Daring to Explore and Discover

Post date: 06-Jun-2014 02:10:53

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) organizes an annual conference where school leaders and educators gather to share wisdom, attend workshops and network and each year I look forward to this opportunity, see other heads from the French and American network and share thoughts and concerns with peers whose spirit and perspectives are always valuable and insightful. Each conference has an overarching theme, such as innovation, or thinking big. The central theme this year was "Dare to Explore and Discover," which highlights the importance of courage in education and the ability to change and adapt.

An independent school’s chance for survival in today’s world rests largely on its ability to change. Some schools have already undergone considerable transformation, and some are only just starting. Exploring new ways of doing things requires brave school leaders with clear vision who are not afraid to dare, take risks in order to move their organization forward. Initiating and leading meaningful change in schools is a much bigger challenge than non-educators might think, requiring ample courage and full-time, committed engagement. There is no fixed model, roadmap, or set of directions to follow and clearly, all schools must reinvent themselves to meet the individual needs of their own communities, taking into account the economic, social, demographic and historical trends unique to them. Change can be painful as we all know, and can often be met with resistance by educators, parents, administrators and students alike, but ongoing improvement must be a central part of a school’s shared vision.

The profession of teaching is also changing and the one-size-fits-all lecture style of instruction does not work anymore. Also the vacation time that at one time was an expected part of the profession is now spent preparing lessons and differentiated instruction plans, generating data, collaborating with colleagues and responding to parent emails. Teachers must constantly adapt to new technology and engage regularly in professional development. Even educators with years of experience must adjust to new demands in their position, all while working full time with their students.

In his opening speech, John Chubb, the new President of NAIS identified a major impediment to change faced by all schools: the need for courageous, innovative teachers. He talked about how, as a nation, we do not give adequate professional respect to educators. Chubb feels that this pervasive lack of respect can be seen, not only in the financial compensation given to members of the profession, but in the esteem shown towards educators in general. In a recent article in the Washington Post, author Sarah Blaine discusses why she left the teaching profession to become an attorney. She writes that had she remained in the field, only years of practicing and honing her skills as an educator could have adequately prepared her to manage a classroom, reach the students and inspire a love of learning. She went on to note that three years as a law student had not prepared her better for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had prepared her to teach, but that even in her first year as a practicing attorney, she earned five times what a first-year teacher might expect.

The reality is that truly gifted educators are not born, but must be nurtured over time. The ideal teaching model is one in which a well-prepared and inspiring individual engages students in a project-based environment. This instructor is able to adapt the lesson plan to students at different levels, integrate technology in creative and effective ways, and manage the data to measure students' progress. In an ideal scenario, the teacher collaborates effectively with other instructors, administrators and parents alike and feels empowered to explore new techniques creatively. At FASRI we ask our educators to bring creativity and innovation to their work the classroom, to constantly improve their own education and techniques and to share in our vision for the future. This is a tall order for any professional and over the years I have sought to make FASRI a place that nurtures excellence in teaching. During the NAIS conference, I had the good fortune to spend time with three of our talented teachers who attended with me. As I write this, we will take a pause from the classroom for Faculty Day, and it is the perfect time to note that at FASRI we have been incredibly fortunate in the quality and level of commitment of our team.