Monday, February 29, 2016


Today is a nice reminder that there is value found in leaping.

We tend to look for solutions by tweaking, adjusting a little, varying inputs or outputs, when perhaps we should be looking to leap.

At a minimum, leap with your thoughts. Instead of finding an answer to today's pressing problem, search for solutions to the greater issue -- leap.

Leap bigger. Broaden your thoughts, expand your ideas, and think beyond. Leap.

Happy Leap Day! Practice it today.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

It's urgent

They call it the tyranny of the urgent and it is what most virtual schools spend their time focused on.

What would it look like if you spent your day on building remarkable rather than the problem brought to you classified as urgent?

Simply because someone says "urgent" doesn't mean it requires immediate attention. And, urgent may take you away from important.

Important matters for the long run.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What virtual schools can learn from start-ups

David S. Rose
David S. Rose is the founder and CEO of Gust, a platform that connects start-up founders to investors. So far almost $2 billion has been invested in companies through this platform.

David's upcoming book The Startup Checklist: 25 Steps to Found and Scale a High-Growth Business is primarily for those seeking to launch a start-up company. However, much of what he has to say can also apply to the world of virtual schooling.

Too many times virtual schools look to others within their industry for best practices, or ideas on how to improve when real innovation can occur by adapting ideas from outside the world of education.

David shares 25 steps based on his years of success, failings, and experience learned. Surely, there is at least one step that can help improve a virtual school.

Real innovation can occur by seeking answers outside the education box.

Read books such as David's to grow, learn, and find alternative ways to adapt

Attend conferences that have nothing to do with education but everything to do with tech innovation

Spend time with entrepreneurs and less time with educators

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Failing and failure

One happens quite often in the pursuit of remarkable.

The other happens when you give up -- not on a project but on yourself.

Don't confuse the two and don't let the one interfere with the other that is part of the learning process.

Failing is an action. Failure is a decision.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Every one has a story to tell . . .

On location of Storybrooke, ME from Once Upon a Time
I am a fan of data analytic yet I grow concerned that we rely too much on it. Not because it cannot tell us important information, drive decision making, and increase efficiency through pattern recognition. Rather, my concern is centered around the fact we tend to forget at the end of every data point is a person, a family, or an individual.

And, with that person comes a story, their story. Their very own, individual story. A story they want to share.

Big data has great potential to serve us in the world of buyer behavior. Don't forget though that sometimes an individual story is necessary to be heard in order to better understand the customer we so want to serve.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Haystack Rock in Oregon & the original Starbucks

Yesterday my wife and I spent the day driving from Vancouver, BC, Canada down to Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Along the way, and after an hour delay at the border crossing, we stopped off at the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market (Seattle). While I had been there before, it was the first time for my wife. We enjoyed taking in the atmosphere of the original location, and talking with the Baristas. Come to find out, they actually sell more merchandise than coffee at Pike Place (we did help them out in both arenas while there -- merchandise and coffee).

Then, we proceeded down I-5 and ventured off toward Mt. Rainier making our way down the winding Highway 7 toward Elbe, Oregon.  We even tried our hand at Squatch hunting (to no avail -- nor did we see Bigfoot in Starbucks either which is where I am more likely to find him).

By the time we finished at Rainier it was too dark to see Mt. St. Helen's but we tried to anyway.

Now, today we wake to see Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Our suite is literally about 1,000 yards from it and as I write this, it is within my view -- such a beautiful landmark.

We are living what we call Life: Relocated with the determination that we are not waiting until some "retirement" to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.

Hope you decide to do the same.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Nine Essentials for building a virtual school that serves and Capilano

Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver
That was the topic of my talk yesterday at the BC Digital Learning Conference in Richmond, BC, Canada.

It was a fascinating day spending time with British Columbia educators, and hearing what they are doing in the world of digital learning.

And, it was an honor to be able to share my Nine Essentials with them believing that much of what I shared crosses geographic boundaries.

Also, had the pleasure and joy of experiencing some of the beauty of Vancouver, Steveston, and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in North Vancouver today.

Capilano Suspension Bridge spans 460 ft and rises 230 ft above the Capilano River. And, does it swing when you are in the middle. Wow.

Included in the park is a Treetop Adventure that allows you to walk among the giant firs. It is breathtaking.

Then, if that is not all, you also can traverse the Cliff Walk where you follow a narrow walkway that juts out from the granite cliffs. It is not for the faint of heart.

Heading tomorrow toward Seattle and Portland to conduct some training sessions.

If you ever have a chance to go to Vancouver. Go.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Figment Consulting announces new training sessions

Over the past few months I have spent time conducting various training sessions that amount to either one-day, two-day, or even online sessions to help clients with specific issues. As this has continued to grow in popularity, I have recently tried to build more structure to it, and now offer it as Figment services on my web site:

The most effective training session is the two-day, on site, intensive session to help virtual partners becomes schools that serve. This session, under Training, is the gold level of what I offer. During this session, we cover the Nine Essentials to build virtual schools that serve properly -- teacher-student relationships, investing in teachers, building a retention culture, constructing a remarkable learning experience, becoming a human connection school, finding right-fit students, growing with purpose, launching with success in mind, and developing a specialist mindset.

In addition, we are now offering additional training sessions (under Services) on the following (either on site or online):

One-day Marketing Training: Covering the 15 P words of marketing to help you build a Relationship Strategy that leads to better enrollments and higher retention.

One-day Training Seminar to learn how to become a Human Connection School: This seminar has served as a follow-up to my Nine Essentials training and goes even more in-depth in order to build strategy and tactics to move away from socialization and into connectionalization.

Virtual School Next Gen Training: This one-day training allows us to go in depth to build the learning experience as we work our way towards remarkable. We move to the tactical level and how each person plays a pivotal role in going beyond academics. The result is a deeper engagement by students and families which leads to higher retention.

Customerology Compass: In this 2-hour training session, we cover the Needs, Wants, Stereotypes, and Emotions (NWSE) of your students and families. In doing so we learn how to meet their Needs while serving their Wants. We learn how to overcome Stereotypes and build loyalty as we tap into their Emotions.

Two other popular training sessions allow us to help clients develop their Service Theme and Service Standards. These separate sessions establish the foundation and reference points as we construct a service culture.

Of late, two other efforts have proven popular. The first is where we spend two days in order to help you edit, revise, and rethink your Marketing Strategy in order to reach the right type of students. The second one allows us to focus on your Messaging in order to help you craft the right type of message and utilize the proper channels to convey it.

And, we also offer Leadership Coaching services. We spend one hour a week with your leadership team members to move each one toward the central chief aim, and bring each one together for a more cohesive experience that leads to more effective and disciplined decision making.

The required investment varies with each session, and whether or not it is conducted on site or online. Email us today and we can put together an offer to meet your most immediate needs.

Coming soon -- we are working toward making these services portable by recording them and allowing for downloads.

Until then, keep thinking differently. And thank you to those who have allowed us to be of service to you. Without you, these ideas for the various training seminars might have continued to be overlooked on our part.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." The White Queen said to Alice

Severing ties with a learning management company because of poor performance then attempting to build exactly what you just left is memory not working properly, as The White Queen would say.

Adding more to the plate of families who are leaving because the prior plate was too full is memory not working properly.

Believing that a new branding message can paint over the rotting foundation is a memory not working properly.

Expecting technology to save the day when families crave interaction is memory not working properly.

While I am not sure The White Queen had any knowledge of virtual schooling when she made the comment to Alice, I am sure that many in the world of virtual schooling are not listening to her words of wisdom.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bring an umbrella and unasked questions

Vancouver Umbrella Shop in Richmond, BC, Canada
"What's the weather like this time of year?" I asked the hotel attendant over the phone.

"Bring an umbrella," she replied.

Whether she knew it or not, the polite hotel front desk clerk in Vancouver answered my unasked question. In reality I knew what the temperatures were like because I had checked. What I really wanted to know was what she answered, and I didn't even have to ask.

I am traveling tomorrow to Vancouver to speak at a conference on Friday, then making my way down to the coast west of Portland to conduct some training for a client (with a stop at the Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle along the way of course).

So, I had done my homework in terms of weather conditions, travel plans, etc. But, when I called to confirm some details with my hotel in Vancouver, what I really wanted to know is how much does it rain there? I had been to Seattle a few times the past several years but first time in Vancouver. While it is just north of Seattle, I was also aware of how that could make a huge difference in weather conditions (having just learned that firsthand in my recent trip to Alaska -- Anchorage was above freezing while Wasilla, which is only 50 miles NE of Anchorage, was closer to single digits).

What's the point to all of this? I simply wonder how many times virtual school administrators fail to answer the unasked questions from their parents. How many times do they assume that what the parents want to know is exactly what they asked? (In reality, a good listener will be able to discern if there is an unasked question that needs to be answered)

Case in point -- the Agora Cyber Charter School is conducting a Board Meeting tomorrow night. In light of the recent layoffs it should prove to be an interesting one. If the leadership is not careful, they will allow many unasked questions to go unanswered.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Know, Accept, Be

Know who you are and you have the potential to serve students in the best way.

Accept who you are and you will recruit students you can best serve.

Be who you are and you will attract more students like the ones you serve best.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Strategy for Agora Cyber Charter School in 7 Steps

From Agora Cyber Facebook
I thought I was finished with Agora Cyber and yet the emails have continued to pour in from parents, teachers, and former parents and teachers. The ones from the current teachers are most painful. Their desire expressed to me is to serve the students, yet they are in a daze after the way the layoffs were handled.

In each email they ask me "what should we do?" Two days ago I wrote a blog that shared what Agora needs to do moving forward: Repair, Restore, and Rethink. However, in honor of those teachers and staff members who have written to me, I did want to offer the Agora Cyber leadership a 7-step strategy with the recommendation that this be treated as a crisis management problem.

Granted, in a crisis management plan, there are typically four areas (Mitigation & Prevention, Preparedness, Response, & Recovery) that are covered. Yet, with the crisis already having occurred, we can only focus now on response and then recovery. So, with that in mind:

1. Stop all advertising immediately.

There is no need to actively recruit new students into Agora at this moment. Cease all advertising until this school year has ended.

2. Shift advertising money to teachers.

Granted, I do not know how much Agora has left in the advertising budget (if any) but whatever the amount is should be shifted away from marketing, and placed into a pool for all remaining teachers in order to provide them some type of bonus at the end of the year (or now if possible).

3. Conduct in-person and online sessions for parents and students.

Agora leadership needs to be out in front of the parents and students (in person and online), answering the tough questions, taking responsibility for their actions (and lack of communication), and working hard to repair and restore (as mentioned in my previous blog). Make it as easy as possible for the parents and students to attend by being where they are.

4. Focus on retention.

Stop worrying about next year and the number of new students. Instead, turn all attention to building a remarkable learning experience for existing students and parents. The number one marketing priority now and through the end of the year is existing student population.

5. Focus on teachers and staff.

Unfortunately, what has been done is done. Agora leadership must now turn full attention to making sure existing teachers and staff not only are supported properly, but feel they are supported. Leadership takes full care of teachers and staff, and then teachers and staff are able to take care of students and parents properly.

Stop writing editorials to Gov Wolf and start focusing on taking care of teachers and staff. Determine to walk the talk.

6. Walk the talk.

From this day forward be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable. As I mentioned in my previous post, lack of trust is now the prime problem and talk will not rebuild it. It must be accomplished by actions -- daily actions, every second of every day. The walk must match the talk. Any deviation, however slight, will be magnified at this point in time.

Authenticity requires honesty. Transparency requires the leadership to allow parents and students to see behind-the-scenes. Vulnerability requires the leadership to take responsibility, and act humbly.

Don't gloss over or ignore the elephant in the room. Acknowledge it, accept responsibility for the way it was mishandled, and then share with teachers, parents, and students that it is understood by the leadership that what matters most now is actions, not words.

7. Pay attention to the details.

Answer the phone. Return phone calls. Ensure IT support is there. Allow parents to vent. Allow teachers to express their concern. Throw pride away and listen to the wants being expressed. Go above and beyond to take care of your parents, your students, your teachers, and your staff.

Details matter. Paying attention to them is where trust can be re-established in order to build upon. Forgetting them can put all of the other steps in jeopardy.

Remember, right now it is the Response of the leadership at Agora that will determine the ability to Recover.

It will not be an easy road back to stability. The journey is worth it though.

Oh, by the way, also make preparations for the media investigation and the investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) -- both are likely to occur.

Building virtual schools that serve

This Friday I have the honor of speaking at the British Columbia Digital Conference in Richmond, BC, Canada.

I will have the opportunity to share my Virtual School Manifesto in a talk titled Nine Essential Ingredients for Building Virtual Schools That Serve. The recent Agora Cyber layoffs demonstrate how broken the current model is, and how much we need to re-imagine virtual learning. My talk lays the groundwork for a different virtual -- one built on the right foundation and finding the right-fit students in an authentic and transparent manner.

But, I also wanted to take a moment and point out some of the other sessions going on during the conference that have the potential to be game-changers.

Jean Kloppenberg and Mary O'Neil are sharing their passion for helping students find their SPARK as they call it. They believe each student has at least (maybe more) one interest, one passion, one desire, that will propel them to engage deeply. It is our responsibility to help them find it.

Lisa Read will guide attendees through a session titled Meaningful Mentoring - Collaborating in Chaos. It is an exploratory session on how to leverage the expertise around you for mentoring -- a lost art in today's world.

Randy LaBonte will take us on a Walk on the Wild Side of Digital and teach us how Purposeful Use of Tech and Program Design Improves Learning.

Barb Goddard and Patty Golumbia walk us through a session on Digital Learning and the Anxious Student. Here we will learn ways in which anxiety in students can be managed and directed toward progress and gain.

It's not too late to join us in Richmond-Vancouver as it promises to be an enlightening time together.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Agora Cyber moving forward, last thoughts

Emails poured in yesterday and one theme was in essence, "what now?"

The damage has been done. The layoffs have occurred. The way it was handled was the way it was handled. The timing was the timing. So, we cannot change it. We cannot alter the past.

We can though alter the future by the way in which we handle today. Now is what matters most. And, now will be what allows the future to be different rather than a repeat.

Moving forward Agora must do the following:

Repair -- Restore -- Rethink

Agora leadership needs to work to repair relationships with families, students, teachers, and staff. Families feel betrayed, hurt, taken advantage of, and they are in pain. Students are confused. Teachers and staff that remain are afraid -- and operating out of fear never leads to sustainable success.

Agora leadership also needs to restore trust. It is sorely lacking right now from those that matter most. Trust must be the underlying foundation in any relationship. Restoration of it will take time and only actions will matter. Words no longer count.

Agora leadership must now rethink the future and build different -- not just what is built but how it is built. Transparency and even vulnerability must play key roles in the building of the future. If you want parents to be in this with you, if you want teachers and staff to be in this with you, then you must allow them to be in it with you.

Finally, to those who emailed me. Turn this circumstance into an opportunity and seize it for yourself. Choose yourself, and determine what you want most to do and be in life. I know the emotions of it all are raw right now and it feels unfair -- don't let them guide you though. Don't let your emotions drive your decisions.

When it is cold the one sure way to remove the cold is to bring heat. Thinking about how cold it is will not make it any hotter. Searching for a heat source, lighting a fire will bring heat. What happened and the emotions that go with it are the cold. Focusing on them will not make it any hotter for you. So, think and seek heat. Replace the cold with heat. You have the power to do it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Seems my Agora Cyber post stirred some emotions

Part 2 of my post this morning was related to the recent layoffs at Agora Cyber Charter School. As you can imagine it stirred some emotions, and I have already received numerous emails related to it.

One was from an Agora leader (I will keep his/her name removed in order to not make it about him/her) who emailed me with the following:

"You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. You don't understand the financial constraints we are placed under with Gov Wolf's refusal to work on a budget that fully funds cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania. And, the budget impasse has led us to the point where our hand was forced to lay off people -- people we care deeply about. We had to do this now."

I understand this person's frustration with me. And, I understand the excuse being provided that it is the Governor's fault. However, what is not mentioned in the email is any responsibility being taken on the part of the leaders for all the decisions made over the past 12-18 months that led up to this point in time.

Decisions related to hiring practices, curriculum-design and build decisions, money spent with the belief the student population would remain what it was prior to leaving K12, marketing money spent (and still being spent) recruiting wrong students in order to fill seats, in-year departures of leaders, lack of investment in teachers and their development, and so forth.

Sure, the budget impasse may have been the catalyst to make NOW the time to enact these layoffs, however, the causes began long before.

Moving forward, as long as Agora leaders continue to believe it is the Governor's fault, then no real improvements will be made.

One cannot make real change when one does not know where real change occurs.

Now is the time for radical re-thinking of what Agora should be and can be. Further tweaking and adjustments will only lead to more of the same -- even when the budget is no longer the issue.

Use this negative and turn it into a positive -- a long-term positive for families, students, teachers, and staff. Quit finding places to blame and turn attention to building a cyber school that serves.

What do you want most? (and a note on Agora Cyber Charter School)

We sat around a table in Big Lake, Alaska. We included myself, my wife, my oldest daughter (an entrepreneur herself), and a small group of people where we were in discussion about either partnering with them or even buying their business.

We had been through various discussions on financials, business operations, and all of the other fun items associated with what we were exploring. Then, my daughter began to share what had brought her to the table. Afterwards, she looked at each of us and shared that for her it would be most helpful to know what each person there wanted.

Then, she looked at the current business owner and asked him, "What do you want most?" It was a beautiful and insightful question, and his answer was surprising. He paused, leaned back in his chair, and his eyes followed his thoughts.

"Community," he answered. "I really want community."

I wonder how many families in virtual schools want the same thing? I wonder how many of them have a desire for community? How many of them want to belong to something that lifts them up, feeds them, and encourages them?

Community. We strive so hard to provide a diploma for families when perhaps what they want most is to belong.

A note on Agora Cyber Charter School:

While I admit to not knowing all of the details specifically, Agora Cyber Charter School (PA) laid off hundreds of teachers and family coaches yesterday. Disappointing but not surprising.

Some of the reason falls to the ongoing budget crisis in PA where the new Governor and legislature have not agreed to a new budget that began last July 1. I get that. However, most of the responsibility belongs at the feet of those in charge of Agora.

They talked a good talk but failed to walk it. And, yet again, virtual schooling receives a black eye because of it.

As recently as last week I had noticed an Agora advertisement stating they were a public school so they were always open for enrollment. At the same time, they were not taking care of their existing family -- students, families, teachers, staff.

Agora was and is doing things the old way -- funnel students in to replace the ones leaving and hope at the end of the year more have entered the front door than departed the back door. Then, continue to relegate the teachers to the same status as technology and have them serve as interventionists with the hope that somehow academic results will increase.

At what point do we realize the current model is broken? At what point do we understand that to continue doing the same things over and over while expecting different results is merely pretending? 

This time it was Agora Cyber. Who will it be next time?

It's time to re-imagine the virtual school experience. It's time to craft a model that places the teacher-student relationship at the center and build around it. It's time to build a school worth belonging to. It's time to launch with success in mind, grow with purpose, and build a culture of retention. 

It's time to throw the sales funnel away. 

It's time.

And, this presents us with an opportunity to build a new model. Virtual schooling can realize its promise. It can serve students and families. It can be all that it was meant to be.

Let's begin construction on a model that has as its foundation Relationships. Let's build a model that fosters community. Let's build a model that equalizes the learning experience with the academic pursuit. Let's build a virtual school that is all about Together.

We can do it. We must do it.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Storyboarding the enrollment process

The storyboarding process was developed by Walt Disney Productions in the early 1930s. Today, Walt Disney and Pixar (along with other animation companies) continue to utilize the storyboard process as one of the first steps in the movie development.

A storyboard provides a visual layout of the movie, and allows animators to reconfigure, redesign, and re-imagine scenes and stories before proceeding to the next stage of development. Perhaps moving scenes around, or adding elements will move the story along, or prevent combustion points in the story. Perhaps different camera angles will add to the story.

Storyboarding has proven so beneficial and successful that even theatrical plays utilize it. In addition companies have begun to use storyboarding for the sales process, customer conversion process, and other operational processes that can be visualized.

Over the past few years I have taken several companies I have consulted with through the visual storytelling to help uncover combustion points for customers, to rearrange the experience that streamlined the process and enhanced the experience, and simply to confirm that the current process needed only tweaks in order to improve.

Recently I have had the opportunity of storyboarding the enrollment process for several virtual schools I am consulting with on a regular basis. In doing so, it helped identify a path forward that dramatically improved the customer experience.

Seeing something visually can lead to alternatives that would otherwise remain hidden.

Try it for yourself. Take time to storyboard your enrollment process from a visual standpoint, and see for the first time what has been hidden before your eyes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

iNACOL's New Strategic Plan

This morning I received an email that linked me to the new strategic plan just released by iNACOL.

"Catalyzing transformation in K - 12 education."

I applaud the direction they are headed. Though I admit I had to quickly check the definition of "catalyzing." Why couldn't they just say "accelerating?"

They have their mission, vision, and theory of action within this new plan spelled out for us. My hope is that behind it all there is an unwavering passion that supports this plan on a day-to-day basis by each and every member of iNACOL.

That is where real change will accelerate, or catalyze.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Zero to One: It's time to quit pretending

Peter Thiel's book Zero to One, Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, states that when we create something new, we go from 0 to 1.

Paypal (of which Thiel was a founder) took online payments from 0 to 1. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is an individual focused on going from 0 to 1. Mark Zuckerberg took us from 0 to 1 when Facebook was created.

As Thiel states though, "It is easier to copy a model than to make something new; doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar."

When full-time virtual schools were introduced they took education from 0 to 1. They were an "act of creation, and the result was something fresh and strange."

Now, virtual schools are attempting to move from 0 to n. Remember, it is easier to copy a model, to do what we already know how to do. The problem is that the current n is not worth modeling.

My energy and effort is centered on the desire to have us rethink n and return to creating something new, with the hope of moving us again from 0 to 1.

Let's stop pretending. It's time to create something new in virtual schooling.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Denver Broncos Virtual School

What if I told you that within the Denver Broncos, winners of Super Bowl 50, lies secrets to a successful virtual school?

Head Coach Gary Kubiak, talking before the Super Bowl victory, "I think every experience is different. We've done it different with this football team and how we went about it. But I feel good about our process. Throughout the course of our season we kind of knew we were all involved, we were all contributing. I think that's brought our football team very close together over the season."

Future Hall-of-Fame Quarterback Peyton Manning when discussing the fact this was Coach Kubiak's first season with the Broncos (again before the Super Bowl victory), "When you have a new coach it takes time to understand his expectations and his philosophies. I think though, it is up to the players to buy in and try to fulfill the role that he wants them to play."

Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller speaking before the Super Bowl when asked about his emotions after being drafted a few years ago by the Broncos, "I just wanted to come in and be the best Von Miller I could be. When I was a rookie I had dreams and aspirations. But what got me through everything was just keeping my head down, just focusing on what I needed to do. I just focused in with my teammates."

Within those three quotes lies some wonderful secrets to building a remarkable learning experience, if you know where to look.

Can you see them?

Do you understand them?

Do you know how to apply them to your virtual school?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Do you have Service Values?

If you have not developed a Service Theme, then start with yesterday's blog post before reading this one.

Service Values are the practical plans that allow you to implement your Service Theme through your employees, through setting, and through processes.


* Provide each administrator, teacher, and staff member a road map to follow

* Offer you guidelines to give you a disciplined approach to serving your students and families

* Identify those areas of vital importance to you that allow you to define your ethos

They are active, predetermined, aspirational, measurable, and when you take the time and energy to define them you then separate yourself from other virtual schools.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What's your Service Theme?


What do you stand for?

Why do you exist?

How do you want to serve?

A Service Theme is not a mission statement or vision statement. It is deeper. It is real. It is lived out each day with each interaction.

Start here and your students and families will know the difference without you having to tell them.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Married at First Sight & virtual schools

FYI has a fascinating program called Married at First Sight. Three couples are matched by so-called experts and they agree to marry on the day they first meet their spouse. Then they have six weeks to determine whether or not they are committed to the marriage, to each other, and to the future -- or, they can get a divorce.

This program is a fascinating study of the struggle between expectations and reality.

Each one of the individuals brings expectations to this experience, to this marriage with them. Then, they are faced with the reality presented to them and what unfolds is an ongoing study in each's ability to adapt (or not to adapt).

You can see where I am going with this one right -- virtual schools, in a similar way, are also studies in the struggles that occur between expectations and reality.

Parents enroll in virtual schools with certain expectations, and then reality hits. After that, it is an ongoing study of whether or not they can adapt to this new reality, or will they seek a divorce. (I find it interesting in that with virtual school parents they also typically leave within a six-week window)

The difference between the two (or the one that matters here) is that virtual schools have the ability to help parents manage those expectations long before they commit to this new relationship. The message, the marketing, the conversations with enrollment consultants and teachers, and the follow-up are all ways in which we can help parents enter into the relationship with expectations better matching reality. Or, we can work hard to help reality match expectations -- either way, the start is better.

Virtual schools must work harder during the courtship period to take the blinder off of parents and help them see clearly - - even if it means some parents never reach the altar.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The cost of tuition-free

Research has demonstrated the powerful impact FREE can have on sales for businesses. It can increase sales on average by 15% or more. The offer of FREE can increase lead conversion dramatically (depending upon what the FREE offer is of course), and convert leads to customers.

But FREE is not free, especially in the world of virtual schools.

The flip side of the coin when businesses lead with FREE is that they are not building loyal customers. They are not attracting customers that will return for more. More often than not, FREE attracts those who are seeking something free.

In the world of virtual schools, most lead their marketing efforts by focusing on the fact they are tuition-free. In doing so, it helps increase leads, and even can help convert leads to students.

But, that cost remains.

The cost of attracting the wrong type of student.

The cost of seeing those students leave who came because it was free.

The cost of finding more students who are attracted to free.

FREE is not free -- neither for the student nor the school.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rethinking rigor

Virtual schools enjoy touting their "rigorous curriculum" as a selling point. But, should they?

Our friend Merriam and Webster tell us that Rigor is defined by words such as:

harsh inflexibility
strict precision

Oh, I know that is not the intent of the schools when they use this term Rigor.

In the Glossary of Education Reform, the authors give a more accurate definition of Rigor as applied when educators use it. In education, rigor is commonly applied to lessons that encourage students to question their assumptions and think deeply, rather than lessons that merely demand memorization and information recall.

My suggestion is that parents (your customers) apply the Merriam-Webster definition instead of the Glossary.

Every time you say rigor parents hear strict, severe, rigid. If that is your desire, then continue to use rigor.

However, those who understand what it means to be a virtual school that serves, and apply the principles of customer service will seek to better define the true meaning they want parents to grasp. They will better explain what they have created. They will toss aside rigor.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Going the extra mile . . .

. . . is sometimes not far enough.

When it is not, are you willing to go the next mile beyond the extra one?

If not, you may find you never traveled the extra mile in the first place.

Do what matters

Start your day with what matters most, and do it.

Don't choose busy work,

or easy work,

or mindless work.

Do what matters.

Of course this requires you to give thought to, to consider, to discipline your mind, in order determine what does matter.

Then comes the discipline to do it first.

Monday, February 1, 2016

3 Ways to Get Virtual School Students to Engage

Each time I visit with either a new client, or even a prospective client one of the first questions I am asked is "How do we get our students to engage more?"

Student engagement is just below better enrollments, less attrition, and higher retention. Taken together these are the four pedestals upon which virtual schools either stand or crumble. What about academics? If we improve our enrollments, reduce attrition, and increase retention, my argument is academics will improve.

So, how do we get students to engage?

Here are three ways to do it:

1. Give them something worth engaging in

2. Give them a place to belong

3. Demonstrate how much you care for them

Oh, I know these are not the tactical plans you might have hoped for but the lack of engagement goes much deeper than mere tactics.

Remember, some of these same students who don't "engage" in your school spend hours playing video games like Call of Duty, or hours playing iPhone games like Clash of Clans. Those two have given kids something worth engaging in.

These kids also engage in Instagram and Snapchat consistently, especially if they sense they belong.

Then, do your students know you care about them? Do they know how much you care for them? In what ways do you demonstrate it daily?

Think about engagement at this level far more than which tactics or latest gadgets to deploy.