Women in Independent School Leadership

I was looking forward to NCAIS’s conference on Women in Independent School Leadership last week, and it didn’t disappoint. This was the second year for the conference and this year’s speakers/facilitators were Theo Coonrod, the outgoing head of St. Mary’s school in Raleigh, Susan Feibelman, a PhD candidate at UPenn who will begin working at Greensboro Day School in the fall, and Devereaux McClatchey, the President of Carney, Sandoe & Associates, an independent school recruiting firm.

With articles like “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” generating a great deal of discussion, the conference seemed focused on a timely topic. Theo and Susannah noted that it was important to address issues that women often cared about and to address gender disparity, while being careful to avoid making sweeping generalizations. I was really grateful for an opportunity, not so much to discuss issues particular to women, although that was interesting, but to think about what the next 5, 10, 15 years of my career might look like. In this respect, it was really helpful to hear Theo, Susan, and other attendees share the stories of how they’d gotten to where they are.

Some notes from the day’s discussions….

Theo and Susan’s observations on women in leadership…

  • Women often downplay our strengths. Mirror others’ strengths and acknowledge them
  • You don’t have to rewire yourself but you need to be vigilant in noticing your effect on other
  • Women who express ambition create disruption

Theo on how to know when to make a change…

Get good at something and then look up and say “What’s next?” When you look up and say, “What’s next?” pay attention to that feeling

Theo on leadership skills that aren’t gender-specific…

Having difficult conversations and making hard decisions

Devereaux on trends in independent school hiring…

  • Openness to younger heads of school
  • Confidential searches
  • Greater interest in what candidates have to say about new ways of learning (21st century learning)
  • Increased interest in academic/thought leadership-presenting and publishing
  • Average tenure at an independent school is 6yrs, used to be 9-10yrs

Devereaux’s tips/suggestions for preparing for future leadership opportunities…

  • Be intentional about what you volunteer for
  • Look for opportunities for strategic influence
  • Engage in “selfish” networking (in which the networking is likely to benefit you)
  • Highlight ways in which you’ve evaluated peers
  • Find opportunities to speak publicly (Every time you do it you get better)
  • Start looking for other job opportunities when you’re happy
  • Everyone makes sense for herself about how much change she can tolerate

The second part of the morning consisted of roundtable discussions, with rotation of table groups after each set of questions. Below are the questions that we discussed.

Round 1
What do you think is important for an aspiring school leader to understand about independent school culture? What are some examples from your own experience that come to mind?

Round 2
What experiences/people have been vital in your development as a leader?
How have you asked for support and how have you developed your own support systems in order to attain your leadership goals?
What forms of support have been missing from your leadership development?

Round 3
Do you have a particular belief system about leadership that guides your decision-making in this school?
Which of your personal traits has most influenced your leadership style? How do you think these traits contribute to your leadership effectiveness?

Role Reversal

On Monday, I’m doing one of the Ignite-style (20 slides in 5 minutes) presentations for the NCAIS 21st Century Teacher Academy. I thought about doing the presentation on Socratic Seminars I’ve used before, but I decided to put together a new presentation based on some of the things I talked about at the New Literacies Institute earlier this week.

I had fun playing with the inking feature in Powerpoint using my Lenovo tablet. (That’s not a paid advertisement, but if they sent me one of their new tablets, I wouldn’t send it back ;)) I use the inking feature often when students are taking notes or when I’m explaining something in class, but I hadn’t ever really used it for a presentation.

Hope Realized

As a teacher, you have aspirations, values, and ideas. You try to infuse your teaching with these things, but I sometimes wonder, Do they see it? Are they getting it? Not just the content. Truth is I care about other things much more than that. I want them to love learning. I want them to be curious and to care. I want them to trust their voices and to be good listeners.

Occasionally, a teacher has the opportunity to see her hopes realized. Today was that kind of day.

This afternoon, four students from my US History blended learning class loaded into a school van and headed to Raleigh to present at the NCAIS Innovate conference. I offered the students no guidance other than to suggest that they should explain the basics of the classes and discuss some of the work we’d done in the class. I also offered to put together some slides once they’d chosen what they would talk about. As we were walking into the conference this afternoon, I realized that I had little more than a general sense of what they would say.

So when they started speaking, I was blown away. Throughout the hour of presentation and question and answer the students thoughtfully articulated the goal and experience of the class. I kept thinking to myself, I had hoped, but I had no idea. One of the things that was most gratifying was that the students spoke honestly, willing to name both the good and the challenges of the class. I also heard them speaking truth to power (albeit the benevolent, well-meaning power) by saying things like “Just because we’re students doesn’t mean we can’t develop an educated opinion of what we’re studying…” and “That’s not usually the way history teachers run their classes,” with the hastily added, “Sorry if there are any history teachers in the room.” 🙂

One of the students began her section of the presentation by saying, “So I’m not going to lie, history’s not my thing…” She went on to tell how the class had changed her view of history, one assignment leaving her so excited that she read her paper aloud to both her parents. Another said, “I don’t think I hate history, just the way we’ve always learned it…”

Matt Scully (one of my teaching heroes) asked the students if a different way of viewing class changed the way students viewed the world. I thought it was a great question, but I expected that the answer would be no. I mean it’s a class, right? I was just hoping it helped them feel more engaged in history and learning. Instead, each of the students offered some way that the class had affected the way she viewed or read the world.

While I’ve loved teaching this class, there have also been so many moments where I’ve felt doubtful about what we were accomplishing (or not) because so much of it is so new, with so many variables. Yet more reason that today I felt overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.