The parent’s “Welcome Coffee” at my son’s grade school on the first day-of-school was nicely done, complete with homemade pastries and breakfast items, and greetings from the Head of School and other luminaries. A chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances, and a marker (e.g. think the literal ringing of a school bell) to start the school session.
After a summer break, school – and work for the faculty and staff who count the school as their employer – was back in session.
This idea of a real break is quaint for people who work in the corporate world and service sector, almost like landlines and hard copy letters. It harks back to a earlier time when the pace of life – and work – had a different, slower cadence. More people did things like take real time off.
It’s different now for almost every “seasonal” business: there’s virtually no off-season for example in professional sports as keeping in shape is a year round activity of athletes and the business side is busy marketing and dealing throughout the “off season.” Even things like ski resorts mostly now have two revenue seasons - when there’s snow, and when there’s not.
Bit by bit the things that used to be seasonal from growing tomatoes to Sonoma getaways have stretched to cover more of the calendar, spreading their costs and increasing their revenues in the process.
And even many in academia are now run a year-round operation. Fixed costs like buildings and grounds are marginal items whether school is in session or not. Better to figure out a way to boost revenues during the off-season – as Stanford University does not just with summer school programs but a host of conferences and summer camps to keep dorms occupied, and dining services cooking.
The reality is that education is big business. An estimated $600 billion is spent in the United States in public elementary and secondary schools. Throw in a s.w.a.g. for the estimated 11% of kids who attend corresponding private schools, like my son’s, and a safe bet is that at over $700 billion, it’s big business by any count.
And where you’ll find that sort of big money, you’re sure to see an interest in better monetization through better facility utilization, something those of us in business have lived with for decades.
I’ll might miss those events that mark the return after a long break when they’re gone, the likely direction that many schools are headed if they’re not already there.
The lesson they provide though – the value for all of us to take a break – should live on. As CEO Gary Larsen of Clif Bar mentioned this weekend at TEDxPresidio, there is value in taking that break, even if it’s just to walk around the block to clear your head. It’s the same advice I give to my coaching clients: take 5-10 minutes to clear your head, figure out what’s most important, and take a deep breath before you move on.
While it’s likely RIP for the summer breaks that give us a reason for “back to school,” you can still “go to school” from a legacy tradition.