Saturday, February 28, 2015

Affirmation Through Absence: Thoughts on #NAISAC 2015

     I'm writing this post somewhat out of guilt. I had been honored to be selected as one of the official bloggers for the NAIS Annual Convention this year. But I ended up not making it to the convention this year--the second year in a row. Of course, I'm sorry to have missed it. Last year it was for health reasons (all better now). This year weather messed with my schedule and I needed to stay in Dallas. Based on the last couple of days, that's probably just as well, given my need to be back and how many haven't been able to fly in because of snow and ice. It's also leading to an interesting "experiment," which I'll try to capture in this post.
     We know technology has changed how we do so many things, some of which we couldn't do before. Once I knew I couldn't attend the conference, I wondered how well I could gain a sense of events through social media and a few phone calls afterwards. I'm very grateful to all the people who posted on the community site and the many people tweeting. I've also seen some great photos; I especially liked the close-ups of the work done by the graphic artists.What follows are the points I gleaned as perhaps dominating the conversations. I know they are heavily influenced by whom I follow, and for someone else these might be very different. I also add a bit of my own reaction.

  • As one would expect when the conference theme is "Design the Revolution," there seemed to be loads of sessions and energy around design thinking. That's awesome, and more and more people seem willing to embrace this approach. At the same time, I sensed some worry that eventually it will fade away as other buzzwords do. There seemed a mix of whether or not the point of empathy with the user was lost at times. If that's the case, and we end up, for example, just redesigning curricula, I think we've missed the point. After all, even before we knew the term design thinking, aren't the basic principles of it what we are supposed to have been doing all along?
  • People had a mixed reaction to the panel of college presidents, with some thrilled they were acknowledging issues, but many others feel they were not accepting their part in the issue or offering any solutions. I don't think we can count too much on them to do so, as they feel the same pressures many independent schools do. I wonder how we balance our idealism and our realism.
  • Tied to that notion, loads of verbiage about having the courage to make big changes, debate about whether significant change is hard or uncomfortable, whether teachers or administrators are the more willing or loath to make such things happen. One thought I have is that until we bridge that last gulf--along with breaking other real and imagined constructs--it likely won't happen. It comes down to getting the culture right before anything can happen. That, and as I've written many times, truly embracing our independence.
  • Quite a few complaints about "boring" sessions which failed to include any real engaged and active learning. That's worrisome, for it makes me wonder how people still doing things that way are going to design any sort of revolution. For that reasons, among others, I also wonder about this idea of revolution. Our schools do many things right, and I think we also need to look at progress in relation to where a school starts. Plus, constantly changing too much, too fast always makes me wonder if a school truly knows itself. The change must be thoughtful and measured to be meaningful. Having said that, I'll contradict myself and admit I often want it to happen much faster. As a head, it's tough to know how to strike the right pace and balance (a topic I'm planning for another post soon).
Finally, I realize an eternal truth once again. It's a great one for us to be reminded of quite regularly. It's a notion that Lori Carroll captured in an earlier post about the #isedchat Tweetup in Boston. For all the talk about more education being on-line and the end of giant conferences, I don't believe it will happen to the extreme that some people imagine. There is simply something essential about the communal experience of coming together for a common and admirable goal. Kids need that from their schools, and we need that as independent school educators.
     For that reason, I fully intend to be at annual next year, and I hope to be asked to blog so I can make up for dereliction of duty this year. In the meantime, I'd love to know if I captured the flavor of this year's event and what I missed.

Cross-Posted on 2015 NAIS Annual Conference Online Community

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Reason for Heading to #NAISAC 2015...I Hope

            Two days before the 2015 NAIS Annual Convention, and I'm wondering if I will make it to Boston. Ironically, after the horrendous winter New England has endured, the weather here in Dallas is raising the doubts. After a relatively warm winter, we've had our first ice storm of the season. Just an inch, but that cripples North Texas, and there is no warming expected. This would be the second consecutive year I miss, which would really be a drag, for "annual" is one of my year's highlights.
            The possibility of missing again has me wondering just why I feel that way. Many reasons are obvious: the colleagues, many of whom I see only at this event; the amazing speakers; the sessions; wonderful meals in new restaurants. But there is something deeper than that. We come for affirmation.

            As independent school leaders, we accept the challenge of moving our institutions--indeed, the entire enterprise of education--forward in very exciting, but very uncertain times. As the conference theme calls, we are to "Design the Revolution." In doing so, we have to operate on faith and vision and imagination, all vulnerable to cynical challenges. Annual conference is a time that assures us we may not have all the right answers, but that many of us are asking crucial questions.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gut Reaction to Interview with NFLer Turned HS Coach

     This morning I heard a radio interview that had me excited, but ultimately disappointed me. It was with former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, who is now a nigh school football coach. He recently moved from Tacoma to Waxahachie, TX, to become the head coach there. Pretty cool, I thought, especially when he talked about how he wanted to coach in high school so that he could have a positive impact on so many young men. In fact, he talked about how that was the plan coming out of college, for pro ball never seemed a possibility. He and his wife, also a teacher and coach, dreamed of being some school's "power couple" in terms of helping young folks. I loved it, fondly recalling the soccer coaches who helped to shape me.
     Then it turned sour. The radio host asked Kitna if he would be teaching a class as he had in Tacoma and if he liked doing that. No, Kitna explained, he wouldn't. He then elaborated that he was glad about that because when he was "stuck in a classroom" he "couldn't have an impact on young people."
     I hope Jon Kitna didn't mean that the way it hit me. I believe he didn't mean to insult the many dedicated educators who bust their tails every day to make a positive impact on young people. And who do so without the adulation that comes with the Friday night lights, especially here in Texas. I want to trust that won't be part of the message as he's making that impact.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Not so Fast--Pondering Rate of Change

       When does something become cliched? Is it when the frequency of use reaches a certain level? When it captures a truth we now all accept but people still attempt to use it for shock value? I'm not sure; the answer is probably some combination thereof. I am, however, positive that it has become rather cliched to use the following (or some sort of variation): "If you think the rate of change, mainly forced by technology is fast now, just you wait cuz you ain't see nothing yet!" If used it myself, such as in this post. I've used what's happened the past three decades to make the argument for schools changing for years, in writings and in presentations such as this one. I still believe the part about schools needing to change in response, but lately I've been wondering about the continued acceleration. This is happening for several reasons.
       I don't question that we live in a time of extreme, rather relentless change. I feel it every day in some form or fashion. However, humans tend to be rather short-sighted about history, and we usually believe that the time in which we live is the most whatever. But just as every age has had its share of doom criers, I'm certain each has felt the angst of extreme change. After all, in many ways this is a relative phenomenon, dependent entirely on that to which one is accustomed. Right now we 're seeing the extreme direct effects of digital technology on our lives, and we envision it dragging us in its wake right towards the Kurzweilian singularity before we can even realize what's happened. It's as if we believe Moor's law is universal and applies to everything--not just processing power, but disruption and influence and implementation. But humans don't progress per Moore's law.
       Actually, neither does technology. Yes, the rate at which processing speed has doubled since the invention of the microchip has enabled incredible advances. But those advances actually are simply building upon decades of work, much of it begun with the work of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the mid 1800s. Walter Isaacson's The Innovators makes very clear how the development of current technology is the result of many, many people, often working independently, attacking the same challenges for a long time. It's a classic case of multiple forces coming together in various ways at assorted times. For the most part, progress was slow, with sudden breakthroughs at key times. 
       I'm reminded of a short writing assignment I had to do in graduate school for a course called The History of American Ideas. The professor challenged us to come up with an original metaphor tto capture how history proceeds. I compared history to a Slinky. My contention was that various factors come together over time, and the there is a gigantic springing forward. Then the cycle repeats.
       I wonder if now we're somewhere in the springing forward, and perhaps towards the end of it. Things may slow down for a bit, gathering for another unleashing. Of course, I easily could be wrong. After all, cliches become so because people discern some truth in them. Either way, we still need to make sure we're educating kids for their futures, whatever they may be.
     There's another reason it really doesn't matter who's right about the rate of technological change. Too often we act as if technology is happening to us, and certainly it often feels that way. But to invoke another cliche, as a human creation, technology is just a tool. It's value neutral. Rather than worrying so much about the rate of change, we need to spend more time talking with young people about what needs to change. Not just regarding technology and in schools, but everywhere. And maybe to bring about that desired change that much more quickly.