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Its Time for Show Business to Replace Show and Tell

by Paul Young

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Like the well-worn elementary school activity, many education practices simply "show and tell" our customers, the public, what we think they should know. The communication process often lacks any significant human interaction or emotional connection. Instead, the "business" of education could be dramatically improved by integrating a "show business" approach into much of what we do.

What Scott McLain suggests to business leaders in his book All Business Is Show Business is also applicable for educational leaders. Most educators think their work is focused on teaching, learning, or providing some related support service. But what we must realize is that the real "business" of education is that of creating relationships and emotional connections with people - students, staff, parents, and the diverse members of the community. When that focus is mastered, our customers (the public, including students) know that someone cares for them, they are treated with respect, and their positive experiences and interactions result in improved service, teaching, and learning. Good teachers have always known this. It is time that we let all school employees, from all levels of the organization, in on the secrets.

And what are those secrets? Nothing novel, just good, common sense and concern for people that successful businesses have mastered for years.

McLain uses a simple example. "For the last thirty years, young people have been taught their ABCs by Big Bird, Bert and Ernie. That means they arrive on the steps of the school or their very first day of formal instruction expecting to be entertained as they are educated." Principals see this being played out in classrooms everyday. Where teachers can hold students' attention by entertaining, motivating, and creating emotional connections with their students, attendance, behavior, and achievement are often higher. Where the classroom environment is blah and boring, students don't take long to "show and tell" their lack of interest. Whether we choose to acknowledge this phenomenon or not, this is the reality of schools.

High stakes testing has driven school personnel to focus on standards, realign curriculum, and teach to the tests. Resulting test data is often disappointing. Yet, there are many shining examples of master teachers (performers in the classroom) who instinctively connect with diverse learners, overcome the odds and achieve success. The study of these relationships, and how they can be implemented throughout all levels of the "school business," will lead to the higher levels of performance the public expects and demands.

Educators often cringe when business practices are cited as improvement models for schools. But a "show business" philosophy is far different from the typical models of business of the corporate world. The purpose of school "show business" is to create emotional connections that are so satisfying to customers and employees that loyalty is assured. Moreover, it will work and produce results, and it won't add to already strapped budgets. Some simple tenets of the "show business" philosophy, focused on product, service, and experience, can be implemented everywhere.

For the public

  • Enable customers to connect with the product - teaching and learning. It must be of the highest caliber.
  • Focus on human emotional connections and experiences. These experiences must be satisfying to the customer. Employ receptionists/greeters (even volunteers) at all levels of the organization.
  • Meet the needs of the customers, whatever it takes.
  • Provide the public with a story they can tell others. The story will stick in their minds far longer than a list of facts and data.

    For students

  • Teachers must emulate strategies of entertainers - students have continuous exposure to these strategies in their real world.
  • Focus less on the technical aspects of mastery of information and more on the mastery of teacher-student interactions. Develop a personal, emotional connection with each student, no matter the size of the classroom or school.
  • Prepare for each lesson as an actor does before going on stage.
  • Provide service to all students that meets needs and extends beyond the classroom.

    For employees

  • Employees are the "show business" of schools from the public's point of view. They are the school. Invest what it takes to make employees loyal to the organization so they will create amazing emotional connections with customers.
  • Enable all employees to feel important, valued, and a part of the team. Encourage social interactions.
  • Provide professional growth opportunities and networking within and outside the organization.
  • Continuously develop strategies that enable employees to enhance their abilities to perform their jobs.

    As school personnel meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind, IDEA, and other federal, state, and district mandates and expectations, working harder at an old plan will likely produce many the same results. A different, bold new plan is needed. The answer is right in front of us. We have almost 24-7 exposure to opportunities. Perception is reality. If our customers perceive we are blah, boring, and failing to meet their needs--we are!

    Let's learn what many already know. Let's get past our traditional "show and tell" attitudes and determine that business of education, in every aspect and level, will be dramatically improved when we are all "on stage" and create experiences and service that will "wow" the public.

    Paul Young is a retired elementary principal from Lancaster, Ohio. He served as President of OAESA in 1997-1998 and as President of NAESP in 2002-2003. He is an author with Corwin Press and currently the Executive Director of the West After School Center in Lancaster. His books, Mastering the Arts of Mentoring Principals (KGE Press, 2003) You Have to Go to School - You're the Principal: 101 Tips to Make it Better for Your Students, Your Staff, and Yourself (Corwin Press, 2004),and Mentoring Principals (Corwin Press, 2005), are available through NAESP's National Principals Resource Center or from Corwin Press at You may reach Dr. Young by email at [email protected] or through the Corwin Press Speakers' Bureau at 1-800-818-7243.

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