This last system was an interesting one to find.  As I’ve said in my “3 leads to 4 leads to 5” theory, the 3 elements of the system are easy to find, and the fourth is somehow related to all three.  Last week’s article showed that TEACH, the 4th system, makes the school a learning institution, since all constituents that are connected to it are educated by it.  Learning takes place in the school, so that learners can be SIGNS to the world, and educating alumni, businesses and community members about the achievements and successes of the school, continuing to deepen the engagement relationship between the school and these constituent groups, is grounded in education.  After all, marketing is education, and marketing ties all the other elements of Advancement together.

TEACH can also be considered “the starting point” if you need a linear reference.  You may have read Simon Sinek’s book, “Start With Why.”  His contention is that we start from the wrong perspective.  We like to start with “What” because it speaks to the mission of our institution, and then we get stuck at “How” we’re going to accomplish the mission.  Philosophically, we would think that it’s through TEACH, but TEACH speaks to “Who” and not “How” (same letters; different question).  “How” is actually answered by the ARMED Framework as a system – and if schools are missing one or more of the elements of the ARMED system, then it’s no wonder why schools continue to struggle, shrink, merge, shrink again, then close.  Starting with “Why” should energize the mission.  It’s what makes the mission meaningful.  Starting with “Why” moves us through “How” to achieve the “What” we’re called to do.

However, it’s been my long-held contention that “Who” precedes “Why.”  Think of a parent who disagrees with a decision made by the school.  They may ask for a meeting with you to find out “why” the decision was made.  If they understand, that’s great.  If they don’t, their usual retort is, “Who made that decision?”  Even in management consulting, there’s a technique known as “The Five Whys.”  Usually, when issues arise and are investigated, if “Why” is the response to a statement, after five iterations of that discussion, the root of the problem usually comes down to a decision made by leadership.

Further, “Who” is three-pronged.  It speaks to leadership, customer, and staff.  That is, who is in charge, who is the institution attempting to serve, and who is carrying out the actions of the organization.  When it comes to the customer – that is, your parent community, are you looking to serve those families that can pay tuition (the private school mindset) or those who cannot pay tuition (the mission school mindset)?  Most leaders I speak with say, “BOTH!”  And that’s really the crux of the entire sustainability issue.  Jesus said that no one can serve two masters;  similarly, no company can have two target markets.  Indeed, all are invited, but that doesn’t mean that all will attend – which is another example of the wedding feast Jesus spoke of in Scripture.

To recap the other systems, TEACH refers to “who” makes up the school; FACTS refers to “what” the school does; SIGNS refers to “why” the school exists; and ARMED refers to “how” the school can advance its mission.  The final element has to deal with the school’s vision, referring to “where” the school is going.  Since vision figures prominently in creating the 5th system, I had considered SIGHT to be the acronym, finding 5 elements which comprised the system.  But for faith-based schools, perhaps the acronym shouldn’t be SIGHT, since, as the song states, “We walk by faith, and not by sight.”  Therefore, here are the elements that comprise this system, using the acronym, FAITH:

Formation of Community – The safe and caring community of the school is essential to the school’s continued existence.  While that may be a little difficult to comprehend at first reading and sound a bit redundant, consider those schools which may be a community of students and teachers, such as higher education institutions, but do not have the engaged and active parent community that supports the school by cooking in the cafeteria, volunteering in the office, chaperoning the field trips or making the scenery and props for the school’s musical production.  While community is essential to Retention as described in the ARMED Framework, it’s the “formation” of community that’s important here.  Community doesn’t just happen; it takes specific actions to keep it together.

Action – The school doesn’t just “happen” either.  Education is not passive.  If creative ideas are generated and not acted upon, then they simply remain ideas rather than improvements or innovations.

Integrity – Integrity has been defined as “Doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.”  Others have said it’s “Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.”  It’s trusting and respecting every individual associated with the organization, since, especially in a faith-based school, we are all branches connected to the one vine.

Truth and Trust – A common phrase I’ve seen on bulletin boards in schools remind students to “THINK” before they speak.  THINK are the first letters of the five qualities their words should have. Are they true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind?  Also, recall the words of John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the light.”  Untruths have no place in our schools, which allows the fostering of a community of trust.  Trust has also been added because of the type of trust that’s necessary.  In the words of consultant Patrick Lencioni, it’s “Vulnerability-based trust,” and not “Predictive Trust.”  We must all come to the table with a mindset that has the best of the organization in mind, rather than the individual agendas of what each individual expects will be beneficial for them.  It’s why the board of the school needs to act as a singular unit rather than a group of people with as many agendas as there are individuals.

Hope – It’s not just simply one of the three things that last.  We are a people of hope.  The vision for the school must be a hopeful one as it will then be inspiring to all constituent groups.

The vision is community-oriented.  It’s not just me.  It’s not just you.  It’s all of “us,” together.  Bringing the vision to fruition requires acting as a community with integrity and honesty in a spirit of hopefulness.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2020