Friday, March 1, 2013

It's Over Already?

At this time of the conference I always feel the same strange combination of being energized and exhausted. Today is no exception. I'm full-up with new ideas, challenging questions, the latest concepts, best practices, 21st century anything, inspiring speakers, wonderfully deep conversations, disappointingly shallow conversations, connecting with old friends, and making new ones. A nap seems in order.

Closing speaker, Cathy Davidson, Duke University professor and author of "The Myth of Marketing," talked with us about why the future of education demands a paradigm shift. As we all know, we need to prepare students for their future, not our past. So why are our schools still structured for the Industrial Age? Why did standardized tests which were conceived as an emergency measure to get kids through school quickly and to the front during WWI become the "law of the land" with the SAT when it was designed to measure lower level thinking? How do we learn to pay attention in a connected age? If we can be replaced by a computer screen, we should be. That means what we do in the classroom really needs to count.

5 things we can do to shift the paradigm - 1) rethink liberal arts as a start-up curriculum for resilient global citizens 2) move from critical thinking to creative contribution - we need to go from thinking critically about problems to thinking about how things impact their lives 3) make sure what you value is what you count 4)find creative ways to model un-learning 5) take institutional change personally - "institutions are working networks."

NAIS 2014 in Orlando. Can't wait!

The Power of Personal Story - Tererai Trent

We were reminded again of the power of story with today's keynote speaker, Tererai Trent. Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and raised during her country's fight for independence, she married young, had children quickly, and endured years of domestic violence. Education was not allowed for girls, but Ms. Trent learned to read by doing her brother's homework. Through it all, she never let go of her dream to pursue a formal education - bachelors, master, and PhD. Making a long story short, Ms. Trent eventually moved to the US, earned a GED and the achieved her dreams. Now she is focused on giving back by building schools in her native country and fighting against domestic violence and the spread of AIDS through education. There were too many amazing messages to note here, but Ms. Trent's bottom line was about empowering children, and that when we do anything is possible.

I think we've all listened to amazing personal stories that sometimes seem too much about a singular experience and drive and as such are difficult to connect with. Ms. Trent was special because she connected her experience to all of us - to me, at least - in a way that humbles AND inspires AND motivates. No matter who we are, where we come from, or how bad our circumstances, we can all live a life of purpose and a life with meaning.


Building on the conference theme of revolution, Pat Bassett spoke about what he calls the third great American revolution (after THE American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement), the revolution that is happening in education. Of course, he feels that independent schools serve the role that Madison did in 1776 and Johnson did in the 1960s, without whom the first two revolutions would not have happened. He encouraged us to dream like revolutionaries, that it is within the power of teachers to change the world.

Honoring Pat Bassett

Today's opening general session is in part dedicated to honoring NAIS president Pat Bassett. It is a little like the old TV show "This is Your Life," but no doubt Pat's leadership of NAIS is worthy of being celebrated.

Sekou Andrews is sharing his spoken word tribute now, noting that Pat introduced us to the importance of data driven decision-making, getting the right people on the bus, sustainability, good is the enemy of great, 21st century skills, and so much more.

Lou Salza, head of Lawrence School, observed that Pat transformed NAIS for a collection of exclusive private schools to an organization that is recognized nationally and internationally as a true leader in the education world to which many others look for examples of excellence.

I've always appreciated how accessible Pat is as a leader. He never gives one the impression that he's too important or busy to engage in a conversation about education, schools, and kids, and he always remembers your name even though he visits hundreds of schools and meets thousands of teachers and administrators each year.

Thanks, Pat.

Idea Exchange

In deep conversation with group debriefing yesterday's closing session, Independent Matters: Youth Culture and Social Media, with Sekou Andrews, Soumitra Dutta, Alexis Madrigal, and Dinah Boyd. Not sure that we came to any great answers, but many great questions for educators in 2013.

While much of the session was framed in technology, because the speakers are experts and spoke in that space, there were broader questions that guided our discussion. In truth the broader theme was about educators and parents not holding children back, allowing them to move forward and jump into learning with both feet, even if it looks completely different than our own school experience or upbringing. Simply put, learning and schools should no longer be about - are no longer about - the one way flow of information from adult to child. We can and should learn as much from our children as they learn from us, and the technology realm is both an example of this and a facilitator. We need to be open to the lives that our children are living already and not assume that we are right and they are wrong about the journey or the destination.

I will be the first to admit that these notions challenge me as a parent and educator.

Here Come the Teachers!

Traditionally, Friday is teacher day at NAIS. Many Philadelphia independent schools are closed today to allow their entire faculties to participate. When everyone is here today, the crowd will number over 5000! Teachers bring great energy and significantly decrease the blue blazer ratio mentioned earlier.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

NAIS Diversity Handbook

For the last several years I've had the honor of being a member of the faculty of the NAIS Diversity Institute (name has been changed to Diversity Leadership Institute for summer 2013). I work closely with Nishant Mehta, an extraordinary, innovative educator and friend who is the head-elect of The Children's School in Atlanta, team teaching a strand on leading and managing change for diversity and inclusion. We were asked to write a chapter for the new NAIS Diversity Handbook, to be published this spring. So this afternoon there was a session to introduce/promote the book. Nishant and I spoke for a few minutes about our chapter and several other contributors did the same. Since the book has yet to be published, I didn't know exactly how it would be organized or what other content would be included. What's clear from today's session is that the book will definitely be a valuable resource for heads, boards, diversity practitioners, and faculty.

Every time I'm asked to speak at a conference the biggest worry isn't how best to present the information. Rather, the fear is that no one will show. I'm happy - and relieved - to report that we had 35 or 40 people interested in learning about the Handbook, and we enjoyed a really rich conversation about diversity in schools, how far we've come, and how to make sure the work continues

Thanks to Gene Batiste at NAIS for including me in this project.