Last week, I attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual conference just outside of Washington, DC. It is always a good opportunity to catch up with other educators and hear a variety of thought provoking speakers. This year was no different and even though I was there less than 48 hours, I came home with much to consider.
I attended a session on NAIS on iTunes which showed how to access a variety of videos about education at iTunesU. As a collector of music (8700 songs on my iPod), I am regularly at the iTunes site, and yet I was unaware of this resource. Anyone can go to the iTunes store, click on the iTunesU logo on the top bar, then click on the K-12 quick link, and finally click on the National Association of Independent Schools tab to see what is available. I was interested to see the topics addressed and look forward to seeing more of what is there. Also, I am interested in producing some videos of our own to share as I continue to believe that other educators would benefit from seeing the work being done at Pike in a variety of areas from Professional Learning Teams to Diversity to Sustainability and more.
The keynote speaker was Sheena S. Iyengar, the inaugural S.T. Lee Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. She has taught on a wide variety of topics, including leadership, decision making, creativity, and globalization, earning an Innovation in the Teaching Curriculum award. Internationally, she has taught at the Global Leadership Fellows Program at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. She discussed some of the ideas from her latest book, The Art of Choosing. She cited some interesting studies such as one where two groups of children were given the same task to accomplish and one group was allowed to choose the color marker to do the task while the other was given no choice. Even though the choice was not that important to the task itself, the group that was given the choice performed better. Another interesting aspect of her work was the link she discovered between culture and choice. Anglo-Americans who perceived themselves as having more choice than others performed better while the opposite was true of Asian-Americans whose performance suffered if they felt there were too many choices. Ms. Iyengar said that a good leader does not assume everyone would want the same choices that they have. I look forward to reading her book and thinking more about the impact of choice on the lives of our children, most of whom have more choices available to them than the vast majority of people in the world.
Another featured speaker was Wendy Mogel, an internationally known clinical psychologist, author, and public speaker. Publisher’s Weekly gave her New York Times best-selling parenting book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, a starred review saying, “Impassioned, lyrical, and eminently practical, this volume is a real treasure.”
Mogel serves on the scientific advisory board of Challenge Success, a program of the Stanford University School of Education, and the boards of the Center for Early Education (California) and the Counsel for Spiritual and Ethical Education. On an unrelated note, she was at Middlebury College when I was and is married to a classmate of mine. Her remarks were a wonderful mix of homespun humor and wisdom. She explained that in a world that may feel increasingly out of our control, many parents focus on the one piece they feel they can control, their children. She worries that today’s children could file the world’s largest ever class action suit against their parents for stealing their childhood. She cites statistics such as that the average number of contacts between a child at college and a parent is 14.5 times per week. She tells stories like the one about a college student at a salad bar who was overheard saying on the phone to a parent “Do I like French dressing?” She cites these as evidence that our children are growing up in a much different environment and worries about the result of this hyper-focus. College admission officers divide applicants into “teacups” who are fragile because they have been so well protected and “crispies” who are burned out from being ranked and pushed their entire lives. I am confident Dr. Mogel would endorse our mission’s commitment to producing “independent learners and responsible citizens.” I look forward to her newly released book, The Blessing of a B- and look forward to discussing this further in the future as we all strive to give our children enough comfort and support without denying them the opportunities to learn from their own successes and mistakes.
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.