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Admissions As Midwife

By David Willows

Like many ideas, it started with a question.
Sitting in the Admissions Office with my colleagues this morning, reflecting on a set of survey responses from families having just joined the school, we were curious about the answers to one particular question: Did your campus visit make you more likely to apply to the school?
This overwhelmingly negative response surprised us. At least, it didn’t seem to make much sense.
For most of us, when we think of the international schools admissions process, we imagine the onsite visit to be a critical turning point in the prospective family’s journey towards eventual student enrollment. In marketing speak, it’s the "point of sale."
So we spend extraordinary amounts of time, energy, and resources on scheduling and gathering information about the family in preparation for the visit; creating and collating relevant documentation; and, then, meeting the family and bending over backwards to respond to every one of their individual—sometimes quirky—questions.
So how come, when they look back and reflect on the process, they seem to throw it back in our face and tell us that it had no impact on their final decision? Does it mean our efforts were in vain?
Perhaps in an attempt to fill the silence that had descended upon our office, I said the only thing that was in my mind: "That’s exactly how it should be! This is a sign of this team doing its job."
Suddenly, all eyes were on me, awaiting an explanation.
Then it came to me (or perhaps I knew it all along): the role of the admissions officer is just as Socrates had once described the teacher—that of a midwife.
To recap: when Socrates considered the role of a teacher, his conclusion was that truth is latent in the human mind and that, through conversation and a process in which the right questions are asked, the educator literally brings to birth what was previously forgotten.
Could it be that the craft of those of us who seek to become travelling companions for families in their moment of decision is approximately the same? There are at least three parallels that come to mind.
Socrates taught us that the role of the educator was much less about imparting knowledge and much more about asking questions that would lead people to a moment of insight or decision. Surely most of us, by now, have realized that the age of an admissions office as information bureau is dead.
Socrates also taught us that, in almost every case, the truth is already there, waiting to be remembered. In modern times, writers such as Malcolm Gladwell have put this in a different way: often the decisions we have to make occur in the blink of an eye, whereas the complex business of justifying those decisions takes place after this fact.
Again, let us consider the possibility that many parents make their decision before we ever utter a word and that all our words, brochures, and walks around the campus are simply ways of reinforcing a decision previously made.
Finally, Socrates taught us that, at the end of the maieutic relationship, the midwife disappears into the background; just as when as child is born, the focus is entirely upon the mother and child. Here again, parallels are plentiful. At a certain point, the admissions team is central to the school-family relationship. The reality is, however, it won’t last and perhaps, in the end, we’ll vanish altogether. Hence, our survey results.
People used to think that anyone could do our job. The more I think about it, though, there’s much more to this role than meets the eye. It is perhaps time to give a new set of definitions to our craft.

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09/11/2014 - jeff
sounds like a justification that may be evading a bigger issue. it could very well be that the survey data is pointing to areas that need improvement. while the argument is well presented and may make the team feel better, putting on the rose colored glasses can be dangerous.