Bringing people together to a shared understanding and common goal!


American Embassy School, New Delhi is at the heart of Delhi’s international community, located in the midst of the diplomatic enclave in the green, parklike southern part of the city. AES has offered an innovative American curriculum with an international perspective since 1952. Elementary, Middle, and High School offer a broad learning experience for the whole child. AES education is packed with opportunities for students to explore and figure out their passions and interests, sometimes by simply being brave, making some mistakes along the way and growing more aware.

Our school caters to the diplomatic, NGO and multinational business community with a student body of 1,120 from over 60 different countries. The faculty includes 143 expatriates and 24 host country teachers. AES is well known for its service learning ethic and how the school enthusiastically embraces the Indian host culture.

AES has faced enrollment challenges for the past five years. To turn the situation around, one of the things we started focusing on was standardised systems design, nurturing a healthy team culture and striving for service excellence.

Every single team member is instrumental in letting prospective AES families feel what it’s like to be part of a school which is informative, warm and welcoming. Any school can put in a unique program, have great facilities, and hire great teachers, but they can’t always build a community culture that is special.

Long term systems that make an impact

In our ambition to grow, we first had to get our own equation in order. Our admissions office was a combination of online and offline procedures with little control over data and information about our incoming students and parents. Response time was lagging and it was hard to know where families were in the process.

The admissions journey for families was somewhat disjointed and although prospective AES parents received good service from strong team members, the flow and structure of
what needed to be done for visitors, incoming families, re-enrolling or leaving families,
and review committee members was not functioning smoothly.

Admissions team members started asking questions, challenging the status quo, telling our stories, and building shared understanding together. We started thinking about our roles and tasks using the enrollment journey as a framework: Awareness – Inquiry – Education – Admission – Application – Enrollment – Retention – Alumni Engagement. Cross training was also an important component for the admissions team in order to increase our effectiveness.

The first step was to implement a new admissions software system —OpenApply— to ensure all data was kept safely in a shared centralized place. In the past, most of the information was shared in a Google Drive to avoid misunderstandings. But shared documents aren’t shared understanding (Patton, 2014). In fact, our documents were all over the place without any structure to extract what was needed anytime or anywhere.

It was clear that we needed to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, whether it was our school parents or the divisional admissions review committee members. How could we optimize and extract data in a variety of ways which would be accessible for all users?

More importantly, implementing OpenApply to collect information gave us the ability to get to know our new students and families better. They are now well known and cared for from day one.

A centralized system brought teams and people together

It’s important to discern why we do what we do. In fact, it’s not just about collecting data. We knew that our job was more than this. It was about changing the world in small ways step- by-step. It was about well-being and transition care for families.

By centralizing the process, there was greater transparency and all team members were able to access the information at any time of the day making sure that we were able to serve our families better in a timely fashion.

As a team, we’re still working on how to best support each other and use our imagination in order to give personalized service to our parents. This is to ensure clear roles and structure with enough flexibility that each team member has autonomy rather than always seeking advice from a supervisor for every single task. We learned from each other and the diversity truly enriched our team.

Service Excellence

So how can you be the best-of-the-best in both attitude and aptitude? Be kind, happy, empathetic: but also skilled. It took motivation and training to bring us where we are now but we’re definitely still a work in progress.

Admissions collected information in OpenApply on why families applied to AES and the data gave us some good insights into what our families valued as most important to them. A few themes that surfaced were strong curriculum, community, diversity, core values, and character building. We realized that we had to start with the WHY…Since 1952 AES has always believed in challenging the status quo, and making a difference. Our purpose is to welcome and support students who will serve and lead people in one way or another to make our world a better place. “Enter to learn, leave to serve” has been our motto for many decades!

“Culture doesn’t just tell you what to do – it shows you how to think.” (Frei, F and Morriss, A. 2012).

Frei, F. & Morriss, A. (2012). Uncommon Service. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Patton, J. (2014). User Story Mapping – Discover the whole story, build the right product. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

About Ylva Kovacs

Ylva holds an Early Childhood Degree from Wheelock College, Boston University, and began her professional career in Admissions at Singapore American School in 2008. She arrived at the American Embassy School in June 2018.

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