December 29, 2022
I couldn’t find the right educational fit for my daughter. Eliza had cerebral palsy. She was intelligent, curious, and social but was non-verbal and non-ambulatory. I wanted the same things for her that any parent wants: happiness, purpose, and the opportunity to choose her path in life. To have those choices you need an education. Public schools didn’t give the right support, private schools wouldn’t take her, and special needs schools were too special and too restrictive. She didn’t fit anywhere. So, as a parent, I did what any parent with no experience in education would do, I started a school.
Starting a business is never easy; starting a school is exponentially harder. There are specific zoning requirements, building codes and requirements, and employee requirements. One has to find a site, secure funding for construction, and then actually design and build the school (unless you have a very large home). Then you have to convince families that you are the best option for their children to learn and grow. In this mini-series, I’ll share with you some of the pitfalls of the first five years respectively and how you can avoid them.
Year One: The importance of having advisors
Starting a business is a little like choosing a mate. In a mate, you decide what you can live with and what you can’t live without. In a business, it is deciding what you can do, and what you simply can’t or don’t want to learn to do.
After my first round of interviews, I knew that I was not the right person to be making the hiring decisions. We were launching a school. The new person would be working pretty exclusively with me and serving as the core educational expert (remember how I said I had no background in education?) and teaching the students. It was an important role. I called our board of directors to support me in the interviewing process.
On our first day of interviews, we talked to three different candidates: one didn’t have the necessary knowledge, one was alright—but not the amazing set-the-world-on-fire candidate we had hoped for, and one was a ball of energy. She was AMAZING! She was so excited about the school mission, the job, the kids, and the philosophy. She was so excited about everything that when she left I was swept up in her excitement and couldn’t stop smiling. I looked at our board member and almost jumped up and down and declared she was the one! This is the part where it is really important to have objective team members who can respectfully disagree with you. My board member shook her head, agreed that she was a bundle of positive energy, and then asked me if I could handle that amount of energy every day. Nope. And what would happen when she had a bad day, with that amount of energy? Nope. I learned a lesson that day about assessing culture fit, energy fit, and listening to the advisors I had enlisted to help me. It is difficult to be objective when our emotions are tied up in a project, so it is reassuring that we can ask for help from others.
We did make a fantastic hire for that first year, and we still rely on the work that she did for us. But she wasn’t any of those first three candidates. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had chosen not to rely on a team, to interview on my own, to make my own bad choices, and to hire Ms. High Energy. The people you choose to surround yourself with are important, both the ones that you hire and the advisors you choose to help you make those decisions.
My circle of advisors continues to grow as I grow, and I have learned to make very few decisions on my own. Some say leadership is about making decisions. It is one of the most important decisions to trust the wisdom and talents of the people you surround yourself with. They need to balance your strengths, weaknesses, and knowledge, and they need to be aligned with your vision. Then you can be equipped to make the next best decision every time.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Tanya Sheckley for Intrepid Ed News.