Thursday, March 15, 2012

Innovation in Leading Schools

Recently, our Head of School, Dr. David Behrs, and our three division heads attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual conference in Seattle, WA.  Primary School Division Head Carole Chase shared these reflections with us on some themes coming from the conference:

NAIS celebrated its 50th year of providing services to over 1,400 private schools in the United States. The conference enabled us to exchange ideas with colleagues on a national level. Above all, the conference offered all attendees numerous opportunities for professional learning and growth.

It is impossible to summarize a comprehensive 3-day conference that included 15 featured speakers and a choice of 100 workshops to attend. That said, I wanted to provide you with a brief sample of a few of the general sessions and workshops which I attended, using the theme of this year’s NAIS conference: Innovation - Imagine - Invent - Inspire - Dream

Bill Gates provided a wise perspective on 21st century education:  the formal content of what we teach has not changed, but the classroom has changed dramatically with the introduction of 1:1 “tablet” devices.  Bill Gates emphasized that the 1:1 tablet device enables teachers to personalize and customize instruction, thereby drawing students into the formal content of instruction. Kudos to San Domenico for being well ahead of the curve and implementing the 1:1 iPad program in grades 6-12 this year and grades 4-12 next year.

The “Design Thinking” workshop in which I participated truly confirmed that in education you “begin with the end in mind.” Given the access to technology, students can actually imagine, design and build a curriculum related project.  No doubt, access to technology increases project based, relevant learning for our students and cross grade level modeling, collaborating, and sharing of ideas.

John Medina in “Brain rules for Education” focused on current behavioral research which indicated that the less stressed and more harmonious and supportive the adult environment for children, be it at home or at school, the more receptive the child’s developing brain will be to processing, learning, and ultimately producing original, creative thought.

John Hunter, a self-effacing, modest teacher, was one of our most inspirational speakers.  Inspired by Gandhi’s teachings and the principles of non-violence, and accepting the fact that violence is a reality in the world, he designed a classroom “World Peace Game” that can be played by students as young as fourth grade.  As a class, students participate in the game on teams learning world geography, the power of finance, military strategies and political negotiations.  Peaceful resolutions must be attained in order to win the game.  Watching students play “World Peace” you understand that their learning extends far beyond game concepts and provides strategic lessons for life.

NAIS President, Pat Bassett, outlined 10 school initiatives for the future at the President’s Breakfast and Annual Meeting.  These initiatives ranged from individual character development and critical thinking to the globalization of independent schools.  Without exception, I can confidently tell you that San Domenico has already identified each of these 10 initiatives in our current planning before they were addressed by the NAIS president.

The national conference affirmed that San Domenico is truly in a leadership position in its direction and planning for the future. The conference also reminded us that continued hard work and much effort is needed to carry out these essential initiatives for your children.  The opportunity to be able to step away from the daily life of school restored perspective and enabled us to realize how much we are truly accomplishing at San Domenico.

Carole Chase

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