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What's wrong with best practices?

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

I know of a school that struggled with enrollment in its early years. In looking for solutions, school leaders contacted all the schools in the area to ask what those schools were doing to fill their seats. They got lots of ideas that sounded good. They spent thousands of dollars on advertising campaigns and mailers. They spent hundreds of hours on student incentives and "bring-a-friend" events. They hosted parent nights and created informational brochures.

Results were disappointing. Why? Because those strategies that had worked so well for other schools did not align with this school's mission, this leader's vision, or this community's needs. Best practices, when taken out of the context in which they were created, rarely succeed.

Best practice
Best practices, when taken out of the context in which they were created, rarely succeed.

A Google search on the words "charter school best practices" finds about 28,000,000 results. How could anyone sift through all those possibilities to decide what is best for YOUR school, to solve YOUR problem, today? And would any of them even work?

It’s not what you do or how you do it, it’s WHY

Best practices are recognized as extraordinary things people do at highly successful schools. But they are not what made the schools successful. To understand their success, you have to look at the WHY behind the practices. You have to understand the vision that lead to what they do and how they do it.


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Create your own best practices

These best practices were successful because they aligned with the school’s WHY, and became an expression of that vision. When HOW you do things and WHAT you do are in balance with WHY your school exists, you’ll be creating your own best practices.

Yes, you can look to other successful schools for ideas and inspiration. But these ideas often don't transplant well. You must be sure they are a good fit for your school or adapt them until they are.

How do you do that? Start with your WHY, your school's vision statement. If you haven't read Sinek's book, it's a great resource for this work. Focus relentlessly on your vision with every decision you make. Communicate your WHY to your staff, your board of directors, your parents, and even your students. Everyone should be able to clearly express WHY your school exists. Then, the decisions for HOW you do WHAT you do will become obvious.


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