It's tough to step into a new role - we know, because we've been there! Our partner Mike Connor from Connor Associates has too, and is here to offer some advice in the form of seven key questions to ask to ensure you're getting started on the right foot.
Congratulations to all of you who this year are entering the two best jobs a school can offer. I’ve been there!
Looking back, here is some hard-won advice to make sure your journey is as rewarding as mine was when I was in the trenches day to day:
1. Is Everyone Aligned?
If you are new or even a few years into the job, assess the authentic identity of your school. There is typically a “confluence of congruence” generated by 6 statements that define school identity.Determining everyone has a shared sense of mission and vision is essential, and the 6 statements can help get you there.
2. How Do We Get Aligned?
A good practice that will build congruence and alignment, especially among the Leadership Team, is an exercise I refer to as defining your school’s 6Ws:
Who we are,
Who we are NOT,
What we stand for,
What we will NOT under ANY circumstances stand for,
WHY we matter (e.g., How are we going to make a difference in students’ lives that will make them want to change their world for the better?) and
Where we’re headed (the vision) as a cause that will drive us internally and as a team, and compel those we serve and seekto serve to join us and spread the word.
"Getting the faculty and coaching and other support staff on your side will make your job immeasurably easier and more enjoyable."
3. Is Your Head of School Onboard?
If there is broad agreement to the statements above, great! If not, please do everyone a favor and encourage your Head of School to facilitate that identity conversation with your leadership team, faculty, and trustees. Without that consensus, you flat-out can’t do an effective job. You certainly won’t enjoy it.
If there is no clear-cut identity, tread carefully. Your team may be in danger of pulling in different directions, splintering the culture – the glue that holds it all together. Pride of association that comes with a commonly shared cause is essential. These 6Ws must be communicated consistently over time. Everyone must personally own those 6Ws.
“You and other school leaders must continually be listening to how your students and families are experiencing their journey. Good marketing always begins with listening!”
4. Are You Knowledgeable About Research-based Educational Practice?
The more educational bona fides you have, the more credibility you'll carry with teachers and today’s extremely well-informed (and yes, sometimes misinformed) parents.
Spend your time getting to know and establish trust with those who can mentor you – not so much in the details of the pedagogy, but in how and why those practices produce the outcomes your mission and vision demand. It’s not important what you do, but it is important that you can point to outcomes parents and guardians care about.
Those of us in enrollment management and marketing/communications serve the business of schools: teaching and learning. That is our prime directive.
5. Are You A Cheerleader For The Teachers and Coaches?
They need to trust you. Gather evidence of great teachers and great teaching and shout it to the stars. That’s the number one reason families enroll, remain, and become ambassadors.
Getting the faculty and coaching and other support staff on your side will make your job immeasurably easier and more enjoyable. These folks need to know you are in their corner. You need to know how their approach to teaching, coaching, and support services moves the school’s vision forward and out into the world.
6. Do You Have Skills in Market Research or Know How to Get Them?
You and other school leaders must continually be listening to how your students and families are experiencing their journey. Good marketing always begins with listening! The aim is to always improve the primary product—teaching and learning. You need skills to interpret and apply that research into a measurable enrollment, retention, marketing, and communication strategy. Understand that actionable market research is the foundation for all the tactical responsibilities you have, from visits, PR events, social media, video, digital marketing, and more.
Market research, data interpretation, and its strategic application is the foundation that supports success in your daily whirlwind of tactics and tasks.
7. Do You See the “Big Picture”?
Even though you might be running like crazy to manage the tactical aspects of your job, to be a leader you need to see the bigger picture. Understand all aspects of the student and parent journey from enrollment to graduation and beyond. Understand and message the demonstrable, provable outcomes of the educational program. Acquire the chops and earn the authority to be a sought-after partner in the long-term health of the school.
In schools, every part affects the whole, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Understand the big, interrelated picture and your place in it.
So once again, congratulations! Here’s to all of you embarking on a new “calling” in Enrollment Management or Marketing/Communications. The pressures are enormous; the psychic rewards gigantic.
But always remember that for your career advancement, Job One is to ensure you are working for and contributing to a highly-aligned organization with a common cause. In the long run, your effectiveness, your satisfaction, your sanity, and your school’s success depend on it.