Who do we serve?

“You gotta serve somebody….”  Bob Dylan

Who do we actually serve in our schools and who should we be serving?   What changes in our thinking when we apply the notion of customer service to the school environment?

In their book Innovation:  Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want, Curtis Carlson and Wililam Wilmot raise three central questions about customer service that guides their innovation model: 

  • “Who is your customer?
  •  What is the customer value you provide and how do you measure it?
  • What innovation best practices do you use to rapidly, efficiently, and systematically create new customer value?”

Taking these questions separately–

“Who is our customer?”

Obviously, it should be students and secondly their parents and families.   But are the decisions we make in line with the view that students are our customers?  Are we providing the kind of service that we would expect if we were customers to either our students or parents?   And does this analogy completely play out?   (Obviously customers aren’t required to be somewhere, nor required to shop en masse, nor to follow pre-defined rules for shopping, etc.?)    But how does our thinking change if we think of our students as customers?  What are the obstacles getting in the way of this kind of thinking?

“What is the customer value you provide and how do you measure it?”

Big question.  In recent years, we’ve viewed this from a very cut/dried perspective in terms of measurement.   But don’t we need to define what value we are trying to provide before we just start measuring it?  Is all of the value something that can be measured in one objective test?  Are we measuring ourselves as schools?  If we set up a  mission statement that we want to achieve a goal, do we come back at the end of the year and really look at whether we did some things towards that goal, or is it just a glossy statement?  

The same is true in our classrooms or libraries?  If we have some goals for our own learning spaces, did students help define what is of value to them?   How do we assess how we are doing?   Do we lay out some specific goal posts for ourselves in addressing the value we are planning to provide?   And once we do that, how are we measuring it?  

Our campus Vision committee this year has formed an assessment committee to work on defining our mission more clearly and then also outlining ways that we can assess our growth as a school–not just with standardized tests, but in taking a look at many different areas of our campus that fit into the mission.   This is a grass roots effort, and we are learning as we go, but it’s giving us the chance to really talk about how we could measure our success in different areas, and address weak areas as well.

“What innovation best practices do you use to rapidly, efficiently, and systematically create new customer value?”

Do schools think of themselves  as creating “new customer value”? ( I do think librarians tend to think this way, as we are used to being in the business of promoting student literacy, and have the flexibility to introduce new customer services fairly easily. ) But in general, how flexible are our school systems in introducing new customer value?   Do we even consider that as part of our mission?  

I think within specific classrooms, teachers do grow and consider this part of their work–introducing new concepts, methods, and tools as ways of creating value for their students.  And I think inside individual classrooms, if a school environment is not too controlling or limiting, teachers have tremendous flexibility in always growing their teaching and exploring new methodology and philosophies.   But are they getting the institutional support they may need to do that?  And is the school as a whole utilizing the best innovation practices?

Carlson and Wilmot suggest some innovation strategies that can be helpful, like the importance of “innovation champions.”   When I think of school districts or individual schools that are making exciting changes, it seems that in their system somewhere, there are innovation champions supporting that.

They have other excellent recommendations that I’ll share in a later post that I think have many applications for our schools.

So, who are we serving?

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