Hazards Ahead: How to Help Your School Succeed in 2024

At Mission Minded, we partner with independent schools of all kinds and sizes across the country to boldly elevate their reach and impact. And we’re seeing some trends.

With our focus on strategic plans that set bold intentions for a school community + messaging, brand, admissions, and capital campaigns that inspire families, we see themes and patterns that suggest challenges ahead for your school.

As you prepare your school to meet 2024, here are our trend predictions, and issues you’ll want to consider:

1. The contentious 2024 US election will influence your school’s community in many ways.

The 2024 election will dominate the headlines and impact the emotions of your faculty, staff, and families. Regardless of political positions and election outcomes, your community is likely to feel a range of draining emotions, and leadership will be called on to steady the seas, and address current affairs in a meaningful way.

Start thinking now about how that will affect your school, and put plans in place to support individuals, groups, and your community as a whole throughout the year.

What we advise: Lean heavily into your school’s values as a guide, both for decisions you make, and how you communicate them. If your values are not already expressed clearly we offer this read on making your school values active, and this read on bringing your personal values to work in a meaningful way.

2. A human touch will be all the more necessary in an AI world.

We are going to see an increasing amount of online copy generated by AI, and readers are getting more and more familiar with picking out “machine language.”

Beyond just a classroom issue, consider the limits on how AI-generated content should be used in your admissions, fundraising, and community communications. Your school’s brand has a distinct personality built on authenticity. If you’re putting forward content easily discerned as being generated by AI, you’ll lose credibility and the ability to truly connect with your audiences.

What we advise: AI has its own brand, style, and tone of writing. To make it work for you, highly customize any AI drafts with your school’s brand ideals and personality traits. If your school’s brand and personality traits are not crystal clear, now’s the time to zero in to ensure your communications flourish with humanity.

3. More schools will try to be all things to all people.

There will be a greater need for your school to be clear about who you are and what you stand for. As more families look to public schools or look at a larger set of independent school choices for their child, your school must stand for something highly unique with corresponding value that is clear and unquestionable.

Yet when enrollment dips, schools default to the complete opposite: rushing to fill seats by promising families they are whatever the family is seeking. This corrodes trust, creates cultural challenges, and ultimately weakens the school’s aim to strengthen its position.

What we advise: Be unapologetically bold in claiming what your school uniquely provides. If your strategic plan doesn’t contain an audacious vision for the world you educate students to create, you’re missing the chance to unite your community around extraordinary results. Read how your next strategic plan can and must break from the expected.

4. The unstable economy will decrease donations.

The same economic uncertainty prompting independent school families to consider public schools may also result in your community being more cautious about supporting your annual, capital, and endowment campaigns.

Raising money from parents, grandparents, and other donors will require a more moving appeal than ever before. Schools who rely on their traditional messages won’t reach their goals easily, if at all.

What we advise: Don’t assume your community “gets it.” Unpack the magic of your school’s vision for donors as well as you would for admissions appeals. Help your families see what they make possible with their gift by aligning with bold, strategic, visionary ideas.

5. Boards that don’t rewrite their job descriptions will harm their schools.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many boards shifted from governing to management. It was all hands on deck all the time for years. That was needed, and it helped schools survive and thrive.

Trustees stepped up in the right ways for the times, but many have yet to return to the governing role called for today. We have seen boards across the country micromanaging competent Heads and administrators, forgetting the line between governance and management, causing morale and operational challenges amongst an already beleaguered group of staff.

What we advise: In 2024, Trustees need to actively and intentionally remove themselves from the day-to-day, work with their Head to set visionary goals, provide the resources for moving toward the vision, and get out of the way. Read more about the trend and how to reverse it.

6. Exhausted faculty and administrators will find their fuel or exit education.

The effects of COVID-19 simply aren’t over. The sheer will that allowed school faculty and administrators to work through to 2023 is waning. Their commitment and positivity is still strong, but the lifestyle may no longer feel right. Burnout is real and reversal is difficult.

We’re already seeing a quiet exit, especially among administrators, who simply can’t muster the energy for another year, regardless of the love they have for their school.

What we advise: Help your faculty and staff find their fuel by offering more downtime, support, and grace.

7. Brave leaders will be needed.

Few leaders are fearless, but all need to be brave. Our society sells us the idea that good leaders are fearless, even bordering on hubristic. In reality, most school heads and administrators are humble humans, with fearlessness waxing and waning based on the day.

In 2024, what school leaders need instead is to understand their own humanity, give themselves empathy, allow for imperfections, disbelieve the imposter-syndrome inner self-talk, and tap their bravery resources when things are scary.

Being anxious is human given all that school leaders face today (see 1-6 above for starters.) Fearlessness is unrealistic, but being brave is possible when leaders keep their eye on what’s best for students.

What we advise: Be brave enough to admit you’re not fearless, and make it okay for your colleagues to do the same. Read our blog on brave leadership to learn how and this one featuring a Head of School sharing her leadership lessons.