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What Can We Learn from Disney?

I recently returned from the National Association of Elementary School Principal's Conference (#naesp15) in Long Beach, California and finally have time to quietly reflect on the week filled with fantastic memories.


There is nothing like attending a conference in 2015. It is truly amazing seeing people from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) face to face after interacting through Twitter, Voxer, and Facebook over the past several months. I wrote about this very topic last year after attending #naesp14 in Nashville. I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by incredible people within my network who truly care about students, staff members, families, and making their schools as great as they can be. Throughout the past couple of years I have been provided with opportunities to present and share my learning with small and large groups of people at the local, state, and national levels. This would never have been possible if I did not make a conscious effort to connect though social media in my first year as an elementary principal. I continue to learn, grow, share, and improve daily by the interactions and conversations that I am able to have with my PLN; however, this post is about my time after #naesp15.


After three days of #naesp15, I met my family in Anaheim for an additional three days of fun and relaxation at Disneyland. This was my first trip to Disney, and it was everything that I have heard about, imagined, and hoped to experience. I am a principal, and by habit, my mind is never completely "off" school. As I rode roller coasters, viewed shows, listened to music, experienced fireworks and light shows, I couldn't help but think about three critical areas that stuck out in my mind. I continued to ask myself, "What if our schools could be more like Disney?"


Culture The people who work at Disney love their jobs (or they are extremely good at pretending). They refer to themselves as "cast members" and ensure people have a memorable experience every single day. It doesn't matter if someone has been to Disney twenty times, or are making their first trip, the cast members at Disney are committed to providing magical experiences. The environment is extremely clean, friendly, energetic, and full of life. I lost count of the number of times that I saw cast members sweeping up garbage within the park because an attractive, clean space is important to the organization. Disney has created a culture of excellence and they clearly expect the best from their people. Can you imagine if we did this more for our students? It is unrealistic to think our students would be as excited about school as they are about Disney; however, we can make an intentional effort to make school "magical." Culture is everything, and Disney has established a great one.


Innovation Disneyland is celebrating their 60th year, and clearly they are doing many things right. A park that was built in 1955 continues to reinvent itself to stay relevant and attractive to a wide variety of people by creating a strong social media presence, developing a comprehensive mobile app, and using amazing technologies to entertain through their light shows, parades, fireworks, and rides. Disney constantly looks for ways to keep up with the times through innovative and transformational practices. What would be the result if this was done routinely in schools?


Differentiation There is something for everyone at Disneyland, whether you are five or seventy-five. There are amazing rides, unbelievable performances, excellent food, dynamic light shows, parades, acts, and enjoyable activities. I believe that we are making gains by providing differentiated opportunities, but we have a long way to go to meet the needs of various learners.


Disney has put systems in place that have led to high levels of success for sixty years and many more to come. They have established a culture of excellence, innovated practices to remain relevant and engaging, and have provided a differentiated approach to reach a variety of people. We can learn a great deal from Disney and make our schools a little more magical for kids.

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