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:
- 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.
- 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:
danah boyd, social media guru on teen behavior and busting silos:
To a teenager growing up in a networked world, this model [of zero sharing with networks outside one’s organization] makes absolutely zero sense. Even if they’ve been trained in a traditional educational environment where collaboration is pooh-poohed, if they have access to the internet, they’ve developed a sensibility for obtaining knowledge from a wide variety of sources. More importantly, many youth in creative class environments are growing up with the idea that knowledge is something that you tap into, not something you innately have. Knowing where to turn to get relevant information is often as valued as knowing the answer. This is completely sensible when you grow up in an internet-saturated world where technology puts information at your fingertips. But it completely contradicts the notion in many organizations that you can only access information from people within the bounded world of the organization itself… A huge chunk of what makes the technology sector so innovative is the fluidity of the workplace and the collapse of boundaries that silo development.
The lessons here of collapsing boundaries and busting silos were essential to the success of our 1:1 iPad Pilot. We succeeded in our classrooms because our first priority was not technology or even the curriculum; it was training, supporting, and empowering our teachers to help us map out the desired outcomes, and then participate in an ongoing, formative and summative evaluation of the program.
P.S. I will be presenting, along with two colleagues, on our 1:1 iPad Pilot next Monday, February 25 at NBOA, and on the larger topic of empowered leadership at all levels of the organization next Thursday, February 28 at the NAIS Annual Conference. You can follow my updates on Twitter, Facebook, blog, and Slideshare for the presentation slides and other news from the two conferences.
I’ve recently become interested in administrator evaluation models. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done a lot of work on this topic, however their focus is on identifying the best teachers. Here are three articles/resources I came across this week on evaluating administrators –
- Seven Steps to Effective Feedback, by Grant Wiggins, Educational Leadership, Sep. 2012 > A thorough look at the various components of what makes any feedback effective or ineffective. Wiggins’ advice can be applied universally to administrators or teachers and across industries.
- North Carolina’s Rubric to Evaluate Principals/Assistant Principals/School Administrators > Very comprehensive evaluation model, however I wonder at its effectiveness due to the sheer length of the document (30 letter-size pages). The size of the document also points to the complexity of school leadership and outsized expectations of school administrators.
- From ISTE: NETS Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for School Administrators > Another model, however, focused on technology vision and leadership in schools. The six main categories do cover the full gamut of school leadership from vision, instruction, professional practice, support and operations, assessment and evaluation, to social/legal/ethical issues. (Thanks to David Carpenter for pointing me to #2 and #3.)
- BONUS: From ISTE again, fourteen essential conditions necessary to leverage technology in the classrooms. Empowered leaders at every level is perhaps the one I consider most significant to the success of any endeavor implementing new technology in the classroom. For further elaboration, check out this space on February 25 for my presentation (with Sherry Ward and Robert Powers, two administrators at Alexandria Country Day School) at the National Business Officers Association Conference on our 1:1 iPad Initiative.
Now, notes Craig Mundie, one of Microsoft’s top technologists, not just elites, but virtually everyone everywhere has, or will have soon, access to a hand-held computer/cellphone, which can be activated by voice or touch, connected via the cloud to infinite applications and storage, so they can work, invent, entertain, collaborate and learn for less money than ever before. Alas, though, every boss now also has cheaper, easier, faster access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius than ever before. That means the old average is over. Everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives.
Are those last two sentences applicable to institutions as well? Friedman answers:
When the world gets this hyperconnected, adds Mundie, the speed with which every job and industry changes also goes into hypermode.
It’s no secret that teaching and learning has already changed in the really good and great schools, but there are still many where teaching follows the industry model of the foreman and workers – one’s in charge and the others simply follow. Friedman concludes by paraphrasing Alvin Toffler, and that passion and curiosity will be the bigger differentiators in the future economy than simply intellect or access. For those of us in education, this only reinforces the need for a passion-driven curriculum that ignites the spark in children and empowers them to take greater risks and learn not facts but investigate and explore possible solutions to real world problems. To do so, teachers have to step down from their perch as experts and simulate real world experiences, rather than teach a textbook-based and fact-driven curricula.
Success in the 21st century at work and in life requires collaboration, collective intelligence, and smart teams using smart tools. In our fast-changing world, a world that faces many serious crises, being able to cope with challenge, to persist past failure, to learn in new ways, and to adapt one’s skills and style to other team members are all 21st-century skills. Yet new technologies and the Internet allow us to enter our own customized echo chambers and identity niches where we can comfort ourselves with what we are and do not have to confront ourselves with what we can be and, indeed, must become as fellow citizens in a diverse and complex global world. This is particularly dangerous for students.
Will challenges this issue of customized learning paradigms, or what I referred to in an earlier post as Differentiation 2.0, if these paradigms only cater to an individual’s strengths. To paraphrase Alvin Toffler, we will fail to learn, unlearn, and relearn without confronting failure.
In the comments section, however, several posts refute Will’s conclusion as overly simplistic. One Ryan Folmer notes:
This isn’t how I see personalized learning. I see tailoring it to the student by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to fully use those strengths, but also work on helping the weaknesses. Each student will be different in these measures and how we address them with each student is how you personalize.
Another commenter, Tom Hoffman, cautions:
I think this jumps ahead of the game a bit. We don’t know that these adaptive learning systems really work.
There’s truth in what all three educators have to say above. If our learning is so customized that we play to an individual’s strengths but rarely provide opportunities to our students to fail or take risks in their learning, then we are failing them by not developing well-rounded students and preparing them for a world that’s gone viral.
George Couros on customizing the learning paradigm:
It is…about using whatever it takes to promote continuous learning for our kids. Just as I hated writing in cursive as a kid, some kids might hate writing in a blog. I am okay with that. What we need to do as educators is not assume a standard solution works in a personalized world [my italics], and really help to develop kids as learners. Teachers should know their kids first, and help them develop their learning, not focus on the curriculum first and help fit the kid into that space.
via Revisiting Cursive.
I like to call Couros’ statement on personalizing the curriculum for each student as Differentiation 2.0. Good schools and great educators have been differentiating their curriculum for the needs of learners for several years now. However, I wonder if doing more of the same fully captures the needs of learners in the 21st century. Technology and other tools are more easily accessible now to teachers and schools to allow for more student choice and for a truly customized solution designed and delivered for each student. Independent schools that are still working on catching up to their peers in this regard will have to innovate more furiously if they wish to remain competitive in a market that is also beginning to differentiate itself through global programs, blended learning, e-learning and online schools, to name just a few initiatives. I have written and presented on this topic before and will reiterate here that both successful and struggling schools must redefine their value proposition for today’s audience. Differentiation 2.0 may be just the answer.
From GigaOm: Educators and technologists debate how new and emerging technologies and models of education can prepare students for professional life in the 21st century.
From NYTimes: By the authors of NurtureShock and one of the Times’s most emailed posts in the last week, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman investigate brain research on the effects of good and bad stress, and the role our genes (and a particular enzyme) play in how we handle competition and anxiety in daily life.
From the American Association of Pediatrics’s Council on School Health: Another study that emphasizes the importance of recess to healthy physical, intellectual, and social-emotional growth in children.
From the Harvard Education Letter: Studies show the importance of using “big words” that promote conceptual understanding in the early childhood years.
From the Harvard Education Letter: New research shows a return to more play and social-emotional learning, rather than the increase in academic learning as evident in kindergarten and first grade classrooms across the nation.
From the Harvard Education Letter: A continuing look at grit, persistence and how these performance traits, versus moral qualities, could help with student learning.
From the Harvard Business Review Blog: The difference between leading and managing, and the distinct significance of each in any institution.
Many of you may be aware that I will be moving on after five years at Alexandria Country Day School to assume the headship at The Children’s School in Atlanta. I am thrilled to join such a wonderful, progressive community of educators, students, trustees, and families, and look forward to a long, enriching tenure. I’m just as glad that the search process and interviews are finally over. It’s grueling on one’s mind, body, and soul and I learned many lessons about independent schools, being a head of school, Boards, search committees and search consultants that I would like to share with aspiring heads and school leaders. (Note that this is not a how-to guide to head searches, but tips and reminders to keep the process in perspective.) One search consultant did tell me in my first year of going through this process that it takes an average of three years or so to find one’s first headship. Obviously everyone’s experience will vary, and for me, I got the job in my second. In my combined two years, I considered or was considered in as many as ten searches, made it to the semi-finalist in one, and finalist in five. I use my experiences of these two years, along with advice I read or received from mentors, to craft this post.
- It’s all about the fit. It’s hard to remember that when you get a call after three interviews and several days and hours spent traveling and on campus that the school decided to pass on your candidacy. Just remember that that’s what we tell our families and students when they apply to that next step after your institution, and it’s as true for you now as it is for them.
- Talking about fit, know your fit! Would you like to lead an elementary school, a K-12, day or boarding, single-sex or coed, religious or secular? How about geography, size of school, etc.? The variations are numerous and it’s important that you know your comfort level and limit your choices accordingly. Saying no to schools outside your “fit zone” is just as important as saying yes.
- Don’t take it personally. Also really difficult advice to impart but I hope that I had heard more of it. A head search that you are really excited about will leave you and, possibly your family, drained by the end. You will have invested a lot of time and mental, emotional, and physical energy to prove that you are the best candidate for the job; the school will also have invested the same in you and it’s difficult to not leave each visit feeling good about your chances. You are putting your best foot forward, as is the school, and everyone wants to make it work even if there can only be one standing at the end. This advice is also pertinent regardless of whether you get the job or not. If you don’t, learn what you can about how you did and where you or your experience fell short of the school’s expectations, and move on to the next one. If you do get the job, celebrate but don’t let it go to your head. This is also going to be useful on those difficult days when it seems you can do nothing right or please anyone. Don’t take it personally.
- Know the search consultants and let them know you. Some of the good ones I had the privilege to work with include Educators Collaborative, Resource Group 175, Dick Jung, and Carney Sandoe. I made sure that I spent time on the phone with these consultants and shared as much as possible with them about me, both professional and personal attributes, so that they could guide me towards schools that would be a good fit.
- Find a mentor. I have been fortunate to have many such mentors and supporters along the way, from former heads to current heads, and other administrators and educators in national or regional associations who know independent schools and can serve as a reference or recommend me to consultants. According to former heads who now work at Carney Sandoe, “The guidance of a leader who understands first-hand the pluses and pitfalls of Headship could make a big difference in your career. Find someone you trust who can share his or her experiences with you and help guide you.”
- Similar to #5, aspiring heads should shop for heads, not schools or titles. It’s very easy to let the reputation of a school or the glamour of a title attract one to the wrong or an okay fit. Instead, shop for a head you can learn from, who will be supportive of your aspirations and help you develop a leadership roadmap. Great heads develop leaders at all levels in their organization and demonstrate inclusivity in their communications and decision-making. Are you growing as a leader in your current school? Do you get informal and formal feedback from your supervisor/head? Are you included in decision-making? A head’s reality is different from the reality of virtually everyone else at school, and any window into the head’s job will help you learn what it means to hold the top position. It can also give you a preview into your head’s thought process and the behind-the-scenes look into how decisions are made. (There’s no one way, of course, to making decisions, and the process will depend a lot on the school, circumstances, head’s personality, experience, and leadership style, however the trailer will help when you are in that position.)
- Connect, connect, connect. Attend NAIS institutes and conferences, take the opportunity to go on accreditation visiting teams, and seek out school leaders you may know of or have heard of, even if they don’t know you. Reading blogs (my two go-tos in currently: 21k12blog.net and The Learning Pond) by school administrators, the Harvard Business Review, and subscribing to The Head’s Letter are also ways to connect across traditional and social media and develop one’s personal leadership network.
- Heads who lead schools in the 21st century must learn to embrace 21st century technologies and their potential to transform teaching and learning. I found it very helpful in the search process to be a producer of social media too, and referred search committees to my blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages where I regularly share my views on the current landscape of education.
- Search committees tend to prioritize experience over potential. Independent schools are risk-averse institutions, and experience is easier to assess than potential. Combine those two factors, and you can understand the search committee’s bias to favor sitting heads over aspiring heads. Of course, this isn’t always the case and many aspiring heads do make it, but the odds are stacked against them. One way to claim experience is chairing committees, task forces, and other such leadership opportunities as they arise at your school. Carney Sandoe’s cadre of former heads shares, “Though the specific strengths desired by one school or another for their next Head can vary, every school needs a Head who is a strong leader of people. Seek out a leadership role in whatever capacity you are able.”
- Success builds success. Search committees want to hear about your successes as a teacher leader or administrator. Have you spearheaded the design or implementation of a strategic initiative? How did you overcome any apathy or resistance at your school? What was the desired outcome and did you achieve it? I had the good fortune to chair several committees and task forces, ranging from strategic planning to curriculum and anti-bullying initiatives. The success of each process helped tremendously during the interviews as I shared not only my vision and leadership, but my ability to create buy-in, empower faculty and parents, and ultimately, deliver results. Lots of aspiring leaders pad their resumes with stories of committees, volunteer opportunities, leadership workshops and institutes, but only success builds success.
- #10 is true for institutions as well. It was very tempting for me to find schools in crisis or with notable challenges for my first headship, however, as more than one mentor and consultant told me, “you want your first headship to be a success.” Then, be setup for success by choosing a school that is already successful. (Don’t worry: there are always opportunities for growth, but a school in crisis has very little time and patience for you to establish your leadership and the trust you will need from the community to move the school forward.)
- Be your authentic self – professionally and personally. Yours and your family’s personal comfort with the school and surrounding communities is as important to your success as head of school, as your professional background and experience will prove. I didn’t realize this key point until much later in the process and I could compare my experience at The Children’s School (TCS) against that of another. It only became clear after my finalist visit to TCS that I decided to withdraw my candidacy from this other school. I could be my full authentic self at TCS. It was only amongst them that I felt celebrated for all of the experiences I bring to the table, where I could engage in difficult conversations respectfully with Board members and faculty, where I could give respect and receive it in equal measure.
- The whole process is like a stereotypical arranged marriage: you and your potential match have to make a decision based on a couple of phone or Skype calls and two to three dates. It sounds extremely rushed and it kind of is, but if both parties follow #12, then the chances of making the right decision are really good. Only time will tell whether it will turn out to be a great marriage.
I wish you all the best and hope that this post proves useful to you as you prepare for your searches and interviews. Feel free to share your lessons and experiences in the comments, or just with me via email.
UPDATE: After recent conversations with friends and colleagues, many of them who are heads or aspiring heads themselves, I would like to add #14 to my list above.
- Managing Your Digital Identity in the Age of Google Search: I know I was Googled by several search committees, Board members, and parents when interviewing at TCS and other schools. Having actively nurtured my personal learning network (PLN) over the last year, from Twitter to a Facebook page and a blog, I am aware of the power of my words and images that now live online. When managed and built appropriately, my digital identity – my PLN – has helped me develop my thought leadership and share it with search committees and school communities beyond a 2-3 page personal statement. Brad Ovenell-Carter addresses this “Brand of Me” in his post: “The only possible way to manage your reputation online is to build it yourself…
we talk about the “Brand of Me” and coach our kids on proactively managing their online identity…
Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys:
A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys. The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted. The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.