Admissions, Bah Humbug

Abacus image from the Slide Rule Museum

Article originally published in the International Admissions Bulletin – issue 4, and on the OpenApply website.

I am a Business Manager, a title that conjures up the stereotype of the bespectacled Ebenezer Scrooge, hunched over his abacus, counting the sheckles, and sardonically berating anyone who dares to suggests an expense that lies outside the approved budget. Sometimes this is true, but more often than not nowadays the miserly behaviour of old Mr Scrooge has become a relic of the Dickensian era. The new and improved version of the Business Manager has a thorough understanding of all the school systems such as HR, IT, Operations, Marketing, Finance and Admissions. We actively engage with all the different department heads and in smaller schools we perform many of these tasks ourselves. We do a bit of everything except teach, and some of us have done that as well.

The other stereotypical comment I hear a lot is that ‘anyone can do admissions’. Well I can honestly tell you that this perspective is a load of hogwash. It is a generalisation held by people who have never had to do the job, or worse, have forgotten how hard it was.

What I have learned during my thirty-something years as a senior manager is to keep an open mind and listen to people. I am not just referring to the CEO or the Board of Directors, who are obviously very important and need your undivided attention, but you need to listen to your colleagues, and in an International School setting the Admissions Officer is key.

The Admissions Officer is the face of the school, a responsibility that carries a very heavy weight. To do so effectively the Admissions Officer needs to know the intricate workings of the school. Cafeteria menus, uniforms, bus timetables and after school activities are items that frequently come up for discussion during the enrollment process. A level of understanding of the curriculum is important too when it comes to presentations and school tours. Then there is the wider school community where influential groups such as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) need to be taken into consideration when it comes to supporting a new family.

The Admissions Officer has to have faith in the Head of School, the teaching staff and the academic quality of the education provided. Any member of the Admissions team that is not prepared to send their own children to the school speaks volumes to a prospective parent. Many schools offer free or reduced tuition fees for their Academic staff. It is my considered opinion that Admissions staff should receive the same cost benefits, otherwise it becomes very difficult to explain to prospective parents why their children are not at the school.

An Admissions Officer not only needs to be empathetic towards the concerns of the enrolling family, but must balance that empathy with courage to suggest alternative solutions if the school does not have the right facilities for their child. They will deal with happiness, sadness, confusion, anger, trepidation and delight, often all within the first meeting, which quite often requires them to be able to read between the lines. Management of such varied and diverse personalities is a difficult task that the Admissions Officer will perform with courtesy and respect.

For new families, factors such as visa restrictions, political ideals and the economic climate lie outside the sphere of influence of many schools, but local rules and regulations will have a significant impact on the enrollment process, and a good Admissions Officer will be across many of the issues that face these families. For example: many international schools in Vietnam have a cap on the amount of Vietnamese Nationals that can be enrolled. Breaching this cap can lead to fines and problems with the Ministry of Education and Training. With such a high demand for an international education it is not uncommon for families to exert whatever influence they might have in order to secure a place at the school. When this happens the propensity to begin enrolling students who are not ‘mission appropriate’ increases, which has a long-term negative impact upon the wider school community.

In Oman the Ministry of Education has strict guidelines on the content of Arabic that must be taught in their schools. It is also mandatory for Omani students to be taught Arabic as a first language, regardless of whether it is spoken at home. My school is an International Baccalaureate PYP School catering for expatriate children and Omanis alike. We are in the process of incorporating the local Arabic curriculum with the IB, which is no easy task. The aim of our Admissions team is to maintain a ratio of 50% Omani students and 50% expatriate students. This makes timetabling easier to manage and assists in staff recruitment. Our team also try to ensure a healthy mix of boys and girls. It is a convoluted process, aided by OpenApply, but still requiring a significant amount of human interaction. This is where a good Admissions team can really shine.

Last April I attended a training course in Doha, Qatar. The theme of the course was ‘Bringing Admissions to the Leadership Table’ and I was dismayed to learn that the Admissions Officer was still not considered to be part of the Senior Leadership Team within many schools. As a Business Manager my main responsibility is to ensure the financial stability of the school. There are many stakeholders involved in this process and I have always considered the Admissions team to be an integral part of the group. Whether you work in a non-profit or a proprietary school the pressure is on to fill places and cover costs. The Admissions team provide the Finance department with up-to-date student numbers and enrollment trends. I rely on their knowledge and expertise every year when setting the budget and without this support many of the key financial decisions that I make would become much more difficult.

In my experience Admissions is a very personal task requiring compassion, courage, empathy, strength of character and a high degree of intelligence. The admissions process cannot be templated or streamlined as it requires the right person, with an appropriate skill set, in order to be done correctly. I encourage you dear reader not to ‘Bah, humbug’ Admissions. Bring them to the leadership table of your school.

Dots or Pixels? An Interview With Adobe

Last year I was interviewed by Adobe for their digital magazine MyExpression. Here is a copy of the article for you.

Dots or pixels? Why not both? Publishers must embrace both print and digital editions to keep their mastheads strong, says Publishers Australia GM Matthew Green.

Magazines—whether niche or for the masses—lie firmly in the hearts and minds of designers and consumers. But magazines, like newspapers, have had a rough couple of years, with many publications suffering declining readerships and smaller profit margins, and some long-running titles even closing their doors. It goes without saying that the internet and digital technology have had a profound impact on this sector.

“Great design, backed with quality
content, is the key to a magazine’s
success, be it digital or print.”

Despite the uncertainty in publishing, there is still plenty of opportunity for excellence. Last November, the 2012 Magazine Week Conference, Exhibition and Excellence Awards, hosted by industry group Publishers Australia, celebrated the best in print and digital publishing. Major award winners included industry publication The Adviser, custom publication INTHEBLACK and foodie favourite donna hay magazine. Digital publishing and online integration was one of the main focuses of the conference side of the event: “Most of the feedback from Magazine Week indicated that publishers are interested in social media, digital publishing and sales strategies,” says Publishers Australia general manager Matthew Green.

The print/digital mix
The uptake of tablets in Australia has been one of the key drivers changing the way people consume media. Tablets are being sold at a phenomenal rate, with technology research consultancy Telsyte Services predicting more than 11 million Australians will own tablets by 2016—more than three times the 2012 figure. Despite these figures, Green points out that Australian publishers have “been a bit slow on the uptake with respect to tablet devices” to date.

“Print and digital is
the future for any
magazine seeking a
wide audience”, says
Matthew Green

Going digital has different meanings depending on the publication. “Some publishers have selected tablet or web-only strategies and dropped their print editions altogether. For example, Encore magazine has recently shifted from a monthly print [issue] to a weekly digital-only title,” Green says. But he goes on to say the drop in ad revenue indicates a major disconnect remains between media buying and magazine publishing.

Augmented reality is bridging the gap between print and digital, using apps with print magazines to unlock extra features such as videos, image galleries, online shopping and more. “Both Pacific and Bauer have apps for Apple and Android … I suspect more will be coming in the future,” Green notes. Watch out for apps coming soon to your favourite print reads to enhance your overall experience.

Enduring elements
While the industry continues to adapt and grow along with changing technology, some things still haven’t changed. In Green’s opinion, to be an award-winning magazine, the central elements endure: “Great design, backed with quality content, is the key to a magazine’s success, be it digital or print. Classic techniques such as the choice of typography, selecting the perfect photograph and the judicious use of white space are just as relevant on the tablet device as they are on the page.”

iDad Gets Published in Bare Essentials Magazine

Actually, iDad has been published a few times in Bare Essentials Magazine now, but I missed the last couple of issues due to personal reasons. When I asked the editor, Inga Yandell, if her readers missed me she said:

“Men around the world were left to their own devices with the absence of iDad the pilot for proficient parenting! I look forward to the return of iDad’s wit it makes navigating fatherhood in modern day entertaining when it could all to easily become exasperating.”

Inga then asked me to contribute to their upcoming publications. How could I refuse 🙂

The result was iDad’s Guide to Fitness and it is available to read here on my blog and inside the latest issue of Bare Essentials Magazine.

Inga’s final comment:

“Great to have iDad back, this feature is a draw for young dads, love it.”

Awww, shucks!

For the record I have caught and passed the bald blur now, but the blonde hottie still eludes me.

About Bare Essentials: Creative conservation, compels artists to become explorers on a journey to the most remote and unique regions on earth. Confronting the harsh conditions and hardships of the native people and wildlife these photographers, painters and authors inspire global respect and urgency for the preservation of natures vanishing gems. This issue is dedicated to adventurous artists, profiling explorer photographer Harry Kikstra, British painter Pollyanna Pickering and naturalist author Sy Montgomery. We also interview the man behind some of the most iconic images in film, Alex Bailey and feature a special message from legendary Bond star, Sir Roger Moore. We also interview the man behind some of the most iconic images in film, Alex Bailey and feature a special message from legendary Bond star, Sir Roger Moore.

iDad’s Guide to Fitness

Are We Jogging?

Or so said the eccentric mystic from the movie ‘Jewel of the Nile’ as he, Joan Wilder and Jack T Colton fled across the desert, pursued by Omar the charming, yet ruthless dictator. I often wonder the same thing in the twilighty minutes before sunrise as I dodge past garbage trucks, lonely taxis and yapping dogs.

For several weeks now I have pounded the pavements and parklands of Botany in an effort to get fit and lose some of my well-earned middle age spread. It was a conscious decision I made late December when my talking scales told me I was the perfect weight, for a bull walrus. As I frisbeed my digital tormentor out of the bathroom window I turned to look into the mirror and realised that the computerised jester may have been right.  With Reeboks on my feet and an iPod strapped to my arm, I took to the street to rid myself of the unwanted kilograms.

Ground Zero!

Initially the going was tough and waking up at six am was the first obstacle to overcome. My friend the ‘snooze’ button got more of a workout than I did in the early stages. Eventually though I managed to convince myself to move the alarm clock across the room, thus forcing me out of bed to make the beeping menace stop.

Being a man who doesn’t need directions and has never read an instruction manual, meant that there would be no ‘taking it easy’. So what should have begun with a brisk walk was more like a heaving plod as my forty something body tried to convince itself it was still only eighteen. Then I arrived at the park, six hundred meters up the road, and promptly coughed up my left kidney.

Lap 1

The first lap hurt. My shins ached, my knees creaked and my lungs were on fire. Luckily though there were other people in the paddock so I had to keep pushing myself to save face – foolish manly pride. A brunette with a short bob-style haircut ambled towards me. We smiled, waved and said ‘hi’ as we passed. Running in opposite directions meant that we would see each other five more times during the course of the three laps I intended to do. I wondered who would bail out first.

A bald blur shot past me at a great rate of knots. This guy was short, stocky and incredibly fit. I briefly entertained the idea of using him as my pace car but when I realised that he has run almost one hundred metres in just over ten seconds, I reconsidered. Minutes later he was gone from view and my new brunette friend was jogging up to me for the second time. Once again we managed a couple of words of encouragement in passing.

Rounding the third corner of the park I ran into an unexpected obstacle. Between two Norfolk pines a spider had decided to set up base camp. It’s sticky web, encrusted with half-sucked bodies of captured cabbage moths encased my head, shoulders and torso. Arachnid excreta and mummified moth has a uniquely pungent flavour that inspires a strong gag reflex, but it was the frenzied removal of the gluey fibres and not the retching that brought about my undoing. A large tree root leapt out of the soil, grasping my ankle as if it were one of Tolkien’s Ents, and threw me down onto my face.

I struggled back to my feet, spitting sod as I stood and began the second round.

Lap 2

Thankfully no one had seen my face-plant, or my erratic behaviour with the spider web, so I was able to resume my regimen with little embarrassment. The bobbed brunette toddled toward me and as we went to exchange pleasantries her eyes shot open in horror. Bewildered by her response I began to check my body for signs of damage. Sure my shirt was dirty, but that wasn’t enough to elicit such a response. I wasn’t bleeding from my fall and all the web had been removed, or had it. I ran my hands through my hair and felt what I though was a squash ball attached to my head. With a dawning comprehension of what was happening to me, eight hairy legs proceeded to run down over my ear and onto my neck. It was a humongous, grey orb weaver’s nest I had violated and now he was extracting his revenge. The spider crawled under my shirt and started down my back where I could not reach him. Thankfully they are harmless but that doesn’t stop the fear. Once again I was on the ground, this time rolling left and right frantically trying to squish the fuzzy molester. I felt his insides smear themselves across my lower back and was relieved – shirts can be washed.

Returning to my run was a little more difficult than my previous interruption. The iPod had suffered its last indignity and was refusing to play anything at all and to make matters worse I failed to notice the huge, steaming pile of dog poo in the grass ahead of me until my right foot was planted ankle deep inside it. The alleged culprit was a large white poodle being walked by its elderly owner – who just so happened to have the same permed hairstyle (its amazing how some people grow to look like their pets). Luckily for them they were over on the other side of the park and out of reach of my verbal abuse.

The brunette shuffled past once more. No words were exchanged this time but I could see her face desperately scanning me for any trace of the spider.

Lap 3

The pain was excruciating. Muscles I didn’t even know I had were burning with lactic acid and my eyes stung with sweat. I could no longer hold up my arms and my jaw hung open, allowing the little swarm of gnats I had just stumbled through to fly down my throat. They tasted rather tangy and slightly more piquant than the spider web.

The brunette and I passed each other once more. There was no wave, no hello, no acknowledgement of any kind. Just two exhausted souls trying to convince their bodies that no pain really did mean no gain.

Just as I considered quitting the run and talking the long walk of shame back home, a young blond caught up to me from behind and ran by. She had short blue bike pants, a white midriff top, and boy could she move. Instinctively I kicked my pace up a notch. Stupid, stupid man. Three strides later I was barking like the marine mammal my bathroom scales thought I was and I’m sure the council workers painting the lines on the football field heard my lungs burst.

That was it. Two and a half times round the park was the best I could do. My knees felt like jelly and my stomach wanted to barf, but I had begun the journey to fitness and weight loss.

Four months later and I’m running at least three times a week. I have given up fried, fast and junk food and lost over eleven kilograms. I feel fitter, happier and more alert (most of the time) and there have been no more spider, dog poo or Lord of the Rings incidents. I never did catch up to the blond hottie or the bald dynamo, and none of my clothes fit me anymore, but these are minor inconveniences for the improved quality of life I am enjoying.

You should try it 🙂

iDad and the Great Migration

This article was published in COSMOS Magazine as part of a writing competition on animal migration. I won 😀

Late last year the National Geographic Channel ran a series of fantastic shows on the Great Migrations of the animal world. Monarch butterflies, nomadic elephants and herds of bleating zebras graced our screen and entertained the children. One of my personal favourites was the red crab from Christmas Island. Each mating season millions of these land animals make the move from the rainforest to the beach to lay eggs and propagate the species. On the way they have to contend with car tyres, commuter trains and the yellow crazy ant, which has decimated the crustacean population. I think the reason I am so fond of these single-minded creatures is their dogged determination to get to and from the beach in spite of the adversity that awaits them, much like the coastal migration we humans undertake every Christmas holidays affectionately known as – The Sydney Summer Evacuation.

Every year, as if spurned on by the arrival of the summer solstice, families of bipedal gnus work themselves into a frenzy in preparation for the long and perilous northern road trip. In what can only be described as a miracle of nature, large metallic beasts, engorged with human detritus roll along the tar in a honking, hooting symphony of sound and colour. This is not a trip for the faint hearted though. As the mechanised mammoths plod along in the intense heat and humidity the symbiotic relationship between the four-wheeled host and its two-legged parasites gets severely tested. In an effort to make ‘good time’ the poor, ever-obedient animal often gets pushed beyond its boundaries and many end up being herded away by one of its blue-flashing cousins.

In one of the more gruesome spectacles, the many McCrocodiles that lurk beside the busy stretch of bitumen between Hornsby and the Gold Coast often pick off weary travelers. These ambush predators decorate themselves in brightly coloured plumage to attract the adolescent humans and entice them to stop with promises of fried fat coated in sodium chloride. Even the lure of eleven secret herbs and spices can prove too hard to resist for the tense iDad teetering on the edge of insanity. Sadly, many of the older and weaker creatures are frequently found by the side of the road hissing and steaming in the last throws of life as their perplexed passengers look on aghast.

Two weeks later, as if drawn by some invisible magnetic force, these pitiful critters will endure hardship all over again – in the opposite direction. It is an anthropomorphic adventure the likes of which are not seen anywhere else in the world.

Yours truly has undertaken this odyssey on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale. I hope that my advice below will help you to plan your next great migration.

Tip 1. Don’t forget the batteries.

A portable DVD player will distract even the crankiest child. However, as most cars only have one or two accessory charging points, which are usually filled with teenager’s iPods, make sure you bring plenty of spare batteries. Sure you can pick extras up at the service station, for three times the price, but if money was no object then why aren’t you flying? Also ensure that you have comfortable earphones for the little movie goer. After listening to Finding Nemo for hours on end I was really wishing that Bruce the shark would recant on his slogan, “Fish are friends, not food.”

Tip 2. Resist the temptation to allow your teenage son to play his iPod through the car stereo.

I like to think that I have a rather eclectic taste in music, but screaming death metal at any volume is too loud. It is especially offensive after your five-year-old daughter has finally gone to sleep. This is your time for peace and quiet. Nemo has been found, the Little Mermaid got her man, Barbie is still a fairy princess and everything is right with the world. Why spoil it with a toneless howl bellowed from the diaphragm of a psychotic wannabe rock star?

“But dad, it’s a love song. Listen to the lyrics.”

“You mean there are actually words to this banshee’s wail.”

“Yeah. See! He misses his girlfriend who got run over by a freight train.”

“Lets listen to Cold Chisel.”

“Old stuff is rubbish.”

The sulking teenager goes back to his earphones and begins to actively destroy his aural capacity with a sound that is best described as someone trying to scream over the top of a whining jet engine.

Tip 3. Not all sunscreen is created equally.

Everyone knows that under the harsh Australian sun an SPF factor of 30 or higher is essential if you want to go out and play. What a lot of you probably don’t know is that the wrong type of sunscreen can really put a dent in your day. Holiday dollars never seem to go as far as you had planned so this year iDad tried out some budget branded lotion in order to save a few cents. Big mistake.

The first problem I noticed was that the cream itself had the consistency of molten tar and a smell that reminded me of industrial paint. Rubbing it on my children was an excruciating experience. Ensuring that your five-year-old is sitting still is a hard enough job at the best of times. When there is a beach to get to this task becomes practically impossible.

I spent hours coating the kids in white treacle only to find that it washed right off within thirty minutes of hitting the surf. This became my second problem. Luckily my children have great outdoor skin inherited from their Lebanese ancestry. iDad on the other hand does not and by the end of the first day even the lobsters were laughing at me.

Tip 4. Sweet treats are great to keep the kids quiet on those long drives, but not so good to clean out of the upholstery.

Regardless of the week-long scorching third degree burn that eventually managed to exfoliate ninety percent of my six-foot frame, our holiday was a great success. With the car packed and extra batteries in the centre console we began the long journey home. I had purchased some lollies to distract the kids from the various fast food restaurants we would pass along the way and before we were one third home the complaints started.

“I don’t feel good daddy.”

“What’s wrong little man?”

“My tummy hurts.”

Being somewhat of an expert with motion sickness I know exactly what to do.

“Adjust the air conditioner so that the cool air is blowing on your face. That’ll make you feel better.”

As my eight-year-old leaned forward to do as he was told his breakfast, lunch and a dozen or so jellybeans exited his oesophagus, poured into the aircon outlet and all over the carpet. His brother, who had been feeling ill himself but had suffered in silence, followed suit and proceeded to coat his siblings in the same masticated and partly digested mush.

I don’t remember the name of the backwater burg we stopped in but I will never forget the barely stifled guffaws from the locals as five kids and their father stood staring blankly at the barf bag my Landcruiser had become.

My final tip for surviving the holidays is to make sure you have a change of clean clothes inside the car. Climbing onto the roof in forty-two degree heat to rummage through the luggage when you are already sunburned is no fun. Accidentally giving your teenage son dirty socks to wear is a stench worthy of its own postcode. Combining that aroma with congealing bile that you cannot get out of the air conditioner is… well I’m going to leave that to your imagination.

At long last our arduous journey is at an end. As the family wagon pulls up inside the garage children leap from open doors like baboons escaping a lion, leaving iDad with half a dozen suitcases to unpack and a mountain of washing to get through. Thirty minutes later the banshee is shrieking abuse from the stereo upstairs, the youngsters are watching Nemo yet again and the teenagers are demanding to know,

‘What’s for dinner?’