Forrester devised the term ‘Customer Obsession’ to depict what is involved in being passionate about patrons and how to achieve maximum benefits to clients and to the business. This idea embeds the servicing and improving of client experiences throughout the customer’s lifecycle at the core of the business model. Students are clients picking up prospects at every stage of the student life cycle. But schools are not Ford factory lines manufacturing cigars, soda or cement. Schools are packaging futures. Not detergent or footwear. Schools must take deliberate steps to outline the precise traits of the brand that permits anyone to consistently identify its graduates. Aston Martin brand stories are forged around craft, art and beauty. Not exclusivity. The school brand must transcend and inspire all schools in the category it is famous for. The school will then attract patrons to the promise it makes and by the value the school delivers.
Exceptional schools craft a brand identity which they struggle to curate. The labour of the faculty is comparable to that of the Bandari people on the Iranian island of Qeshmas, who still craft wooden cargo boats as huge as Noah’s Ark. There are no blueprints. They use unusual formulae to calculate latitude and longitude and the depth of the water. Each wind has a name. The colour of the water, along with the height of each wave, is used to forecast the weather. They navigate using the names of 17 stars scribbled on their compass.
At Geelong Grammar school in Australia, scholars are buoyed by their teachers. The brand philosophy is not unlike that of the Bandari seamen. Every child, like a wooden Ark, is cradled by scaffolds within the zone of proximal development. The experience of the enacted curriculum remains unruffled by the fury of the webbed-feet of faculty paddling frantically beneath the smooth surface of the syllabus. Occasions for learning are designed to be just outside the generative competence of the learner. This is what creates a ‘flow state’ for their students. Learning is handcrafted and the teachers search for the hidden talent of each child. The focus is on the experience of the journey throughout the student-life-cycle. The traits of the brand allow the teachers to calculate the exact positions of students and the depth of learning ahead. Every shift in the wind and the weight of each task is selected to enable the learners to experience a sense of ‘flow’. The Geelong brand arises from a set of traits that includes the notion of ‘flow’ proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from his studies of the experiences of athletes, musicians and artists during periods of optimal levels of performance. He found that the best moments in our lives occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else matters. They do things for their own sake rather than chasing after some external goal. What are the implications of this for schools that set examinations to numerically quantify the deficit between the pre-scribed objective engraved in the syllabus-catalogue and what the learner has actually mastered?
Finland’s response is to organise all content into ‘transversal competencies and studies’ across content to create five thematic cross-curricula areas. They have dissolved subjects and abandoned syndicated examinations and are openly hostile to ranking children. The Finnish educational authorities conduct sample-based assessments, which are used as a basis for program improvements. They do not endorse high-stakes total cohort testing. Instead of external measures of accountability, the emphasis is on trust.
In the Caribbean, a school may decide to explore this approach by designing a term of learning experiences around Cathedrals and Churches. Churches are remarkable learning spaces to explore engineering, poetry, languages, architecture, history, painting, sculpture, literature and most of all mathematics. The tiled floors of churches are covered with mathematical patterns or tessellations, making them a treasure trove of mathematical inspirations. A tessellation of a flat surface is the tiling of a plane using one or more geometric shapes, called tiles, with no overlaps and no gaps. Periodic tiling has a repeating pattern using regular polygonal tiles, all of the same shape, and semiregular tilings with regular tiles of more than one shape and with every corner identically arranged. If an adult never encountered tessellations at school, then they could have never understood what they were doing as they calculated the area of a square or a rectangle. Tessellations become patented designs on a Hermès scarf or an Alexander McQueen dress. Only an education that invokes deep understandings can create linkages across mathematics, textile design, crystallographic methods in structural chemistry, and the creative and cultural industries.
The Mass of Minshall is not a Carnival. An exceptional school must create a brand that is obsessed to deliver some benefit. The experiences of learning throughout the student life cycle must be in alignment with the perception of the accrued value. Yen’k Murray of the UTT fashion school is now at The Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Italy preceded by Sarah Woodham at Yale.
The brand must never fail to deliver on its promise.