Tag Archives: SAIS

Leading for the future [SAIS/MISBO NOTES]


[Warning: long post]

My ongoing notes from the 2012 SAIS/MISBO conference in Atlanta, Georgia… These are from a keynote panel of independent school leaders who discussed 10 critical new leadership skills postulated in Bob Johansen’s book, Leaders Make the Future.

Steve Robinson, President, SAIS

  • It’s a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, & Ambiguity). What is the impact of a VUCA world on independent school leadership?

1. Maker instinct. Reggie Nichols, Piney Woods School, Piney Woods, MS

  • Ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.

2. Clarity. Doreen Kelly, Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, NC

  • Ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see.
  • There is a difference between clarity and certainty. Certainty is expressed in rules. Clarity is expressed in stories and narratives.
  • What is a problem and what is a dilemma?
  • “What we permit we promote”

3. Dilemma flipping. Colleen Glaude, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities.
  • We must love the process of puzzling, not just putting the puzzle together

4. Immersive learning ability. Dana Markham, Pine Crest School, Fort Lauderdale, FL

  • Ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments, to learn from them in a first-person way. 

5. Bio-empathy. Damian Kavanagh, SAIS, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns.
  • Our competition is not the private school down the street. It’s the misunderstandings of parents and communities about what we do as educators.

6. Constructive depolarization. Suzanna Jemsby, The Galloway School, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
  • What is the food most commonly consumed by teenagers? Not pizza, hamburgers, chips, or chicken fingers. Rice (put on your global hat!).
  • What we’re talking about here is grace.

7. Quiet transparency. Cliff Kling, Jackson Academy, Jackson, MS

  • Ability to be open and authentic about what matters – without being overly self-promoting.
  • The days of the ‘rock star leader’ are over. Teams, not individuals.
  • Leaders will increasingly have to be open about everything that they and their organization do, whether they want to or not.
  • Check out the Online School for Girls

8. Rapid prototyping. Keith Evans, Collegiate School, Richmond, VA

  • Ability to create quick early versions of innovations with the expectation that later success will require early failures.
  • Fail early, fail often, fail cheaply. “Small bets out of sight”
  • Rapid prototypes have lifetimes measured in days or hours. Pilots take much longer.
  • Rapid prototyping emphasizes 1) trial and error mentality, 2) experience in the field rather than massive advance planning, and 3) maximizing our learning by prioritizing speed of learning
  • This mindset runs counter to key leadership values in independent schools, such as 1) leaders do extensive planning (don’t plan it, try it), 2) leaders cultivate democratic participation to build consensus (not necessary for small bets), and 3) leaders mitigate risk and promote success (we need a comfort level with failure)

9. Smart mob organizing. Chris Angel, Hammond School, Columbia, SC

  • Ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic media and in-person communication.
  • We all have mobs we can organize and leverage.
  • We need to teach students how to have a productive online presence. 

10. Commons creating. Paul Ibsen, Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC

  • Ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit all players – and allow competition at a higher level
  • We have new abilities to do this
  • Goldmine sessions at conference are great ways to do commons creating 
  • Shared opportunities and shared problems save time

My own closing thoughts

Small pilots (okay, prototypes!) are non-threatening and powerful. Iterate often. Learn. Iterate yet again. Learn. Iterate yet again…

21st century education: Flaws, fixes, further thoughts [SAIS/MISBO NOTES]


[Warning: long post]

I’m at the SAIS/MISBO conference in Atlanta, Georgia. My keynote and workshops aren’t until tomorrow so today I’m just a learner. Right now I’m sitting in a session titled 21st century education: Flaws, fixes, further thoughts, facilitated by Matt Gossage and David Streight. David is the director of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education. Matt is the Head of the Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina. Most of the session attendees are heads of independent schools or school business managers. Here are my notes… [much of this is paraphrased]


A few years ago, I began to feel an assault as I was bombarded by journalistic and educational calls for my school and me to incorporate 21st century skills. It was like a course I had to take that I wasn’t interested in. How many lists of competencies have you seen that are supposed to be part of 21st century learning? I pushed back with my head, not my whole self.

Watching my son go through college counseling made me reframe much of this, however: What are the essentials for my son? Can he relate to other people? Can he put a stake in the ground that’s uniquely his? Does he have the resolve to stand for something because he owns it in his heart? And so on… And for my granddaughter, what kind of schools is she going to attend? Is someone going to claim her, pick her up, and dust her off when she needs it? Is someone going to help her be discerning, to have hope?

The 21st century skills list seems to blow right by many of the fundamentals. I’m not against these competencies, but I think there’s a layer underneath to which we need to pay attention. The government-owned Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska, is now an empty shell because its purpose is no longer viable. Are we in danger of turning out graduates who have certain skills and competencies but are empty shells inside?

David ( if you want a copy of the slides)

There’s a huge body of research that says that we do our best work when we experience Relatedness, Autonomy, and Self-efficacy. If at your job you didn’t like the people (and maybe they didn’t like you), you had no say over anything, and the work bored you out of your mind, you’d HATE it! For how many of your students do these hold true?

Center for Public Education, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the 21st Century Skills LLC, Tony Wagner’s ‘survival skills,’ Pat Bassett’s 6 Cs, the NAIS/SoF competencies, Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences / 5 minds, and so on. All of these are 21st century competency lists…

The big 7 (occur across multiple lists)

  • critical thinking / problem solving
  • creativity / innovation
  • collaboration
  • media / technology / digital literacy
  • cross-cultural skills / diversity
  • initiative / self-direction
  • oral and written communication

Other frequently-mentioned 21st century competencies

  • leadership
  • green / ecoliteracy
  • math / finance literacy
  • ethics
  • social / emotional literacy
  • flexibility / adaptability

Is the purpose of education in the 21st century the same as it was in previous centuries? Are our 21st century goals aligned with our mission goals? Are we creating a better world or a faster world or a different world?

Wagner’s ‘survival skills’ are based on concerns about global workforce preparation / economic needs. Should these be the primary drivers of what we do as educators?

Fixes – Focus on goals consistent with your mission. We need to glean the best from the 20th century, be open to the new and unexpected, and take the best of what’s available out there. Teresa Amabile, How to Kill Creativity – people are most creative when they feel motivated primarily by interest, satisfaction, and the pleasure of the work, NOT by external pressures.

Autonomy – “We give our kids a lot of autonomy” – it’s not how much autonomy you have, it’s how much autonomy that you perceive that you have that fosters your best work. The more perceived autonomy, the greater the persistence, performance, and well-being. Lots of research to support this. Ways to kill it: extrinsic rewards, threats, deadlines, directives, and competition.

Relatedness (social engagement) – Perceptions of connectedness, warmth, and trust are key. 

Self-efficacy – “I have the skills to meet challenges.” ‘Mastery’ over important components in the environment. We build self-efficacy through mastery experiences, seeing others can do it, encouragement/persuasion (by ‘relateds’), mood.

The extrinsic to intrinsic ladder: 1. ‘buy me off’ (resistance); 2. ‘my ego is at stake’ (give me status, avoids shame); 3. ‘this has importance’ (goals identified); 4. ‘this is me!’ You remember better the higher up the intrinsic ladder you are. And you can live deeper conceptually. We can help students internalize motivation: Did I choose to study this or did somebody make me study this?

Making motivation internal: 1. provide a meaningful rationale (understand importance), 2. acknowledge feelings (person feels understood), and 3. offer choice rather than control (feel responsibility for the behavior). 2 or 3 of these factors = internalization tends to be integrated. 1 or 0 present = internalization tends to be introjected.

Benefits of Relatedness, Autonomy, and Self-Efficacy (RAS): psychological health (less anxiety, greater coping), sense of well-being, conceptual understanding, academic performance, standardized test scores, enjoyment of learning, attitudes toward school, self-regulation (start & sustain behaviors, persistence), creativity, confidence.

7 questions that make all the difference (each on scale of 1-5)

  • People at school like me
  • I can trust the people around me
  • I am capable of saying no when friends pressure me
  • I have an appropriate amount of control over my life
  • I get to choose lots of things throughout my day
  • I am learning important things at school
  • I love the challenges that school offers me


  • We have parents with very high expectations for their children. In elementary school they begin to incentivize behavior and issue rewards in ways that, over time, often kill their kids’ own creativity and interest in learning.
  • We have to spend a lot of time educating and working with our parents. And talking about what we stand for, not just what we do.
  • Our teachers thought our scores and grades would go down as we assigned less homework. But our scores and grades went up.
  • Streight: We stopped talking about ‘success’ and instead started talking about living a life of significance 

My own closing thoughts

Is a focus on ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ a luxury of the middle class or affluent, because the rest are just struggling to survive? Conversely, is economic success worth it if it lacks meaning?