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NAIS 2016 Recap

What I love about conferences, is having the time to reflect on best practices and hearing stories that I wouldn’t normally encounter in my usual day to day. NAIS 2016 did not disappoint - I attended sessions that will inform how I relate to others and think about school for years to come. I also heard talks that while not clearly about school, challenged my thinking and broadened my perspective.

The conference was also a time to spend with friends and colleagues at other schools. I reconnected with my Klingenstein cohort and chatted with former colleagues. Catching up with old friends feeds my soul and also counts at professional development as we invariably spend our time talking shop and sharing what we’ve been learning. The teachers that I love not only share my dedication to lifelong learning, but also enjoying sharing realizations and asking for ideas on working through challenges.

I was at the conference Wednesday - Friday and will summarize my major take aways.

  • Wednesday afternoon, I started the conference by attending a workshop sponsored by Klingenstein called Lead with Stories. I was intrigued by the topic as I am always seeking to grow my communication skills and I wanted to support my grad-school. The session leader, Christina Harbridge, from Allegory, Inc was an engaging speaker and facilitator. She said that key to leadership is minding how you make those around you feel. Because storytelling is inherent to social interactions, by including authentic, well told stories, leaders will put their team members at ease. Listeners will feel cared for and in turn will be more likely to truly listen and act accordingly. How the listener feels is as important as the content of the speech. The speaker’s body language and use of vivid imagery can enhance the story. She urged the speaker to attempt to relive the story while telling it, feelings the feelings like a method actor might. Storytelling coupled with asking good questions, listening and getting stories from others makes for a good leader. She urged us to “listen to understand and not to respond,” which reminded me of my work at the Stanley-King conference. Already I am using what we worked on in the session, namely trying to start a story from within it rather than announcing the point of the story on the offset. This feels more authentic, less transactional and builds curiosity to keep the listener engaged.

  • I started Thursday morning with an excellent session on Social Emotional Learning given by Anabel Jenson and Denise Pope. They spoke generally about the importance non-cognitive skills (aka soft skills, 21st century skills, character skills, emotional intelligence, super positives) both for success and for combatting stress. Non-cognitive skills include mindsets, attitudes and feelings such as resilience, optimism, empathy, and integrity. Both Anabel and Denise urged schools to change school structures, like its schedule, so that these skills can be explicitly taught. A school needs to also codify what some of its teachers are already doing by making these skills values.  This can be done via advisory programs and parent education as well as making character development integrated into existing curricula and pedagogy. Including problem based learning, embracing alternative and authentic assessment, and encouraging teachers to let students revise their work will go along way to create a climate of care and help students grow their emotional intelligence. This last piece of letting students revise, iterate and rewrite hit home with me. Their point was that in the real world, most jobs allow for second and third chances. They dropped other relevant people to investigate like Seligman for Learned Optimism, Antonio Demasio, as well as resources from their organizations Challenge Success, Synapse School and Six Seconds. I also have another book to add to my reading list: Overloaded and Unprepared. This session confirmed by feelings about the importance of Social Emotion Learning as well as gave me a couple of references to look into for my grad school project.

  • Thursday afternoon I went to a session inspired by SEED training, urging teachers to find ways to bring more of themselves into the classroom. Perhaps if I speak more about overcoming shyness, for example, I might become a role model for a student who feels hopelessly shy. My big takeaway from the session was the importance of creating room in the curriculum for windows and mirrors. Students should have opportunities to look through windows to gain perspective and mirrors to reflect on their own identity.

  • Friday morning I started my day with a workshop on the value of having an instructional coach. An administrator and the instructional coach from The Overlake School spoke about their program. They started with a startling statistic that less than 25% of things learned at professional development leads to changes in teaching and learning. This was shocking to me as I love PD and regularly apply what I learn.Overlake decided to go in house by hiring an instructional coach, who is not involved in evaluation of teachers, who works with them to set goals and provide feedback. I would love to be an instructional coach so I found this session to be very useful. The goal of coaching is not to get teachers to be just like the coach, but rather help the teacher reflect and set goals so that he or she can grow. They shared this New Yorker article on coaching that posits that if athletes benefit from coaching, so might all of us.

  • The key note on Friday morning was perhaps the most inspirational part of the conference. Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and civil rights attorney spoke about the crisis of inequity and injustice taking place in our justice system. I hadn’t seen his TED talk before the keynote and I didn’t really know who he was before hand. He told his moving story eloquently, yet to the point. I don’t think any summary I write would do it justice, but see this post by the educator who introduced him, Wanda Holland Greene.

“Teachers must be agents of hope.”

“Poverty’s opposite is justice, not wealth.”

  • Immediately after, I went to a session given by educators from Lick-Wilmerding High School on institutional research. Given my recent research experience in grad school, I was particularly interested in this session. Their goals for doing institutional research are to counter anecdote for describing what is happening at school and to use data to speak with authority to discover areas that need help. Put another way, they are using data to see how they are meeting the mission of their school. They use a program called Tableau to show the data in a way that facilitates discussion among groups of teachers. The institutional researcher used admissions data, climate survey data (one from UC Berkeley and the other the AIM survey from NAIS) and student experience to address issues including the need to better align their curriculum and teacher development. They also have teachers video students working in their classes to do lesson study within departments which serves to help them measure if their teaching is serving to teach key capacities, or habits of mind. I was impressed by the spirit of openness and growth.

  • The last workshop I attended was given by teachers from University High School and my favorite Stanley-King counselor, Ellen Porter, on creating a relational school. They, like HW, have many students who are high achieving and dedicated, but who are also busy, overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious. This results in students afraid to take risks and narrowly define success as getting into Ivy League schools. They surveyed their students (via Challenge Success) to understand the problem, asked other schools for advice and decided to focus on relationships. They cited the Harvard Grant study that found that relationships with other people is what matters most. They changed their advisory program to a mentoring program focused on listening. This session resulted in my having another book to read (Road to Character by David Brooks) and more follow up to do with the presenters from University High School (Shoba Farrell and Alex Lockett). I am interested in the details and structures surround their program as well on their list of core competencies. Perhaps I should attend their conference? This looks informative too.

  • The closing keynote was given by Jaime Casap, the lead education officer from Google. I liked his talk which gave an overview of how education must change given the power of the internet. He emphasized the importance of teaching students to value iteration and innovation. He referenced a survey done by the Economist Group which asked CEOs what skills they are looking for in employees. Non-cognitive  skills problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity topped the list. Lastly, he urged us to stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, but rather ask them, “What problems do you want to solve?”

  • I didn’t get to see Doris Korda from the Hawken School speak about transforming transcripts, but I hope to connect with her and learn more. I am guessing that their work might teach me a lot on my road to including more problem based learning and collaboration in class as well as using standards based grading. See here:

  • Also didn’t get to go to Growing a Culture of Innovation, but luckily there are notes and contact information here.

The theme of the conference - Lead with Stories: Trailblazers, Catalysts and Calamities was interesting. Given that I have spent the last 8 years going to ed-tech conferences, I like that traditional values of good teaching and leading still matter, namely connecting with students and colleagues. In my own interactions, while I try to be a trailblazer and a catalyst,  I find that I err on the side of calamity. I tend to say whatever is on my mind without thinking things through. This mode of communication is highly authentic, but I don’t always get across what I want to say. This happened over and over again at the conference. Each time that I ran into an old friend or met someone new, I tried to give a month’s worth of information in a 5 minute conversation. I need to take the advice of Will Rogers, oft repeated by Ellen Porter, and “never miss a good chance to shut up.” Listening more and getting more stories might better serve my aim of becoming a catalyst for positive change.