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Does Your School Have a Big Pie or Small Pie Mindset?

There is almost nothing better in my mind than a mid-morning warmed slice of last night's pizza. Maybe it brings back college memories the late-night out and that hunger-induced stop to a favorite joint. For the record, my pizza of choice is NY Style, plain cheese. Call me a boring, call me a traditionalist, but I grew up near Philly and that was the way it was.

Today's morning snack had me thinking about how schools either have a Big Pie or Small Pie Mindset. As a #schoolleader you probably should be able to recognize the indications of a Small Pie Mindset:

I. A limited student admissions pool. Limited to families that come to your open house, alumni families, faculty families, and families that go to the church that supports your school. At Small Pie Schools, when a person makes a suggestion about how to increase enrollment, many in the room say one of the following:

A. "We tried that and it didn't work." Translation: We made a half-hearted effort to do that but it didn't immediately produce fruit because we did not commit to it.

B. "That's a road we don't want to go down." Translation: trying that might mean some difficult conversations. We may have to say no to people we attracted that we didn't deem a mission fit. If we do that, what will our current parents say? We made them go through the gauntlet when they applied. Don't we have to do the same for these new prospects?

C. "We don't want to be like that school." Translation: A peer school did this successfully, but we can't be seen as any type of facsimile of them even if there is best practice in their methodology.

II. Hiring and Retention of Talent from a small pool based on word of mouth where there have been few new hires who have come from out of town, out of the region, or out of state.

III. A school that focuses only on the diploma process whereby students are constricted by a rigid structure of prerequisite and required courses that allow little room for student choice.

time. Students are funneled through a body of knowledge controlled by long-tenured teachers. Small pie schools like these think they have the college pipeline figured out and rein in transcripts to reflect that for which "preferred" colleges are looking. The Carnegie Unit is still the preferred and sacred unit by which all learning is measured even when the

Carnegie Foundation itself suggests "the Carnegie Unit remains the central organizing feature of the vast American education system, from elementary school to graduate school, and provides students with an important opportunity-to-learn standard. But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning."

IV. Limited community engagement. Few people from the outside come onto your campus and few people in the community venture out. Sure, it is scary to bring people on from the outside with liability, security, and inconvenience. Small pie schools have let the liability and security goblins rule. Anyone in the school business who talks to legal counsel with any regularity quickly can get scared into a small pie mentality.

Conversely, I encourage you to lead your school toward a Big Pie School Mindset:

A Big Pie Mindset comes from the work of Roger Fischer and William Ury in their bestselling work on negotiation and conflict resolution Getting to Yes which outlines strategies to see a bigger pie in conflict, one by which there is more for everyone rather than the zero-sum game many in schools devolve to when questions of expansion of opportunity come up. A Big Pie Mindset works for more opportunity for everyone in the school and aligns with opportunities in the community to make the school "bigger" than it could be on its own. It carves up turf wars and razes silos. Ultimately, what is left when #schoolleaders and their teams use a Big Pie Mindset is an open, transparent, mission-driven, thriving community.

I. They have redefined the definition of student and now include opportunities for part-time, enrichment, online, global, hybrid, nursery, community partners, and even senior citizens to be students at the school. This adds a rich tapestry of diversity to the school. It allows folks from varied socio-economic positions in varying price points and ultimately diversify the portfolio of revenue to the school.

II. They see talent acquisition as JOB One and realize that a diversity of backgrounds in the Faculty/Staff is the most likely way of preparing the student body for the world ahead. Big Pie Schools cast wide nets and consistently ask themselves these questions with honesty and vulnerability:

1. With our mission in mind, how far can we stretch our searches to make our school represent the world with people who support our mission?

2. Where are there pockets of people who share our mission but whom we have ignored or not sought in the past?


Big Pie Schools negotiate in good faith with faculty and potential faculty to make win-win situations. They utilize part-time opportunities for soon-to-be retiring faculty to ease into an "after-school life." They use mentoring situations like the MAP program at Punahou School to encourage excellent young people to experiment with teaching to see if it right for them. They embrace excellence and bring it on to campus literally or virtually in many ways including artists in residence, guest lecturers, advisory groups, community partnerships, and more.

III. Big Pie Schools are in the process of destroying the vestiges of the Carnegie Unit. They realize the end all be all of a school should not be "earning credit." Rather they offer diversified offerings for student learning that may include opportunities that are longer and shorter than a semester or unit credit. They take a page from some of the best universities in the country like Stanford, Harvard, and the Wharton School at Penn to offer micro-certifications that help students envision and practice skills they would enjoy in the future like negotiation, data analysis, global cooperation, and others. They embrace fun enrichments that many schools embrace in the summer, but Big Pie Schools embrace during the year. They even take an approach to their school and offer their enrichments virtually to anyone across the world.

IV. Ultimately, that leads to a Big Pie School Mindset that makes the school the center of its community. The school ultimately asks itself the following crucial question:

"If there were a significant crisis in our community, how would our community expect us, based our track record, to respond?" Big Pie Schools embrace these types of challenges and have built conduits by which they, their students, and their faculty/staff naturally respond.

If you would like guidance on how to shirt your school from the Small Pie Mindset to the Big Pie Mindset, let the team at RoundTable assist you. Let's discuss your situation soon. The road to a Big Pie is just one connection away!

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