How you talk about your “independent curriculum” is as important as how you teach it

July 7, 2016
by Peter Gow, ICG Executive Director
(This post originally appeared in the ICG’s June 2016 newsletter; it has been updated and expanded for this format.)


This is a radical assertion, but it’s more true than we’d like to believe as we go about implementing new practices that seem self-evidently good to us as practitioners. Schools simply must get better at doing this talking.

Our schools’ critics, inside and out, often make the point that schools are still silo-ed to an extent that impedes not only creative interdisciplinary thinking but, even more harmfully, the development of fully collaborative professional cultures among teachers and academic administrators. But many advancement professionals would tell you that even greater gulfs exist between the academic side of schools and the promotional and representational sides. Academics tend to think of communication, marketing, admission, and development professionals as living in a world apart from the classroom, and often the advancement functions are so focused on their own goals that they have neither the time nor the inclination to dig deeply into what the teachers and students are really up to. The academics press on, dribbling out information to the mar-com folks, and the mar-com people are left to try to create rich, vibrant stories with less information and understanding than they really need. And then teachers roll their eyes when a story appears to misrepresent or undersell what’s actually going on.

The issue is more pronounced when a school is in the middle of real strategic change. The faculty may “get it,” and go to work with a will (or not), but the advancement offices then need to tell stories that are even farther beyond from their ken than in more traditional settings. Unless the academic side reaches out to the advancement side, and unless the advancement people truly throw themselves into the work of truly making sense of “innovative practice,” the school’s story will be told only partially and not well. As a result, prospective families and other supporters may not fully appreciate the new and improved benefits the school and its evolving programs have to offer. The institution may suffer–and in the current climate every school must both have a great story to tell and be able to tell it very well if it is to survive and thrive.

When communicating to families, students, prospective community members, and even teachers, being able to articulate and illustrate the through-lines between innovative practice and your school’s mission and established qualities is an essential skill in school sustainability. Summer is a great time to build bridges between the academic world and the domains of advancement, marketing, and communication. Upcoming events like the Association of Independent School Admission Professionals Annual Institute (Fort Worth, July 10–13), Cheney & Company’s annual Aim High Conference (New Haven, July 19–21), and the early fall SSATB Annual Meeting (Baltimore, September 14–17) are great for admission and marketing officers, but they also should also be on the itinerary of academic leaders, who must be as interested in improving communications as in transforming classroom learning. Our friends at InspiredEd School Marketing produce a steady stream of webinars, podcasts, and daily tips, as do the wizards in Oz, the very savvy ImageSeven School Marketing and Communications of Australia. A couple of other folks to follow in this world are Brendan Schneider, Chuck English, and Mike Connor. It’s too late for this year, but the Baker Group’s Crow’s Nest Institute is another important event especially for admission and enrollment management professionals that also features programming on marketing and communication.

And if you need some convincing that how you present the evolving learning experiences at your school is critical to your success, ponder how others in your market are doing the same by reading the SSATB white paper Sizing Up the Competition,” in which the voice and perspicacity of our colleague Jonathan Martin are on full display.

If your school has not already, it needs to make a priority of connecting the exciting academic work that is being done with the offices at the school whose job it is to talk about this work. When these aspects of the school join together and create real synergy, the school wins and the teachers win–and the word gets out to families whose children will also thrive and grow in the school’s creative, forward-thinking educational environment.

The ICG plans to be offering some future programming on this topic, so keep your antennae up.

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