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.
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.
What Am I Doing to Serve a Public Purpose? February 25, 2011
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.
Make It Or Break It Discipline February 24, 2011
It felt good in this workshop to hear about what we already do well with discipline in my middle school. The speakers talked about the three areas of the brain which work together to allow for effective human to human connection and leadership skill development. Joann Deak, brain researcher, expertly laid out the importance of allowing students to learn through consequences in difficult moments, not just because this kind of practice helps learning, but because these experiences actually help the adolescent brain to grow and become more able to make good decisions. The brain of that 7th grader who plagiarizes will grow and develop more when the consequence requires some processing of what led up to her making that decision and some thinking about what she needed from her teachers, her parents or herself that she wasn’t getting.
Lingering questions for me?
What do adults in schools need to know about brain development in order to create discipline systems and consequences that work?
What do my middle schoolers need to understand about their own brain development in order to help them make sense of the ups and downs and learning in the middle school years?