Risk is good

Let me start by saying that I am not one to take a lot of risks. I don’t like down-hill skiing or driving over the speed limit; I walk the same loop with my dog and I even go the same direction; I did go bungee-jumping in New Zealand once, but only because I couldn’t stand the thought of my daughter feeling that Kevin and Jacob had the courage to jump but Mom could not. My point is that I am not one to stray from comfort and routine.

There have been two notable times when I have taken big risks in my life. Ten years ago, Kevin and I decided to leave Montreal, McGill and Lower Canada College because he was offered a Canada Research Chair position at Brock University. We had two small children. I had no job and no job prospect. It was an angst-filled, risky move. The other risk was two years ago, when we made the decision to let Jacob go away to boarding school. The thought of the tension surrounding that decision can still bring me to tears.

In both cases, I got lucky. Now I could write a blog that ties up change into a neat package full of optimism that everything works out in the end. But that’s not life, and that’s certainly not true of change. But I will say this – when I see leaders engaged in some sort of change process, when I see them looking at choices and taking a risk, I feel a real empathy for what they’re going through, especially as I think about times when I have been there. And then very quickly, I find myself with a deep feeling of admiration. Because even if they don’t succeed? They took a chance, and that is the kind of leadership that our schools need most these days. When I survey the educational landscape, I feel a sense of urgency that our leaders must be innovative for our schools to thrive in the future.

Here are the most recent examples of that need:

  • I watched Stanford’s Design School’s Radical Ideas for Reinventing College and was struck by the four models for the future of university. What could our four new models be?
  • I met with the students at Miss Porter’s who were the first to experience their new Signature Program called Intermission. One option last year was to complete the Internal Evaluation Report’s Student Experience Standard. What Signature Programs should CAIS schools develop? And how can CAIS be more intentional about including the student experience in the accreditation process? (By the way, the girls failed the school on that standard… when I asked the Head and students if anyone noted the irony in this, everyone laughed… No one said change was easy…but they were loving the process…)
  • I read the OESIS Report, where they found “the independent school market starting to approach a tipping point regarding the use of technology to improve learning opportunities.” How far are CAIS schools going in their use of blended and online learning?

There are big uncertainties facing our independent schools, and I hope we approach them cautiously but also courageously. I believe the biggest risk is to do nothing, and that’s the only risk I hope no one will choose.

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