NAIS 2019: Beyond “Winning” -- The Infinite Game of Redefining Education

I’ve just returned from a remarkable three-day professional development experience and wanted to share some of my most powerful takeaways in this month’s Inquiry & Inspiration entry.

Each year, Head-Royce sends a small cohort of teachers and administrators to major conferences, including the National Association of Independent Schools Conference (NAIS). Although I’ve attended national gatherings such as this for many years, I continue to appreciate the opportunity to be inspired, to learn, and to reflect on how to connect what we experience at these conferences with Head-Royce and our mission and current direction. With approximately 1500 member schools at NAIS this year, there’s quite a range of schools represented—of sizes, of missions, of student populations. What I’ve gathered in my years of attending this conference is that Head-Royce is a well-known, well-respected and admired school (and I think I can say this without too much internal bias!). I’ve also observed a shift in NAIS’s focus with an increased emphasis on innovation, diversity, and student health and wellness.

This year’s theme, “Reimagining Schools,” brought together dynamic speakers, thought-provoking workshops and many valuable opportunities for idea sharing. Major speakers included Viola Davis, the first black actor to win the “triple crown” of acting awards (Oscar, Emmy, and Tony); Frans Johansson, entrepreneur and author of The Medici Effect; Shiza Shadid, co-founder of the Malala Fund and inspirational speaker; and Simon Sinek, entrepreneur and author of upcoming book, The Infinite Game. In Sinek’s closing remarks to the crowd of 4,000 teachers and administrators, he challenged listeners to dream beyond “winning” at education and, instead, to see it as an infinite game of continual improvement, redefinition, and flexibility. He pointed out that the music industry did not invent iTunes or Spotify and the film industry did not invent Netflix. These innovations came about due to user interest and demand. What will our students and families need and want in the future and how can we, as independent schools, be flexible to meet these needs?

Head-Royce faculty and administrators each attended various workshops over the two-day period. Here are some of their highlights:

  • First-grade teacher Debra Carr explored the ideas behind transformational coaching and why it's so vital when thinking about how to support teachers. Happy teachers = happy students = GROWTH all around.

  • Middle School Assistant Head Kiki Felt delved into best practices for creating mission-aligned policies and procedures to address student social media/electronic communication.

  • Upper School Assistant Head Saya McKenna learned more about the imperative to prioritize balance and wellness for our students in a workshop on Adolescent Development in Fiercely Independent Schools.

  • Lower School Assistant Head Leslie Powell explored effective systems to measure student competencies in growth mindset, self-efficacy, learning strategies, and grit.

  • Dean of Academics and Community Shahana Sarkar was fascinated by Frans Johansson's plea for educators to forget the idea of training kids with the goal of getting in 10,000 hours and instead prepare them to re-write the Rules of the Game (The Infinite Game, per Simon Sinek).

  • Upper School Head Carl Thiermann took workshops on a variety of intriguing topics: Risk Management, Productive Paranoia for School Leaders, The Relationship Between Diverse Ideas and Innovation, and the Conflict Between School Branding and Student Mental Health.

  • Director of K–8 Admissions Kathrina Weekes learned about a new innovative methodology known as “jobs-to-be-done” and discovered the four key jobs parents are hiring independents schools to accomplish.

Do feel free to reach out to any of our professional community members mentioned above to inquire further about their experiences and takeaways. Perhaps you also resonate with Albert Einstein who said: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”