Just before Thanksgiving, we launched the Schools of Consequence series on this blog site. As a refresher, a School of Consequence is a school or college that has a transformational quality on the context of their environment. From our experience, they are a small segment of independent schools and colleges that seem to thrive in doing meaningful work within the context of their environment. Over the next several weeks, we will be outlining the core characteristics of Schools of Consequence. Today, we identify the first characteristic of these schools.
Characteristic One - Externally Oriented
Simply stated, Schools of Consequence are externally oriented. While they offer great programs and services to their students and parents and are focused on the consumer, they are equally as adept at understanding the issues that are relevant to their community. They are consistent demographers and trend watchers, reading the tea leaves of the external environment to identify shifts, inflection points, and opportunities to collaborate on solutions.
In our experience with independent schools and colleges, most organizations tend to be isolationists in their position within their community. They tend to withdraw and provide a buffered culture from the balance of their marketplace. Some of this is for obvious reasons, such as safety or security issues for their students. However, one drawback of this position is that it creates a internal culture of organizational self-absorption, leading to disconnect from the external community. Schools of Consequence are non-stop environmental scanners, looking out on the horizon and watching for trends and opportunities to contribute or collaborate. They are always seeking ways in which they can draw real challenges and issues from the external environment into their classrooms, moving from theory to practice. And, they are strong collaborators, always seeking to engage leaders from the community into the work of their organization.
Why is an external orientation important? It is from this orientation that these schools and colleges create real relevance to their environment. They insert themselves into the issues that surround their culture and community, creating a position of strength from their relevance and engagement. And, the end result is often that they are seen as an indispensable contributor and player in their marketplace. Interestingly, this relevance tends to drive demand, and our experience tells us that there is a direct relationship between cultural relevance and enrollment sustainability.
There are no "Ivory Towers" among Schools of Consequence. They are dialed into the culture around them and understand the unique opportunities and challenges of their marketplace. And, they are collaborators on the solutions, bringing theory and practice to bear as a resource to the community. They believe their human capital as something from which the entire community will benefit.
The first emerging characteristic of a School of Consequence is an external orientation. It is among five core characteristics that we believe set these schools apart from all of the others. We will outline the balance of these characteristics over the next several weeks during the holiday season.