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.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Affirmation Post- #NAISAC

                When many of us come to the NAIS Annual Conference, we ultimately want one thing: affirmation. It always happens to some degree, albeit in many different ways. This year I feel it greatly.
                As I listened to Bryan Stevenson preach (yes, that’s the right word; he didn’t just speak), I could imagine an NAIS banner behind him with the words “Mission Accomplished.” He’s every school’s picture of the graduate come to life, a sort of contemporary Gandhi being the change we need to see. I found myself thinking of what I’ve always said in my Statement of Personal Philosophy: that a meaningful education helps one to discover a life of meaning and purpose. I’m not sure anything matters more. And it has to be something beyond one’s self. That’s particularly daunting in an era that can foster narcissism. Too often the reason for service is because it makes the recipient feel good; and, ironically, social media can become a sort of mirror. It also affirmed for me that we have to take the long view on things. We’re in the formation business, and the making of a life never ceases.
                The past few days also have affirmed for me that this is a crucial time for independent schools, and many of us seem to be asking the right questions. But I challenge us to dig more deeply, more honestly, more courageously. Branding is a hot topic right now. We heard that few schools have figured out how to tell the story that really captures who they are and differentiates us. I agree. Perhaps more urgently, we must things about the story we are telling. The messages can prove confusing. We claim to fuel a love of learning…but we tout out test scores and next-level placement as the signs of academic success. We cry for equity and justice and hand out financial aid…but everyone knows how the names get on things. It’s not hypocrisy; it’s a realistic tension of our world. Just as we know that education is a slow, ongoing process, but we become frantic in the busy-ness of daily school and can lose sight of what really matters.

                I remain optimistic, my innate hope affirmed. I sense shifts happening. People are asking better, more crucial questions. I heard more and more about new models and fresh ideas, many of them already being implemented. In some ways it’s too slow, but momentum is building. That leads to my final affirmation. We can never stop improving, never stop evolving, never stop searching. We must be like the family in an old New Yorker cartoon. They are travelling by camel, and the father says, “Stop asking if we’re there yet. We’re nomads.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wrapping Up Day One of #NASIAC 2016

                During a rich conference, I always spend some time reflecting on how I can weave the threads of a day together. So this will be a process post in which I attempt to do just that. If it becomes incoherent or I veer too far off topic, please forgive me. But what follows is literally a look at the inner workings of my mind.
                After breakfast with a dear former colleague, I headed to a session on diversity. One speaker prompted us with a great question: Why is diversity vital to your mission? In answering, we had to consider several domains, one of which was the intellectual rationale. This is something I’ve pondered and written about quite a bit as it’s tied to creative and innovative thought. Diversity increases possibility by bringing multiple perspectives and experiences and ideas to the learning process.
                This segued quite naturally into Randi Zuckerberg’s keynote, in which we heard about all sorts of tech trends. Some were a bit old hat (at least in current tech terms), but some are just emerging. Her examples of the tech in action were both mundane and ridiculous. The real point is that much of what’s happening was, just a generation ago, inconceivable. That is, it was except to those who had new diverse conceptions of the possible. Meanwhile, in an awesome development, from what I’ve picked up via the Tweetstream, more sessions this year have focused on new models for independent school education. Someone—sorry, I forget who—tweeted that things this year seem to be more about possibilities.
                I also attended two sessions on branding. Both could be reduced to one key idea: how are you going to capture and express naturally what is truly powerful and unique about your school? That’s a very challenging task, more than it might seem. It’s particularly so when, bottom line is, we all have in common that we want to prepare kids for their futures, whatever the nuts and bolts of doing so may be.
                With that in mind, we have to think about young people and the two general notions running through this post. They have a wonderful, refreshing comfort with all sorts of diversity. They have grown up accustomed to what many of us at their age considered the impossible. Naturally, they question everything. Even college (at least as we know it), for so many of us the ultimate marker of success, is coming into question.

                These are all things with which many of us are still coming to grips. But we can’t wait until we become totally comfortable. It’s an increasingly diverse word in every sense, and with that comes even more disruption. I would hope our brands show us not only accepting but also embracing the opportunities that affords us as independent schools who have all we need to be responsive to such a world. It begins with taking a flying leap into possibility.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Grateful Expectations for #NAISAC 2016

       Thanks for a great NAIS Annual Conference this year! Thanks to NAIS staff, the planning committee, the on-line community folks, the presenters, the attendees, anyone I've forgotten. I'm saying this now because I might forget later.
       True, the conference hasn't actually even started yet, but you know it's going to be awesome. It always is. Granted, some sessions may not be that enthralling--they may even reek--and the wi-fi may prove incapable of handling the crush. But download the app and read through the program. The breadth and depth of offerings is staggering, and it's really your own fault if you return home without any ideas you can somehow use in your schools. Set up meals and conversations (not meetings, not chats--real conversations) with people you wish you had more time with during the whirlwind of daily life. Maybe you can meet the real person who sustains that provocative blog or has mastered the art of the Tweet. Whatever your preferred style, connect with the conference.
       An experience last week reminded me of just how crucial this is. I participated in a three-hour on-line leadership program led by Seth Godin. Along with admiring his work, I wanted to see what such an undertaking would be like. It was intense and fantastic. I was in a group with people from around the world, and they gave of each other generously. At the end we joked about gathering somewhere for dinner, and a few of us now follow each other on social media.
       Yet it also was unsatisfying in a key way. Beyond wanting to become better leaders, we had little in common. That's why, despite all the predictions about the death of big conferences, I don't see that happening. Great power exists in a group of people coming together, particularly when they pursue a mission tinged with the quixotic. For that I'm the most grateful.

Cross-posted on NAIS Annual Conference 2016 OnLine Community.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Week Out from #NAISAC 2016

       A week from today I head to San Francisco for the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference. While I always revel in the conference, I’m particularly excited this year because I’ve had to miss the past two years—two years ago because of a medical scare, last year because of weather. A couple of months ago I thought I might have to miss this year when the medical situation cropped up again. I’ve recovered and feel awesome, and I’m raring to go.
         I find myself curious to see how much may have changed in a few areas since I last attended. At first this may come across as snarkiness. For that I apologize, but I’ll explain why I’m asking these after and hope I seem like less of a jerk.

  • ·         How many of the sessions will simply be traditional sit-and-get? Particularly with strides made in active workshops, the proliferation of makerspaces, and the emphasis on design thinking, I pray there is not too much lecture.
  • ·         Similarly, how much bad PowerPoint will fill up screens and entice eyelids to drop? We’ve all see great presenters practice Presentation Zen with awesome images. Even if the slides are mainly text, please make it big and short. Please, please, please don’t read slides to us.
  • ·         What is the over-under on the number of times someone will urge change by mentioning “21st century” education? I hope it’s low. It’s 2016. Enough said.
  • ·         What might trend and become the latest buzzword? I often catch on after others, perhaps because I tend to think more systematically and reject silver-bullet thinking. In education we also tend to obscure our real message with jargon. The soul of the matter becomes obscured.
       I bring these up because of who attends and presents at annual conference. We’re the leaders in independent schools. As such, we must practice what our schools need to become. I certainly feel that pressure when designing workshops or faculty meetings or board activities. I strive to be the teacher I’d like working in my school. If we’re not doing that, then I have to question how far the revolution has progressed. Based on what I’ve been reading and hearing, despite shards of skepticism, I’m hopeful.
             I have to be. We all do. Hope lies at the heart of education. It fuels possibility. Ultimately, as I’ve written before, the main goal I think most of us share for annual is a sense of affirmation through the stories we share. That, yes, we can realize our compelling visions for our schools. That setbacks are gallant attempts to do this. That our work is incredibly challenging, truly rewarding, and ultimately meaningful.

Cross-posted on NAIS Annual Conference 2016 OnLine Community.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Head and Heart: Surgical Precision and Genuine Empathy

       Last Wednesday I had my second cardiac ablation. (If you want to know about the first and details of the process, along with some reflection, here is a post written right after that: "My Cardiac Surgery and Education.") This was not totally unexpected, as the first one has between a 40-50% success rate.Two years ago, I was told the second one raises the success rate to over 80%. Now I'm told it should be over 90%. Six days after the procedure, I feel great and very optimistic.
       Just in the past year, the technology used to ablate the heart has grown immensely. The primary development has been equipping the catheter--remember, this is a miniscule tool guided to the heart through a vein, controlled via computer--with a pressure gauge. The upshot is that as the surgeon works on the heart by following a 3-D map on the screen, they now know not only where to cauterize damaged tissue, but also how much pressure to apply. Quite amazing! The technology allows the surgeon to exercise his skills as effectively as possible to cure the patient.
       You may recall the story about Ideo and their experience in examining hospital service from a patient's perspective. It wasn't pleasant, and it certainly is how I've always felt. This time I was in a different hospital, one committed to the latest technology, the best people, and patient focus. The previous paragraph captures the commitment to technology, and I know other hospitals have not purchased this catheter because of insurance restrictions. As for the people, every staff person was fantastic. They were cheerful and upbeat without being gushy, and they truly listened. They took their time explaining things; one nurse blew me away with his knowledge of electricity in the heart. Their entire demeanor oozed concern for the patient. Waiting time was minimal. The hospital was small, so travel time--whether on foot or on a gurney--was reduced. The patient rooms had giant windows for natural light, and the rooms were quiet. I suspect there was some sound-proofing, because I didn't hear all the usual noise from nurses' station. Also, there were no beeping monitors in the room. Everything was sent wirelessly to a monitoring station. The food was very good. Research had shown they could eliminate part of the procedure that was especially painful in recovery. Clearly someone had practiced some effective design thinking in creating this hospital.
       The entire experience has reminded me, once again, why the best schools educate the whole person. It's about scholarship, character, and connections. Subtract any aspect of one of those, and something essential is lost. In fact, we have to keep deepening our reserves of each. I mean not just those of our students, but our own. Then our students can learn to operate in all realms with surgical precision and genuine empathy.