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Hotel Impossible – take-aways for schools

Hotel Impossible logoI am a huge fan of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible – a show in which hotel “fixer” Anthony Melchiorri visits ailing hotels and works with the owners and staff to turn the business into profitability and success. Every time I watch the show I wonder whether some of the schools I have visited over the past number of years (and, yes, the school I lead too) would benefit from some of the common sense advice and honest appraisal given by Melchiorri.

Here are three takeaways from the show which I believe are applicable to education:

1) The little things matter:

No matter how big or small the hotel, Melchiorri always makes a point of looking for the small things which can make a difference to a guest. This principle needs to apply to schools as well. Way too many schools ignore simple things which can make a huge difference – the way the school receptionist/secretary greets visitors, the neatness of school bags outside/inside the classroom, clear signage, clean bathrooms with fresh flowers and so on. Most of these can be fixed with little or no expenditure.

2) Be willing to see your school through the eyes of others:

In each episode, Melchiorri makes a point of showing the hoteliers what the guest experience is like. Delays at check-in, poor service in the restaurant, confusing arrangements for key collection and so on all create a negative experience which translates into poor reviews for the hotel. I wonder how often those of us who are responsible for schools consider the experience of our pupils and parents. Complacency around this issue is a very real danger as we deal with the stark realities of teaching and leading every day. Attention to the experience of your school by others is an important part of building a quality school – we need to make sure we do it! We need to take an intentional look at our learning spaces to consider whether they are exciting and engaging places for our children. We should consider how we communicate to parents and whether our communication actually meets the expectations of our parents. What does our admission process feel like to a family desperate to enrol their child in our school? Do we have good relationships with those contractors we bring in to service our school?

3) Be open to correction:

Some of the most entertaining episodes of Hotel Impossible are those in which the owners are adamant that they know more than Melchiorri despite the fact that they are responsible for running an inefficient, failing business. On many occasions it turns out that the owners have never run a hotel before nor do they have any experience in working in a hotel! Yet, they seem determined not to take the advice of someone with over 20 years of hotel experience and a proven track record of turning hotel fortunes around. This type of arrogant attitude has no place in business and it certainly should not be welcomed in schools. School leaders must always realise that the school is greater than they are and that they do not have all the answers to every difficulty facing their school. Principals, governors and board members should be open to the advice of others, particularly those who can bring insight from fields outside education. Insights on leadership, financial sustainability, human resource management, property management and more can be gleaned from professionals outside education and school leaders would do well to pay attention to them. It goes without saying that school leadership should also be open to learning from others in education who can add value from their own experiences.

Yes, its reality television and yes, I’m quite sure there is plenty of behind-the-scenes manipulation. However, the show is entertaining and certainly gives those of us in school leadership much to consider as we lead an increasingly complex organisation in an increasingly complex world.

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All In A Day’s Work

My wife and I recently attended a rather special show at Sweet Valley Primary in Meadowridge, Cape Town. What made this school concert different was that no children were involved in the show. All parts were played by members of the school staff. It was a wonderful evening’s entertainment and was certainly value for money.

I could not help wondering as I watched these academic professionals perform their hearts out in music, dance and song, how many other professions would happily give many, many extra hours of after-hours time to prepare costumes, decor, sets, practise lines and perfect dance steps so that they could perform in front of 300 people (many of whom may be unknown to them) for three nights running with no extra remuneration other than the applause of the audience and the knowledge that they have contributed to a greater sense of esprit de corps.

One must remember that this was done in addition to the ongoing responsibilities of lesson preparation, marking of assessments, extra-curricular activities such as sport coaching, parent meetings and all the other responsibilities inherent in teaching.

I salute the Sweet Valley Primary staff and all other teachers who continue to give way over the expected time and effort they are paid for in order to improve the school experience for pupils, parents and community.

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What Happened To Professionalism?

Local school teacher to a pupil in her class: “Where did you go to school before you came to this school?”

Pupil: “I went to {insert name of another local school here}.”

Teacher: “You are so stupid to have wasted half your schooling at {insert name of another local school here}. Only idiots go to that school.”

This is unfortunately a true story…

It never ceases to amaze me that a teacher can be so small-minded and insecure in herself that she is forced to make this kind of comment in front of a class of 11 year olds. Not only is this a ridiculous thing to say, it also reveals an astonishing lack of professionalism. There is also a lack of judgement evident in what is appropriate to say to children and what is not.

Teachers such as this have no place in a classroom in a society in which we are striving to develop children who have the emotional intelligence to seek first to understand before judging others and who have the core value of respect for others. How many other teachers like this are in our schools today? Whatever happened to teachers being the pillar of society and those to whom our children turned for moral and ethical guidance in an often confusing world? Call me naive, but I believe its time to bring honour back into our profession.