Recently I had the opportunity to attend the annual National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) conference, this year held in Orlando. The theme was, Dare to Explore and Discover. Each session presented was in some way linked to the idea of us becoming daring explorers who seek to discover new and better ways of “achieving greatness within our schools for our students.” Each session was presented in a manner to stimulate thought and discussion, much like what we are trying to achieve at MPS.
I arrived a day early for a reunion of new heads that were my cohort group from last summer’s New Head’s Institute presented by NAIS; it was a diverse blending of men and women who are in their first or second year of headship. This was a group of about 70 heads of school. We spent a great deal of time discussing the biggest issues currently going on in our schools. These issues were surprisingly similar: time spent on individual parent concerns; finding time to look at the big thematic issues (strategic planning); teacher mentorship; the need for parent education; building community; finding time to exercise, etc. Much of what we had covered in our summer program had in fact become a reality in our schools. The overarching theme was that each of these men and women were enjoying the challenges as well as the rewards in their new schools.
The actual conference key note speakers were sprinkled throughout the week. Lyn Heward, a consultant for Cirque du Soleil and the International Gymnastics Federation discussed innovation, how to ignite the creative spark in teachers and students. By counseling us on taking a positive “can do” attitude, working through difficult issues, and infusing creativity in everything one does, she left us with a powerful and inspiring message. Alex Soo Jung-Kim Pang is a leading figure in the fight to make digital technology less overwhelming and less distracting for the average user. His message provided hope that technology users can redesign their relationship with technologies to help them feel calmer and sharper. His work touches on how our facility with computers changes the way we think about ourselves and how we value (or devalue) human memory and cognition. With this awareness the relationships we develop with technology can be mediated.
Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space, provided insight into her decision to become a scientist that serves as a role model for all young women. Steve Pemberton, chief diversity officer and divisional vice president of Walgreens, began his life as a ward of the state. From these beginnings he tells a compelling story of his focus to serve diverse markets and populations and advocacy for children from underserved populations. Jay Shuster, a production designer at Pixar, spoke of the need to foster creativity in our schools.
My particular favorite keynote speaker was John Quiñones, broadcast journalist and host of What Would You Do? His compelling story of growing up in a poor family of migrant workers to eventually become ABC’s first Latino correspondent is extremely compelling and points to his willingness to share with audiences and encourage them to pursue their dreams regardless of socio-economic barriers.
Individual sessions were presented on a smaller scale and allowed for more intimacy with the presenters. The session entitled, “Assessing the 4Cs in Schools of the Future: Independent and Public School Panel,” provided a forum to hear from public and private schools as well as audience members about how schools are incorporating creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thought into their programs. While many schools continue to move in this direction, there remains a need for ways to assess the effectiveness of these programs. The panel shared some rubrics and performance tasks available.
I attended a wonderful session entitled, “How Are We Doing?” on teacher evaluation and support. This session pointed to clear research that teachers have the greatest impact on student learning. The importance of mentorship and evaluation is vitally important and the model we used this year at MPS supports best practices in the field. Finding the balance between teacher autonomy and accountability is one key.
“Into the Future” was a great session on how several educators are rethinking curriculum, physical space, and social development in a project-based program that fosters passion, innovation, and creativity in the students’ worlds.
I attended many other workshops and met with a wide range of educators and was left with the feeling that what we are creating at MPS is an environment where students, teachers and parents can truly dare to explore and discover.
In October, I’ll be an invited guest speaker at the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) Conference in Boston about admissions and assessment in Independent Schools. Stay tuned for more information as the sessions shape up.