I had the privilege of going fly fishing this week with a couple of friends. Bob Collins, Head of School at Shannon Forest Christian School (Greenville, SC), served as our fearless leader. An avid fly fisherman, Bob took Rich and me way out in the mountains along the border of Georgia and South Carolina to a place that few dare travel. We enjoyed beautiful scenery, catching some nice rainbow and brown trout, and great fellowship. From this experience I also found some lessons that apply to school leaders.
What Goes Down Must Come Up
After riding along a few miles down a bumpy dirt road with the sun just above the treeline, we suited up in our waders, boots, and gear. Bob gave us directions in case of an emergency, then led us down the path toward the river, which we could hear in the valley below. It only took a few hundred yards along the steep trail to realize that the journey back to the truck in the afternoon was going to be a very difficult one--straight up that mountain. Getting to the river was easy--getting out was a thought I dreaded all day!
Similarly, school leaders have to consider the path they choose for their program, understanding the full scope of the commitment. Adding a new sports team, choosing an accrediation agency, or hiring a new school leader are only a few examples of decisions that can require a difficult journey. Preparation and expertise can help you in choosing the best options, but you still have to muster the energy and fortitude to persevere through the obstacles. Getting to the top of the mountain is not for the faint of heart.
The Right Tools Make a Difference
Having the right equipment is important for fly fishing. Fortunately both of my friends are passionate about this sport and came prepared with the rods, waders, boots, vests, flies, line, pliers, clippers, nets, etc., etc. Fly fishing requires dedication!
The tools required to run a school over the next decade will be quite different than what was used for the previous 100 years. Learning Management System. Common Core. Blended Learning. Year-Round School. Flipped Classroom. Blended Assessment. Educational Tourism. The skills and methods to grow and manage a school will require school leaders to rethink every part of the school program. The U.S. is in the midst of the first revolution in education since desegregation, and the possiblities are optimistic for all levels of schools--K-College.
Cast Where the Fish Are
The best casting technique in the world won't attract fish that aren't there. We waded up the river casting as we went in what looked like places where the trout might hang out. Balancing against the rapid current in those waders and boots required energy and focus. Bob coached me on various techniques but I never did catch fish like these guys could. They knew just where to put their bait and make it look tasty for the fish.
School marketing is similar--know what you're fishing for and what is most attractive to those parents and students. What makes a school uniquely valuable in your area today has mostly likely changed over the last few years. Watch the patterns of other businesses in your area and learn from their messages and design. Look beyond traditional marketing methods to considered relationship-oriented strategies that allow a gradual commitment. Consider options in your master schedule and curriculum offerings that would expand your enrollment.
Never, Ever, Ever Give Up
Just as I anticipated, the trek back up the mountain to the truck was agonizing! Those thick neoprene waders that so nicely kept me warm in the cold river heated up quickly in the steep climb up the trail. I had to stop several times to catch my breath, sitting down at a couple of points to let my legs rest. Bob was too far ahead to hear me grumbling about choosing such a place to fish. After reaching the top I gladly peeled the waders off and enjoyed a long rest to allow my legs a little time to recuperate. Even though I'm still sore a few days later, I would definitely do it again and look forward to our next fishing trip together.
Working with a school requires dedication. It's a hard job leading a school, mainly because the majority of the decisions that have to be made have such heavy emotional consequences associated with them. Stay focused on the goal. Build a team of encouragers around you. Take the time to rest and recuperate. Remember that you have the chance to change lives and inspire greatness.