Friday, January 29, 2010

Boards of Education and Cruises - Both Have The Same Issue: What Standards Apply?

Another part of my life, which I don't really talk much about, is that I am a member of the Colts Neck Board of Education.  As much as I seem so focused on the cruise and yacht industries, the reality of it is my heart is with the kids.  It really isn't something to boast about, but rather quietly do.  (Can you imagine?  Me wanting to be quiet about something!)

Because of my diverse background, having an B.S. with honor in biology and a law degree...as well as CLIA's Elite Cruise Counselor certification (sounds kind of silly next to the other two, but it is still a sign of upper level diversification), and my obvious desire to strive for the best, I seek the best of others.  Whether those "others" are teachers, curriculum, administrators, stewardesses, waiters or captains one issue that seems to always pop up is "What is the Standard That Applies?"

There are language arts classes in the same grade in the same school with the same written curriculum that I would defy anyone to find any similarity between.  One may be working at a much higher level, with students engaged and excited, with another having virtual chaos running rampant with a teacher that seemingly looks at her students as a way to get paid rather than her charge to nurture and educate.  There are the science teachers that teach old wives's tales while others make science come alive, social studies teachers that innovate and change approaches as our rapidly altered world faces our children with others defiantly stating, "I have taught this course the same way for the past decade and there is no reason to change it."

This is where my school board focus comes in.  While many would focus on "that" teacher, I focus on "those students".  Can you imagine the lack of learning and the mixed messages when Student A gets all the motivating teachers and is learning, Student B gets all the "easy" teachers and is bored to death and Student C goes from great to gallows as the bell rings.  Essentially one in three students is getting a proper education, but I bet Student A with a C average is better educated...and happier...than Student B with an A average.  How do we fix that?  It is tough.

Take a moment.  Now, don't you think that also applies to the cruise lines?  Guest A has a great experience(consistently high quality cuisine and service on a solid ship).  Guest B has a good experience (inconsistent cuisine, service and/or ship, but enough good and the fellow passengers made any imperfections seem minor).  Guest C has fine cuisine, but has to engage in "seat in this area of the dining room" or can't get a drink while watching a show. All three guests are asked to grade the experience and all, based upon varying standards, declare all three cruises receive a grade of A.  How do we fix that? It is tough.


I think a start would be an series of objective standards and a consistent manner of measuring them (testing); not only at the end of the marking period (cruise), but during it.  Some cruise lines have taken to this concept by handing out comment cards about midway through a short cruise or early on on longer voyages.  And some of those lines actually seek further education (speaking with guests) and then, with that extra help, try to improve and do better on that end of the marking period test (end of cruise comment card). 
 
However, as I wrote yesterday, there is an emotional aspect to a guest perceptions of "their" cruise and a honest desire and focus on making the best possible.  (And, folks, don't we all know that there are the "others" that make a sport of finding fault and then demanding a free cruise on the very line they found all the faults with!)  The problem, of course, with the emotional aspects being a part of the situation is that there is a most definite loss of objectivity.  So the comment cards, even with criticisms, really aren't all that objective.  In fact, you might be surprised to know how many of my clients intentionally don't give honest grades because they don't want the crew to suffer the consequence.  (I call that intentional grade inflatation!)
 
I know you are waiting for my answer to this conundrum. Unfortunately I don't have one...other than to simply speak my mind about what I expect and what I observe in as an impartial way as humanly possible.
 
I do, however, leave you with this thought - which applies to teachers, students, yacht crew, travel agents, lawyer and whomever else:  If you have an understanding of what is expected, put in the serious effort needed to meet or exceed those expectations, don't worry about the grades.  Eventually, if you are consistent in your efforts, the grades will come. There is not a cruise line out there that cannot achieve an objectively graded A if they truly define their product/expectations and put serious effort into meeting or exceeding them. 

My "job" is neither to engage in grade inflation or reward those that don't put the "serious" effort in.  So I ask you, "What is the Standard That Applies?".  Let me know on The Gold Standard Travel Forum.