NAIS Annual Conference 2016 #NAISAC

During the last week of February 2016, I attended the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference 2016. To document some of the major milestones in that experience, I captured a version of the story on Storify. That running record is linked below (because Storify does not embed in sites).

Quick View of My NAIS 2016 Annual Conference.

My session selection had a huge effect on my experience, of course, and my major take-away, which was connected to my choice to do school visits, involved the ways that schools are striving toward great “student-centeredness” and “real-world context” in the work students are undertaking. From sessions with Hawken, Colorado Academy, and a case-study session with Tim Fish of McDonogh, I was afforded a view into several schools that are prioritizing setting the conditions for students to engage in very meaningful, relevant work that goes far beyond some green-covered grade book, or the digital equivalent. Bravo!

And the Urban School shared a session about Inquiry for Equity that showcased that methodology and their faculty as collaboratively curious! I will definitely be looking more closely at that process, as it connects to instructional rounds, critical friends groups, design thinking, etc.

As I continue to reflect on my experience and learning, I will share more specific ponderings, I’m sure.

#NAISAC14 Archive of My Conference Experience

In the last days of February 2014 (2.26.14 – 2.28.14), I attended #NAISAC14 – the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference 2014.

During the conference, my real-time tweets served as my note-taking and my reactions/responses to what I was learning.

Below, I’m simply archiving the sessions I attended so that 1) I have a snapshot of my conference experience in my ePortfolio, and 2) colleagues at my school and in my PLN can ask me questions about any of the sessions in which I participated.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

1:00 – 4:00 p.m. “My MakerEd Wednesday at #NAISAC14”

NAIS Bo Wed 2.26.14

Thursday, February 27, 2014

NAIS Bo Thurs1 2.27.14

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. “MSA: A Tool to Alter the Way Schools Think About Education”


9:30 – 11:00 a.m. “The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives Within Us All,” Lyn Heward, General Session Speaker

NAIS Bo Thurs2 2.27.1412:00 – 1:00 p.m. “Exploring Homework: Making it Work”



1:30 – 2:30 p.m. “Speed Innovating”

3:00 – 4:30 p.m. “Independent Matters: Dare to Explore,” Mae Jemison, Steve Pemberton, & Jay Shuster, General Session Speakers

Friday, February 28, 2014

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. “Connecting Learning and Value: Zero-Based Strategic Transformation”

NAIS Bo Fri4 2.28.14 #boandgrant

9:30 – 11:00 a.m. “The Power of Education,” John Quiñones, General Session Speaker

NAIS Bo Fri5 2.28.1411: 30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. “The NAIS Teachers of the Future Program” (


NAIS Bo Fri6 2.28.141:30 – 2:30 p.m. “Risk Taking and Moonshot Thinking: A New Vision of Strategic Planning”


3:00 – 4:00 p.m. “Creativity and Connection,” Eric Whitacre (one & two), General Session Speaker [one of the BEST keynotes I have ever experienced anywhere!]

Connecting Learning and Value: Zero-Based Strategic Transformation #NAISAC14 #boandgrant

Description, Slide Deck & Storify (#boandgrant)
from the #NAISAC14 session that Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) and I facilitated
Friday, February 28, 2014

NAIS Bo Fri4 2.28.14 #boandgrant


Storify (tweet collection): “Connecting Learning and Value: Zero-Based Strategic Transformation #NAISAC14”

Reflections on #NAISAC13 – Part II. The message was clear. Now we must act.

After a few days of reflecting on #NAISAC13 (the National Association of Independent Schools’ Annual Conference 2013), I am hopeful!

From the general sessions that NAIS curated, I cannot imagine that there could be much confusion about core message – schooling and education are experiencing a grand revolution, and NAIS schools can be leaders or left behind in this revolutionIt’s a choice.

Jim Collins reprised his strong thoughts on Good to Great and Great by Choice. He was clear that level 5 leadership builds “enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” He reminded us that mediocrity comes more often from chronic inconsistency than resistance to change. He implored us – new initiatives piled on are not the answer. Rather, knowing who you are, discerning with creativity what you can do of greater value than anyone else, and remaining disciplined about marching to that highest trajectory of yourself are the x factors of great success. Finally, Collins stressed that organizations must preserve their core values while adapting their practices on the march to greatness. The big problem, though, is that many organizations confuse their values and their practices. So, clarity of purpose and identity and character is a must.

Heads of school such as Nishant Mehta (soon to be a head of school at The Children’s School in Atlanta; currently at Alexandria Country Day School), Bill Taylor (St. George’s in Memphis), Matt Glendinning (Moses Brown School in Rhode Island), Jonathan Martin (former head at St. Gregory Preparatory School in Tucson), and Brett Jacobsen (Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta) shared their stories with us about the work that school leaders must do to innovate school cultures and to reposition the practices of schools so that we are immersing learners in experiences that will help them grow as communicators, innovators, creative contributors, critical thinkers, collaborators, and solutions finders. Along with acclaimed journalists, consultants, and educators like Suzie Boss, Ken Kay, Chris Thinnes, and Grant Lichtman, the messaging in the workshops was as consistent and clear as that in the general sessions – the world is changing at an ever quickening rate, and we must re-imagine schools and implement transformation so that our learners can be in more project-based, design-oriented, community-engaged, and world-relevant organizations.

There were countless connecting threads emphasizing the importance and power of networked approaches to school transformation. Ken Kay explained the professional learning community EdLeader21, composed of 111 school districts and independent schools. Suzie Boss recapped her research, in her book Brining Innovation to Schools (see here, here and here), on the stellar models across the country of schools transforming for the demands of our times. Grant Lichtman shared his findings from visiting 64 schools in 12 weeks, looking for exemplars of school innovation. He detailed that schools that struggle with change tend to grapple with anchors, dams, and silos. Schools that embrace innovation model dynamism, adaptability, permeability, relevance, self-correction, and creativity. Grant challenged the notion that school innovation was just about looking forward, and he said that his findings could be summarized on one word – Dewey. The essence of school transformation calls on the tenets of the progressive education movement. Outgoing president of NAIS Pat Bassett echoes similar chords every time he speaks, too. Just look at his TEDx talk on the “Big Shifts” and paste those up next to a synopsis of progressive education.

Terarai Trent inspired us to never give up on a mission to help all people connect with the education that they deserve as human beings.

Cathy Davidson closed the conference with a final keynote that reinforced several pillars holding up an overarching theme: kids today know that there is a significant mismatch between school and the way we learn in real life. In more detail, she emphasized five main ideas:

  1. Rethink liberal arts as a start-up curriculum for resilient global citizens.
  2. Move from critical thinking to creative contribution.
  3. Make sure what you value is what you count.
  4. Find creative ways to model un-learning.
  5. Take institutional change personally.

At least for my experience at #NAISAC13, there was great consistency and conviction in the messages. In fact, to me, the different voices were essentially singers in the same chorus.

To help me reflect this week, I reviewed ALL of the tweets from #NAISAC13. I packaged my own story of those tweets in a Storify. [View the story “NAISAC13” on Storify]

I’d be interested to hear other people’s primary take away, but mine was clear: schools must change, and in ways that empower students to be creative contributors and interested innovators and caring citizens.

The printed theme of #NAISAC13 was “Revolutionary Traditions: Think Big, Think Great.” But I believe we’ve been thinking about this stuff long enough. Revolutions require more action, move movement, more doing. The theme was not “resolutions,” but “revolutions.” The place was Philadelphia.

In reality, I think NAIS and the leaders gathered there communicated an even more powerful and hopeful theme: “Act Big, Be Great.” I’m so grateful for those who are DOING so.

= = =

And this from an email sent by NAIS after the conference:

Dear Colleague,

Thank you so much for joining us in Philadelphia for the 2013 NAIS Annual Conference. The spirit and great attitude of everyone in attendance will certainly spark our imaginations to revolutionize our schools – and the future of education.

Looking for more information to continue learning and brainstorming? Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll find on the NAIS Annual Conference website as we continue to update it during the next two weeks:

  • JPGs of the graphic recordings that the artists illustrated during the general sessions and featured workshops;
  • Interviews with many of the conference speakers;
  • Workshop handouts/presentations;
  • Articles about the general session and featured workshop speakers;
  • Videos of Sekou Andrews, Danah Boyd, Soumitra Dutta, and Alexis Madrigal;
  • And more!

Check the site regularly as we continue to add new materials.

PROCESS POST: Big Shifts, Revolution, and Foxfire

I only have a few minutes to write, and I wanted to record a bit of what I am researching and thinking about…

Big Shifts

Thanks to Twitter, I picked up on a post from @MikeGwaltney (Mike Gwaltney): “A Conversation about Big Shifts.” In the post, Gwaltney recounted NAIS president Pat Bassett’s main points from his March NAIS address and his later talk at TEDxSt. George’s School.

1. Knowing must become Doing.

2. Teacher-Centered must become Student-Centered.

3. Individual must become Team.

4. Consumption must become Construction.

5. Schools must become Networks.

6. Single Sourcing must become Crowd Sourcing.

7.High Stakes Testing must become High Value Demonstration.

8. Disciplinary must become Interdisciplinary.

Maybe because I, too, was present for Bassett’s NAIS keynote and because I had listened to the TEDx talk, Gwaltney’s post really resonated with me – I was primed to hold the post and its message in my mind.


Thanks to The Lovett School’s fine American Studies Institute in June: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised? American Culture: 1970-present,” I have had Jay Bonner (of The Asheville School) in my mind, as I have continuously contemplated his idea that “revolution” is a cyclical re-turning…perhaps a revolution is a return to things of the past.


Thanks to a research project I am working on, I was re-reading Thomas Armstrong’s The Best Schools: How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice. Of course, this line really struck a cord with me:

Educators who employ Academic Achievement Discourse often highlight the existence of a so-called achievement gap that has beset our nation’s schools. However, there is a far more profound educational gap that needs bridging. It is the gap between the ‘schoolhouse world’ and the ‘real world.’ All children, but especially those at the elementary school level, have as a central developmental focus the need to find out how the world works. (pp. 89-90)

I went on to read about best practices in “real-world schooling,” and I discovered The Foxfire Project, which is a brand of community-based education.

Another way that children can learn about how the world works is through direct contact with their local community. Perhaps the most well-known example of this approach is the Foxfire Experiment [I did not know about it]. In 1966, Eliot Wigginton and his students at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in northeast Georgia embarked on a mission to interview local elders in the surrounding community….Their project gave birth to a magazine called Foxfire…, and later to a book, a movie, a museum, and a foundation that still operates to further this kind of approach to learning in schools around the country (Wigginton, 1973). (pp. 104-105)

The Braid – Weaving Together Big Shifts, Revolution, and Foxfire

I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of “Big Shifts” and “Revolutions.” As I read and discover more about the Foxfire Project, I realize that the “Big Shifts” are all there. All of them. In 1966, the Foxfire Project possessed all 8 of Bassett’s big shifts.

Could the big shifts in education be returns – revolutions – to methods of the past? Many speak of the cycles of educational methodology. But are we long-term meandering around a more powerful approach to school-based education? What will be the catalyst(s) and stimuli that actually cause the big shifts (returns?) to occur large-scale in schools? When will the revolution be achieved?

Are we trying to push an enormous stone of inertial resistance up a huge slope of fear-of-change? Is that why the revolution never seems to apex and move with momentum down the other side of the slope?

Works Cited

Armstrong, Thomas. The Best Schools: How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice. ASCD, Alexandria, VA: 2006.