History may not repeat itself but it rhymes a lot

Posted By: Damian Kavanagh Beyond Ordinary,

There is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, that while history may not repeat itself, it rhymes a lot. At this time of year, you are deep into the budget planning and refining cycle, sending out re-enrollment packets (unless you do continuous enrollment – I’m a fan), shepherding families through admissions, figuring out how to deal with all those days missed because of winter storms and hurricanes, predicting what faculty and staff openings you might have, and preparing for transitions among leadership positions – in other words, you are busy. I heard a statistic the other day at the Kennesaw State University’s Symposium on Independent School Leadership that was so profound and stark, it gave me shivers: within the next five years, 50-60% of all sitting heads of school will retire. If you will allow it, I think we can safely extrapolate that the same number of CFOs and other administrators may be retiring in that timeframe. This means we can clearly see the need to cultivate the next generation of school leaders for whom there is enormous opportunity to lead schools into the middle of this century.

Guided by the mantra that hope is not an action plan, the MISBO Emerging Issues Committee tackled the concept of succession and planning for the future at a recent meeting. I would like to share some of their comments and conclusions with you. Alas, the committee, talented as they are, and very capably led by Larry Pittman, CFO at The Pine School in Hobe Sound, Florida, did not figure out how to reverse time and solve the problem of an aging population of leaders in schools by creating more Dorian Grays. They did however, identify some real struggles and suggest some solid solutions.

One comment that sparked imagination was this: “The hiring process in our schools is horrendous! Anything we can do to train people in better process is key.” This comment was mostly concerned with the lack of adequate background checks, reference checks, and basic elements of due diligence, but also suggested an antiquated model of vetting that is neither intentional nor aligned with the mission and vision of the school. MISBO has several vendors who can help with background checks, and one in particular has produced a report to help us all manage some of the risks of our most vulnerable populations. Faculty members rarely realize that they are part of the interviewing process. When asked to speak to a candidate, or take them to lunch, or something that feels less formal, the same rules of hiring apply. Questions you can’t ask when you are taking notes behind a desk still can’t be asked when you are in the cafeteria. In a 2017 survey on hiring practices conducted by NAIS, 75% of responding schools indicated that faculty members take part in interviewing potential new faculty members and 25% of schools indicated that students take part in the process. Just over half of the schools responding provide interviewing teams with preferred interviewing questions. We all have horror stories of interviews that did not go well and perhaps the best way to manage the risk of delving into areas that are off limits is mandatory training, or at least general orientation, for any who are involved with the interviewing process. The court of public opinion is still alive and well in the hiring process. Parents, faculty, trustees, administrators, and even students may snoop on the candidate’s social media profile and digital footprint. This may be an emerging practice, but beware of discrimination and bias that may ensue if you discover something related to one of the EEOC protected characteristics: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, sexual harassment. As always, if you are in doubt, contact an attorney. There are many who specialize in independent schools, and MISBO members have access to a wealth of legal resources here.

Most schools seem to be following a talent acquisition model that was developed years ago and has been passed down and maybe tweaked a little bit here or there. But, what if you could completely reimagine how you locate, attract, vet, and onboard members new to your community? How would you approach this endeavor with the mission and vision of the school in mind and try to get the answers to the questions that really matter? You may have heard the expression “culture eats strategy,” but do we interview and assess for culture fit in a meaningful and measureable way?

MISBO has put together a Summer Summit on this topic where we will have deep dives into new, smart, and boldly progressive models of uncovering how the people you are considering will fit within your community. We have much to learn from places like the business world, valid research, and trends in the most effective employment practices. We have been dreaming about this event for a long time and I am thrilled to see it come to fruition this summer. One overarching theme at MISBO is that we provide a space and framework to help you move from thoughts to deeds, from questions to answers, and from aspirations to operations. We are anticipating an intimate audience of heads of school, HR directors, division heads, and others in academic or operational leadership with responsibility for hiring and shaping the future of your school.

Next month, I want to circle back to share more with you about what the MISBO Emerging Issues committee crafted – especially their insights into how to prepare the school community to receive new leaders or teachers, a neat twist on our customary model of preparing only the new person who is entering. For now, I leave you with this new and inspiring video that captures the spirit of your association – you are MISBO!


PS – If you are going to NBOA, please plan to join us in Nashville for a reception jointly hosted by our friends from PAISBOA on Tuesday, March 6, 5:00 – 6:30 pm at the Crystal Gazebo, Opryland Ho

What I am reading now: 

A Spy’s Guide to Thinking, by John Braddock