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Entries in international schools (2)

Defining the future of school admissions

In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead, 2010), Steven Johnson examines how and why innovation occurs. 

Addressing this question from an environmental perspective, he is particularly keen to explore the spaces that have historically led to unusual levels of creativity in individuals and organizations.  Change your environment, says Johnson, and there is a chance that what begins as a ‘slow hunch’ will connect with other ideas and, in time, provoke the start of something completely new.

Seven years ago, a group of admissions professionals from schools in Central and Eastern Europe had a hunch that they should sit around a table and begin to talk about their craft.  At a time when there was very little by way of professional development in this field and even less allocation of funds towards those wanting to be trained in this area, this certainly seemed like a good idea.  Surely no one around that table could have imagined, however, how determinative this ‘hunch’ was to be for the future of international school admissions across Europe.

Seven years later, to cut the story short, another group of admissions professionals came together in Brussels for an event entitled ‘Admissions Job-a-Like 2012’.  This time, though, one table was not enough as nearly 70 representatives from over 40 schools across Europe and beyond packed the conference room for a two day symposium on ‘The State Of Our Art’.

Hosted by the International School of Brussels, there was plenty to talk about as conversations focused on some of the most pressing questions of the day: How do we define our role within a learning organization? What kind of policy and protocol will support the work we do? How do we manage and make sense of the data we have to manage?  When and how does admissions connect to the Advancement Office?

“The thing that I’ll take away from this event,” said Kathy Messick from the American School of the Hague, “is the fact that this kind of gathering keeps us strong and cohesive.  Another person’s challenge may also be ours and this is an opportunity to support each other and come away with real strategies.”

So is it simply the case that 70 people sit in a room together, share the ‘pain’, hope to have good ideas, and shape the future of international school admissions?  Whilst it might be true to say that the wisdom is ‘in the crowd’, it is almost certainly a little more complicated than that.  And one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s gathering was the support offered by the events sponsors, bringing a new perspective to the various conversations.  Finalsite spoke about the emerging role of digital technology in telling the story of our schools, as well as linked up with the event organizers to develop an online collaboration space to keep the conversations going.  Similarly, Faria Systems were there to listen to the needs of admissions professionals as they develop a range of new, supportive software applications in this field.  Perhaps most significantly, however, Jean Vahey, Executive Director of ECIS, was also present and spoke of the historical lack of good professional development in this field and the ways in which ECIS will be looking to support this critical function in the future.

At the beginning of this gathering, an idea was dropped into the conversation.  Admissions, it was suggested, is akin to the maieutic art of bringing people to the moment of decision, understanding and choice.  In short, the role of the admissions professional is, contrary our misperceptions, a critical educational function within our schools, not simply a secretarial point of information.

So what’s the future of school admissions?  None of us have a crystal ball, but there’s a ground-swell of opinion out there and a bunch of questions that are not going away about the relationship of this function to the story of the school and the need for some kind of certification for those who are just getting started.  The conversation from this year’s Job-a-Like is almost certainly going to keep on growing and they will be demanding new kinds of spaces in which to share, learn and reflect together. 

So if your school was not involved this time around, it probably should have been.  Watch this space and look out for the ideas that begin to come from it.