One of my favorite recordings is “Synchronicity” by The Police. It’s also a pretty cool feeling when synchronicity is recognized, since I liken it to creativity. Creativity is when one finds a connection between two seemingly disconnected ideas; similarly, synchronicity is when two unrelated events happen at the time, but upon further examination, there may be some kind of connection between them. When things that happen simultaneously are actually recognized as having an effect on each other, it is at that time that systems thinking can be reinforced over linear thinking. Synchronicity is different from a phenomenon known as The Butterfly Effect (which developed into Chaos Theory), in that The Butterfly Effect speaks to something that happens because of something else. That would be a linear concept which examines the systemic effects of a decision. Synchronicity refers to things happening around us and the recognition of what happens in different physical points at the same time and their potential connections between or among them.
“Systemicity,” on the other hand, would be the concept of things that need to happen at the same time, but may not happen at “precisely” the same time. Since these articles are all about how “advancement” works as a system, here’s a concrete example I use to describe it. I was installing one of those under-the-cabinet radios in our kitchen a number of years ago. I emptied the bottom shelf, got the template, taped it in, drilled the holes, and then fed the screws in from the top. While I balanced the radio with one hand under the cabinet, I attached each screw just a little so that all five of them would support the radio, moving from screw to screw in no apparent order, turning one just a couple of times before moving to another one (and note, I did not say, the “next” one, since “next” implies linearity).
My wife looked at what I was doing and said, “I hope that’s not going to hang down like that.” I said of course not, since all the screws had to be tightened. Then I started tightening – first one for a couple of turns, then another, then another, going around to each screw several times in no particular order. My wife said, “That’s taking a long time – can’t you just tighten one screw first, then go to the next one?” Then it hit me – sure I could, but I’d have to hold the radio in place. If I let it hang, then tightening just one screw would make the other ones jam up.
And isn’t it the same with our schools? If they’re being supported well, and everything’s in place, then we can tweak our marketing, or re-examine our development strategies. But more often than not, our schools are just “hanging” out there, beset by the latest financial crisis, health crisis, and today, BOTH! We hope families don’t leave, and, if they stay, we hope they’ll be able to pay their tuition.
Then a donor comes along, and temporarily solves one of the issues with a large donation. Then…everything jams up. Again. Why? Because an infusion of funds could cause a whole new list of issues, just like getting a large number of new students in an upper grade could be seen as a blessing, or a curse. How can that be? If you have a 6th grade class with room for 4 more students, but get 12 new sixth grade students from another school, that may seem like a truly wonderful gift…until you realize that the four students can fill the class, but the other 8 won’t generate enough revenue to hire a new teacher and equip those students for a successful year. While you could simply accept 4 and put the others on a waiting list, what do you do if you get an “all or nothing” ultimatum?
So back to the under the cabinet radio example. The only way to install it quickly is to have five hands, each with a screwdriver, all turning at the same rate. Similarly, if we want fast action in our schools, then we have to hire an enrollment/admissions director, a development director, a marketing director and a business manager (the principal can play the role of the retention manager) to make sure all those processes are in place and active.
But it wouldn’t be enough to say to several administrative assistants that these tasks are now a part of their responsibilities. Their learning curve would be too steep, and their activities may need to occur outside the confines of the school, and not while seated at their desks. Unfortunately, hiring seasoned professionals that can do the job is outside the budgetary constraints of many schools. Interestingly, one of the most complete job postings for a “Development Specialist” required instructional certification (which means they’ll be utilized as a teacher, perhaps as a substitute when necessary…and that’s NOT a best practice when it comes to Development), and the responsibilities which were spelled out seemed to go on forever. It was indeed thorough; however, I would lay dollars do donuts that the salary being offered is significantly lower that what a qualified individual would expect as compensation at other non-profit organizations.
Then how do we “lift up” our schools? (A rather appropriate question for faith-based schools, I might add). The answer: A little at a time. But we have to start – and lifting our schools requires even more than just advancement strategies. First, you must have an “excellent” product – not one that’s just “good,” and not one that’s merely “great.” Parents paying tuition today have high expectations, and expect excellence – not only in academics, but in every element that makes a school a school, in addition to a ministry and a business. If I may be so bold, I’m pretty certain that a parent of one of your school’s students at some point has wondered why the technology isn’t up to date, or it looks as if the ceiling in a certain location requires some repair, and then has commented, “Then what does my tuition go toward?” Parents today will ask this question even if they’re receiving financial aid.
Let’s use one of those Viking ships with five oars on both sides (it’s called a Karve) as a visual. Those elements that define your school as a school are on the left side of the boat, and represent what makes your school a school. They are:
•Faith Identity or Founder’s Heritage
Your school must first be an excellent school before it can be an excellent faith-based school, as EVERYTHING works together! If you can recall MisterRogers from public television, he used to sing, “Everything grows together, because you’re all one piece.” If certain aspects ARMED elements (that is, Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development), the oars on the right side of the boat, which balance out the FACTS elements listed above, are growing more than the other aspects are (for example, more successful development than enrollment), you may have even more difficulties!
Making the system created by left side work with the system created by the right side is systems thinking in action…and systems thinking is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization. Further, all of those oars need to be not only the same size and in the water, but need to be rowing in the same direction, and at the same speed in order to “advance” it through the water.
In his 1990 in his book, “The Fifth Discipline” (available at http://www.amazon.com/Fifth-Discipline-Practice-Learning-Organization/dp/0385517254/), Peter M. Senge made the comment that businesses need to realize they are, or must become, “Learning organizations.” It’s ironic that faith-based schools are indeed learning organizations, but many have difficulty accepting the fact they are also businesses. The book has been in print for 30 years, and offers what administrators need to know to help tuition-charging schools do what they need to do today. If a generation spans 20 years, it’s time for everyone in school administration to read it, since a new generation of administrators is now in leadership from the time the book was published. There’s even a special edition of the text that was authored with educators in mind (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/schools-that-learn-peter-m-senge/1103849849).
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2021