Monday, March 2, 2009

A Trip to Chicago

Last Tuesday I headed to Chicago for the annual NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference. I'm not sure why they almost always pick a cold spot of the country to hold this thing, but off I went. I had called two alumnae to visit while I was there, and I had signed up for a pre-conference "Global Education Summit" which I attended all day on Wednesday. It was a packed week, but I have returned with lots of ideas and the satisfaction of having talked with many colleagues, comparing notes about how our schools are dealing with the challenges of this economy and catching up with the lives of many friends.

NAIS wisely focused much of its attention on these challenges of our most recent times, and I chose to attend a variety of workshops on fundraising, financial aid, and marketing. The featured speakers were compelling as well: Dan Heath, author of Made to Stick; Michelle Rhee, the dynamic Superintendent of Washington, DC public schools; Guy Kawasaki, founding partner of Garage Technology Ventures speaking on Top 10 Things I Wish You Would Teach Your Students so I Don't Have To; and Oprah Winfrey who spoke eloquently on the challenges and rewards of founding her school in South Africa.

What were some of my biggest takeaways?
  • Michelle Rhee's description of the incredible odds she's up against and how hard she's had to fight to do the right thing for the kids - a reminder of how powerful it is to keep an eye on what you're about and act on it with confidence.
  • Her comment that private schools have to exist - we set the benchmark for all schools; we can reach into inner cities and give worthy children the opportunity of a lifetime (and if we can't commit to this, we shouldn't exist); and we can create multi-cultural environments that other schools cannot duplicate.
  • The point made in a fundraising workshop that people, when asked for guidance in their giving, should be told to give "enough so that you care what happens to your dollars." I think that's great advice.
  • Guy Kawasaki's notion of creating a "mantra" for your organization - a 3 word synopsis of what you're about (slightly more succinct, even, than the "elevator speech"). For instance, if Nike were to create one, it might be "Authentic athletic performance." Wendy's would be "Healthy fast food." Of course, I've been thinking about what SBS's might be...Voice through connections? Anyone have any other ideas for us?!??!?!
  • Kawasaki ended by reminding his audience to teach students that "learning is a process, not an event; prepare them for life, not work." Of course, this is not particularly new, but it is good to be reminded periodically of the importance of this idea.
  • Examples of many ways of connecting students to a global perspective that cost nothing; there's a lot we can do now as we work toward building this initiative.
There are so many other takeaways that I realize I can't list them all here. I'm still processing what I learned in Chicago and will try to connect it to what we're doing here at SBS over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I can also say that I cherish the time spent with my classmate Bonnie Briskin (with whom it felt like we had just seen each other yesterday - not 25 years ago!) and Annette Cazenave '74. Bonnie has recently made the switch from the world of finance to become a realtor; she loves the personal connections she's able to make with her clients. Annette trades in futures while she, single mother, is raising two 5 year-olds bilingually. Wow.

Alumnae constantly remind me of the power of this school to develop interesting and confident women; I wish I could invite them all to speak to our students about their lives. For the most part I have to settle for trying to channel their inspiration and somehow share it back at school. Another challenge....!

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