I have three friends

The other night at dinner, it dawned on me that I had a first-time experience. I travel a lot for work, and the last 8 days included something special. I told my family, “I got to see my three best friends in one week.” This is pretty amazing because I meant my friend Drina in Calgary, Mo in Nova Scotia and Dawn in Montreal. But my kids started listing other friends – here in St Catharines and elsewhere – and they would challenge me, “Well, isn’t she a best friend too?” When it came to my sister or my sisters-in-law, or to Sonya whom I babysat when she was 18 months and remained close to her now that she has just graduated from university, we had trouble with definitions.

We also talked about friends on FaceBook. Since I am not on FaceBook, my son pointed out that it would take me ‘forever’ to match his number of friends, which is over 100. I was quick to point out: “But they aren’t your friends!” and so the debate on definitions continued.

We eventually agreed that categorizing and defining friendship is irrelevant; and for that matter, so is numbering them. We agreed that we were fortunate to have so many friends, however you define it.

All organizations seem to be thinking about metrics. You see it in ads – maybe you like the HSBC posters in the airports as much as I do. Two of my favorites are ‘Every day 200,000 people leave the countryside for the city’ and ‘Five times more people are learning English in China, than there are people in England.’

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard the following adages:

  • What gets measured, gets done.
  • If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.
  • Measuring something that won’t get talked about, doesn’t matter.

I’m currently reading, The Non Nonprofit: For-profit thinking for nonprofit success by Steve Rothschild. He lists seven principles, and naturally, one of them is called, “Measure What Counts.”

How are our CAIS schools thinking about metrics? Three areas to consider as we head into the final month of school, a month dominated by measurement of students:

  1. At our Governance Focus Groups, we got into a discussion of metrics, and I felt those same questions surfacing. What’s worth measuring? What metrics should the Board examine? NAIS offers a Trustees Dashboard (for members) worth consideration by Boards.
  2. This summer at the Leadership Institute, when we bring together Communications Professionals from across Canada, one of the areas of focus will be metrics – how many hits on your school’s website? How many friends on FaceBook? Do any of these social media metrics matter?
  3. New standardized tests are being piloted in independent schools in the USA, where they struggle with meaningful tests: HSSE looks at high school engagement and CWRA looks at college and work readiness. Kids are our core business, but how do we measure kids and success? And how do we use that data to improve our teaching and learning?

I believe in metrics because I believe in transparency and goal setting. (I wouldn’t be in the business of school improvement through accreditation if I didn’t believe we need to assemble evidence – quantitative and qualitative – to track progress and continually improve.) It was Pat Dawson, Head of Crofton House School, who reminded me of Jim Collins’ approach to metrics in the social sectors:

“A great organization is one that delivers superior performance and makes a distinctive impact over a long period of time. For a social sector organization, performance must be assessed relative to mission.”

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