First Impressions from #NBOA2013: The Inevitable Choices Facing Schools of the Future

Today marks the first full day of the National Business Officers Association’s (NBOA) 15th Annual Meeting. NBOA is a new experience for me and one I came to due to the strong recommendation of my Business Manager, Robert Powers, the publication of my article in their Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Net Assets, and of course, their acceptance of our presentation on blending curriculum and technology in rolling out a 1:1 iPad initiative over the last two years.

8:30-10:00 The morning keynote, after a continental breakfast, was delivered by Peter Sheahan, author and CEO of ChangeLabs. Peter is a Gen-Y innovator and thinker who works with several leading corporations and nonprofits on strategy and change leadership. His keynote addressed several obstacles to change, as well as strategies to get from the why to the how.

Here are the highlights from Peter’s keynote:

  • Success will belong to those who can quickly adapt to what’s coming
  • We are about to hit critical mass with some of the technologies we have been talking about
  • Ask yourself: what blinds us to the threat/opportunity that change represents?
  • Assumptions that threaten any change process:
    • We know how to do what we do
    • We allow the existing market attributes to define our potential value
    • Justified inertia is perhaps the biggest obstacle to change. Past success will almost certainly be used as a reason to keep steady. Example: Sony missed the whole iPod/online music store revolution even though they owned the technology and the content, because 1) they didn’t want to give up on the Walkman brand, and 2) the executives didn’t talk to one another.
    • But the biggest obstacle to success (and related to the above bullet): What we do works! It just may not work as well tomorrow.
  • The story we tell in the marketplace needs to move beyond student-teacher ratios.

Three Strategies for Going From the Why to the How:

  • Drive for clarity and alignment
  • Invest in manageable risks
  • Unleash collaboration

All three of the above strategies were essential to the success of our 1:1 iPad initiative. Leading and managing change is hard and Peter Sheahan teed up our presentation nicely as we were able to reference many of his points on placing small bets on small horses and busting silos.

Peter shared with us many examples from the corporate world; my one wish for his presentation would have been to share more examples from the educational realm. He left us to make many of those connections, and while some parallels were easy to envision, others were tougher due to the mission-driven culture of non-profits.

10:30-11:45 Robert, Sherry, and I then presented on the strategic vision and execution of our 1:1 iPad initiative. Only a few empty seats were left in the room and the participants asked excellent questions about our process and strategies. The feedback was positive and encouraging, and I look forward to presenting again at NBOA in the future.

The early afternoon didn’t add much to my knowledge or thinking about schools as a non-Business Manager or HR Director, however there was one session – the last one of the day – that intrigued me. It was about identifying and using data to analyze the effectiveness of student learning. The argument to use data was compelling but the examples of how one institution is using data were disappointing. The presenters warned us that the data set they are using currently is basic and they recognize the need to go deeper. Unfortunately, their solutions were at best rudimentary and basic. Student surveys/input – apparently validated by the Gates Foundation as the most important metric to evaluate teacher effectiveness – was their solution, and the questions they asked on these surveys – On a scale of 1-X, how connected did you feel with other students in your class? – were not very different than what many schools know anecdotally. The surveys simply confirmed with some fancy pie charts and presented more objective data than subjective observations. This school has been using such metrics for four years and I’d have hoped/expected more progress in four years. I was happy to hear that the presenters themselves recognized many of the shortcomings of their methods and outcomes and are working on making the process, data set, and analysis more robust in the future.

After one day, I’m convinced of two things:

  1. I’m glad I’m here. Most heads learn the financial/business side of schools on the job – and while I will do much of it myself – I am gaining some valuable information and learning new skills and competencies by just being around CFOs and HR personnel.
  2. I wish there was more programming for Heads of Schools and Business Managers to attend together. The NBOA staff has been extremely helpful and I appreciate all of their time to listen to feedback, both positive and critical.

I will do my best to check in again tomorrow and share my thoughts from day 2. Jenifer Fox, author and Head of School of the Clariden School in Texas will deliver the morning keynote on the crucial relationship between Heads and Business Managers. As a new head, I could not be more thrilled that NBOA is making space for this topic at their annual meeting!

Our presentation from today is attached below:

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