Last week, it was suggested that change must be planned. But change can take three directions (there are always at least three  involved, isn’t there?).

Change can go smoothly, as planned. That’s the best we can hope for. But usually, there are two other things that happen, even after careful planning.

The first is that we decide not to change, and shelf the whole project. Hopefully, it’s only for a short time, or until a better idea and subsequent plan comes along. For those that don’t want to change – at all – I would invite you to visit this link and read the article “Change or Die” from the May 2005 edition of Fast Company Magazine.

The other is that the change that you have planned and implemented begets more change – and usually, it’s unplanned change. That’s the reason that most people fear change. It may be easy to make one little change – but that small change to the left side of the spectrum may result a disproportionately large change at the right side of the spectrum.

Sometimes, that’s the intention – for instance, expand distribution of school brochures from the narthexes of your sending parishes to include doctor’s offices, gyms, beauty salons, supermarkets, Realtor offices and hair/nail salons, and you may see inquiries to your school increase.

But the unintended consequence may be that school’s office receives so many phone calls that the secretary can’t keep up with the amount of calls and the amount of information that must be mailed to prospective families increases, causing an increase in the amount of printing, paper, postage and workload.  Websites, email and social media are used today to avoid the piles of paper, but Websites need to be updated DAILY, emails are expected to be answered IMMEDIATELY, and social media is now what creates the brand identity of your school.  Therefore, you are not who you say your school is, but it is what others say about it.

And that has its roots in sacred Scripture when Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?”

If we are not satisfied with the results we are seeing from traditional practices, then change must happen. Change, in fact, is the whole point of marketing. Marketing’s goal is to get the person we’ve reached to begin to think differently, change their thought patterns, and be open to new ideas. Constant repetition of the message is the way today’s advertisers do it. Remember that education’s goal is exactly the same – to get the learner to think differently, change their thought patterns and be open to new ideas. This must first occur in order for learning to take place.

Moreover, it’s been thought that the best way to make this change happen is by spaced repetition. However, with the increase of messages from the media and the new types of media which invades our lives every day, we become immune to the same message being repeated over and over again. The message must become “disruptive,” causing some cognitive dissonance. From a “marketing for enrollment” perspective, you must cause personally affective dissonance for your targeted parents. In non-technical language, that means you must make parents feel discontentment relative to their current mindset.

For example, if there are children in your Pre-school program who are just there for Pre-school and whose parents will be enrolling them in the local public school for Kindergarten, the usual approach is to say, “But here are the benefits of staying here – a caring community, excellent academics and a faith-based approach to all we do.” Unfortunately, if the parent “knows” all that, and is making the decision to go to the local public school because “their friends are parents there” or because “there’s no tuition,” the logical argument fails. After all, there may be excellent academics at the local public school, and a caring community of parents that exist there. Instead, ask the parent how they “feel” about enrolling a child in a school that discourages the expression of their faith. Of course, you must know this is happening. The public elementary school my kids attended after we moved (when we were told there was no room for them at the local Catholic school) held a Thanksgiving program where the 5th graders sang, “We Gather Together.” It presented Thanksgiving in a historical context, but they didn’t leave out the fact that it was Thanksgiving to God for the blessings they’d been given. Therefore, your research is important, as it is with any competitive situation.

Remember that Marketing and Enrollment are two separate processes, which is why the monthly Enrollment Essentials articles created for this site.  Marketing’s target audience is made up of those parents that have no current intention of enrolling their children in your school; Enrollment’s target audience is made up of those parents who have expressed an interest in your school through your Marketing efforts.

With that in mind, let’s consider what you say about your Catholic or Christian school. You may have to examine what you think you’re all about as a Catholic or Christian school.

For instance, is academic excellence the result of the caring community and focus on Gospel values found within it? Or is the result something more, with academic excellence just a part of the equation? Does small class size play a part in it?

These are exemplars of the hard questions that must be considered. Hopefully, it’s a system, where academic excellence, a caring community, small class size and faith-based values all impact one another, with three of them producing the remaining one as an emergent property. What’s interesting is that no matter which three you choose, the remaining one can indeed be considered to be an emergent property of the other three!

Indeed, change is difficult – but the alternative is worse.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2023 (Original Publication Date: 20080811)