Set yourself free

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Oct 02, 2011

Last week I was fortunate to work with a variety of inspirational Headteachers, teachers, School Governors and Business Managers, and in the course of my encounters with them we discussed the parallels between schools and businesses.

Many teachers have a moral objection to viewing schools as businesses, believing that the education of young people should not be about ‘generating funds’ or ‘the bottom line’.

I like to take a more curious stance and consider what schools would be like if they behaved more like businesses, and became more commercially savvy and conscious of their ‘customer’ service.

So on two different occasions this week, and to two completely different learning educators, I posed the question, ‘What’s your USP (unique selling point)?’ I felt it was a clear question – unique (single) selling (trading) point (situation/purpose). What is it that you do, that no-one else does? What is it that you offer, that no-one else offers? It generated a huge amount of discussion, and reflection as teachers grappled with what they did, and what their school offered that made them different from the teacher in the next classroom or the school down the road. And the more they thought about what it was that made them different, the more difficult they found it to come up with a short concise statement that encapsulated their one point of difference.

I wonder in this age of SATs, and Ofsted, and League tables, and endless comparisons of percentage of A – Cs and A – Es, if schools spend too much time comparing what makes them similar to other schools. All pupils sit exams, all schools get a visit from the dreaded Ofsted inspectors, all schools are compared in league tables and with Michael Gove’s new DfE ‘Go Compare’ site, parents can spend endless hours comparing data to their heart’s content.

And it got me thinking more about what it really is that gives a school its USP. What would make me send my children to a particular school? And often it’s not about the strap line that’s under the school name (A Learning Community, or Led by God, or Constantly Aiming Higher), but it’s about the benefit that is derived from that strap line. It’s about the benefit to the pupils, your pupils, which makes your school different. And since it’s a unique selling point – it’s the primary thing that makes your school dissimilar from the other schools in your locality.

So that led me to reflect – if you have a unique selling point, a point of difference from every one else – do you really have competitors then? Are you competing with schools in your vicinity, or do you do what you do well and concentrate on that, rather than trying to compare your school to others, spending too much time in a fruitless competition with what you see as a contender. Are you watching what you deem to be the ‘opposition’ rather than focusing on your own game?

And like all competitors who spend too much time thinking, talking and looking at their rival, they tend to loose focus on their own strengths, how they are looking and how they feel about their own game. You just have to listen to someone like Andy Murray, and gauging how much he talks about his opponent, you can usually guess whether he will win or loose.

So my invitation to you is to figure out what makes you different. Relish your unique selling point, embrace it, hug it, love it and focus on how it makes you and your ‘customers’ feel. Because when you find that, you have no competitors, or opposition, or challengers and you become free to enjoy what you do best. Or is that to idealistic?

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