An interview with David Willows, story-teller, thought-promoter and Advancement Director at the International School of Brussels
A philosopher and theologian, former-chaplain, teacher, writer, family-man and, for the last 15 years, leading the Admissions and Advancement efforts of the International School of Brussels (ISB), David Willows has forged an unconventional path in the world of education marketing.
Infamous on the speaker circuit for international education events, David has invented (and trademarked) a professional tool called the “Periodic Table of Advancement
”, a grid of 21 elements such as ‘Governance’ and ‘Goal-Setting’ required by schools to advance.
For those of us who struggle to remember more than three things at once, implementing 21 might seem daunting, but David acknowledges that not all elements will be important all of the time – each school has different priorities; “the key is that over time they all have a place in the advancement story in your school”.
The periodic table has been shared by hundreds, if not thousands, of educators around the world and several schools in Luxembourg, the USA, Vietnam and India have begun building on the ideas and making them relevant for their institution. You can download your own marine-coloured one-page summary here
– we recommend printing in A2 poster-size.
For a weekly dose of David’s thought-experiments, you can follow his Sunday-morning missive; a blog called ‘Fragments’ - 300-word thought-pieces about life in the international schools’ sector, sprinkled with insights in to life as David Willows.
David draws inspiration from Greek philosophers to modern-day mathematicians; whether Zeno’s paradox (Advancement work has an infinite number of half-way points – we’ll never reach our goal) or Chaos theory (Advancement work is never a simple cause and effect formula and we must make constant small changes), there’s an alluring overlay of intellect to his writing.
David says that he reads widely outside of the field of education and he’s always looking for models, concepts and ideas that can help make sense of his work: “How can the hospitality industry help define the role of admissions, how does product marketing help inspire a good school website, how does the corporate world help us focus on KPIs and the role of storytelling in organisations?”
He also uses endearing personal anecdotes. In his recent blog post about what drives ‘momentum’ in the classroom, David’s sample group was a range of six independently-minded young people aged 10 to 25 – his children. He asked for their thoughts on what drove them forwards, or blocked them, at school. Over a family meal he collated feedback that probably rings true to any parent or educator – kids move forward when they feel a teacher ‘sees’ them and get blocked when they’re afraid of failure. Tests, resoundingly, are a ‘no no’.
So, what’s ahead for David in 2020? “Better conversations”, apparently. At ISB he’s working on phase two of the ‘ISB Experience room’ for prospective parents as well as a full articulation of the alumni lifecycle. Two different, but connected, ends of the school’s ‘customer journey’.
David excitedly says “we just keep finding a new piece of the puzzle… I’ve been putting the pieces (fragments) together for some time now and each time it feels good to connect these ideas and slowly impact the work of advancement in Brussels and beyond”. Interviewed by Kate Jillings, founder of ToucanTech, a beautiful and flexible community CRM software for schools and non-profits, used to manage marketing, fundraising, alumni and careers activities. This interview was collated via several skype and Facebook Messenger exchanges and over cream tea at a Marylebone hotel. David has taught Kate, amongst other things, that a Devonshire scone is spread with clotted cream and then strawberry jam, whilst the Cornish method spreads the jam first and the cream on top.