Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Paul from Magic Kingdom can teach virtual schools

One of our favorite characters to watch perform in the Magic Kingdom is Gaston, the villain from Beauty and the Beast. He's arrogant, braggadocios, and quite hysterical. When we are at the Magic Kingdom we make it a point to stop by and observe Gaston in action.

However, this time it was Paul who stole the show. Paul also works for Disney and by the look of his costume, he appeared to be a supervisor of some sort. I noticed him prior to Gaston's appearance giving direction to the photographers on hand for the family photos, as well as guiding other Cast Members in the nearby vicinity.

But, it was his performance with the guests that mattered most. He was busy, quite busy, and really had no time to waste and then the first guest approached him.

"Hi Paul, you had mentioned that Gaston would appear today at 3:15 and it is now 3:30. With this long line waiting to see him, I am afraid we are going to miss our Fast Pass at Pirates," said the young lady. The line had to be at least thirty people or more and her family was toward the back, so it could easily have taken twenty minutes or so for them to see Gaston once he arrived.

Paul's response not only recovered his mistake but also kept the magic alive for the lady's little girl standing next to her, and enhanced their experience.

"Oh my, you are right," Paul said. And then he bent down to talk to the little girl. "Gaston was in the three o'clock parade today so it probably delayed him. However, let me give your mom these passes. All you have to do is show it to the Pirate Cast Members and they will let you on any time for the Pirate ride. That way you can still catch Gaston here, and ride the Pirates ride. Is that okay?" he asked.

The little girl smiled from ear-to-ear which made the mom happy. She walked away thanking him several times. Paul smiled politely knowing he had kept the show going. For the family, it was a WOW moment.

Paul wasn't done. Right after the first family went back to their line another family approached him asking for directions to a restroom that had a companion room. Paul told the family to stay there and he would be right back.

Moments later he returned sharing with them that the restrooms they were closest to did not have a companion room, however the stalls were extra large. He then offered to walk them to the closest restroom with a companion room that was nearby if they would like. They too left Paul while thanking him for his assistance, sharing with him the large stalls would work fine. Again, another WOW moment from Paul.

Paul then turned to give directions to some of the Cast Members nearby as Gaston was now making his appearance. Clearly, Paul needed to exit soon in order to move to another area as he mentioned to a Cast Member standing next to him. Then, another little girl approached with her mom.

"Do you mind if we look at your pins?" the mom asked. Disney Pin Trading is a huge endeavor, and most Cast Members wear pins around their necks to encourage the trading of them. It is not uncommon for a guest to stop a Cast Member and ask them to see their pins, then trade one of them to add to their collection. Then, they move forward and repeat the process over and over and over.

Paul quickly smiled, bent down to the girl's level and proceeded to exchange in pin trading with her. She took her time examining each one and Paul politely engaged her in conversation about Magic Kingdom, her favorite characters, and her favorite pins. It was Paul who extended the conversation, not the girl or her mother. It was Paul that proactively looked for ways to take the pin trading exchange and turn it into a WOW moment.

The girl found a pin she wanted, traded it with Paul, and then thanked him. The mom, in turn, showed her gratitude to Paul, turned and walked away -- both had large smiles on their faces. Paul had done it again.

Paul rose, turned in my direction, and as he passed by said hello to me, and then said "have a magical day."

What he didn't realize is he just created that magic, not just for the three families he interacted with, but also for those of us nearby who watched it all unfold.

Paul understood his job may be supervisor, but his primary responsibility is creating magic for guests.

When those guests go home and talk about the "Disney experience" they will not be talking about a corporate entity. Instead, they will be thinking about Paul and the other Cast Members who create that magic each and every day in the park.

I have the privilege of working with and from the Disney parks over the next month, witnessing encounters like this from Paul. Sometimes one little spark is all you need to see things differently. And, when you see things differently you then have the potential to change what is into what can be.

In my Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients I list out ways in which virtual schools can create a new model. With each one I lay out practical ways to see things differently: putting the teacher-student relationship at the center instead of the student; investing in teachers beyond academic professional development; craft a remarkable learning experience; build a retention culture, and more.

The common denominator with each ingredient is exactly what Paul epitomized yesterday at the Magic Kingdom: creating WOW experiences by understanding your role and your opportunity -- in other words, building customer service into the learning experience.

Your role is not your job. Paul's job was not what he demonstrated in a span of five minutes, that was his role and his opportunity. But, what he created in those five minutes will last far beyond his job.

Virtual school administrators, staff, and teachers each have a job. More importantly, each have a role to play in constructing a remarkable learning experience, and opportunities to create WOW moments. All we have to do is Be Like Paul.


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