected to change careers seven times during our life times -- that involves learning new skills. Students from the current generation will change careers even more, because in the future many current jobs simply will not exist. If you can't learn new skills, you won't have work.

The importance of effective and efficient searching:
Just Googling it isn't quite good enough anymore. If you have seen Eli Pariser's TED Talk about how search engines are tailoring your searches, then you will understand why this issue is major in education. If you haven't watched it -- YOU MUST! Seriously, go watch it now and if it doesn't scare the life out of you in some way, then you have some major character flaws. Students are going to need to know how to trick search engines and luckily Google allows us to do this by using Search Operators. The operators help you better define exactly what you are looking for and who you are getting it from.

The importance of authentic global audience:
I've been a huge proponent of this idea for years, but Alan turned me on to something I hadn't really thought about -- the importance of anonymity as well as audience. His example is the website FanFiction, which has thousands of contributors who all use anonymous identities to share their writing. One example we looked at showed a list of people who had written short stories in the style of J.K. Rowling  (famous for the Harry Potter series). There were thousands of stories by hundreds of writers and some were 400,000 or more words in length... 400,000 words! When was the last time one of your English students wrote something that long? I bet the answer is never. I'm right, right? No one is getting paid; everyone is anonymous -- so why? These people are simply sharing their love of writing with each other for pleasure, but they do it anonymously, because that way the critique is about the writing, not about them as a person. I remember working in Turkey our English department would trade (or share) grading of exams -- that way students didn't feel that one teacher was grading too easy or too hard, because their exam was graded by everyone. This trading allows someone completely objective to view the work and the students don't take the comments personal, because they don't know that person. This allows the regular teacher to help the students understand the critique without emotions getting in the way as much; furthermore, it doesn't make difficulties in the student-teacher relationship.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Tao of Leadership Poem 9

I had a thought over the holiday that I'd like to revisit the Tao Te Ching, but this time from the mind of educational leadership. My first post will be on Poem 9 from the Tao Te Ching. I enjoy reading the translation by Stephen Mitchell, if this version of the poem differs from your own.

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharping your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

At first glance a person might question what possible applications could be tied to educational leadership, but I assure you there are ideas here to learn from as educational leaders. The first two sentences have to do with knowing your own limits. If we fill our bowls with too much or sharping our knives too much, we actually limit what we can accomplish. People who are overburdened rarely work well, so it our job to realize when we need a break. We should avoid focusing on attempting to fill our bowls with all those little jobs that can get in the way of the real work of educators -- paperwork, sitting behind the desk, pointlessly long meetings. Have you filled your bowl too much? Are you blunting your knife? Remember that education is about human relationships, not pushing papers across your desk.

Chasing after money and security is a question about why you want to be a leader in the first place. Did you get into leadership for economic rewards? For more security? Then you did it for the wrong reasons, and as the poem says, "... your heart will never unclench." You can want the money and security of leadership, but without passion and vision you will be lost. With your heart focused on the wrong things, it will remain clenched like a closed fist and your performance will be hampered. Caring about people's approval is certainly a dangerous problem in leadership, because if your worry is making people happy, then you are doomed to be a prisoner to them. Your decisions must be made for ethical reasons, for just reasons, for researched reasons, for the best interest of the community, not for approval. If you follow the correct guidelines to making decisions that are ethical, people will respect you and your decisions, even if they don't approve of them.

Finally we come to the most important concept for leaders -- do your work, then step back. Focus on doing the best job you can possibly do, and then let go. Don't fall victim to being prideful or attached to your work. Be attached to the community, the vision, the mission, but not the work itself. If you step away from your decisions, you can see, admit, and correct mistakes instead of becoming defensive and entrenched. This is the only path to serenity.