Only in America?

I woke up the other morning in Maine and before getting out of bed, I noticed something different – a big American flag was waving outside my third floor hotel room window.  Out on the balcony I saw that the flag was flying at half-mast and it came to me – it was September 11th.  I wondered, even though Canadians share this day of mourning, how many flags in Canada were flying at half-mast?

I was in Maine to attend four days of meetings with my colleagues from the NAIS International Commission on Accreditation and the Independent Schools Association Network (ISANet).  Our associations serve hundreds of thousands of students in schools in over 100 countries.  We offer services ranging from communications, research, and accreditation, to advocacy, research, and professional development.  We are different associations, in various parts of the world, representing fiercely independent independent schools.

And yet we share a passion for excellent schools and for learning.

In Maine, I was reminded – yet again! – that all schools are facing similar challenges – in terms of marketing, we discussed declining enrollment, increasing requests for financial aid, and fundraising; and in terms of programs, we talked about innovation, technology, and personalization.  It was comforting to know that others ask similar questions of value and priorities and strategy.

But these meetings also make me a bit tense; I lose any sense of comfort I previously felt about the work of CAIS, and instead I feel this slight panic that we are behind every other association.  Ever feel that?

And yet I kind of like that off-balance feeling.  It makes me crave better.  I find myself taking constant notes of every idea, strategy and even good quotation.  (Interested in my favorite quote?  Jon Moser said, “Branding is what people say about you behind your back”).

Not only do I take notes, I email them.  To my staff.  Guess how that goes over.  This week’s “Idea” emails included things like:  “See NYSAIS’ Guidelines.”  “SeePNAIS’ new Indicator.”  “Let’s connect with VAIS about surveys.” “Check out the AISNE website.”  “Watch for Pat Bassett’s next blog on crowd sourcing.”  The joke is that they hate when I go away to conferences and meetings.  Sarah once threatened to cut off my ability to connect when I go away.  But you know what?  I believe that she – and the rest of them – actually likes the new ideas.

Our team loves different opinions; in fact, we thrive in an environment where we challenge each other.  It is not always easy, but in the end – virtually always! – it gets better.

So here’s the thing.  My visit to Maine gave me time with colleagues who share similar experiences and values, but who are diverse in their experiences, thinking and approaches to solutions and who also have the courage to challenge ideas.

Seeking out diversity is a great reminder to all of us in the independent school community who are in danger of working in isolation – a broad and collaborative network makes us all better.

Here is the value of a national organization that is further strengthened by an international organization.

p.s.  Here are three ideas worth checking out:

  • Order the new NAIS Trend Book. (Stay tuned for a CAIS 2012 Trends Presentation at the AGM)
  • Check out Andrea Syverson’s Brand About. (See how CAIS is implementing her advice to tell your story to a real audience)
  • Watch for Finalsite Social, a private social learning platform (and CAIS will be piloting it this fall)

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