Affirmation Through Absence: Thoughts on #NAISAC 2015

I’m writing this post somewhat out of guilt. I had been honored to be selected as one of the official bloggers for the NAIS Annual Convention this year. But I ended up not making it to the convention this year–the second year in a row. Of course, I’m sorry to have missed it. Last year it was for health reasons (all better now). This year weather messed with my schedule and I needed to stay in Dallas. Based on the last couple of days, that’s probably just as well, given my need to be back and how many haven’t been able to fly in because of snow and ice. It’s also leading to an interesting “experiment,” which I’ll try to capture in this post.

We know technology has changed how we do so many things, some of which we couldn’t do before. Once I knew I couldn’t attend the conference, I wondered how well I could gain a sense of events through social media and a few phone calls afterwards. I’m very grateful to all the people who posted on the community site and the many people tweeting. I’ve also seen some great photos; I especially liked the close-ups of the work done by the graphic artists.What follows are the points I gleaned as perhaps dominating the conversations. I know they are heavily influenced by whom I follow, and for someone else these might be very different. I also add a bit of my own reaction.

  • As one would expect when the conference theme is “Design the Revolution,” there seemed to be loads of sessions and energy around design thinking. That’s awesome, and more and more people seem willing to embrace this approach. At the same time, I sensed some worry that eventually it will fade away as other buzzwords do. There seemed a mix of whether or not the point of empathy with the user was lost at times. If that’s the case, and we end up, for example, just redesigning curricula, I think we’ve missed the point. After all, even before we knew the term design thinking, aren’t the basic principles of it what we are supposed to have been doing all along?
  • People had a mixed reaction to the panel of college presidents, with some thrilled they were acknowledging issues, but many others feel they were not accepting their part in the issue or offering any solutions. I don’t think we can count too much on them to do so, as they feel the same pressures many independent schools do. I wonder how we balance our idealism and our realism.
  • Tied to that notion, loads of verbiage about having the courage to make big changes, debate about whether significant change is hard or uncomfortable, whether teachers or administrators are the more willing or loath to make such things happen. One thought I have is that until we bridge that last gulf–along with breaking other real and imagined constructs–it likely won’t happen. It comes down to getting the culture right before anything can happen. That, and as I’ve written many times, truly embracing our independence.
  • Quite a few complaints about “boring” sessions which failed to include any real engaged and active learning. That’s worrisome, for it makes me wonder how people still doing things that way are going to design any sort of revolution. For that reasons, among others, I also wonder about this idea of revolution. Our schools do many things right, and I think we also need to look at progress in relation to where a school starts. Plus, constantly changing too much, too fast always makes me wonder if a school truly knows itself. The change must be thoughtful and measured to be meaningful. Having said that, I’ll contradict myself and admit I often want it to happen much faster. As a head, it’s tough to know how to strike the right pace and balance (a topic I’m planning for another post soon).
Finally, I realize an eternal truth once again. It’s a great one for us to be reminded of quite regularly. It’s a notion that Lori Carroll captured in an earlier post about the #isedchat Tweetup in Boston. For all the talk about more education being on-line and the end of giant conferences, I don’t beleive it will happen to the extreme that some people imagine. There is simply something essential about the communal experience of coming together for a common and admirable goal. Kids need that from their schools, and we need that as independent school educators.
     For that reason, I fully intend to be at annual next year, and I hope to be asked to blog so I can make up for dereliction of duty this year. In the meantime, I’d love to know if I captured the flavor of this year’s event and what I missed.
Cross-Posted on To Keep Things Whole
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