When I saw that Matthew Kelly was coming to speak as a part of the Day for Catholic Men in the Diocese of Pittsburgh a number of years ago, I was excited. He also authored “Rediscovering Catholicism,” but anyone who speaks about “dreams” as a religious experience is someone I have to hear.

If you’ve seen some of the other SchoolAdvancement articles on this site, you probably know I believe in dreams. Matthew Kelly said in his presentation that God gives us many gifts, but gives us two gifts that are particularly powerful: the ability to choose, and the ability to dream. Personally, I think there’s another powerful gift – to create (at least, co-create since, ultimately, all good things come from God, and we are Christ’s hands on earth).  After further consideration, I came up with two more – to love and to worship – but when you really think about it, those are both part of the power to choose, since love is a decision, and since worship flows from love, it is also a decision.

Dreams were very important in Scripture, as they were the place where individuals received messages from God via His angels. Joseph was told by an angel in a dream to not divorce Mary; the three Magi from the East were told in a dream not to return to Herod, but to return to their home country via a different route. In my case, I’ve found that a DREAM is very important to a school. It’s a “vision,” and as Proverbs tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (29:18).

I capitalize DREAM because it’s an acronym that stands for the things a school must do financially to survive, grow, then thrive – Development, Retention, Enrollment, Asset Management and Marketing.  I’ve changed the elements around to form the acronym ARMED, since we must be prepared for face the battles that will come our way within our schools, but still many school leaders agree with the concept of the DREAM.  Many, however, have asked the question, “Where do we start?”

And that’s where the problems begin.

You start with all of it.

But this is the reaction of most schools I speak with:  “Oh, no, that’s just too much. Let’s work on one thing now, and then we can move on to the next one when we have a handle on it.  Since you’ve listed Development as the first item, it must be the most important, so let’s start there.”

And that’s linear thinking – one of 5 reasons why Catholic, Christian, and other faith-based schools are closing today, and why education in general is in such a state of disarray. What are the other 4 reasons? That’s another topic for another day.

The problem is that we were taught to think “linearly.”  One thing leads to another, and sometimes, we must choose which path to take, which elevates the “linear” experience to the “process” experience.  Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “We cannot solve the problems of today with the same kind of thinking that created them.”  Linear thinking can bear some of the blame for creating these problems, while the other mindset at fault is the “But that’s the way we’ve always done it,” rationale.

SchoolAdvancement.com has now been an active Website for 15 years!  So let’s think anew.  Systems thinking is important, but if you need a process to satisfy your desire for linear thinking, that’s another reason why DREAM was changed to ARMED.  It’s interesting that arranging the elements in that order shows the progression of the elements in the formation of a system.  Since the “A” comes first, that’s Asset Management, then Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development.  It’s not that you can wait to do those things – they all must be engaged systemically.  However, if you’re not using a tuition and fee payment plan provider and third-party service to evaluate financial need, then don’t even think about your ability to progress to the next elements of advancement.

The “if/then” mindset is still pervasive in society. Sure, there are a myriad of results that could happen from a singular action, but the problem isn’t choosing which action we want to see happen. It’s realizing that whatever action is chosen will impact other processes. For instance, if Development starts raising considerable amounts of funding, but we’ve handled enrollment the way it’s always been done until we’re “ready to change it,” enrollment could drop precipitously while we’ve been generating development dollars. Then, what good will the funds do when there are no children in the school?

Another example? Let’s look at our bodies. If we want to be healthy, we need to have the proper diet, have proper exercise, and give up “nasty habits” like smoking, alcohol, sweets, and caffeine. What if we just say, “I’m going on a diet” to lose weight, and limit our intake of starches and red meat, yet don’t exercise nor give up the other stuff? We gain the weight back…and many times, can’t understand why. Even people who make a commitment to do all three still don’t reach their goals…because there are two other things that are necessary: time and money. If you’re going to adhere to a diet which requires you to each three nutritious meals, with lighter energy boosters during the day, you’ll need the time to allow you to eat at 6, 9, 12, 3 and 6, go to bed at 9 to get 8 hours of rest each night, then awake at 5 so you can exercise in the morning before showering.  That also means being able to take time to go to the grocery store to buy the proper foods…which may or may not be on sale that week. It’s a system…in fact, a system of systems…and must be treated as such.

So what does all this have to do with Matthew Kelly? He offered 5 noteworthy comments in his presentation on “Rediscovering Catholicism,” but all of them are applicable to everyone in every situation…even businesses, and particularly, Catholic, Christian, and faith-based schools.  After all, “catholic” means “universal.”

In no particular order (remember, it’s a system, and no singular elements has more importance than another), the 5 comments are:

– Systems drive behaviors. If you want to change behavior, you need to identify the system that’s causing it;
– Excellence is not sustainable without coaching;
– Every journey toward something is a journey away from something else;
– If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it; and
– The system consists of best practices, engagement, accountability, change, and dedication – and accountability is the game changer.

Awesome book.  Read it…but only if you want your current mindset to be significantly challenged.  And remember, where there are challenges, you’ll find changes (look at the first three letters and the last four letters of “challenges”).  As for the dreams you have for your school, it’s the vision you have for it.  Check out the two words created by the first letters of the above five comments.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2022