Dear ESHA Friends,
I look forward to seeing many of you in Atlanta at our Annual Dinner in March – hosted at The Children’s School by Nishant Mehta - and am happy to report that our planning committee is already assembling the program for our October retreat in Florida. In addition, many of our “mentoring and connecting flight” conference calls are providing ongoing support and stimulation for those of our Heads who participate, as Elinor notes in her message.
These three activities – the dinner, the retreat, and the calls – provide regular opportunities for you to engage in friendly conversations with your peers while addressing concerns about issues such as leadership styles, branding and marketing, and the cost of and enrollment in our schools.
Hopefully you will participate in all of these activities and fully enjoy the offerings that ESHA presents. Check out what Muddy and Liza Waters have to say about ESHA below.
Happy New Year!
From ESHA President Elinor Scully
Dear ESHA Colleagues,
I recently held a Mentoring Flight Call with a group of ESHA heads. This is the second year for this particular flight and though we are continuing to get to know one another, we are developing a nice sense of partnership and rhythm in these calls. A few members have dropped off and we have added a few more. What struck me most, however, was how in just one hour I gained so much from the conversation. I left with several excellent ideas I could use in dealing with a strategic issue I was facing at my school. I garnered wisdom and practical advice, but moreover a sense that I wasn't alone in facing these challenges. In our days as heads of school, we have precious little time to truly reflect and gain advice. My Mentoring Flight offers this to me on a regular basis. It is a wonderful gift and if you haven't had a chance to explore this feature of your ESHA membership, please give it a try.
I also hope to see many of you at the annual dinner in Atlanta!
Register for the Annual Dinner
ESHA'S Annual Dinner will be hosted by Nishant Mehta at The Children's School in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, when NAIS has its annual conference. Details and registration here.
Eating Glass and Liking It: How to Fail like Elon Musk
Carla Silver, Executive Director, Leadership+Design
Seasons Greetings, Friends,
As we head into the last days of 2017, our gift to you is the December Monthly Recharge, hopefully providing you with some provocative reading over the break. This month we are talking about "Risk over Safety," inspired by the fourth chapter in Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeffrey Howe. If we are really going to evolve education for an era of rapid acceleration and global uncertainty, we are going to have to accept risk and even failure as a natural part of the process. Writing about risk also gives me the perfect excuse to wax on about my favorite risk-taker of modern times: Elon Musk.
It's true. I have a fascination with the Silicon Valley mega-entrepreneur, founder of PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City. You know that dinner party question: "What three people, living or dead would you invite to dinner?" The Dalai Lama, Van Jones, Desmond Tutu, Sheryl Sandberg, Barack Obama, Lin Manuel Miranda, Oprah - they rotate in and out of the top spots - but Elon Musk is always on the list. Always. I see Elon Musk as a relentless optimist, a creator, a visionary, and above all else, an unparalleled risk taker. Not only does Musk have intrepid and sometimes seemingly unfeasible ideas, but he has a bias to action, zero use for safety, and an incredible tolerance for personal pain and suffering. Like an athlete who can tolerate high levels of physical discomfort, Musk has built up a resistance to ambiguity, loss, rejection and failure - because let's face it, real risk involves plenty of that as well. As Elon Musk says, "Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death."
I sometimes wonder what education would be like if we had Elon Musk leading schools. Would they all be solar powered? Would all classes be virtual? Would students launch themselves in rockets and colonize Mars? One thing is certain, there would be a lot more risk-taking and, I believe, something new (and better) would emerge. For Musk, "different" is not enough; "better" is essential, and pushing not just one company but a whole industry to better is the ultimate goal. But there would also be failures - big and small - and that is the cost of innovation. He has been known to say, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."
I hear the arguments against high risk, drastic change in schools. Usually these excuses are variations on the statement: "We are not creating widgets, bur rather educating children. You can't take risks with children." As far as I know, no children have been harmed in the lengthening of the school year or moving to more project-based instruction or getting rid of AP courses. Frankly, most of the arguments I hear feel grounded in adult needs, not student needs. We don't have an Elon Musk equivalent in education - not even Sal Khan (Khan Academy) or Ben Nelson (Minerva Schools) - at least not yet - but that is no excuse for our inability to think boldly, dig in, and allow us to emerge with something not just different but better.
What might allow educators and school leaders to get out of our own risk-averse ways? Maybe there are a few design principles we could draw upon to help us take a leap.
Principle One: Be Student-Centered in your Risk-Taking.
Ground your risks in what you believe (and know) is right for the students you serve. Start asking the big questions and have the hard conversations about the future and not the past. What is most important for students to know? What is most important for them to be able to do? How do we want them to treat each other? How do we want them to feel about learning? How do they find purpose and meaning in their work and lives? How are they whole? What in your school is no longer serving students? What in your school is currently an obstacle to providing students with what they need? When you think this way, you are taking risks ON BEHALF of children not WITH children.
Principle Two: Engage in Mission/Values-Centered Risk.
Our hesitancy to take risks often comes at a much greater risk - not achieving our mission and values or accomplishing key elements of our strategic plan. It comes at the risk of becoming a color-less, bland version of what we could be. If you want to be vibrant and bold, align your risks with your values and your mission as a school. If you are a school with a mission "to prepare students for life" and yet you hold onto 45-60 minute class blocks silo-ed by discipline with content generally delivered as lectures or teacher-led class discussion, you might be inhibiting your mission, not living it. If you say you value student wellness and health, and yet you let college admission statistics and practices drive your curriculum, schedule, and assessment regardless of student stress levels, you might not be living your values. Take risks that support and enhance your mission and values and bring you closer to your strategic vision.
Principle Three: Articulate the WHY - again and again and again.
Rarely is radical and bold change tolerated without a true understanding of why it is necessary and what the outcome will be. First you need to get clear on the why. Your job as a school leader is then to communicate the why, to develop a vision of what "better" looks like, and to clarify how you will know and measure your progress. Be prepared to tell the same story over and over again. Use clear, specific language. Use visual representations of your idea that make the goal understood. It might feel like you have said the same message 100 times - you probably haven't - and you are bored of saying it. But that might just be the beginning. Studies have shown that people won't buy your idea (or product) until they have heard about it at least 6, but more often 20, times.
And what if things fail? And they will. Scream, shake your fists at the sky, and channel your inner Elon Musk. According to his recent Rolling Stone Interview, Elon Musk suggest calling upon the Musk Family Rules: "Number One: "Don't panic." And whatever you do, don't back down and regress to safety. "Safety third," says Musk in the interview. "There's not even a Rule Number Two. But even though there's nothing in second place, safety is not getting promoted to number two."
The following articles by Jeremy Goldstein (Episcopal High School, Eric Chandler (Kent Denver School) and Annie Makela (Hillbrook School) illustrate schools taking risks - but grounding them in what is best for students, in mission, values and strategic thinking, and articulating the WHY. May these articles inspire both bold thinking and action in the year ahead.
ESHA's Executive Committee members, who act as our Board, were elected at our Annual Meeting in October in Woodstock. Here they are!