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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Introducing the Elements of School Experience

How was school today?

It’s a question that will be familiar to most parents, but today I want to suggest that it might be the most important question that we will ever ask ourselves. As school leaders, what is the experience of school that we are offering to our students, parents, and colleagues?

At the risk of repeating what I’ve written about before, the span of a human life can be understood as a constant flow of experiences and the vast majority of these “happenings” appear to have no particular author or architect behind them. They come and go, pushing and pulling us along life’s path, each one as unremarkable as the next.

But sometimes the magic happens. The world appears to stop in its tracks. We start noticing. The Moment (yes, capital M) in time is now filled with universal significance.

And sometimes, this is because these Moments have been intentionally designed. Cue the IKEA hotdog or the Popsicle Hotline.

So I’ve been wondering now for a while about how we, the people who are responsible for schools, can intentionally design the experience of school. Schools are some of the most complex places in the world, so we might be forgiven if we are wondering where on earth to start.

So let’s step back for a moment (pun intended) and imagine all the component parts of our school - all of the things we do each day, all of the people on campus and online, all of the systems that we manage - and think about whether each one of these experiences, the big and the small, might benefit from just a sprinkle of intentionality, as opposed to being left to chance. Think about whether the things that people in our school are doing, feeling, believing are because that’s what we want them to be doing, feeling, or believing - or have we just left it to chance?

To help us see school through the lens of experience, let me introduce a conceptual framework that might accelerate the conversation a little further. I call it the Periodic Table of School Experience. If you like, it’s a way of thinking about all of the tangible and (critically) intangible things that are endlessly combining and recombining in your school each day, generating millions of experiences, big and small.

A snapshot of the Periodic Table of School Experience

There is so much more to unpack here, I know, but let me leave you with three thoughts, along with the Table, to ponder right now.

  1. In a world full of schools that all look roughly the same, all of us want to stand out and be seen as truly different. I believe that, in the future, the schools that will stand out the most will be those who intentionally design their experience.

  2. Contrary to first appearances, experience design is not a distant cousin to the hard-nosed perspectives of Strategy and Marketing. It’s not at all cushions and soft furnishings. As anyone in the hospitality industry will tell you, it’s about literally creating value, impact, and lasting change. Yes, you may have a great story to tell, but experience design ensures that your story resonates with everyone who comes into contact with your school.

  3. The people who are best placed to do this work are already in your school: those who are doing admissions, marketing & communications, alumni relations… They already intuitively see school through the lens of experience. But just to make the point, I’m suggesting we call this work Advancement 2.0.

So… how was our experience of school today?

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1 Comment

Tony Potts
Tony Potts
Feb 23, 2022

I love this idea - naming all the elements that help build a great school experience is genius - and the fact that this could not only be applied to an admissions experience but even to an individual class/day/field trip/recess time is great. Love it! Thanks for sharing and good luck David & Suzette on this next adventure!

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