Wednesday, November 04, 2009

And a third letter of interest wings its way across the Internet

For anyone lurking about and wondering what the status of my search is, I now have three active letters of interest out "there." There's Little School on the Prairie (head of school), Saint Swithins on the Mountaintop (academic dean), and Saint Swithins Under One Roof (assistant head). I'm hopeful, but realistic.

Meanwhile, things in my current professional life are keeping me busy. I'm working on certification as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt which, in the performance improvement world, is a pretty big deal. And, of course, I'm slugging away on the dissertation. I need to make some big moves over the next eight weeks with both of these inititiatives. More to follow...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Autumn reflection: Two active applications

I have just clicked send, and my second letter of interest is zooming its way across the fibers of the Internet, destined to land in an inbox and not, we hope, the trash can. In keeping with my new focus, realistic or not, this was for an assistant head role.

I've been struggling with how to open a letter of interest. The "I write today to express my interest in being considered as the Head of School at St. Swithin's School" just doesn't seem to catch me. When I was a young, perspective English teacher, I wrote something like, "A mentor of mine once told me that begining English teachers were worth a dime a dozen. If that's the case, I'm worth a little under a penny."

One thing I've learned over the years is that I only need to reach the person who I really want to work for. In that particular case, I sent out some 200 letters and landed a couple of interviews. And one offer. The head of the school, Wally Stettler, liked my letter. Having attended a small boarding school where the head did everything, I didn't realize that wasn't the norm. Dr. Stettler received my letter and passed it to the dean of the upper school, Carmen Marnell, who later told me that if he'd received the letter I never would have been invited to campus for an interview. Guess I sent it to the right person, and I guess it struck the right chord.

Here's what I churned out today, wordy and verbose (like I needed to say both...):
Having been out of the independent school business for fifteen years, I’ve been accused of embodying an oft-repeated quote from Isabel Waxman: “It is indeed ironic that we spend our school days yearning to graduate and our remaining days waxing nostalgic about our school days.” I like to think, however, that what draws me back to independent boarding schools is more Albert Einstein. He noted, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school.” I’ve seen the power of boarding schools, where education happens not just in the classrooms, but on the playing fields and dormitory corridors, in the dining hall and faculty homes, in the art and dance studios, and on, and behind, stage. I’m called to return.
Jim Collins, in Good to Great, says that one of the key tasks for a leader is to get the right people on the bus and then to get them in the right seats. I'd say that one of the tasks of the prospective employee is to make certain they're getting on the right bus. It's that job hunt dance, and something those of us seeking positions sometimes forget: Some times, as good as it looks, it's not the right match. The bus is the wrong bus.

The cover letter is, frankly, the first chance we get to check to see if the organization's bus is really what we're looking for. In my case, if the head of school (or, for the one other position I've applied for, the members of the search committee) doesn't like my letter, I'd say there's a good chance he's not on the bus I want to be on. If my words don't resonate, so be it.

And, gentle reader, what do you say?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's September, so it must be time for me to re-rack my school search

I have over the last several months continued to muse and meditate on my call to return to an independent school. Is it really what I want? Be careful what you ask for. What skills do I truly bring to the table? Where can I really add value to a school community?

One thing I've settled on is that seeking a straight faculty job is probably not wise; I'll continue to come up empty. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but age and family situation top the list. Age and family bring a host of considerations: housing, salaries, benefits (such as tuition). I'm starting to look mighty expensive for a classroom teacher, particularly when teachers just out of school or with, even, six to ten years of experience can be had for much less cost to the school.

Clearly, from just the practical standpoint, serving as a classroom teacher looks more and more less likely.

Couple this with a review of my professional experience, teaching experience, and education, and it appears obvious: I'm more suited to a head of school or associate head role, even with a dearth of recent school experience.

Recently, I was sussing out the Small Business Administration's SCORE capabilities for a friend who owns a small bakery and cafe. As I was looking at a list of SCORE counselors, all retired business owners who now serve as consultants through the SCORE program, I found a local counselor who is the former head of a small, independent school. I wrote him, and here's his reply:
I retired in 19XX from the [-------] School in [-------] City; I still keep in contact, but I really have no idea of the job market.

In looking at your cv I would say it looks attractive but if I were on a search committee I would be more interested in the references - especially the Wyoming Seminary and the Walnut Hill School - both places I knew about during the late 70's through early 90's - but I would surely want to have a way to contact those (or other references). The military references, although more current, would be of little interest.

In going to a small school I would want to see some experience or interest in financial management - especially fund accounting as used by non profit corporations (501 c 3), and certainly some experience or interest in fund raising - projects (auctions, magazine sales, etc.) and soliciting funds through gifts - especially the Annual Fund. as a head you will have a part to play in that less attractive activity.

I didn't notice you personal statistics - age, marriage?, and other things that a hiring agent cannot ask but will help (or hinder) your application - if you go to a Christian school you probably won't be hired if you are an atheist - but no one can ask you that on an application.
What are your thoughts? Am I on the righ track? Certainly, I can teach, but would I bring better value to a school as a senior leader? Is my lack of recent school experience a huge hindrance? Is the SCORE counselor right and a dearth of financial experience the kiss of death for a head of school search?

If you follow me in my @School2CallHome persona, you know that the Little School on the Prairie is looking for a head of school; my letter's in, but I've yet to hear anything. Too soon.


The picture with this post is by David Morris who posts at flickr as iowa_spirit_walker; the picture is used here with his kind permission and under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How would you tackle using new/social media for a school?

I've been spending a huge hunk of time recently just mulling over the notion of a web writer at an independent, secondary, boarding school. My wife says I get like this: fixated on the very remote when it comes to new employment. Perhaps, but it gives me a chance to think big ideas.

To review, here's the job description for a web writer at a school in Massachusetts. This is a full-time staff opening (and one that I've applied for):
The School, an independent co-educational boarding school in the folds of the Connecticut River valley, seeks a versatile, innovative, and prolific wordsmith with an appreciation for institutional strategy and priorities to develop crisp, lively, and targeted copy and other content for the school’s website and other electronic communications. Flexibility is key to success in this position, which will also include some media-relations work and special projects, as assigned.

The successful candidate will have knowledge and facility with and writing for social media and the web; experience with web-based content management and web applications for marketing and communications purposes; demonstrated talent and skill in writing; a basic understanding of media relations; copyediting skills; proven organizational and communication skills; and excellent interpersonal skills. Experience in a school or higher education environment a plus. Additional qualifications include the ability to work collaboratively with a team, as well as being a self-starter capable of working independently. Candidates should be familiar with boarding school life and have a demonstrated interest in making a positive impact on the lives of adolescents.
For someone who has a passion for boarding schools and social media, this reads like the ideal job. I know, because I have a passion for boarding schools and social media, and it does read like the ideal job.

So, what would I do if I were the new web writer?

Well, first, the school is using three primary social media applications, with a fourth tool in the works. They're using Twitter, Facebook, and flickr; YouTube is in the works. As an outside social media pundit has said, their journey thus far has been social media done right. I agree. What I'd do is simple: build on the school's successes in a strategic and systematic manner.

Josh Bernoff notes that when organizations enter the social media realm, they don't really know their objectives. To address strategic threats and capabilities, one needs a strategic planning process, and Mr. Bernoff provides in The POST Method: A systematic approach to social strategy.
  • People
  • Objectives
  • Strategies
  • Technology
A good, basic model. I'd use this in conjunction with Prosci's change management model and link to the school's overall strategic objectives and associated goals. Chris Brogan had a recent post with guidance on strategic blogging that fits nicely with the POST model. See his Strategic Blogging and Some Tactics to Nail It

Over at Web Worker Daily, Meryl Evans has some suggestions on Ways to Avoid Overwhelming Your Followers’ Twitter Stream. I like his fifth suggestion, one I use (having thought I was unique):
Schedule tweets: Typically, I don’t recommend automating anything in Twitter as it will likely lower your rep. However, if you’re like me and only check Twitter a couple of times a day, then you may want to spread out your tweets, replies, etc., using an automated service. This avoids cluttering a person’s stream with bursts of tweets.
Indeed. Having said that, there is something for consistency. In building a brand, it's work; it's presence. Chris Brogan tells us there are 19 Presence Management Chores You COULD Do Every Day. Chris lays out tasks to be completed on various platforms/applications. He specifically mentions:
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Blogs
I'm not sure about the value of LinkedIn for a non-profit organization, although perhaps it would be good for alumni and be more professionally oriented. I am encouraged by Mr. Brogan's inclusion of blogs. I think blogs are missed opportunity for this school along the shores of the Connecticut River. Some people would suggest that blogs are well past their prime. I don't buy it. Blogs are still an excellent way to post current pieces, generally longer than 140 characters. Ideally, each of the senior staff at the school would have a blog to which they posted at least weekly.

Another issue to consider along with creating objectives and goals for the social media effort is creating measures to track as indicators of completing the goals and attaining the objectives. These might be considered ROI measures, perhaps, in the model of Jack Phillips. Ideally, these would follow from the goals and objectives; generally measures don't come first. Having said that, I can imagine metrics of various flavors including:
  • Activity measures such as number of tweets or posts or the numbers of followers.
  • Survey to incoming students in 2010 to see if they used any of the social media tools with the school and what the benefit was.
  • Surveys to other stakeholders.
  • Number of initial admissions queries generated through social media.
  • Increase in annual fund giving.
In essence, a full-blown program evaluation (and I might know a little something about program evaluation).

In short, then, what is my counsel? Aside from hiring me, it is this: be deliberate and strategic in building and deploying a full social media initiative, ensuring it is fully tied in with the larger enterprise and various internal stakeholders and their programs (admissions, development, academics, dean of students, etc.).

For schools just starting out and not committing a full FTE to the iniative, I'd suggest splitting the load between several key staffers. Still need to do the planning. Still need to link to the larger organization.  But, instead of a single person responsible, split the duties, perhaps by tool. One person takes Twitter, another takes Facebook, and so on.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Falling off the Net for the next month

Even thought I'm excited about the possibility of the social media job at @nmhschool, I'm dropping offline for the month of July. I know, there's a bit of irony there. I have two tasks on which I want to focus: finishing the first floor renovations (so we can get back to some semblance of order) and making substantial progress on the dissertation (so I can remove the ABD label and be done with it). I am buying back the time social media has been eating from my days and nights.

See you in a month... and let's hope @nmhschool calls to set up an interview. I have the third week of this month all ready for a sprint to northern New England.

So, now, until the start of August, peace to you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A frog (and a) prince to save the rain forests

Nothing to do with the topic of this blog... more important, actually...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Back in the Classroom

I'm back in the classroom, teaching, although I'm not teaching at an independent school. I'm teaching as an adjunct at National Graduate School, a degree-granting institution with a focus on quality systems management. I'm teaching the first class of their master's program, and it's a weekend class. Four hours Friday after work and then all day Saturday, twice. So, different in many ways, but still familiar.

I don't know how other instructors teach the class; the school provides a set of powerpoints for each module, and I know there are faculty members who go through the ppt, slide by slide, with the class. I can't imagine.

So I did what's natural: discussions and group work. I can't imagine that in working with adult learners, learners who need more than lecture.