In November, I took part in a major section of the new employee orientation at Friends’ Central – a trip to Pendle Hill, a 2-day Quaker retreat and conference center just west of Philadelphia in Wallingford, PA.
The workshop, Friends Council on Education‘s “Educators New to Quakerism” was an overnight trip with a number from faculty at Friends’ Central, William Penn Charter, Princeton Friends, Abington Friends, and others from around greater Philadelphia.
It was a great introduction of how a Quaker principles can be put into practice. (For an excellent primer, see Sidwell Friends School’s explanation.) An important facet of Quaker education is that it is a place in which “teachers acknowledge their own continuing growth, and discovery can be collaborative“, which leads to more seminar style/discussion-based classes you’d find in college classrooms.
In educator-friendly language this means that “Quaker practice is not an authority-centered, instruction-based transmission of doctrine but rather a dialogic encounter, a mutual grappling with questions, a subtle blend of self-directed and peer-assisted cooperative learning.”
The fact that Friends’ Central not only allows for but insists that new faculty and staff attend the retreat speaks to how much the school values this teaching and learning style. As one of the few non-teachers there (there was a dean, a development associate and an admissions representative from peer schools) it was one of the first insights I had into what happens in the classroom, and how it differs from well-performing local public schools and other private, progressive educational models.
In addition to insights on what makes Quaker education distinct, the discussions led me to thinking of how to market Friends’ Central and why parents would choose to send their child to Friends’ Central rather than our competitors (including a number of other Quaker schools in greater Philadelphia). At FCS (and at many non-Quaker schools), natural competition between students is often re-framed to competition against oneself (think racing against your personal best as opposed to other runners). In my mind then, an important focus is not only on ranking (on which FCS has done quite well), but more so on how our strengths match can match your child’s passion.
It got me thinking of my decision go to Mount Allison University, the feeling of connected, student involvement in student groups, and connection to professors. While the feeling of ‘yes, this is the right place for me’ felt personal there are only so many factors students take into account when choosing a school. Parents deciding on where to send their students focus on a few factors, with a special focus on the school’s programs, the environment/facilities of the school, academic performance, and teacher quality.
School communications office doesn’t have control over these aspects of the school, rather, they focus on highlighting what makes the school competitive. As then NAIS President Patrick F. Bassett noted, schools compete on price, brand, or uniqueness.
Friends’ Central is highly competitive in all three areas. Our tuition is the lowest amongst our competitor institutions, we have a strong nationwide reputation and many highly successful/influential parents and alumni in the Philadelphia area, and have a number of signature programs that set us apart from other area schools.
My job is make sure as many as possible of potential parents (and, to a growing extent, future students themselves) not only find us easily in search results and add us to “The List“, but that they are met with engaging content that encourages them to inquire/create an admissions account. It’s no secret many good options for private Quaker education in greater Philadelphia but focusing the ‘yes, and’ of the school is the next step of private school marketing. Yes, our school is among the best in the region, yes, students from here will be well prepared for college, yes Friends’ Central provides a foundation for future success AND … well, the “and” is in the details. It’s the job of the communications office to tell (and help others tell) the story of the school.
Over the year, I’ll be sharing some of the emblematic moments and compelling content that illustrates what makes FCS a special place to be.