Schools vs Higher Ed: work, life, and professional choices

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I left higher ed to work for independent schools, and it’s been a great choice for me. It wasn’t part of my “plan” in terms of mapping out my career and goals, it was just the right thing for me to do at the right time. People often ask me about my experiences regarding the transition; here are a few of my quick observations.

1) Shallow hierarchy

I have more direct access to the head of school than I ever did to the university president, or even the VP of my department. This has several positive outcomes, not the least of which is feeling involved in higher levels of decision making.

2) Nimble work environment

There are fewer hoops to jump though, less bureaucracy. If we come up with a great idea, we can test and implement it quickly – not wait weeks, or even months.

3) Student matters

We’re working with children under 18, which is different than working with adult university students and alumni. This means more concerns around privacy and protection. It also means working with parents quite a bit. You end up building relationships with both students and parents, which is great! This type of cross-level interaction is much more rare in a university environment.

4) Fewer internal moves…

Moving up within an independent school is more difficult than within a major university: there simply aren’t as many places you can “go.” There aren’t departments and divisions to hop between – you can’t move from a communications position within the business school to one in the med school, for example.

5) …but lots of room to grow

Many independent schools, especially international schools, are growing their advancement and communications efforts. It’s a great time to be working in this field.

Have you made the move from HE to schools? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by Flickr user Carl Wycoff

Back to School(s): Learning and Legacy at the CASE Europe Annual Conference

It was an honor to be asked by CASE Europe‘s Executive Director Kate Hunter to help shape the 2013 CASE Annual Conference in Manchester. Andrew Beales, foundation director at Giggleswick School in North Yorkshire, and I were tasked with planning the conference’s schools track to include sessions tailored to delegates from international and independent schools.

What We Heard Prior to the Conference
These are the things we hear over and over from colleagues working in advancement at independent and international schools—small team, one (wo)man band, starting from next to nothing, building a program and small budgets. Passionate staff members often ask how they can do more, have impact and maintain reasonable expectations from their governing bodies and headmasters. So we decided to seek out speakers who have addressed these challenges, have done the research and who are passionate practitioners themselves.

The Takeaways
During the course of two days, delegates walked away with concepts and ideas spanning the granular to the strategic.

  • It’s all about the long game. Building a culture of giving in your school is a long-term prospect.—Headmaster Peter Hamilton, and Peter Spence, director of external relations, from Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, during “Lessons Learnt: Adapting American Advancement to European Schools and Colleges.”
  • Customize content. International alumni are all individuals with different needs and interests, not just a big group of people who happen to live abroad.—Liz Allen, director of online communications and alumni relations at The American School in London, during “A Global Perspective: International Alumni Communications and Engagement.”
  • Climb the ladder is key when strategizing alumni engagement. Move alumni up the ladder through communications, events and volunteering.—Alison Gardner, head of development and alumni relations at Sheffield High School, during “Alumni Relations in Schools – Building the Foundations.”
  • Manage expectations with a business plan. Be strategic and what you can and cannot do with your time and resources.—Clive Watkins, director of advancement at the International School of Prague, during “Doing More with Less: the Secrets of Effective (but small) Advancement Offices.”
  • Be a visible part of your community. Work with students, coach a sport, teach.—Simon Jones, director of development at Manchester Grammar School, during “Using Organisational Culture to Your Advantage: An Insight into Manchester Grammar School’s Bursary Campaign.”
  • Giving is an expression of humanity. We must create a real and lasting culture of philanthropy in our society.—John Nickson, philanthropist and author, during “Why Does Giving Matter?”

What We Learned
There were numerous “track jumpers”—delegates from universities who left their tracks to take part in the schools sessions. We even had delegates from universities at the schools-only closing reception! This “cross-tracking” was one of the highest compliments we could have received. It also proves an important point—regardless of our institutional affinities (schools, universities, colleges), many of us are struggling with the same issues and the conference provided the opportunity to learn from all types of institutions.

This piece is cross-posted on the CASE Blog.

Rest of World

“Rest of World” is the term we use around the office when sorting mail for direct mail appeals. There’s local mail (UK), mail to continental Europe (a different postage charge, but not quite as much as an international rate) and then “rest of world”—the mail going out to every other country outside of those described above: the US, Singapore, Brazil, India and so on.

While these categories might work for sorting out postage, they don’t work when developing a strategy for international alumni. Lumping graduates who live overseas into one big group overlooks their needs as individuals. An alumnus living and working in Berlin may have next to nothing in common with an alumna in Beijing. Different languages, time zones, professional goals and communications channels all play a role in effective engagement.

As John Arboleda stated in “Find the Right Fit,” his article in Currents, “…institutions adopt a one-size-fits-all strategy for engaging international alumni… your alumni relations strategy should reflect the needs and realities of graduates who live in different countries and often experience different cultures and dynamics.”

While John is applying these principles to alumni events, programs and services on the whole, they also apply to social media strategy for international engagement.

Tailoring content for international audiences is key. For example, as explained in William Foreman, University of Michigan’s global communications manager, “‘we learned that if our content wasn’t in perfect Chinese, then people wouldn’t want to read it,'” Foreman says. “‘Getting the language right is so important if you want to be credible.'” Currents, The China Connection” by Becca Ramspott.

And on Lund University’s international recruitment Facebook page, all questions are asked and answered in English – not Swedish – to reach the largest possible international audience. There’s also a human touch: the page’s administrators, Megan Grindlay and Maria Lindblad, individually respond to each question posted on the wall and sign it with their name and title.

While “rest of world” might be easy in terms of categorization, it isn’t an effective engagement strategy. Care and attention to cultural details will go a long way toward effectively communicating with international audiences.

This piece is cross-posted on the CASE Blog.

The Privacy Pyramid

Which parts of your website should be password protected? What belongs behind the login?

Chances are, members of your school community have an opinion: staff, faculty, alumni, parents and even students. There are legal considerations, too, depending on the country you live in and the age(s) of the students you work with. Somewhere between the legal guidelines, security, school policies and personal preference lies the squishy compromise that allows content stewards to determine what can be available to anyone in the general public to see, and what’s protected with a password for internal viewing only.

privacy pyramid

This graphic is meant to help give you a way to think about the different levels of privacy. Note that this is an inverted pyramid: private content is in the smallest piece of the pyramid, public content in the largest. The most controversial piece is the middle section – to be determined by your community, your security team, your Head of School.

privacy pyramid explained

Examples of the types of content in these categories are above. Private content will usually include family contact information: phone numbers, post and email addresses. The potentially sensitive content section can contain several options, all to be determined by your stakeholders. A few notes:

Faculty directory: this can include all sorts of details, such as photos, email addresses, phone numbers and even short bios. My take? The more information you can share publicly about your fantastic teachers, the better. It also helps the faculty members to increase their professional digital footprint.

Student surnames: do you name students on your website? First and last names? Class year? Do you name students in photos? Whatever you decide, be sure to be clear about your policies with parents. At the beginning of the school year as part of the re-enrollment process, have all families sign consent forms acknowledging acceptance of the policy.

Calendars: sharing generic details (“Band trip to Zurich” and “field trip”) is not the same as publishing exact itineraries and travel documents. Err on the side of vague if there is a concern. Also be aware of what other schools publish about your school. Take athletics, for example: if the opposing teams post their schedules publicly, your school’s schedules are as good as public too.

Photos/videos: Do you post photos of kids at all? This can be one of the most controversial discussions/decisions for your school. Always consider the legal ramifications for your particular country and age group. However, there are obvious benefits to showing student photos, including showing what the school community is really like, and how students engage with faculty and one another in your school’s learning environment.

While it is important to have buy-in from your constituents, privacy issues can’t be “design by committee.” Your highest level of administration (principals, head of communications, security team, advancement) should support the decisions on these items and move forward with policies.

Flexing Your Faculty: Teacher Blogs

I’ve previously written about the valuable role students can play in generating content for social spaces. Student-generated content is a great way to communicate the culture of your school, straight from kids who experience it every day. But you might not realize that there is another source for content creation right under your nose—the faculty.

Faculty bloggers are a great way to round out your school’s story online. You can show off your outstanding teachers to several different audiences. Potential families and potential employees are both curious about what life is like on campus. Although student recruitment is a major part of outreach, staff turnover rates in international independent schools range from 10 percent to as high as 60 percent. This makes staff and faculty recruitment a big part of school marketing.

Making the Case

Faculty are already busy—they’re teaching, after all—so asking teachers to blog on top of their regular duties might be a hard sell. There are ways to make the case, however. Teachers already regularly communicate with parents in a variety of ways. Think about how some of that information can be turned into blog posts—for example, photos from a field trip, quick video clips from presentations or class reading for the week. If the class is using technology or other tools in the classroom, all the better. Initiatives like 1:1 programs (one laptop for each student) are also great fodder for blogs.

Another way to make the case is to appeal to a teacher’s professional goals and career arc. Blogs can be a great way to create and maintain personal brand. As previously mentioned, it’s not uncommon for international school teachers to change schools. Some migrate to new schools every two to three years and having a digital record of classrooms and activities can be a great way to show course progression, teaching styles and interest to potential employers.

Privacy Concerns

As always, protecting students and families is critical. Faculty should adhere to the same data protection and privacy policies used for all school publications. I am personally a big proponent of having the majority of content publicly available, but keeping kids safe is of the utmost importance.

Finders, Keepers

Your teachers might be creating the greatest blog content ever written, but if it isn’t easy to find, they might as well not bother. Make faculty blogs easy to find for all of your audiences: potential families, current families, potential employees and the teaching and learning community at large. Consider creating a page on your website that lists all faculty blogs and make it easy for users to navigate between them.

Final thoughts: Blogs aren’t the only way to share faculty-generated content. Microblogs like Twitter, photo sharing sites like Flickr or the many social bookmarking sites are also options. It’s up to you, the school and your faculty to figure out what works best.

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