Tuesday, May 27, 2014

An agent of darkness

My wife and I have home educated our four kids since our oldest started kindergarten over 14 years ago. She is now in college and doing a summer internship in Israel before studying in Switzerland this next academic year. Our youngest is starting Kindergarten this fall. We say home "educated" instead of homeschool (or home school) for a reason. For us school is four walls, desks, blackboard (or whiteboard now), and too much rote memorization. We do not believe that public schools are evil, and that there are many teachers doing great work in educating the next generation. For us, educating our kids at home was a personal choice, not a mandate or flight from something else.

It was just over 10 years ago that I spent much of my time traversing the country and unveiling a new concept of home education known as virtual schools. There are stories worth sharing from each state I traveled -- from the questionable hotels before I started booking my own lodging to the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, and from sea to shining sea as the song goes.

I spent winters in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and summers in Florida and California, which seems to be the wrong timing I know. It wasn't my plan, that's for sure.

One of my fondest memories was just outside of Columbus, Ohio where I garnered my first nickname, the "agent of darkness."

It came after I gave a presentation to a packed room of families interested in learning more about the Ohio Virtual Academy, during its infancy. And it occurred during the Q and A time at the end.

He was a nice guy, yet when he posed his lengthy question (which was really more of a monologue as I recall), he framed it with the comment that "you come into our state as an agent of darkness, spreading all of these lies, and you know nothing about homeschool."

It wasn't easy standing there allowing him to "ask" his question, and he must have ignored my first part of the presentation where I covered the fact that my wife and I were home educating our own family. What I did find myself doing though was recalling something the great sales trainer Zig Ziglar had said a few years prior that related to situations like this.

Zig was at a conference, speaking with a fellow presenter who asked him, "Zig, what do you do about the man in the front row who is falling asleep while you are talking? What can you say that will convince him to pay attention to you?"

Zig, in his famous drawl answered, "Remember, you are not here for that man who is sleeping on the front row. You are here for the person next to him who is giving you their full attention. That is who you are speaking to, so talk to them."

I did the same thing that evening just outside of Columbus once the gentleman finished posing his question. I acknowledged his question, shared that the school was probably not for his family, and then answered his question for the rest of the room (at least for those who were there to listen), understanding that I was there for the other families and not for him.

Too many times we spend all of our time and energy trying to convince a prospect to listen to us when clearly they are uninterested, or even antagonistic at times. Sometimes you can't get away from them, however, you don't have to engage them.

Spend your time and energy finding those prospects who want to hear what you have to say, then share your information. Sharing is much more effective than convincing, even though both are considered activities.

And, thanks Zig, for all you did while on Earth.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Does it pay to go to college?

It appears to if you are a college president, and especially if you are a football coach.

Nine Public College Presidents Earn Over $1 Million

College Football Coaches' Salaries

At the same time many argue that the value of a college degree continues to decline.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Givers and takers

Do your company policies talk more about what you can't do for your customers, or what you can do?

Do you seek out ways to delight your customers, or monetize your services?

We all know of companies who are takers. They charge a fee for everything, they set up obstacles to ensure they do not have to interact with you, and their policies are in place to protect themselves.

We also know the companies who are givers. They are the ones that treat us in such a way that we willingly spend more with them.


Friday, May 9, 2014

The dance of the investment call.

I spend part of my time listening to investment calls and pouring over call transcripts to glean information, tidbits, insight, and overall direction as it relates primarily to education providers, virtual school providers, and eLearning providers.

What amazes me is the almost choreographed dance that occurs between company representatives and investment firms on the calls I listen to. The surface-level harmony that exists between the statements, questions and answers causes me to question the purpose behind the calls, other than a simple formality.

I wonder if investors would be better served if the calls were more like investigative journalism instead of public relations positioning?


Monday, May 5, 2014

STEM and Leonardo da Vinci

While I understand the motives behind the push for greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in school, I wonder if it means we may push aside those who have the potential to create the next Mona Lisa?

By raising the importance of STEM, what are we telling the artists, the creatives, the writers?

And now we not only have STEM, we also have eSTEM, STEAM (applied math), and MINT (math, information sciences, natural sciences, and technology).

What if we focused instead on the acronym CHILD, as in individual student? Perhaps we would learn quickly it is not an acronym after all, and each one is unique -- some are artists, some are scientists, some are business-minded, some are writers, some are engineers.

"Leonardo, what are you doing?"

"It is a sketch of a painting I want to work on."

"Painting? No, no, no, Leonardo. Put that away and get to work on your math. There will be no more drawing in my class."


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Comments from Management

A technology-based education company and leading provider of proprietor of curriculum recently posted their quarterly earnings, and conducted their quarterly investor call. As part of the release, the company issued the highlights for the quarter. Within those highlights was the section titled "Comments from Management."

"Improving academic outcomes remains our number one priority," said the CEO of the company. "To support this goal, we will continue to invest in new content, systems and tools for our students and teachers while driving further enhancements across the schools we serve."

Their schools across the country are struggling to meet AYP targets, and they recently released new AP test prep apps. AP tests are not part of AYP requirements. So, new content is not the answer.

New systems and tools might be helpful but they are not the solutions either. If they were, the existing systems and tools should suffice.

Perhaps the company would do well to align their stated number one priority with the solutions that could make a real difference. Until they do, academic performance will remain a pain point, and the next quarterly report will sound much like this one.