How do you stay motivated?

Last week, I met with my colleagues from 40+ independent school associations. We focused on the big challenges facing our schools – governance, student safety, insurance, globalism, and diversity to name a few – as well as challenges facing our associations – duplication of services, disruption, and strategies to enhance member value. Other than one session when we were inspired by Jason Dorland (who spoke at our NLC last year) it was pretty heavy stuff.

But the learning was powerful, and it got me thinking about a few of our recent CAIS projects – we are:

  • Launching our new Governance Guide and a series of strategies to support good governance in our schools
  • Engaging the Business Professionals in our annual Benchmarking that is now online; we are also considering a Captive Insurance program
  • Preparing a Culture of Philanthropy Webinar series
  • Developing a CAIS Orientation package to provide new leaders who join one of our CAIS schools with an overview of our mission, applicable resources, and how to connect with their national network
  • Continuing the 2051 Project conversations to ensure our schools are moving beyond talking about innovation (there’s no shortage of good ideas!) so they are actually engaging in the messiness of change.
  • Enhancing our CAIS accreditation so we have an even more efficient and meaningful process for whole school improvement
  • Touring international agents in our boarding schools as part of this year’s CAIS Fam Tour.

This weekend, when I took some time to stop and think about what motivates me, I realized that I am motivated by four things:

  1. School improvement work – I find it compelling to think deeply about what we can do better together as a group of independent schools.
  2. My team – I am really motivated by my team and their unrelenting focus on strategies that can support our passionate school leaders. I have to work hard to keep up with them, and I love that feeling!
  3. My colleagues – When I stop and reflect, I realized I am motivated by my time with colleagues. Last week in San Diego, when I was not in meetings and presentations, I had some time to connect with other association leaders. I was reminded of the value of time to connect with people who walk your walk. It is important to me to have time to talk through challenges and opportunities in non-structured ways. I appreciate my ISAnet colleagues who woke up early to run and bike.
  4. Taking time to reflect – When life gets busy, as it inevitably does in our world, especially in September, I find it helpful to remind myself of what makes me tick. I need to make time to reflect on how I spend my time. That’s good motivation for me.

And you?


What defines our CAIS culture?

Our CAIS team members talk a lot about culture in our schools. One of our most popular modules at our Leadership Institute is Faculty Culture, lead by Hal Hannaford; we introduced School Culture Focus Groups on this year’s accreditation reviews; and we always include the latest research on culture in our Top 12s.

I like what Angela Duckworth recently had to say about creating culture:

As [Seattle Seahawks head coach] Pete Carroll said to me, ‘it’s not one thing, it’s a million things.’ But there are some themes. One is language. It’s important to have a vocabulary that’s used within that organization, and not to use synonyms. The second is rituals: you can ritualize things like working on your weaknesses — at the Seahawks, they call it ‘Tell the Truth Monday,’ so it becomes a routine. On Mondays, we look at the things we’re doing wrong. Tuesdays we do something different. I think that’s helpful. The third is that in group psychology, you basically create an identity. When people who work in a very strong culture identify themselves, they often use a noun form, such as a West Pointer. Or at KIPP, the charter school, you call yourself a KIPPster — they will actually say out loud — ‘I’m not just a student, I’m a KIPPster.’ When you break down what a culture is, it’s reinforcing an identity of ‘this is who we are. It’s different from the way other people are, but you’re in this group — not their group.’

So at our staff retreat last month, knowing that we would be hiring a new Executive Assistant, (we are so sad to lose Lynne Turnbull but wish her all the best with her move to Europe!), we tried to capture our culture at CAIS. We wanted to be able to say: “This is who we are”.  Here it is:

  • We believe in better. We challenge our schools to be better through PD, accreditation and research; but we also challenge ourselves to be better in everything we do.
  • We are direct with each other. There is high integrity, kindness, and trust, but that only comes from feedback: we praise publicly and criticize privately. There are no surprises on our team. When you work in a virtual office, and even when you don’t, you have to speak up with confidence.
  • We deliver client service beyond expectations. We are a nimble team and everyone works hard to respond to member needs. We love to hear that members are surprised by what we accomplished for them.
  • We listen to our members. Although we also work hard to understand their needs by researching and observing schools, we are at our best when we can say that we heard you say this, so we did that.
  • We believe that everyone supports everyone on our team. We are results-oriented, which means that we prioritize our time according to the needs of the organization at the time. We are a small team, so we all have to pitch in on projects when needed.
  • We are background people. We understand that when you work for a membership association, your job is to make others look good, especially volunteers.
  • We presume good intentions. That’s just a simple rule for us.
  • We play to our strengths. We know each other well and strive for a model that leverages our capacity.
  • We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We work hard but we also laugh and pursue interests beyond our jobs. We know we are a bit quirky, and we like it that way.
  • We are comfortable with the unpredictable. Okay, we try hard to be comfortable with the unpredictable and may have to remind each other of this one! Working as a virtual team can be messy, which is why the previous belief is so important.

Full disclosure: Our strategic advisor suggested we model our approach on Google’s Ten things we know to be true. But at least we didn’t review Google’s until after we worked on our own. I hope your team might do the same!

One last point: The cover of this month’s Harvard Business Review is Managing the 24/7 Workplace, which explores the problems with today’s work environment like ours. We read this with great interest… here’s the conclusion:

BR1606_500What defines our CAIS culture?By valuing all aspects of people’s identities, rewarding work output instead of work time, and taking steps to protect employees’ personal lives, leaders can begin to unravel the ideal-worker myth that has become woven into
the fabric of their organizations. And that will enhance employees’ resilience, their creativity, and their satisfaction on the job.

At a time when people seem to be criticizing the high intensity workplace, our team seems to have it figured out. Always good to have Harvard on your side…


Is financial sustainability still the number one challenge facing independent schools?

Every three years, we ask our CAIS Heads and Chairs to identify their top three challenges, and we use this data to inform our research and professional development programs. So in 2013, when the top challenge was financial sustainability, we made that our focus (Think 2051 Project!). When you are in the business of whole school continuous improvement, you better know what is top of mind for members.

So this is the year to ask again, and I predict the following – the number one challenge will not be financial sustainability.

Merriam-Webster defines sustainability as “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.” Good news! I have read every accreditation report over the past ten years, and more significantly, I have read every Response Report that demonstrates a school’s commitment to implementing the recommendations. This qualifies me to tell you that CAIS schools are not anywhere near “being used up;” in fact, they are working hard to ensure the opposite.

But for anyone thinking that this is a feel-good blog about the future of CAIS schools … “Not so fast Lopez!” There are significant questions in the current educational landscape:

  • Assessment for learning – How do we ensure it is dynamic, embedded and formative, based on real time data and enabled by technology?
  • Blended learning – How do we lead in terms of real-time, data-driven instruction and open up multiple pathways for students to learn and parents, students and teachers to communicate?
  • Competency-base learning – How can we develop a broader conceptualization of evidence of student mastery? And can we figure out a way to get universities to honour this in the application process?
  • Personalized learning – How do we move toward personalization for each student’s unique needs, interests, passions and competency-based pathways, while honouring the provincial curriculum requirements?
  • Project-Based Learning (PBL) – How can we do more student exhibitions that are authentic demonstrations of learning and connected to our communities, without simply making them an add-on for students?
  • Work-based learning – How can our university preparatory schools include co-op opportunities? Can they also be global, and entrepreneurial? Can we develop a badge system that is meaningful and rigorous?
  • Adult-development learning – This is new; in fact, I just made it up. But I am reading How to Raise and Adult and I believe that the author has hit on one of the key challenges facing our schools in particular: how do we raise happy students who know and like themselves? How do we encourage parents to back off and do the same?

Given these challenges, no school can rest on its laurels and not worry about its future strength. So for CAIS schools, I propose two new years’ resolutions:

  1. Change our terminology from “sustainability” to “permanence and strength” and focus on ongoing research to answer the above questions.
  1. Collaborate in terms of research but also in terms of PD. Never before has it been more important to figure out these challenges, and I am a firm believer in the power of together. (If you are a CAIS leader, you should meet your colleagues in Vancouver in April to have some catalytic conversations about the future of education. Read more and register here.)

p.s. I like this list of post-secondary trends.

Lessons from LeBlanc

Last week, I heard a tale from higher education that offers yet another example of the benefits of both academic and business innovation (Great to be reminded of our 2051 Project lessons learned!). I was in Boston chairing a review team, which included a meeting with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges – Commission on International Education. The opening speaker was Dr Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University, who has lead the campus through remarkable five-year growth in terms of revenue and student enrolment.

I love to learn from passionate people, and part of my job is to keep track of what is happening in the broader educational landscape that is shaping the future of education. So when I hear from leaders who have actually implemented change effectively? I take notes. Here are the highlights from his talk:

Online education has exploded

  • In addition to traditional day courses, SNHU began offering evening and weekend schedules, online programs and courses that combine online and classroom learning.
  • When considering “the student experience” with online courses, they looked at the motivation of adult learners, who want credentials, flexible completion time, convenience and cost.
  • One reason that their online learning is better than traditional learning is due to the ability to enhance student assessment and communication. Through an effective Customer Relations Management system, advisors are alerted when marks are in the system and they make phone calls to students to offer advice for improvement, before their grades are public. This is a wise retention strategy!
  • In five years, their online program has become the second largest in America, with 70,000 students.

The next wave of education will be competency-based

  • SNHU started a third stream (in addition to face-to-face traditional courses and online programs) called College for America, a competency-based program. Students may complete assignments both on and off campus at their pace, as well as apprenticeships and internships through over 600 partnerships.
  • There are two critical questions: what claims does the school make for learning, and how do you know?

We must be open to new models, for example:

  • Another driver of change in higher ed is immersive learning simulations.
  • Clayton Christensen’s advice: We make strategic missteps when we are not clear on what we are paid to do.
  • SNHU reexamined the traditional model for determining workload – credit hours – and additionally offered release time to faculty who engaged with students. They wanted to reward those faculty members who engaged with students.
  • GEMS is fastest growing K-12 for-profit school internationally.
  • Udemy has 9 million students and 35,000 courses, with the ability to design your own course.

Hope these notes are helpful in thinking about your school’s innovation strategy.

Design Thinking, Innovation and the Future of Independent Schools

Get ready – I am starting the new year by bragging. I am so excited to share the people and programs of CAIS, that you may start to feel that my zealous-like enthusiasm has gone too far.

Here goes – In my opinion, there are three resources that everyone who is passionate about the future of education should read:

  1. “How Independent Schools Can Ward off Disruption” and “One more way…” by Michael Horn, Co-Founder of the Christensen Institute
  2. Sizing Up the Competition by Heather Hoerle, ED of SSATB
  3. The CAIS 2051 Research – This is the link to our resource page, but stay tuned… our full report will be shared at next month’s Heads and Chairs conference.

I make no apologies for including our CAIS work on this list. Here’s why.

First. Read the first two articles and you will see that our summer incubator at St Margaret’s, with our emphasis on the dual challenge of academic and business innovation, is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that is required to ensure permanent and strong independent schools.

Second. Our incubator actually began before we met. Our Advisors planned a research agenda that included a search for 25 schools outside of Canada that are actually doing something that meets the dual challenge. We all know the theory, but we also all know how hard it is to manage change. So who is actually innovating and making it work? CAIS found the schools and our 44 participants dug deep into them.

Third. Our incubator began with a session on Design Thinking by Jennifer Riel from Rotman’s. She challenged us to ask three questions:

  • What do our customers really need? (We had to make the shift – our customers are our students)
  • How might we better meet those needs?
  • How might we create sustainable advantage?

Fourth. I believe that one of the smartest aspects of Project 2051 was the engagement of our customers, our students. Why was this smart? Because they are! We got the chance to meet with hundreds of students across Canada – in individual schools, with groups of schools and at our CAIS Student Leadership Conference – and we asked just two focus group questions: tell me about your experience with technology and what’s your best advice for schools of the future. These students are brilliant and you would be smart to listen to their sage advice, and then ask your students similar questions. (See our Student Advice presentation here and watch our film this fall.) Makes me feel so proud that our CAIS students have a real stake in designing education for future CAIS students.

One last chance to brag – Our 2051 Participants were incredible! You can check them out in the photo below, and I hope you will invite them to one of your next meetings to share their findings. And if you do? You might go so far as to brag about it.

CAIS 2051 Project Group Photo

What are the hottest trends in education? And how do we address them?

My job is to watch trends, and so when I had the chance to meet with other Executive Directors this week in Fort Worth, and the conversation inevitably turned to the changing landscape, I was in my element.

Here are the three trends (with a shout out to my mentors, who advise three bullets, and three bullets only):

What should children learn?

  • How can schools best develop character? We know from our Parent Motivation survey that development of character, morals and values is today’s parents’ priority. I follow NYT’s journalist David Brooks and recommend his most recent book, The Road to Character.
  • How can schools best develop entrepreneurs? This article on raising kids to be billionaires is actually not all evil and manages well the dilemma of focusing on opportunity and money and yet also generosity and values.

How should children learn?

  • How will blended learning change our schools? While some are arguing that this is not a trend (See a recent article here), others are arguing that this is the disruptive innovation on our industry.
  • What does personalized learning, the trend that everyone agrees is the number one trend, actually look like? Bob Snowden has done a great job exploring this question in a series in his blog.

There may be others, but for now, I would say that these are the hottest trends in learning. I believe we always need to pay attention to trends, and the latest figures on the decline of school age children in Canada is a real wake-up call that we need to sharpen the saw. (The forecasted total decrease in School Aged Children from 2010 – 2025 is 771,287, which is a 20.7% total decrease).

What can our CAIS schools learn from other schools?

  • What can we learn from for-profit schools? Here is one example of a for-profit school expanding its international clientele.
  • What is going on in Asia and what will be the impact on our CAIS independent schools? CAIS wrote an Asian Trends Report last year, and we continue to follow activity.
  • How can we learn from start-ups? This week, Elon Musk announced that he will start a school. With all due respect, what does he know about education, and why are parents willing to trust a school with no history? But with all due respect, what can our traditional and successful schools learn from this parent, who was obviously dissatisfied with the local public and private options?

The second question – how do we address these trends – is more of a challenge. It requires research – such as our 2051 Project – that captures the complexity of the trends, or as we call it, the “dual challenge”. But more importantly, it requires the best minds working collaboratively.

This week, I am meeting with the leaders of our CAIS National Networks. Those of you who know me know I am super cheap. So you may be surprised to know that CAIS is actually paying for everyone to travel to meet in person. But I firmly believe that the future strength and permanence of our schools will require much more collaboration. It will require time, in meetings and in less formal situations, to learn and debate and problem-solve. Our new national conference model is based on this same philosophy of diverse thinkers engaging in catalytic conversations about the future of education. I know I will be in my element again when that happens, so I can’t wait to get started.

What they say matters. Let’s pay attention.

At yesterday’s opening ceremony for the CAIS Student Leadership Conference at ECS, I had the opportunity to offer a few remarks. Instead of waxing poetic about my ideas, I decided to read some of the comments that I have heard from my 2051 Student Focus Groups across Canada. (I shared some of these trends in our recent newsletter, if you want to read about them.)

I took a chance, with the guidance and approval of Kathy Nikidis, who did something similar in her opening remarks, and I asked the students in the audience to tweet their best advice on schools of the future, using the #project2051 hashtag.

Here is what I got last night – directly tweeted!

  1. Schools of the future should offer activities that enable students to experience real life work and enhance the transition.
  2. Schools should customize learning to individuals. General learning makes workers. Individuality makes leaders.
  3. Don’t pressure us into fields we don’t like, instruct us about gender equality and sexuality + better sex ed education
  4. Classes that educate us about issues both in our community and globally. Classes that inspire us to help
  5. Bring back home economics, we need to learn to cook and other basic household tasks
  6. Schools should prepare students for their future careers. Simply asking “what do you want to be?” does not suffice
  7. Prepare us for the real world!!! Like taxes and mortgages, no one’s going to ask us how to graph a quadratic equation for a job
  8. Teach us real world applications. We need to be more informed about what’s going on around us.
  9. Students should be encouraged to enter non-science fields and end the stigma of non-science programs
  10. Focus more on adventures than academics
  11. Starbucks in school cafeterias
  12. Give the students more lessons about how to handle things in the real world and how to do practical every day tasks
  13. Purple uniforms
  14. Talk about sexuality and gender equality.
  15. Focus on internal and characteristic development. Let teens learn about psychology to better the understanding of brain

Clearly they range from the silly to the profound, and it was an entertaining moment to watch the audience share ideas then hover over their phones to tweet their feedback. Last night’s comments were very similar to the feedback in the past week at Rothesay Netherwood on Friday, St Clement’s on Monday, and UTT-Hertzliah and Lower Canada College on Wednesday. (Yes it has been a busy week of travel!)

I promised our students that every bit of feedback will be included in the final report that will be shared in July at the Leadership Institute, in October at the Heads and Chairs Conference and in April at the National Conference.

Here is the amazing thing – when we look at the research about what our schools should be doing, we see that there is great alignment between that and our students’ comments. So if I were to wax poetic, I would offer this: time to ask the advice of our students – who will be our future parents! – and get their ideas about the future into today’s strategic plans.

2051 Focus Group at UTT-Hertzliah, April 29, 2015


2051 Focus Group at Rothesay Netherwood, April 24, 2015