I am writing this while on my way to the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Because I could not attend last year due to a scheduling conflict, I am particularly excited.
I love the learning that occurs at NAIS, whether in actual sessions or between them. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I hope to have my thinking flipped. I still wish for that, but I don't expect it. In reality, how often does that happen? But I know that I will at least have my thinking extended, some pins poked into my mental balloons. That's vital. I chose that descriptor quite thoughtfully, given its etymology. Many times I have said that in a vibrant school, the educators must be the leading learners. The school leaders must model and steer that. Otherwise, a school cannot revitalize itself.
As essential as that is, I love NAIS Annual Conference for a more fundamental, very human reason. Affirmation.
I've always felt very proud of my schools when I attend this conference; I'm sure I will strut a bit taller about St. John's Episcopal over the next few days. In a global sense, I am proud that my school belongs to an organization with so many outstanding member schools which are committed to their missions and to proving outstanding education to thousands of diverse students. While our peer schools var greatly in terms of size and culture, we have that in common. We also tend to do a nice job of balancing rather traditional and timeless human values with more progressive notions. In a more particular sense, I feel gratified that, as I hear many of the ideas presented, while we have plenty of work to do, St. John's does so many things well--things being presented as exemplary practice. More important, I know that we will take on those areas where we can improve.
The affirmation also comes from being surrounded by a few thousand other folks who have chosen to make independent schools their life's work. Especially other heads of school. Ours is a unique position, one certainly totally different than anyone else in our schools. As a former head remarked to me about the conference, "the best part of the experience is that it reminds you that you aren't crazy." True enough, but I also like sharing stories and picking brains. It's also simply a time to re-connect with colleagues from the past, as I have plans for several meals, and to make new friends.
I'm not sure how many ACs I've attended through the years--perhaps twenty. Thye have changed over the years, thanks to visionary leadership by Pat Bassett and his folks. Recently social media has altered the experience, extending it beyond the physical conference. Yet one point remains consistent: Each one has in, some way, proven fulfilling. I fully expect #NAISAC13 to be one of the best.