Launch is not a word that is used much in schools, but I believe it is one that is very appropriate. One reason is that launching implies power, forward movement, and ascension. At the same time, a launch has its share of danger, risks, and unknown outcomes.
Schools start new years every fall. Classes are retaught with a new set of students. Students leave. Students arrive. Every day presents a new opportunity to do something powerful and extraordinary. Every day is an opportunity to launch (or relaunch) an outstanding learning experience. Remember my prelude to this series. When you view the work of the school less as a responsibility and more of a cause, the chance to launch or relaunch each day takes on a whole new meaning.
But before we can launch, we need to get ready.
Here is a description of what getting ready means. It is taken from a post by David Deal summarizing the 10 "Enchantment" methods described in Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.
Launching a product or service means having a product that is deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, and elegant. Ford makes an intelligent product called My Key, which enables you to program the top speed of a Ford vehicle into its cars. This intelligent feature appeals to Guy as his son becomes a driver.For schools, getting ready is part of our routine. Starting a new school year, preparing your syllabus, tweaking lessons, and rolling out new initiatives are all common activities. It is for this reason that we take getting ready for granted and possibly loose an opportunity to examine our efforts closer on the front end. I have been a part of many school starts and have rolled out new initiatives. Some go very well. Others, not so well. I believe that taking the time to evaluate a schools programs and check for their level of depth, intelligence, and completeness may provide additional information about how to make their yearly "launch" better ad more effective.
Successful launch planning also means creating a communications outreach that features short, punchy language. He suggests communicating via short headlines that people can remember, like “If you see something, say something.” Companies can do so by creating mantras. He suggests the mantra “Democratize design” for Target.
Part of getting ready also means having a team “premortem.” Before a product or service launches, enthusiasm on marketing teams runs high to the point that no one wants to discuss the possibility of failure. Guy suggests the team leader ask, “What would be the reasons why our product would fail?” List all the reasons and figure out how to eliminate those reasons so that the product won’t fail.
Here are some suggested questions to ask when checking your program and operations.
Depth: How does this program (class, etc.) address the mission of the school? What are the expected outcomes from using this program beyond the obvious? Is this program inspiring students to "dig deeper" into the subject or topic?Many of the answers to these questions involve asking the right people and getting the proper feedback. School leaders must have a method of getting their message out to all parts of the school community and then LISTEN to the feedback. Parents' Clubs, Booster Clubs, Boards of Trustees, fauclty meetings, etc. are all good places to discuss operations and gather feedback from specific groups.
Intelligence: Is the class designed for students to learn more than what they can learn by doing Internet searches on the topic? How much higher order thinking is involved? Does having this program at our school help us project a forward thinking mentality about schools? Have we designed this program to appeal to a larger audience?
Completeness: Does our program or operation have any obvious holes that need filling before it can function best for our students and families? Do we have the necessary staff to do what we want to do this year? Have we provided the training and support to ensure a proper operation?
Another good idea to help get ready is during the pre-service meetings in the fall. Have teachers break into small groups to discuss their syllabus, lessons, plans for the year, etc. and have them provide feedback to each other. Teachers can also send quick meesages via email to students and families during the summer to begin to establish their relationship and provide a brief glimpse into what is coming for the new school year.
Though it appears as two seperate and different pieces, many of these ideas blend into the launch of your class or school year.
Ok, you are satisified with your class or school offerings and are ready to launch. Unlike other products, schools have a defined start date. There can be no procrastination with starting school. So, make sure you have prepared for day one, week one in advance (see getting ready!).
From Mr. Deal's post (see above):
The key to a successful launch is telling a great story, like, “We launched YouTube to make it easier for you to share great content on video.”
Using salient points is essential. Don’t talk about a car’s fuel efficiency in terms of miles/gallon but impact on your fuel bill. Don’t talk about your personal device in terms of how many gigabytes you can offer but how many songs a person can store using your device.
Planting many seeds is another essential component. How? Not by focusing on the industry pundits but by reaching out to everyday people who have 15 followers on Twitter. Doing so means you’ll have to work harder to find more brand ambassadors. Guy himself liberally sent copies of Enchantment to multiple bloggers regardless of their popularity.Teachers do not spend enough time promoting their classes. We often rely too much on what students say to communicate what we do. When talking to teachers, I find myself saying, "You teach 11 year olds all day. Do you really want them being the point people in communicating what you do in class?" The answer is always, "No." Each class, program, offering, etc. must tell its own story about what it does. That story is the most important message about the class and it must become the story the teacher tells - and tells often!
"We write a class novel to collaborate on an immersive exercise to explain the complexitites and joy of producing a well written story."
"We hold the Science Fair as part of our effort to bring other students to our campus and to expand our lessons beyond the classroom walls."
"Character development is esential to promoting good decisions and a democratic society. Therefore, we spend time discussing these essential topics."Once you launch, you need ot be ready to talk about your cause. That cause can be the class, the team, the division, or the school as a whole. Being proactive in telling the stories of your program by using multiple methods is an important part of the launch. While technology use is a topic discussed later in this series, school leaders and teachers have many options available through the Internet to not only get ready, but launch and tell their stories.
There is a saying I hear often in schools.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
Failure shouldn't be feared. We can learn much from it. I do, however, believe in minimizing the chances of failure by gettign ready and having a great launch. I have worked with teachers with whom it took years to overcome a bad beginning at a school. All of that could have been avoided with some attention to how they launched their classes. You only get one chance at a first impression. The better your start, the better your chances of a successful cause.
Coming soon: Part 3 of this series - overcoming resistance and enduring.