From My Angle
Welcome to From My Angle, the blog of a life-long educator, a husband and a father of three boys. It is also my privilege to serve as Head of School at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas.
This blog reflects my passions: emerging issues in the ever-changing world of education, leadership and leadership development, and living life with the intent to be a person of impact. I invite you to share perspectives “from your angle” on the issues and items I post to my blog!
Visiting five universities outside of Texas with a national profile (Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Tufts, and Yale) and meeting with leaders of several others within the state (Austin College; Southern Methodist; Trinity College), reminded me that the strength of America’s higher education landscape lies in its diversity. Each of these institutions offers a unique set of defining characteristics and signature programs.
Indeed, as it relates to the Big Shifts and how individual universities are interpreting and reacting to them, one would be hard-pressed to draw universal conclusions common to each. Still, I did find one theme extended across the spectrum of my visits:
STEM and Interdisciplinary Are Here to Stay: interdisciplinary course offerings and majors are on the rise. Stanford and Harvard both have general programs for freshman and sophomores (Stanford’s is new this year Stanford Ways of Thinking) which feature courses that reach across traditional disciplinary boundaries (e.g. “Computers, Ethics, and Public Policy”). Tufts University has just announced its intent to hire “Bridge Professors” who will teach courses across at least two different schools, departments or disciplines (Tufts University Bridge Professorships ). In general, humanities majors (e.g. English) are declining and interdisciplinary majors increasing (e.g. Yale’s majors in “Physics and Philosophy” or “Computing and the Arts”).
In addition, it is clear student interest and background in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is driving applications and choice of majors. More than 50% of incoming Stanford and Harvard students articulated an interest in a STEM-related major, with Yale just over 40%.
These realities support Parish’s efforts to establish ParishSTEM, create STEM blocks (grades 3 & 4) and STEM units (grades 3-8), and build a robust robotics program (grades 5-12). In addition, by next year, we will feature Humanities (Middle School) and American Studies (Upper School) courses which will foster learning experiences which bridge disciplines and promote thematic thinking.
I believe all school leaders need to be thinking about how “permeable” their own programs are. Do “hard walls” exist between academic disciplines in your school? How about between grade levels or even divisions? Do the gates or boundaries of your campus represent where learning on your campus ends?
I returned from my visit to college campuses eager to continue our quest to create a more connective and integrated learning experience for our students.
As our seniors have worked furiously on college applications this fall, I, too, have been on a college tour! My upcoming blog posts will capture some of my reflections from these visits.
As I entered my fifth year at Parish this past July, it seemed an opportune time to move beyond the boundaries of the state. Starting in July, I visited with Dean of Admission Janet Rapalye at Princeton. Then, in three weeks this fall, I have travelled from the west coast to the east to visit Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Tufts. In addition to meeting with each university’s dean of admissions, I also stopped by the schools of education (where existent) to pitch Parish as a place for progressively-minded teachers/administrators. At Stanford, I also spent a couple of hours at the Institute for Design (or “D School”) which has been a source of inspiration for our Beasley STEM Center and Design Den.
My visits had two purposes:
My recent blog post articulates how Parish has synthesized our learning on the changes presently before us. Speaking with campus leaders helped crystalize my thinking even more. If you are a school leader today, are you taking the time to speak with those in higher education? Your young alumni who have entered the workforce? Those who employ your graduates?
My trip featured stimulating conversations and thought-provoking observations too numerous to chronicle completely but I look forward to offering some summaries in upcoming posts.
During the year's first trimester, Parish's academic leaders and I have communicated regularly with our School community about the ParishProfile and how the Ten Practices of Definitive Preparation prime students not only for college, but for the world that lies beyond.
In their October letters, Lower School Head Susie Demarest, Middle School Head Jay Riven and Upper School Head Michelle Lyon demonstrated with vivid examples how the ParishProfile drives our instructional approach and arms students with the skills they will need to be difference makers and game changers in the complex and interdependent world of tomorrow. In addition, my August letter profiled several Parish graduates, their accomplishments during and after college, and how Parish prepared them to succeed. In last month’s letter, I wrote about another key Parish trademark: our Episcopal identity, through which we form people of impact.
Why have we decided to focus with such laser-like intensity on this dual emphasis of developing enduring life skills and forging young people of impact who demonstrate emotional intelligence and rock-solid character traits? The answer is relatively simple: we have done our homework regarding the shifting educational landscape.
A broad range of factors, highlighted by the digital revolution, will produce dramatic and likely irreversible changes in the worlds of work and higher education in the years to come. Specifically, four major shifts are driving rapid change. It is my belief that educators must take a lead role in raising awareness of these shifting realities. Colleagues, parents and students who are informed and aware will be better positioned to adapt to and support changing conditions within education. We have identified four major shifts driving rapid change:
Anytime, Anywhere Learning
- Technology is altering the delivery of education and training.
- Inexpensive, available bandwidth makes wireless and mobile learning readily available.
- Learning will become more personalized and less prescribed.
- Students will increasingly have the ability – and expect the flexibility – to move through programming at their own pace.
- Read how one 10th grade student demonstrates anytime, anywhere learning: "Why I Spent 10th Grade Online".
An Unsustainable Education Business Model
- Anytime, anywhere learning is altering the educational marketplace, launching new markets and competitors.
- Amidst tuition pressures, new and expanded players (e.g., charter schools, for-profits, home-schooling) featuring more tailored and passion-based learning will effectively compete with traditional public and private schools.
- Read one commentator’s perspective on private school and college sustainability: "Why Private Schools Are Dying Out".
The Changing World of Work
- Employers want graduates with learning capabilities – “masterful, powerful learners” rather than simply “learned” individuals – as employees. (See Future Work Skills 2020 Infographic.)
- Traditional trades and professions (e.g., medicine, law, finance) will remain, but careers are becoming more complex, fragmented, specialized and collaborative.
- “More often than not, our work life will be made up of a portfolio of micro-careers,” many of which have not been invented yet. (Source: "20 Jobs of the Future".)
A New Definition of “Preparation”
- Anywhere, anytime learning will disrupt higher education, alter the collegiate experience and challenge the present paradigms of “college prep.”
- At a minimum, college students will be taught differently, with more trans-disciplinary learning experiences and case studies, more real-world apprenticeships and career-preparatory experiences, and more collaborative, student-directed learning.
- In some instances, students will opt out of traditional four-year, brick-and-mortar experiences and seek flexibly-designed educational programs. (Discover how one university is anticipating this shift: "Massive (But Not Open)".)
We believe commonly held assumptions about how schools are organized and what teaching and learning look like need to be rethought in the context of these weighty and significant changes. Schools that choose to stand still in the face of these shifts do so at their own jeopardy and at the expense of their students, who will not be optimally prepared for the competitive and rapidly changing world they will be asked to lead.
At Parish, we are thoughtfully considering these changes and how best to adapt to them proactively. Our goal is to help educate our community about the coming changes and their impact on our educational philosophy – one which already promotes enduring skills, learner-centered instruction and a belief in balance.
Recently, I had a new board member ask an insightful question: “Explain what you mean to me by our Episcopal identity?” This individual had read or heard me reference this School trait numerous times, but wanted a clearer sense of what it comprises. Indeed, as we focus this year on the ParishProfile and highlight how our educational philosophy and process yields impactful, life-ready graduates, we think it is such an important ingredient in the Parish recipe.
The recent celebration of Episcopal School Sunday at our partner church the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (September 29) and the impending National Association of Episcopal Schools celebration (October 6-10) offer yet another timely opportunity to address this question of identity.
Nationally, Episcopal Schools demonstrate a commitment to certain ideals. Among them are the following:
- A sense of radical hospitality and inclusivity
- A belief that our schools help children relax into their own identity and reveal the gifts God has bestowed upon them
- A lens which views children as people of heart and spirit, not just intellect
- A commitment to service and issues of equity and justice
I believe Parish lives out this calling as an Episcopal School to perfection.
Still, within the last year, our School, in conjunction with our founding partner in our educational mission, the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, sought to enumerate even more clearly other essential elements of our Episcopal identity. Most notably, these include:
- Conducting daily chapel and weekly Eucharist from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
- Teaching religion in all divisions
- Hiring chaplains who are ordained Episcopal clergy unless approved by Transfiguration.
But in the end, these philosophies and policies – though guiding – mean little if they do not live in our practice, and at no time are one’s values more tested than in times of crisis.
In the last month, as we have together endured the painful and untimely passing of close members of our Parish family, I am humbled and honored by how the values we espouse have been evident not only in word but in practice. Chaplains and counselors have provided solace to those in grief; students, faculty and staff, and parents have banded together to offer prayer, love and support to our families in need; and our alumni have returned in droves to the Parish community which serves as a home base and an extension of their own family.
This is our Episcopal identity. We are proud of how it shapes our school culture and the graduates we produce.
I had the occasion recently to read yet another article about an institution caught trying to game the college ranking system. In this instance, Washington and Lee, a fine liberal arts school in Virginia, admitted to counting partial applications as completed applications, thus increasing the apparent selectivity of its process. Selectivity represents a key metric used by US News and World Report’s widely known “Best Colleges” list.
With the college application season now upon us, I read this and could only shake my head in a combination of disgust and pity. How is it that we have allowed a process as important and personal as the selection of a place for further study, maturation and career exploration to be distilled to this: a ranking system yielding lists which reflect the biases of the list makers and are powered by data which is of questionable credibility.
Sadly, the US News list is not alone when it comes to the fallibility of its data. Both Forbes and Kiplinger produce rankings and recently removed schools – George Washington University (Forbes) and Claremont McKenna (Kiplinger) – from their lists for a period of time when similar instances of dirty data came to their attention.
Let me be clear. While it is disappointing that these and other institutions of higher education have made the poor choices they did, each of them is a terrific college or university offering outstanding programs. To me, the primary rub lies with those of us – parents, college preparatory schools, higher education leaders, the media and the list likely goes on – who have validated these lists by according them a disproportionate influence. In what should otherwise be a highly personalized selection process for families, we have allowed a large number of institutions who differ in mission, size, level of affordability (just to mention a few) to be lumped together into a group and categorized based on criterion selected by the list maker.
In 1985 I graduated from a college preparatory independent school. In 1991 I began my teaching career in one and by 1998 was in a leadership position in another. I can say with confidence that over this 30 year period, the beast that is the college placement ranking list has been born, fed, and unleashed. As noted author and thought leader Malcolm Gladwell has suggested in his provocative piece on the fallacy of ranking systems like those used for colleges, in the mid-1980s (as I graduated from high school) the U.S. News Best College guide
“was little more than an item of service journalism tucked away inside U.S. News magazine. Now the weekly print magazine is defunct, but the rankings have taken on a life of their own.”
Indeed they have. While I never once looked at a college ranking list as I made my own college decision in 1985, I have watched throughout my professional career as such lists have cast an increasingly large shadow over college preparatory schools, public and private alike. To my mind, the results of this specter have been uniformly negative.
As consumers have become more beholden to these lists, the influence on school programs has been widespread and largely understated. To a great degree, college preparatory schools themselves are subjected to a de facto ranking process with these college lists as the driver. Which colleges a prep school sends its kids to, and where those schools “rank,” has become the end-all, be-all when it comes to determining its “value proposition,” "overall quality,” or leading “brand indicator.” And to what end? Programs at our independent schools, in part as a reaction to consumer focus on these lists, have narrowed. Students feel compelled to take the honors and AP courses necessary to access these “highly ranked” schools and do so sometimes regardless of a their particular interest in the course. Schools want high student attainment on such tests and thus plow through the necessary content at warp speed. Shiny college placement lists are placed front and center and, in some instances, college counseling offices steer students to apply to schools which would reflect more favorably on the institution. Subsequently, GPAs, AP dossiers and standardized test scores come to rule the day. The result? More unnecessarily pressure-filled and joyless learning experiences; less student-organized and directed learning; less emphasis in teaching enduring skills in collaboration, creativity and communication.
At Parish, we are committed to working back from this hyper-focus on lists, rankings and outcomes. Our vision is to redefine the college preparatory experience. We will be steadfast in a commitment to student-engaged learning experiences and the development of critical life-ready skills. We believe we can do this, see our students leave our school more balanced and joyful, and with admission to an excellent institution of higher education assured. For many that will be at America’s “best” colleges and universities. But we also know, with thousands of degree-granting institutions in the United States, there is a terrific college or university out there for everyone.
One of the interesting professional development exercises I undertook this summer involved connecting with Parish Episcopal School alumni who have recently “entered the real world.” I took 20-30 minutes with a half dozen alumni, several of whom still have siblings with us. Given that I did not know most of these graduates, it provided a terrific opportunity to build new relationships while learning about the early days of Parish Episcopal from a student's perspective. In addition, the successes these students have had since leaving Parish was both affirming and informing.
It was affirming to talk with Lana Greene ('08). Lana graduated in May from SMU, where she was as instrumental a member of the University’s Honor Council as she had been at Parish, when she helped found our council. Lana was preparing for her CPA exams later this summer and for a move to New York. She has been hired by Ernst and Young and selected to a cohort of fast-track new employees for leadership mentoring and a broad range of audit and assurance experiences.
Stuart Vance ('09) was selected to the highly competitive Technical Sales Engineer program at Texas Instruments. As an electrical engineer, Stuart will utilize his problem-solving and collaboration skills to understand the needs of his customers and then engage the TI engineers in finding solutions for them.
As members of the Parish community stories like these from a representative sampling of our first graduates affirm the soundness of our approach. Indeed, we can focus on developing our students’ competencies in essential and enduring skills (as communicators and creative problem solvers) and still see our graduates achieve remarkable outcomes. Process-based education and noteworthy college placements or career opportunities are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, in today’s rapidly changing and interconnected world, I believe our focus on demonstrating student competencies – most visibly through the ParishProfile and MyPanther e.portfolio – positions us as thought-leaders in the world of education. My summer alumni conversations further informed my thinking in this regard. For example, in talking with our graduates about the interview processes which yielded excellent initial career opportunities, it was evident that employers place highest priority on soft skills such as communication and collaborative problem solving.
Rachel Jones (’08) completed a BA in business and MA in accounting in just over four years at Baylor. Yet, she believes she was hired by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a “Big Four” accounting firm, as much for her ability to connect and effectively work with others as for her GPA and degrees. In fact, she recommended Parish promote more collaborative learning opportunities than she experienced here and implement a mandatory speech class to better prepare students for the world of higher education and work.
This anecdotal information from our graduates supports what we are reading and learning from research. As confirmed in "Companies push 'soft skills' on top of technical ones," a recent article by Paul Wiseman, Associated Press, a survey of employers released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities “found that 93 percent of the respondents reported that a capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems was more important than an undergraduate major.”
I have vivid memories from my student teaching experience and first couple of years teaching. They typically involve me spending inordinate – actually, obscene – hours on Sundays and school nights sifting through several textbooks (I was teaching social studies), history books and old college notes, and any other resources I could get my hands on (this was pre-internet!) preparing lessons. Usually, I was working a day in advance. If I was lucky, I might complete a week of lessons for my classes and give myself just a little breathing room. As a new teacher, it was both exhausting and anxiety-provoking. After all, who wants to stand in front of a classroom of high school or middle school students with nothing to say!
I had made the classic mistake which befalls many new teachers. I was too worried about the “what” and not focusing nearly enough on the “how.”
I was awash in historical names and dates, causes and effects, eras and epochs. No doubt modeling the teachers and professors who had inspired my love of history in the first place, I was trying to regain command of the topics they had taught me so I could stand before my own students, regale them with the depths of my knowledge and, in so doing, unleash their passion for history and learning. But this approach proved both unsustainable for me and uninspiring for most of my students. After all, it was me who was doing all the work. My students generally sat passively, the most motivated of them taking notes, waiting for me to tell them what would be covered on the test, but most looking at the clock to calculate when they would be freed from their seats and notebooks and liberated to pursue something of greater interest.
During my second year in the classroom, I experienced an epiphany: Spend more time thinking about how the students would experience my curriculum; how they would be asked to do something with it or create something from it; and how they could be asked to show me they understood the material in different, more creative ways beyond the test or essay I might give them. While I worked no fewer hours after coming to this conclusion – it remained just as hard to design these types of learning experiences as it had been to package content concisely for student consumption – it was no longer as exhausting. Instead, it was immensely exhilarating. As I worked along with my students rather than lecturing before them, and as my students took more ownership for the learning experience, teaching also became immensely more rewarding.
Some two decades later, I still find conversations with colleagues about how to design a lesson, project or assessment to be among the most exciting dimensions of my work as an academic leader. Akin to a master chef preparing a multi-course meal or a master landscape architect piecing together the unique but complementary elements of beautiful garden, a master teacher fuses multiple elements to create an enduring and powerful experience for the learner. Indeed, teaching is a craft and the masters are those who revel in the challenge of figuring out the “how.”
I was reminded of this in the wake of Jonathan Martin’s recent visit to Parish to workshop with our teachers. Jonathan is a leading thinker and practitioner on making learning “real” for students. Though my own journey from “what to how” traces its origin back some two decades, forward-thinking schools like Parish recognize how urgent the need is to make the “shift to how” now and permanently. As Jonathan detailed in a thorough and thought-provoking opening session, today’s rapidly changing world and digitally-raised student demand a different type of teaching and learning. Information and knowledge is no longer a commodity. It exists at our fingertips on the ever-widening bandwidth of the digital commons. What the students of today crave and need is learning that calls them to a task, connects them with one another and other enriching networks, and leverages technology as an accelerator to their discovery and mastery of new content and skills.
Jonathan helped our teachers explore “the how.” Our day included a myriad of stimulating conversations among small groups of faculty and focused on teachers developing a problem-based activity for students to do in class. The energy was palpable as teachers together generated a problem-based task which asked students to solve real problems for real audiences. In one instance, a middle school science teacher and community service instructor asked “how 7th grade and 8th grade students could work together to construct and grow a garden which would be used as a teaching space for Lower School students.” An Upper School history teacher worked with our Director of Library and Information Services on a project which would allow for deeper learning on historical reform movements. They explored a “how” scenario similar to this one:
“You are an employee of a non-profit group seeking prison reform. You have been asked to prepare a presentation for your board on lessons to be learned from historical reform movements which might inform the strategic planning of your organization.”
By focusing on the “how” we teach at Parish, we will make learning relevant, engaging, and joyful. Our learning outcomes for students, articulated in the ParishProfile and Practices of Definitive Preparation, focus on process. With Jonathan’s help and our collective commitment to put students in the “do” mode, Parish teachers will promote learning which hones enduring skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking in our students; skills we know they will need to be life-ready.
With the calendars turn to August, those of us in the school business begin to rev our engines, though they have certainly not spent the summer idling. Attending workshops, creating curriculum, making adjustments to schedules and programs, teachers and administrators alike have filled the weeks of summer with important work aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of their practices. Still, the pace of an educator’s life slows significantly in June and July.
And this is a good thing. Though arguments for longer school years can be found in varying circles, the successful administrators and teachers I know have nearly emptied their tanks by the end of school in May. The work of teaching and leading schools requires long days and weeks. One likely recognizes the daily intellectual challenge teachers face to create a lively classroom environment which engages, nurtures, and stimulates a wide range of learners. The consistent and persistent emotional demands of the vocation can be overlooked, however. Human relationships, in all their complexity, stand at the center of school life. Managing these relationships – with and between students; with and between colleagues; and with and between students and parents – requires an immense investment of time and energy.
In his book, True North, Bill George articulates how vital it is for authentic leaders to “make space” for the important touchstones of family and home bases as a way of “staying grounded.” Whether it’s “spending time with their families and close friends, getting physical exercise, having spiritual practices, doing community service or returning to places where they grew up," these are all ways effective leaders (and healthy individuals) make space.
I love the roles of teacher, leader, and active community member in Dallas which will occupy many of my hours in the next 11 months, but I made space in July to be reminded of and focus on my roles as father, husband, son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and grandson. My family and I journeyed as we do each summer some thousands of driving miles to get to home bases – those special places which afford powerful and enduring experiences and make space for these important roles I play. Whether it was a quiet time by our lakeside cabin with my 97 year old grandmother; taking an hour to feed my ten-month old niece breakfast (I forgot how deliberate that process could be!); or spending endless hours serving as the designated wiffle ball pitcher for my kids and their cousins in a summer world series, I have been renewed and restored by the space I made this summer.
I hope and expect fellow educators have, too, because we will need it. Our excitement as the school year begins is genuine. But it also envelopes some anxiety about the emotional highs and lows we know lie ahead -- the excitement of a successfully designed project; the frustration of a navigating a challenging relationship with a student, parent, or colleague; the fulfillment of meeting a learner’s needs; and the inevitable fatigue which accompanies a complete investment in the life of one’s school. In all their dimensions, the unique demands and rewards of school life are at once alluring, addicting and anxiety-provoking!
So, best wishes to everyone as the new school year begins. I look forward to sharing perspectives on the journey as we go!
While some may consider the first weeks of summer “downtime,” for school leaders and teachers it is the exact opposite. Many of our faculty are on campus working on specific projects which will enhance curricular and advisory programs come the start of school. I spent this past week on the road, first in Santa Fe at a meeting of the Independent School Association of the Southwest, our accrediting body; then in Memphis where I joined six of my administrative colleagues at the Martin Institute Conference.
It is rare that our academic leadership team has concentrated time to be together – both to learn and simply to be – so the trip to Memphis offered us a special opportunity. The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence is a unique collaborative effort between Presbyterian Day School and the University of Memphis. Housed at Presbyterian Day, the Institute offers high quality professional development to educators from a variety of schools. In fact, the Martin Institute Summer Conference welcomed close to 800 educators from 21 states, five countries, and public, charter and independent schools like Parish.
The beauty of the Martin Institute and the reason we choose it as our locus for professional learning is the audience it attracted. The compilation of presenters and attendees recognize the seismic shifts occurring in the world today and their implications for teaching, learning and schooling. Collectively, the conference’s attendees understand that the complex and interconnected world of today requires transformation thinking when it comes to how our schools function and what our classrooms should look and feel like. I left the conference affirmed. Affirmed that the course we have chosen at Parish, focusing on the critical skills students will need to be “self-organizing,” life-long learners, is the correct one. Seeing the “learner’s profile” for Albemarle County, VA, I could not help but be enthused. It parallels our ParishProfile which, in combination with our MyPanther e.portfolio, will position us at the forefront of those educational leaders who value the competencies students demonstrate as much as the outcomes they achieve.
Indeed, I would summarize my experience of the Institute’s conference in two words: “Go Do.” Rather than featuring “sit and get” lectures, the Martin Institute conference sought to engage the learner. Most sessions featured collaborative groupings, interactive backchannel conversations on Twitter or Google docs, and activities which yielded products (implementable strategies; prototypes; etc.) intended for attendees to carry back to their schools.
One of the more compelling sessions I experienced was led by Will Richardson, a leading thinker on “Modern Learning” and the author of Why School, which the Parish faculty is reading this summer. Will asked us to consider what features of today’s school we would keep, what we would throw out, and what we would add in our quest to create the optimal learning environment to prepare students for the world they will lead tomorrow. As one might expect, this exercise led to stimulating thinking and discussion. We considered everything from the role of teachers to the efficacy of grade levels, textbooks and standardized testing. While we may not have all the answers for what the school of tomorrow will look like, I am glad that we at Parish have joined other thoughtful and innovative educators in asking the questions.
I would urge parents and fellow educators to join with us in this thinking. Will Richardson’s website, e.newsletter and app (Raising Modern Learners) serve as an excellent place for you to get informed and join the conversation.
In the meantime, I look forward to using these restorative weeks of the summer to ponder, plan and implement aspects of programming which will promote a “go do” teaching and learning culture at Parish, just as the Martin Institute Conference called on our team to do.
While our vision of a balanced, process-based, and invigorating learning experience with our Practices of Definitive Preparation and students at the center of the action guides as at present, the reality is that the vision stands as a moving target of excellence to which we will continually strive.
To that end, recently two sets of school leaders spent time thinking ahead. Four administrators, teachers, and I spent a stimulating hour Skyping with Grant Lichtman in San Diego. Grant featured Parish along with 60 other schools he visited in the fall of 2012 on his quest to uncover what innovation looks like in today’s schools (you can read the Parish post here: The Mission is the Message at Parish Episcopal). Grant’s blog, The Learning Pond and his posts to twitter @GrantLichtman are worth following.
Melissa Grabske, Myriam Graham, Megan Wittmann and Emily Grosfeld traveled in March to Presbyterian Day School in Memphis. PDS, like Parish, is a school facing the future of education head on. Featured by Grant in his blog, PDS has initiated some particularly interesting instructional and assessment strategies, featuring opportunities for individualized learning experiences similar in some ways to those discussed in my last post. Alignment is Everything – In the Classroom.
We used our time with Grant to debrief lessons and implications of their visit, consider how we might incorporate elements of what PDS does into our vision, and ponder next steps. Several members of Parish’s academic leadership team will travel with me in June to Memphis and PDS for the Martin Institute Conference on Teaching and Learning in June.
One cannot discount the importance of the governing body of a school if alignment with a vision is to be achieved. Parish’s Board of Trustees are committed stewards this vision. Recently, our busy volunteers took a half a day from their own jobs to participate in their annual Board workday. Our session was facilitated by Cathy Trower, noted researcher (Harvard University), author (Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership, which features Parish on p. 44!), and consultant (Trower and Trower, Inc). Together, we considered how our vision, with now emerging and fruitful signature programs such as the ParishProfile, ParishLeads, and ParishSTEM, positions us in the face of a rapidly changing educational landscape.
The Board prepared for the retreat by reading a white paper on our present strategic vision and a series of external changes impacting tuition-driven schools. The group then worked in breakout sessions throughout the morning to consider how a board committee or task force might be charged to think creatively about leveraging our vision to capitalize on opportunities presented by this rapidly changing educational landscape.
If a school can muster ownership of and alignment to a vision among its various constituencies with an orientation toward the future, as Parish has, I believe it increases the power its programs will have on its students.
Choose groups to clone to: