Wednesday, May 18, 2011

No means no!

For those who don’t know me personally: I have no children. I’m just putting that out there as those who do have children may read this and think I don’t know about what I’m talking. And I may well not. This is just an opinion blog. My opinion.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, tomorrow ads will run across the country calling for McDonald’s to retire Ronald and blaming McD’s and its marketing machine for our nation’s obesity woes with children. Wasn’t McDonald’s also the target of the woman who was surprised that her coffee was hot when she placed it in her lap? When did McDonald’s start to take the blame for adults abdicating responsibility? (And I’m no great defender of McDonald’s. I’m a Wendy’s guy. Frosty anyone?? (Sorry, Mike.))

But back to marketing to kids. Where do parents take some responsibility? Don’t we all know parents who limit the hours and content of their children’s television? That works, right? If they want to watch more tv or be on the internet, the answer is No. And No means no. I had a colleague in Philadelphia whose family had two computers (one for each son) and they both sat in the living room, where there was no tv at all. Both faced outwards so mom and dad could see what was on the screen at any time. Her sons are fine young men, went on to excellent colleges, and are making their mark in the world now. Saying “no” did not kill them.

And isn’t this all part of what we do and say at our schools? We hold higher standards, starting with the admissions office but then through to academic honesty, acceptable behavior and dress, and personal integrity. We require dress codes and participation in sports. At boarding schools there are curfews and rules about visiting residences. And for the most part, we are pretty successful in our endeavors and our kids have graduated to play meaningful roles in the national and international establishment.

I may not have children but I have worked in education for 21 years. One thing I have learned is that our students will generally rise to wherever we set the bar. When we expect little of them and set it low, they will act accordingly. When we offer them respect and confidence and set the expectations high, they will generally reach those heights. In our schools that latter attitude says to kids, Yes means Yes!

No doubt McDonald's knows what it is doing when it uses characters to advertise food and places toys in the bottom of a bag as an incentive to chow down. After all, they exist to make a profit for their shareholders. But when do we as adults and parents and educators boldly claim that we know what we are doing too, and that we do it in the best interest of our children and students? It our responsibility to set that bar high, higher than it is set by McDonald’s or anyone else.

Let’s give Ronald a break.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Her name was Karen.

Her name was Karen. She was a showgirl. Okay, no, not really. But now you have Barry Manilow playing in your head. Haha!

Actually, her name was Karen. She’s a United Express flight attendant. And she’s the best flight attendant (FA) I have experienced in a long time. As you know, when you fly into a hub airport, the FA does one of three things. Often, it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s to tell you to check the monitors when you land for connecting gate information. And sometimes they interrupt work, sleep, reading and conversation to read off connecting gates for ten minutes over the PA.

But not Karen. Karen went row by row and provided tailored information to each individual passenger with a connection. She also inquired if each passenger was familiar with Dulles International. When not, she gave detailed directions on how to navigate the terminal upon arrival. From my advantage, I saw lots of smiles and thank you’s for Karen’s tremendous service and hospitality. I certainly appreciated it and was in awe.

The cost to United Airlines for this remarkable service? $0.00, that’s what. The cost to Karen? Maybe less time thumbing through her special “Royal Wedding” edition of People magazine. And the benefit to Karen? Also none. This was one of those 20 row planes that only has one FA. Nobody but us passengers (i.e. customers!) to witness and appreciate her efforts. No colleague or supervisor for whom she was putting on a show. It was Karen just being Karen.

So if you’re a loyal reader of this blog and my musings (thank you, if you are!), you know what is to follow: a question with no answer. The question: How do we identify and hire the Karens of the world? What question can we ask, either of the candidate or their reference, to learn who is a Karen and who is not?

Whether they are on the road, out on tour, standing behind the table at a fair, or behind closed doors in an interview (or serving alone in an airplane cabin), trust is a key component with our staff and in our operations. Much of their work is done in solitude. Our people are our best admissions tool and no website or viewbook or social media endeavor can reverse the effects of a bad staff member. We need to treasure and nurture the good ones, but we have to first figure out how to identify and hire them.

Hey Karen! If you’re reading this, there’s a job for you in Canada.

And on a personal note: Congratulations to Shelia Bogan from Dublin School on her move to NYC and to day school admissions. The likes of boarding schools—and NYC!—will never be the same. It’s a lucky school that will benefit from her aversion to sleep and her addiction to work. Congratulations also to my former colleague and friend Emily Surovick (a Karen if there ever was one!) at Chestnut Hill Academy. Emily is expecting her second child and leaving our profession to be a stay-at-home mom. They are unlikely to find someone with as much poise, style, grace and dedication as Emily. She’s a class act and it was a privilege to work alongside her for a year.