I find that most educators understand the importance of their school’s value proposition. Simply, if families do not see relative value in their school, there is a rapidly increasing array of alternative options they can pursue. Decreasing enrollment demand is a root problem for both public and private schools.
An important and passionate minority of educators struggle with the concept of value. They believe it is a term that commercializes education, that it comes from the business or for-profit world. They believe that there is an intrinsic and immeasurable “value” in the experience of learning, and that talking about increasing “value” is incompatible with the open and democratic nature of schools. They believe that educators should not have to be concerned about increasing “value” that is somehow linked to money or profit of measuring that “this” teacher or class is “better” than “that” one.
I understand their point of view, but there are two important points to value that we ALL need to consider:
First, “value” is just another way of talking about empathy; understanding the wishes, dreams, and desires of those who we serve: our students and their families. A school’s value proposition is the difference between what the school says it will do, and what it actually does, as viewed through the eyes of the customer. We must empathize with our students; to avoid such empathy is the height of Ivory Tower-ism: “We are going to teach you this because we know it is the right thing to teach.” Of course we want our educators to lead the discussion of “what and how we teach”, but not in a vacuum, isolated from the rest of the learning community.
Second, “value” is a very real issue with many schools, and may become a very real issue with nearly all schools in the near future. We can tilt all we want at the windmills of alternative learning options, but they are not going away. Schools die without students, and students are voting with their feet. Are public schools immune from this migration? Absolutely not. Across America (and in some other countries) there are fewer students spread over more learning options, which means some schools are going to prosper and others are going to wither and die. Most educators understand this. Those that do not, who feel that they signed up for a lifetime of teaching or operating pretty much the way they always have, and their teachers before them, are either already becoming uncomfortable or will be soon.
While schools provide a wide range of “value-able” services, none is more critical to the customer than what happens in the classroom. Therefore, every teacher is a source of value…or not. This is not crass commercialism. It is reality. It is opportunity. It is growth. Embrace it. As I referenced in my last post via Seth Godin, people find value in everything a buffet has to offer, even the mashed potatoes, and that is a good thing.