Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Building a retention culture in virtual schools

Retention program: a planned series of future events, items, or performances

A retention program focuses on trying to keep students and families from leaving.

Retention culture: a way of life of a group of people -- the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next

A retention culture offers students and families a place to belong.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"I know, let's pretend to be ourselves." The Mad Hatter

It was a quick line uttered by The Mad Hatter last night and I barely heard it. My family and I spent last night at Mickey's Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. Our oldest kids were off to Neverland, or Space Mountain after the stage shows and fireworks display and my wife and I were touring the property with our youngest watching for Disney characters and treat stands where they passed out candy.

Now, there are several characters I enjoy watching perform while they are on stage, and The Mad Hatter is one of them. So, we paused to listen in and observe as others stood in line for their photo opportunity with Hatter and Alice.

As the group, including the characters, lined up for their photo, that's when I heard The Mad Hatter say, "I know, let's pretend to be ourselves."

I love the play on words. I especially love the deeper meaning behind it.

I also believe they are words of wisdom for virtual schools. In my Virtual School Manifesto one of my Nine Essential Ingredients is Be a Specialist.

On the surface being a specialist means you serve a niche instead of attempting to be all things to everyone. At a deeper level it means virtual schools know who they are, why they exist, who they can best serve, and then carve out a space that is uniquely theirs. It's more than merely differentiating from competitors, It's more than merely positioning and branding. Being a specialist is knowing who you are, owning who you are, and being who you are.

Then the story you share with the world is an authentic one because you are pretending to be yourself instead of someone else.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Virtual schools: Do you know why your parents are leaving?

Do you know what question is most asked of Cast Members at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom?

Where is the nearest restroom? -- Nope.

Where is Mickey Mouse? -- Nope.

What time does the park close? -- Nope.

The question most asked of Magic Kingdom Cast Members is "What time does the 3 o'clock parade start?"

However, the response that Cast Members are trained to give is directed toward the real question being asked. Because, in reality, parents are not asking what time the 3 o'clock parade starts. So, the response is centered on the real question which is -- What time will the parade be where I am now?

Cast Members are trained to answer that question, and they go even further by recommending a great place to be nearby in order to see the parade.

Attrition rates are high and retention rates are low at virtual schools and many of them conduct exit interviews to try and obtain the reasons behind the departure. However, what they fail to comprehend is that there are answers behind the answers given by the families.

If you believe families are leaving your school due to "lack of socialization" then you are focused on the start time of the 3 o'clock parade. If you believe they are leaving because your school is "too rigorous" then you are focused on the start time of the 3 o'clock parade.

Instead there are reasons that go deeper as to why parents are leaving your school. Once you recognize that, then you can begin to comprehend them. Once you comprehend them, then you can understand them. Once you understand them, then and only then will you be able to craft solutions -- solutions that focus on the real issues.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chief Crowfoot, railways, and virtual schools

Born in what is now Alberta, Canada, Crowfoot was made chief of the Big Pipes band of Native Americans in 1865, and one of three head chiefs of the Blackfoot tribe in 1870.

Well-known for his bravery in battle it is his relationship with the Canadian government and their desire to extend the transcontinental railroad that is of primary interest to me. In 1877 Chief Crowfoot persuaded the Blackfoot tribe to sign Treaty Seven with the Canadian government to allow for the connecting of the railways system from British Columbia in the west to the rest of Canada through their lands.

For his part in helping bring the negotiations to pass, Chief Crowfoot received a lifetime pass to travel on the railway. But, he never used it. Instead, he placed it in a small satchel that he carried around his neck and it remained there until he passed away in 1890. While he was given the opportunity to take advantage of and utilize this new form of transportation, he declined.

This is of interest to me because I see an interesting correlation between Chief Crowfoot and virtual school students and parents. Stay with me on this because there is one.

Much is made of the performance of virtual schools -- academically, attrition rates, and retention rates with much of the blame being given to the schools themselves. In many cases and in many ways, it is a valid argument -- virtual schools can do much more to enroll better-fit students, retain more of them, and engage them at a deeper level throughout the year.

However, it cannot go unstated that at some point in this relationship, students and parents must show up. And, they must be willing to put forth the effort in order to succeed.

Virtual schools can and should build better railways for students and families, and provide them lifetime tickets to fulfill their potential. But, students and families must be willing to use that ticket. There must be effort on their part. Instead, there is a small yet significant percentage of families who take the ticket but never jump on board for the ride. In that instance, there is little the virtual school can do.

Enrolling in a virtual school and engaging with a virtual school are two different acts altogether. For the relationship to work, there must be two involved -- school (teacher, administration, staff) and family (student, parent).

By not using the ticket given to him, Chief Crowfoot never realized the true value of what was offered to him. In the same way, students and parents who do not engage with their virtual school fail to realize the value of what is offered to them by the virtual school.

See, there was a correlation after all.