March and Transitions

Posted By: Damian Kavanagh Beyond Ordinary ,

The Parkland students returned to school this week. The tragedy is now two weeks old and the community of students and teachers, parents, and loved ones have had to walk through the halls that witnessed such a massive tragedy just a fortnight ago. There are good conversations going on in many forums, some public and some private. On our own MISBO list-servs there have been some conversations about reactions to the shootings and talk is now turning to preparations schools are making to help students engage with the #NationalSchoolWalkout on March 14. I’d also like to draw your attention to this statement from NAIS President Donna Orem in which she reiterates our call to provide a safe and secure environment for students. In his most recent article, Jeff Shields, President and CEO of NBOA, begins with the hashtag #NeverAgain. Many eloquent and impassioned statements have been made by state, regional, and national association leaders and by public and non-public school administrators across the country as we all wrestle with our roles as educators, parents, and citizens. Significantly, students have added their voices. Independent schools are making independent choices that are appropriate for them and I encourage you to share and continue to rely on your colleagues for advice and leadership. While MISBO is not a policy-making group, I think we can all agree: safety is the foundation of what transforms a place of learning into a community of growth and development.

The article that follows is a continuation of the stories of transition that have come out of the MISBO Emerging Issues (EI) Committee. While senseless violence and unbearable loss of life is in the foreground, preparations for change are upon us and the vigilant need to foster the kind of culture that we want is even more pressing and poignant.

Within the next five years, we could see the transition of 50-60% of the senior leadership in schools. I reported this statistic last month and I promised I would return to the extraordinary work of the EI Committee. This is a very energetic and forward-thinking group; they tackle big issues of the future of school and help to envision the solutions to some of the problems most of us haven’t thought of yet. As a side note, we will be accepting nominations for board service in MISBO beginning on March 7th and, being biased, I think the work of the entire board is energetic and forward-thinking and urge you to consider nominating someone or self-nominating if you fit that description.

One of the interesting things the people on the EI Committee do is to try to look at situations from a different point of view and assume different personas as they work through problems. This is empathy-driven and our friends at IDEO and in the design world would call this the human-centered approach, which is central to the success of the design thinking methodology. In an old Orson Scott Card book, Ender’s Game, which I have probably read one or two dozen times, the title character is faced with what he perceives as a no-win situation and learns to adjust his viewpoint – to see himself through the eyes of another. This presents him with solutions that he could not have otherwise seen. When you read the book, you will notice that the first several times you encounter this idea, he is saving himself or his fleet from overwhelming odds of destruction and assumes that the only answer is the zero sum game. But later, he uses the same technique to save the one he thought was his enemy from extinction and creates something that is bigger than either one could be on their own – the opposite of the zero sum game. This change of perspective and of rotating the view leads to a pure form of empathy, which turns out to be the title character’s greatest strength.

You will be experiencing transitions at your school due to retirements and movement of faculty and staff, hopefully mostly planned. We think about preparing for transitions in terms of getting the individual ready for entry, placing the onus on the outsider to learn the culture and integrate with what is already established. This is something that can happen away from campus because it affects the person coming in, rather than the community into which the person is coming. They are joining us and need to learn the way we do things!One of the often-overlooked concepts about group dynamics is that when you introduce a new person to a group, you have a new group that did not exist before – we would be wise to pay attention to the needs of the existing members as well as the new members of the configuration. If we flip the viewpoint, as the EI committee has done, we can ask this question differently: what if we spend time preparing the community for the entry of a new person or people with the same deliberation we prepare an outsider for entry into the community? Here is a video from Brené Brown on the difference between sympathy and empathy that helps make this point.

One thing MISBO is doing that you might be interested in is a summer program designed around the idea of the business office team is the Business Office Team Intensive. A goal of the program is to have this team develop greater empathy for each other, and through that lens, create greater capacity and productivity for the rest of the school. The Business Office Team Intensive promises to be an amazing opportunity to strengthen an existing team and to integrate a team with members who might be new.

PS – Ending on two notes of fun:

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 pm-6:30 pm at the Crystal Gazebo, Opryland Hotel.

And, in case you missed it, here are the official new emojis for next year – I am especially happy to see a lacrosse stick emoji.

What I am reading now:
Leadership is an Art, by Max De Pree