Creating a Culture of Stickiness
by Cathy Kits, SCSBC Development Director ◊
Christian education is a long-standing tradition in my husband’s family. The picture below was taken in 1909. The confident young man privileged to hold the class sign is his Opa (that’s “grandfather” in Dutch), standing in front of the Christian school in Lutjegast, the Netherlands. He’s in Grade 3, although the picture includes a younger brother and an older sister, so it must have been a combined class. A few years after this picture was taken, Opa was told there was no longer any room for him in the school. We don’t know if this was true, or if his father could no longer afford the payments. At that time, Christian schools in Holland received no government funding. Whatever the case, Opa cried that day. Later in life he reacted to this experience by ensuring that every one of his many children received a Christian education and by becoming an enthusiastic advocate for Christian education in Holland and Canada.
Jump to 2015. We have a rich tradition of Christian education in BC. But we also have a growing concern in our Christian schools – families who are choosing Christian schools, not because of a deep passion for Christian education, but rather because they see it as a good option for their children. They may indeed come in the front door, but the back door remains open and they will leave when they become dissatisfied with the school.
At the heart of this is our culture’s consumer mentality carrying over into the educational realm. Parents, and increasingly children, when faced with the inevitable times of dissatis-faction with the school, are making the decision to go out the back door in the search for what they perceive as the better option.
When a family leaves your school, it impacts the school in many ways, not the least of these being the school’s tuition revenue. However, the greater reality is that you lose the opportunity to serve that child, that family, to have your mission impact them, to fulfil your God-given purpose.2 Our desire is to have families embrace the work of the Christian school in their children’s’ lives as they learn to be a part of Jesus Christ’s work of cosmic renewal in the world today.3
How can we help these families understand that Christian education is not just a good option? “In an increasingly secular and humanistic North America, high quality, distinctive Christian education has never been more relevant.”4 And never before has it been so crucial to build intentionality into your efforts to connect families to your school’s mission and vision.
The challenge is to find opportunities to engage with families to strengthen their commitment, to promote “stickiness,” helping them move from consumers to committed parents and even, to ardent advocates for Christian education.
There are many strategies that schools can employ to assist in the process of re-recruiting families. At the core, they are first and foremost about developing relationships – the who, then the what and the how.
What are some of the ways that schools kindle a deep appreciation for the value of Christian education?
1 Title credit and front door/back door concept: Larry Osborne, Sticky Church, Zondervan, 2008.
2 Paraphrased from David Urban, The Real Value of Retention, Center for the Advancement of Christian Education, http://cace.org/the-real-value-of-retention.
3 Harro VanBrummelen, For the Love of Your Child, Society of Christian Schools in BC, 2008.
4 Joyce A. Workman, Mission Advancement Consultant, Christian Schools International.
The re-recruitment process begins as soon as a new family enrolls in your school, and the first year is crucial in beginning to build those quality relationships. The goal is to continually reinforce the family’s initial decision to enroll at your school.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, here are some ideas to help promote stickiness.
- Identify clearly who you are and what a mission appropriate family looks like for your school.
- Align your recruitment efforts with your school’s mission. Each school is unique and needs to be intentional in enrolling families that fit with its mission.
- Clearly articulate what you expect and need from families.
- Empower deeply committed families to engage with families who are new to your school.
- Create opportunities throughout the year to nurture relationships among staff, parents and students.
- Talk about your school’s mission and vision in a way that truly engages families, not just at the entry point, but in all of your communications.
- Create opportunities for meaningful parent involvement to foster a sense of belonging.
- Tell your story. How is your school impacting a student, a family, your community, God’s world? How are your students, alumni, staff, being transforming influences in the world?
- Be authentic. What is distinctive about your school? What is happening that is exciting, challenging, “mission accomplishing”?
- Engage students in developing a graduate profile that they can own.
- Let parents know that you are praying for their child and what you are striving to do in the life of their child.
- Provide regular, strong home-school communication.
Give opportunities for feedback on your school’s strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate the strengths. Address the weaknesses.
- When an issue arises, provide a thoughtful response with the promise of continuing dialogue.
- Evaluate and address trends. Why are families enrolling?
- Why are they leaving?
- Pay attention to transition points in your school.
– Provide opportunities to grow student relationships between grades.
– Two years before the transition, begin communicating to parents on what to expect as students “move up.”
– Plan student activities during the year to build anticipation for the next grade.
– Plan a grade trip at the start of the transition grade.
- Personally communicate to families who are wavering in their decision to stay at the school.
- And most importantly, pray for and with your families.