Friday, February 26, 2010

The End

The closing session started with the news that next year's conference will be at Gaylord National Convention Center just outside Washington, DC. Hopefully, those who weren't able to attend Annual Conference this year will be there in 2011.

Our closing speaker was Irshad Manji, author of the book The Trouble with Islam Today: An Insider's Call for Reform in Her Faith. She has been called "Osama's Bin Ladin's worst nightmare" by the NY Times for her views and questioning of Islam and Muslim fundamentalists. Among the things she told us, Ms. Manji spoke of moral courage, saying, "each of us need some of it to make change for the good." We also saw a 20 minute clip of a PBS documentary called Faith Without Fear on her effort to challenge reform Islam. She admitted that her views draw extreme reactions, and that was certainly the case even within the room of NAIS educators. Sadly, I don't feel equipped to evaluate her arguments about Islam, but it seemed clear to me that her confrontational style might be as off-putting to some as her actual message. I do like the fact that our final speaker will leave all of us with something to think and talk about. I'm anxious to read her book, and I'm sure that I'll continue to reflect on her message about moral courage and her ideas about Islam.

Time to log off. Thanks for following. Please feel free to email me at if you have any feedback for me. It felt like a big responsibility to do this blog, but in the end it was fun as well.

Why I Love San Francisco

Before I make my last post  I just wanted to say something about our host city this year. On my first morning in town I went for an early walk - with the time change I was up at 3:30! Unfortunately, it was drizzly, so even as I stood on top of Telegraph Hill, there wasn't much to see. Nevertheless, it was great to just soak in the atmosphere of the city. Beyond the scenery, the amazing restaurants, and generally nice weather, I particularly enjoy the city's diversity. On my walk I went through Chinatown, North Beach, Nob Hill, and many other neighborhoods whose names I don't know. My favorite sign of San Francisco is from a church on Hyde St., the First Chinese Southern Baptist Church. This little church is a symbol for me of what makes San Francisco so special. Before I leave, I'm looking forward to a couple more nice meals, a little sightseeing, and maybe even a little shopping. If you ever have the chance to visit San Francisco, don't miss it, and stay as long as you can.

Confession Time

After exhibiting extraordinary dedication to my blogging duties, if I do say so myself, I finally sat out a session. I was diligently working on my blog and as a result was too late to see the speaker I was most interested in, Kip Fulbeck. He was so popular they stopped letting people in. As I sometimes do, I found myself in a little snit for a few minutes when I couldn't find another workshop that caught my interest. A walk across the street for a cup of chai sufficiently adjusted my attitude, and now I'm back. Of course, everyone I've run into says the session I missed out on was amazing.

Time for the closing session.

Another Busy Morning

In truth going to bed on West Coast time and waking up on East Coast time is beginning to take it's toll on this blogger. But in keeping with the superhero theme of the conference, I am pushing through the pain.

I started the day at a great session on 21st century technology eduction for parents. The metaphor the presenters used was that of a school bus where the kids are driving the bus and the parents are in the very back or running along side, yelling out instructions - slow down, don't go down that road, etc. - and the kids can't hear them. As both an educator and a parent, I very much feel that way at times when it comes to technology. The presenters, from Abington Friends School (PA), provided two really helpful resources for parents and educators. Common Sense Media, is an organization "dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology." Facebook for Parents offers courses for parents and also a free newsletter that helps parents keep up on the basics as well as the more nuanced aspects of Facebook. Needless to say, this is really helpful stuff. I looked at both quickly this morning, but I'll definitely be going back for more.

The morning general session started with two more great students performances, one by the Bay Area Schools Combined Choir and another by the San Francisco School Ensemble. Again, it was great to see talented, passionate kids doing what they love. I'd be quaking in by loafers if I were on stage in front of 4000 people, so I really admire them.

Our keynote speaker today was Juan Enriquez, managing director of Excel Venture Managment in Cambridge, MA. He warned us that hearing from a geneticist first thing in the morning was bound to make us drowsy. Quite to the contrary, what he had to say was so fascinating it's difficult to describe. In truth, I'm not sure I even understood a lot of it. Dr. Enriquez's basic premise was that code is changing the world and creating wealth. He spoke of both computer code and, even more to the point, genetic code and made the case quite compellingly. In addition to being very smart, Dr. Enriquez is also quite funny. I thought I could do dry humor well, but this guy had the whole room in stitches and never cracked a smile. In the end he told the story of his youth - he arrived at Andover from Mexico speaking fluent English but unable to write at all - and thanked us for the difference we make for our students, helping them "stay curious, stay smart, and able to adapt to change." They'll need all three to be successful in the increasingly fast changing world. Everyone with whom I spoke after his talk was blown away.

Finally, I attended the NAIS Diversity Leadership Award ceremony, where Reveta Bowers was the worthy honoree. Reveta is the grande dame of heads of color in our schools. She's been at the helm of the Center for Early Eduction for 35 years and has been on the leading edge of diversity work in independent schools ever since. Simply put, the opportunities for people of color, like me, in independent schools exist in no small way because of Reveta  and a few others. She is a powerful force for good, and I'm proud to count her as a mentor and friend.

Highlight from Day 1

I've always thought the student performances at Annual Conference were among the highlights every year. This year is no exception. Our afternoon session on Thursday started off with a performance by the Hamiln School's middle school chorus.
Their rendition of Defying Gravity  from Wicked rivaled the performance of the song on the show Glee...yes, I watch Glee, get over it. The girls sang with great talent and enthusiasm. I recorded it on my phone, and if I can figure out how and get permission, I'll post a little of the sound.

The Urban School and the San Francisco School are providing us with musical performances today.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Captain Independent

Captain Independent made another appearance at our afternoon general session. Here he's having a conversation with Wanda Holland-Greene, Head of the Hamlin School in San Francisco. Turns out he's an avatar. I don't really know what that means except that there's an actor who's been transformed into this virtual character and is having a real-time conversation with Wanda. I guess Captain Independence is growing on me. No doubt we'll be seeing more of him tomorrow.

Busy Afternoon

I'm doing exactly what I said I wouldn't. This afternoon I've found myself sampling several different workshops during each time slot. I like to think that this enables me to cover the breadth of the conference by touching on many really interesting and very diverse topics. Others might call it a lack of focus. Both are probably fair.

I started the afternoon in a session on white privilege with Tim Wise. I've read a fair amount of his work in recent years, but I hadn't heard him in person. As Tim allowed, the idea that white privilege exists in our schools and that we should examine it can be incendiary - my word, not his. But as he points out, good people can perpetuate injustice and inequality without meaning to, so we aren't serving our communities - our children - if we don't engage. Also during that time block I attended the second half of a session on financial trends and how to use NAIS's Stats Online to help us understand our schools' financial realities and better plan for the future. While not quite as engaging a topic as white privilege, the resource was demonstrated in a way that makes it easier to go back to school and use it myself.

During the second afternoon session I sampled three workshops. One on how to create a virtual science fair that better engages the interests of students and teaches them the sorts of 21st century skills that most agree are critical. The second was on the importance of integrating a comprehensive service learning model into your school culture. I liked what one of the presenters said about getting our students to embrace "service living." I'll be using that one! And finally, I caught the end of a presentation on creating a web site that really works. It was presented by Whipple Hill, so I broke two of my own rules at once by both browsing workshops and attending one given by a consultant/salesperson. Oh well, it was interesting nevertheless

Finally, I include the picture below for the sole purpose of making of making my friends and colleagues in the Northeast jealous. While I haven't been outside but for a few minutes today. It is a beautiful day. It's amazing how nice sunny and 55 feel to those of us who haven't seen the sun in months.

Keynote - Arianna Huffington

It's already been a busy morning with the President's Breakfast and the keynote address. The President's Breakfast is really the NAIS Annual Meeting, but lukewarm eggs, three slices of bacon, and some pastries were included in the program. Pat Bassett gave a "state of the independent school world" talk that included lots of interesting stuff. I assume his PowerPoint slides will be available on the NAIS website. If I find the link, I'll include it later. The highlights included an acronym that he borrowed from the military, but one that is certainly apt for the realities facing most of our schools today. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In the end, Pat also shared another, more hopeful version - vision, understanding, courage, and agility - to inspire us going forward. I thought it worked.

Our keynote speaker was preceded by some hokey, yet effective, use of the conference theme - Adapt, Survive, Thrive: Unleashing the Superpowers Within - to set the tone for the next couple of days and for our work in our schools. Pat's talk here included the use of an animated character - Captain Independent, the head of Super Prep Academy - with whom he carried on a "conversation" about  schools and leadership. I told you it was hokey. Nevertheless, together they set a positive tone for the conference. By the way, there will be more than 4000 participants at the conference of the next couple of days! I believe that is the largest attendance ever.

Our keynote speaker was Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and author of On Becoming Fearless. She is also an independent school parent and board member at The Archer School for Girls in LA. But if you're a watcher of the Sunday morning round-table shows, The Daily Show, or Colbert Report, you may know her, as I do, for her iconic voice, as much for her ideas. Ms. Huffington didn't disappoint. Her message was delivered effectively, with just the right balance of substance and humor. The main thrust of the talk was the importance of engagement, empathy, and enthusiasm to effective leadership. Using her own story of a recent fainting spell that resulted from being overtired and overstressed, she told us, "our capacity to deal with problems is entirely dependent on how well we take care of ourselves," echoing a point Rob Evans makes in his book (referenced in an earlier post). In short, I thought Arianna Huffington was topical and entertaining - an almost perfect combination. And that instantly recognizable voice didn't disappoint either.

Always Learning

In the spirit of lifelong learning I'm posting a blog from my phone for the first time. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get a wireless signal on my laptop, so hopefully this will work.

Anyway, I'm at the President's Breakfast ignoring the speakers and focusing on the annoyingly tiny keyboard on my iPhone. Just kidding. I'm hanging on Pat Bassett's every word. As our students would say, I'm multitasking. Either this blogging by phone will work really well or I'll be ready for happy hour by 9am.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The conference officially kicks off tomorrow morning, but it already seems that every independent school administrator in the world has descended on San Francisco. It's been fun to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We're all talking about enrollment, tight budgets, and difficult decisions, yet there seems to be more optimism than last year. And those of us from the northeast were talking about the restorative power of a little sun and warmth - it was upper 50s and sunny today.

By virtue of my lofty status as an official blogger for the conference, I was invited to a very nice VIP reception with NAIS president, Pat Bassett, the NAIS board, and others. I got to meet my fellow bloggers, in person for the first time, posed for a picture, and received a very nice hat. Who says blogging isn't glamorous?

I've always held that the real work of the conference is in the conversations over lunch or dinner. Dinner tonight was with John Bracker, head of Watkinson School and an old friend from my Concord Academy days, and Rob Evans, a psychologist and author who is well known in independent school circles. Rob is also a former Concord parent. If you haven't had the chance to pick-up Rob's latest book, Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader, do yourself a favor and order it today. I read it on the plane out here - I'm a big believer in the power of a short book - and found it full of humor, practical advice, thoughtful and thought provoking insights, and very restorative. Perhaps the most timely advice in the book was about the importance of professional development opportunities, like NAIS Annual Conference, for school leaders to connect with peers in a way we simply can't when we're in our schools. It obsolved me the guilt I was feeling for being away from school for 3 days.

Making a Plan

Technically, I'm not sure if I'm really blogging since I'm on a plane from Charlotte to San Francisco – in case you wondering, yes, that's the scenic route from Buffalo. Anyway, because I'm being held captive by US Airways, I figured it was a perfect opportunity to check out the conference program. Every year I seem to forget just how many good sessions there are. Because now I'm responsible to my blog readers – note the optimism – I realized I better have a plan. My usual technique of wading in and figuring things out from session to session just won't work this time. Make a plan and execute it. It's all about the plan, right?

I was anticipating being overwhelmed trying too absorb each speaker and workshop and reporting on it. But I'm already feeling over my head just going through the program. My basic thesis was to try to catch all the big speakers, avoid sessions delivered primarily by consultants, and dabble in workshops that cover the gamut from financial, programmatic, and environmental sustainability to governance, leadership, and pedogogy. It sounded good until I tried to narrow down the choices. At this point, I have a conflict in every time slot, and for some sessions I've failed to narrow it any fewer than four great sessions. Overall, there are 9 time slots and I've got 26 sessions I really want to see. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Preparing for San Francisco

Getting ready to leave school for a few days always presents challenges. Like every head of school I've known, I sometimes delude myself into thinking that the place can't run without me. Of course, I like to think that I'm different, but my experience has taught me that things are fine when the head is away. In fact, sometimes the school actually runs better without my meddling. So, with that in mind, I prepare to head to San Francisco for Annual Conference. While I'm certainly looking forward to learning more about what Pat Bassett is calling the new normal, it's catching up with old friends and making new ones that I look forward to most. Those many side conversations, before, in between, and after the sessions, are where the real work of the conference is done. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being excited to visit San Francisco. One of my favorite cities, it is a great place to walk, dine, people watch, and generally soak in the atmosphere. Let's hope it stops raining and we get a little sun too.

Over the next week, I'll be packing, tying up as many loose ends at school as possible, and hoping that Buffalo doesn't get any DC-like weather that could make travel difficult. Can't wait to get started with the blog in earnest. Thanks for following.