Trinity College School

Schools ARE different than businesses

On Monday, October 15th, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Heads and Chairs Conference in Calgary, Alberta, led by Mr. Robert Evans, entitled “Why a school doesn’t run or change like a business.” The next day, at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Dr. Elspeth Murray – former TCS parent, current governor and strategic planning expert – held listening sessions for our faculty and staff to collectively explore the challenges and opportunities facing TCS for the next five to 10 years, as part of the School’s strategic planning process now underway.

These two events provide the inspiration for the content in this blog post. I strongly believe that prior to starting to plan for the future of our students, and for the School as a whole, it is important that we all understand the differences between a business and a school.

Of course, TCS is a business. The School has more things in common with traditional businesses than not, but the differences are significant and necessary to appreciate prior to charting a future direction, particularly in these very unpredictable times.

First and foremost, schools are different in that our key role is to assist in the raising of young people. This is a developmental responsibility and very different from the production of a product or the delivery of a service. Teachers, the critical “front line worker,” start with young people at very different levels, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, learning styles and personalities. Then there are the differences physically and socially between boys and girls. An adolescent brain has still not fully formed, even by graduation day. And, the increasing expectations by parents and society, for faculty and staff to do more for kids inside and outside of the classroom, put enormous pressure on them and their young charges.

Second, there are a host of aspects involved in the education and development of a child that are outside the control of the School. In fact, it is commonly known that a primary determinant of a student’s success is their postal code! Kids from certain areas or districts have greater access to resources, programs and supports. I am frequently reminded of one university president who welcomed the parents of first year university students by declaring, “We will do the best we can with what you have left us!” In short, all kids do not start at the same point, nor have the same abilities, to accurately credit or blame the teacher or the school solely. Instead, independent school parents are effectively paying for the entire learning community; they are looking for a school that will provide their children with the best possible environment to enable their kids to do their best work and to become good people.

Another difference between considering the success of a business and school is the difficulty of numerical measures when it comes to assessing teaching. In the world of measuring school success, while it is necessary to have a host of different data, often the most valuable and accurate “data” is anecdotal. An example: Think about your favourite or best teacher. Was there something truly measurable about the content, instruction, advice that can be accurately quantified in your elevated I.Q. points, an increase in salary, or an improvement in your life quality or span? If so, I would love to know about it. In fact, the world would love to know!

Cheekiness aside, my point, again, is simply the importance of understanding that preparing for the future at TCS is different than preparing for the future if you are McDonald’s, IKEA, Bell, or General Motors. If we can at least start there, then I believe that future dialogue, collaboration and crystal-balling will be more relevant and more fruitful.

I would encourage all members of our TCS community to participate in our strategic planning process as we look to build the next five-year plan for TCS, whether by completing the survey (we are still accepting submissions) or sending me your thoughts directly. And, if you would like to really delve into the research on the differences between schools and businesses, I would recommend the following three reads:

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