I believe in asking good questions. It is one of the mantras of our family; it was what drove the CAIS accreditation process; it is what I am thinking about today as I attend the EMA Heads Institute; and one of my summer projects is always to think about – and maybe even answer! – a few questions. Sometimes, figuring out the questions is more important than figuring out the answers.
Here are my summer questions:
What to read? I am lugging a hard-cover Harvard University Press book around called In Search of Deeper Learning. With our new strategic plan’s direction of Authentic Learning, I want to understand: how can we ensure LCS is an inspirational learning community that includes mastery, identity and creativity? Our Leadership Team is also reading Collins’ new book, Turning the Flywheel, and our summer project is to think about our unique flywheel. (Just so you don’t think I am completely work-obsessed, for fun, I grabbed a Louise Penny book).
How can we be even better? Our school is thriving on several fronts and has achieved two significant firsts: we were full as of May 1st with great students and we received our largest ever single donation. This is simultaneously amazing and terrifying and raises more questions: Why have we experienced some success? What if we can’t continue this trend? And what’s next? I ask the same questions of myself. I spend time writing out my key moments of the year – both highs and lows, for the school and for myself – and then I see what happens. I return to the list over the two months and find this exercise valuable.
How can I think about revenue and our unique value proposition? At the EMA Heads Institute, we began with some big trends about demographics and the economy. When leaders who have worked with independent schools for decades say they are worried about the industry, I also worry about sustainability. I always loved Chris Bart’s explanation of strategy – that there are three things and three things only that you need to think about strategy, and then he only has two: revenue and unique value. So how do we sharpen our unique value proposition saw? How do we generate more revenue and what are the creative ways to reinvest in our school?
As for the question posed in the title of this blog, it is not one of my summer questions. Kathleen is working at a camp and never fails to come home with funny stories. As a family, we always laugh at good kid questions, and this, so far, is my favourite. But it does remind me of the need to listen to student questions and pose questions back to them. And then listen. So here is my final question:
How can we prioritize student voice in our programs? The pressures on teenagers are growing and we need to learn all we can to support, challenge and inspire them. (As a Leadership Team, we listened to this podcast about adolescents and well-being: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/when-good-intentions-go-bad/id990149481?i=1000443425082.) What I really love to do is meet with students and listen to their ideas. I ask them how can we improve our school and learning. Next year, with our new vision statement, I will also ask how they will make the world a better place.
For now, however, as I head into my holidays, I might also spend some time thinking about what happens if you put a tooth in the microwave…