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A Closing To Remember February 28, 2011

Filed under: General Sessions — mhaakmat @ 2:54 am

“It’s our personal responsibility as citizens of this country to do something about educating all children.”

Geoffrey Canada began with this statement early on in his talk. Yes, we’ve all heard about the ridiculous cost to jail people compared to how much it would cost to educate children well. Many of us have seen “Waiting for Superman” sitting in a theater with an audience of tearful others. What’s next is what I want to know. I wanted Geoffrey to give a couple of pointers or some things we could do to act on our public purpose. Maybe we can open our school doors to some of the children languishing in our failing educational system. Maybe we should do as Geoffrey suggests and put the worst teachers into upper middle class neighborhood schools. Maybe some of us aspiring independent school leaders should go share our talents with under-served families.

I am wondering how many of us walked away from this session and from this conference armed and motivated to do something to close the education gap. Will this work still feel urgent enough to act in a few days? weeks? Or will most of us climb back into the safety and comfort of our schools and have passing thoughts about serving the greater good?

I am not trying to sound completely negative, but without a definite charge or call to action, I know how tempting it will be to go home and go on about the usual, hectic business of running our schools exactly the way they are. I know that I will return to Brooklyn Friends School and find out more about our Horizons Program and how we can build upon what we do each summer. This feels like a drop in the bucket compared to the breadth of the issues facing education in our country and around the world. I do know that very drop counts.


Lessons on Leadership February 26, 2011

Filed under: Workshops — mhaakmat @ 3:27 am

So I figured that Pat Bassett’s workshop on “Leading from the Middle,” would be a sure hit, and I was right. He’s the kind of guy you just want to have dinner with because he’s seems so himself, so comfortable in what he knows and what he doesn’t, and so able to teach through his own experiences in a way that never seems self-satisfied or boastful. Pat used the “dancing guy” YouTube video clip to illustrate how to start a movement and cultivate followers, and he talked some about power. My favorite part of what he offered was advice on not “taking the monkey.” You know this situation where someone asks if you have a minute and then presents a problem they have, which they wish in telling you to pass on to you for solving? He gave leaders permission to not take that monkey from this person’s back, but to instead offer an ear for their own problem solving solutions. What a concept.



Filed under: General Sessions — mhaakmat @ 12:55 am

This general session was jam-packed with inspirational speakers who each directly spoke to the conference theme of advancing our public purpose. Liz Coleman nearly laid me flat with her comments because they were so incredibly smart and forward-reaching. Her comments about the following are what I will take away as I think about taking action:
-Education should be an engagement of our students around the questions of “What kind of world are we making? What kind of world should we be making? What kind of world can we be making?”
-Education does not to be frenzied or to feel like a mad rush on a treadmill. It can be about producing both good and successful citizens of the world.
-We made these schools. We can unmake them. We can remake them.
– Imagine what could happen if we do our remaking right? Imagine what will happen if we don’t?

Anya Kamenetz focused on why education must change if we truly wish to reach the 400 million children with inadequate access to school.

Salman Kahn wowed the crowd with snapshots of possibilities for education which undoes the mistakes of the past and present. He showed us models designed to educate for mastery so all students have the same access to academic excellence. He challenged us to see teachers as mentors and to organize our classrooms around the student/valuable-time-with-teacher ratio as opposed to the student/teacher ratio that we consider and talk about so much.

I left the session feeling like I wish this “advancing our public purpose” theme could continue at next year’s AC, because I need more time and help to learn and translate these ideas into action.


Women in Leadership

Filed under: Workshops — mhaakmat @ 12:34 am

Although the presenters’ focus was on sharing advice as experienced school heads, some of the questions from the women in the audience helped to outline the larger issues of the under-representation of women in the NAIS heads’ circle. We skirted the discussion of the double standard and the glass ceiling. Participants became animated when sharing stories about the male administrator who gets praise and deep admiration when he brings his baby strapped into a carrier on his chest to a school event, and the female administrator who does this and gets sideways glances of disapproval for not having her priorities straight or for allowing her family life to interfere with her job. I was terribly aware of the heterosexist nature of our talk though, with so many mentions of husbands and marriage. I was grateful for the inclusion of “partner” language at times during the session.

It does feel like something is in the air though…maybe there is growing energy around really looking at interrupting the system at play which has resulted in a preponderance of male heads in our schools. This is definitely a topic in need of a little collective thought. I wonder how NAIS can play a role in this. Maybe some sort of institute for under-represented aspiring heads is in order? It would have to be one which explored and promoted the kind of change necessary to prepare independent schools for this type of leadership shift. I’d like to assume that this work and dialog is already woven into the existing aspiring heads institute at NAIS.


Can we talk about the whiteness and maleness of the AC? February 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — mhaakmat @ 3:07 pm

Oh no. I told myself I would keep these feelings to myself and only share them with the independent school educators who have become part of my extended family through NAIS connections. Anyone who knows me though, understands that I cannot hold back when there is something I feel is important to say out loud. As a black woman in independent schools, this habit of speaking my truth has sometimes benefited me greatly and has at other times been a huge disadvantage.

Last year’s Annual Conference was my first in many years, maybe ten or more. I was struck by both the maleness and whiteness of last year’s conference, from the uniform feel of the dress code to the general session inside jokes to the good ole boy feel of the very atmosphere. I know that some of you will read this and do the customary dismissal of me as “angry, black woman.” I hope some of you will stop and think and maybe look around at this year’s conference with a little more awareness. I have been keeping a rough, mental count of leaders of color who I’ve bumped into this year. I’ve seen two black male heads of school, both of whom I ” grew up with” either at successive PoCCs, long ago Summer Diversity Institutes or some other NAIS-related events. I know that there are other heads of color here whom I have not personally come across, and this makes me really happy. It is a sure sign of change.

But what are we doing to widen that pipeline of head of school hopefuls so that when that 50% of school heads retires in the coming few years, we are replacing them with leaders of the 21st century who represent the diversity that is the best of America? How are we combating the good ole boys’ mentality where white men are mentored early and aggressively, while women and leaders of color either drift off and out of independent schools or slug their way into headships in double and sometimes triple the time?

Do we have the awareness or the will to change this tide? How can NAIS be an agent for change in this work of identifying and grooming the near future leaders of independent schools beyond the white, male paradigm? Now, here’s a conversation I would love to have at this conference where independent school leadership comes out in full force. Why isn’t there a workshop on this?


What Am I Doing to Serve a Public Purpose?

Filed under: Workshops — mhaakmat @ 3:02 pm

This workshop, led by independent school leaders, focused on responding with a public purpose beyond financial aid. I sat and listened to the four speakers outline the ways they have reached beyond the walls of their schools to provide opportunities to students beyond their campuses. I was inspired. I was so proud. I was in despair by the end of the workshop.

Are we doing enough? How many of our efforts actually help to keep the status quo of privilege and power? When we figure out ways to bring under-served students into the fold of independent schools, is this an answer to the problem of making systemic change? Or is it a way to feel like we are sharing the wealth and thus more able to feel good about ourselves? These are complicated questions., and ones I can’t pretend to answer easily. I keep coming back to a question posed by one of this workshop’s speakers…what is our responsibility to take care of other people’s children? I think we know who the “others” are.


Sheena Iyengar

Filed under: General Sessions — mhaakmat @ 2:59 pm

Okay. I have spent the whole day in various conversations about Ms. Iyengar’s remarks in the the first general session trying to figure out how what she spoke about tied into the theme of advancing our public purpose. While I personally liked what Ms. Iyengar said about choice and leadership, I felt left to connect the dots between Pat Basset’s charge to answer the questions about whether independent schools are doing enough to claim service to a public purpose and her talk. I suppose I could stretch the link to be that Ms. Iyengar spoke of choice and that relates directly to the tremendous choice that we as independent leaders have given the resources of our schools to stake our claim and really put our money where our mouths are in terms of doing public service and good. But this is a lot to expect us to put together. How great would it have been for Pat Bassett to coordinate with Sheena Iyengar to build a clear bridge for independent school leaders to see themselves as change agents for the greater good? Ms. Iyengar had a lot of important ideas to share, but this felt like a missed opportunity for bridging the gap between nice thoughts and real action.

…still fighting that urge to not settle for complacency. What more can we and should we be doing?