Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why can't schools be miniature Magic Kingdoms?

I'm spending my winter break this week in Orlando, Florida with my wife, daughter, and in-laws. We visited the Magic Kingdom yesterday and Downtown Disney tonight. Throughout our visit I vacillated between disgust and amazement at the Disney empire. The expense, extravagance and commercialism can be overwhelming. Upon further reflection, however, you have to be impressed and amazed at the vision created by Walt Disney which infuses every aspect of Disney World.

Recognition of the Disney brand is one of the top in the world. The Fortune 1000 market report ranks it as the 11th most recognizable brand. Not only is the Disney logo instantly recognizable, it carries with it an ideal greater than the sum of its individual parts. Disney is associated with imagination, creativity, adventure, excitement and magic. Several other companies have achieved similar success in their branding, namely Google, Apple, and FedEx.

When touring the Magic Kingdom I was impressed by the immaculate landscaping, tightly designed themes, and unbelievable staffing and infrastructural organization. 17 Million visitors walked through the gates of the Magic Kingdom in 2008 making it the worlds most visited theme park. Every aspect of the park exudes the creative imagination of Walt Disney. Even areas under construction are decorated with quotes from Disney. Museums, theme parks, and other entertainment venues strive to achieve similar success, but Walt Disney is unquestionably the master.

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering how this fits in with education, technology, teaching, or anything at all. Simply put, why can't schools be miniature Magic Kingdoms?

First of all, very few companies, let alone schools, have a guiding vision that is understood, owned, and lived by their employees. Some do (Zappos is a good example), but this is the exception, not the rule. Are you in a school in which students, teachers, parents, and administrators are all striving for a common goal? I'm not talking about some vague goal of "academic excellence," but something deeper and more significant that requires the collective efforts of an entire community to make possible, something that impacts the culture of the school.

Does your school have a brand? Does it have uniqueness about it that sets it apart from other schools? When people think of your school what words, feelings, or ideas come to mind? Are they positive? Reputation is a powerful force. It takes years and years to build and seconds to destroy (just ask Tiger Woods). Schools need to do a better job of branding themselves. Schools create a product just like a business. Our product and methods are different, but we are still expected to produce. Charter and online schools are doing a decent job at branding themselves. Some private schools are as well. In my area (metro Detroit), Brother Rice has done a remarkable job at creating an educational brand that excites families.

Everyone wants to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. This is vision. Where there is no vision, people perish. Strong leaders emphasize and illuminate the vision. They don't always have to come up with the vision, just creatively and inspirationally communicate it to others. This is what Walt Disney was able to do. His vision was so well defined and communicated to his employees that even after his death it continues.

If schools can become miniature Magic Kingdoms, they will be transformed into exciting, dynamic, and challenging learning environments. Castle optional.


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