Monday, February 29, 2016

Sticking and Sticky Points After #NAISAC 2016

The conference ended three days ago, but thoughts from it continue to swirl through my mind. I’ve often found myself jotting down points and ideas in my notebook. While doing so, I find they fall into two general categories (with some overlap). The first I call sticking, as in “sticking in my craw.” The second I call sticky, as in “sticky message” one that will “stick” with me. They mix gut reaction and a bit of reflection. You’ll know which is which.
Because I can think of no better way to organize this post, I’m going to use bullets. I won’t worry about coherence, although I hope it doesn’t become too discordant.
  • ·         I attended my first NAIS Annual Conference sometime in the mid-1980s. I would love to see a program from then to see what’s changed and what’s remained the same.
  • ·         For at least a decade now, we’ve heard concerns about where the next generation of school heads will come from. During conversations with three friends who are fellow heads, I learned two who’ve been doing it for at least ten years are stepping down—“liberating himself” one called it—and the other, in his first few years, wonders how long he can do it. While very different from each other, each is a very bright, talented, effective leader. It really drove the issue home.
  • ·         Google evangelist Jaime Casap pointed out that our best phones are the worst technology a five-year-old will ever know. This after social media expert Randi Zuckerberg bombarded us with myriad ways tech is being employed. In many ways this is very exciting, and the main point is that schools have to be responsive to this and be re-thinking how this can change education. We’re doing that, and more schools are doing interesting things. But two things. Just adding in technology does not ameliorate bad practice. More importantly, as tech develops faster and faster, we need to have really hard ethical debates about the possibilities—not just for schools, but for humanity.
  • ·         Speaking of social media, one of the best parts was meeting people I’ve known on-line…and discovering they are even more awesome in person. There was another benefit I hadn’t thought of: the on-line relationship helped ease my typical shyness and introversion. We have to think about how it could help some students that way as well.
  • ·         Perhaps I simply was unlucky but I still endured too much bad PowerPoint, reading from slides, and dry lecturing. It’s easy for me to criticize, especially since I haven’t presented at annual. And I know there are certain constrains. But in truly effective design, don’t constraints add to creativity? I wonder if the application process could be hacked so not just the topics are great…
  • ·         As a former English teacher, I love to see how little changes in language can be truly powerful. For example, I heard how Colorado Academy has moved from “Do well and be good” to “Be well and do good.” Jason Yaffe of Greenhill tweeted that a school should think about being not the “best in its community but the best for its community.” Plagiarism can be tempting.
  • ·         Bryan Stevenson and reading his book about work with the Equal Justice Initiative, the incredible diversity of San Francisco, the scores of homeless people—it all reminded me that for all our emphasis on cognitive intelligence, we’ve failed if we don’t help our students develop total well-being and emotional intelligence, especially empathy. I’m wondering how we inspire our students to change the world in meaningful ways.

Finally, there’s one more sticky message. One too important for a bullet point. All those points captured about and in my past few posts capture something essential about great independent schools, where the real value-added comes in both working at and attending one. We recognize the privilege and embrace the opportunities.

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