“Are there any additional announcements?” It was the final faculty meeting for the year. Headmaster Chuck stood on the floor of the theater looking for takers. Seventy anxious faculty glanced back and around; no one wanted the mike. “I DO!” I shouted. And up from my traditional front row seat, I snagged the microphone and stood for one last time in front of this familiar bunch of colleagues, willing participants in a thirteen-year experiment that worked. It worked really well. “There’s no way I’m passing up a chance to hold you people captive one last time. It has been a journey…”
The next ten minutes was my final “Pep Talk” as I’ve come to call them, brief stories at the start and end of each school year when I get to teach the teachers, when I bring the world of business, marketing, and customer service to a room full of of folks who typically don’t think of their profession that way. Their students are customers too? Absolutely. On this day, thirteen years later, the educators in the room get it. After years of practicing it, they GET it, but as independent school people, we can’t say it or hear it enough. Today, in my final Pep Talk, I summarized years with the letter S:
“Over the years we’ve covered a lot of ground together. You’ve endured countless Pep Talks, and you haven’t blown them off. Thank you for indulging me and for joining me on this wild and weird tundra adventure we’ve called School. Together we’ve worked really hard to build something special. And here we are in this year when we’ve been nationally recognized as the #2 best private elementary school in the country, and even better, none of us were that surprised. Why? Because we deserve it! You need to know that we do, and here’s why.
For thirteen years together, we’ve shared lots of anecdotes, research, and tools, and we’ve grown a unique culture around what I like to call The Three Ss of Successful Schools: STORY, SYMPATHY, and SERVICE.
From the start, it was essential that we share our own STORY. Our story became our brand, and our brand became our story–We Teach Courage and don’t you forget it! And here’s HOW. You have been so generous in sharing the stories of your teaching, the many magical moments in your classrooms and on your trips. The collective WOW I like to call it. You’ve told the stories, and you’ve helped us tell them for you, and together we’ve built this brand, this very clear understanding of exactly what our school stands for, who we are. No one questions our focus. BUT–the story has to keep going. It can’t end. For a school like ours, price-point leader (have I mentioned that a time or two?), we have to keep writing and telling the story. The story is innovation, communication, and complete transparency. Each chapter of each of your stories is essential to the long-term success of this mission.
SYMPATHY was the closest S word I could think of for what I really wanted to call EMPATHY. Those relationships we’ve talked about for so long. Remember those? Relationships with your students, their parents, each other…There are so many layers to this S. Our mission and philosophy is wrapped around developing trusting relationships so our kids will feel comfortable taking risks, stretching to reach their maximum potential. There’s THAT, and then there’s the partnership we must have with parents, and it isn’t always easy, dual-parenting parents. Don’t kill the dream! As we do our best to understand the perspectives of those whom we serve, we are a school that is different. Coming from a place of empathy makes us dramatically different. Again, we can never stop walking in that other person’s shoes.
Lastly, we’ve talked ad nauseum about SERVICE, customer service, “Raving Fans,” how we maintain our current customer base (your best customer is your current customer!), while doing what we must do to deliver the BEST, five-star product, a TLS education. We aren’t dealing in widgets here; they are living, breathing, mistake-making, evolving little animals with parents who are completely smitten and often blinded by their unconditional love. It is rarely easy, but we have been myopic about it, and it has paid off.
This cult following we know as TLS hasn’t happened overnight, but it is absolutely the result of your willingness to work these Ss, to be a part of this team focused on making something good into something really great. And it has been my pleasure to work with every single one of you during these thirteen years, to hide your tervis tumblers in your recycling bin while cleaning off your cluttered desks, to bribe you with chocolate to smile even on the longest, hottest of Green and Gray days, to teach you how to #Humblebrag better than the rest of them, even though it really is so hard being the best private school in Kentucky (the pressure!), to work with you on committees, to share gluten free cake with you at lunch, and finally, to give you these Pep Talks.
It has been my pleasure to tell our STORY, to feel your SYMPATHY, and simply to SERVE alongside you in making this special place a most successful school.”
That final pep talk marks the start of something new for me. The end is the place where I will start, and perhaps I can shine a light on a solid S (for SUCCESS) for others in who might need a pep talk too.