Just a few weeks ago, I was flying home from the West Coast after visiting a school that my business partner, Paul Neal, and I have consulted with for several years. Sitting near me on the plane was a commercial airline pilot being transported to his next assignment. The pilot was engaged in a conversation with another passenger about the physics of how planes fly and everything that pilots have to understand to make sure that planes stay in the air. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation as he shared about the amount of lift and thrust that enables take off as well as the gravity and drag that helps the plane slow down and land. Varying the levels of these forces helps the pilot navigate the plane during the entire trip.
Listening to him discuss these dynamics and the other details that need to be monitored consistently throughout the trip was fascinating. The obvious training and expertise of the pilot was impressive and actually provided great comfort for me as a regular traveler.
The conversation reminded me so much of what we as Christian school consultants are consistently trying to do as we advise and strategize with schools to impact enrollment, grow the quality of education, and help create positive organizational culture. We seek to help schools increase lift by raising the school’s visibility and reputation in their community while at the same time reducing drag that negatively impacts the institution.
Creating lift can be challenging because it involves change and a willingness to evaluate the current state while also looking to the future. It is helpful to think in these terms as you seek to thrive in fulfilling your school mission. Here are some questions to get you started: What are the outcomes you seek as a school? What activities help you create lift in your enrollment goals? What is the plan to grow your visibility and reputation? What are your retention goals, and what initiatives are in place to attain those goals? Who is responsible for enacting these initiatives, and who is measuring their effectiveness? Does your marketing budget achieve the results you are desiring?
At the same time, how are you trying to eliminate or lessen the drag on the school? What are the realities of the school program and the experiences of your parents and students? Where are your families frustrated, and what established processes are negatively impacting the parents’ and students’ experience? What is the current climate amongst faculty and staff—what is their excitement level about their roles and their workplace? How do you measure these realities?
From an admissions perspective, how have you shaped the recruitment experience to serve families well and draw them deeper into the school? How clear is your communication about your value proposition to help families make an educated decision about fit? Whereas there are some mission-identity aspects of the admissions process that do create drag (that limit enrollment), it would be wise to examine what other factors unintentionally have a negative impact.
As it is in aerodynamics, getting the right amount of lift and thrust is important. Creating lift and drag means determining what levers should be pulled to create the desired outcome. Managed and purposeful change to effectively fulfill the mission is the goal. Too little or too much lift at the wrong time can have devastating consequences for a plane as well as in our schools and organizations. Change for change sake is not strategic; leadership must have clarity about desired outcomes and understand what the organization is able to handle.
Often we interact with schools that seem burdened by constant change and new initiatives based on the latest ideas, creating burnout of faculty and staff and a lack of trust and confidence in the leadership. Change that is not planned will lead to confusion and frustration within any organization. Systems and people need to be ready and onboard when you seek to create lift for your organization.
The next time you are on a flight, think about all the different things that the pilot has to be monitoring–all that must be done to navigate and fly the plane well. As with any flight, there is a destination and a mission. As a school leader, your role is to lead your organization to its desired destination safely.
David is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Charter Oak Research. David consults regularly in both K-12 and higher education admissions, marketing and development. He presents regularly on educational trends and best practices both in the US and internationally. David was the North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals (NACCAP) Admissions Officer of the Year in 2010. Dave is a graduate (B.S., M.B.A.) of Eastern University.