Looking In and Looking Out

March 09, 2017

Design thinkers look both within and outside of their organizations as a source of insight and inspiration.  Similarly, schools can better understand their own practices and culture through gathering information from their own constituencies, while also looking outside of their school for perspective and context.
The messaging work we have engaged in with Mission Minded is an example of SFDS looking both “in and outside” of the school.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the survey sent out by Mission Minded last month. The feedback you provided will help us better understand what we value and how we experience the school.  We also reached out to individuals “outside” of SFDS to help provide perspective.  These two sources of information will shape how we frame and communicate the impact that SFDS is having on the lives of not only the children, but everyone associated with the school.
The California Association of Independent School (‘CAIS’) accreditation process, which we are preparing for now, is another internally-focused process designed to help us reflect upon who we are and how we are doing as a school. As a way of familiarizing myself with the new CAIS criteria and instrument, I served on an accreditation team for another Bay Area school last month. This intensive three-day experience was a deep dive into the curriculum, finances, governance structures, and culture of another school. While this is a significant commitment during the course of a busy school year, it is done as a service to other schools. As focused as I was on another school, working on the accreditation team helped me better understand, and appreciate, the dynamics, structures, and culture of SFDS.
I thought my days of "red-eyes" were over when I left Hawaii, nevertheless, after the day-long session with Mission Minded, I took the late flight to Baltimore to attend the National Association of Independent School ('NAIS') annual conference. NAIS provided several opportunities to “look out” and gather valuable insight through workshops and presentations.  For example, I spent the first afternoon with representatives from the national Breakthrough Collaborative.  I learned a tremendous amount about the program, partnerships, finance, and governance structures of other schools involved in similar outreach.  While Breakthrough SF is a single site, the national network we are a part of is a source of support and information.
Several speakers furthered my “outside” looking. The opening NAIS keynote was a riveting performance by Onaje X.O. Woodbine, the author of Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball.  A teacher of philosophy and religious studies at Phillips Academy, his life experiences shaped his message about self-determination and culture, which brought the five thousand attendees to their feet.
Later that day I attended a challenging workshop on “Organizational Change” led by Dr. Todd Jick from the Columbia School of Business. The seminar was centered around a case study of a school undergoing dramatic change. We focused on how to frame communication strategies for school constituencies impacting or experiencing change within our organizations.  I left with a renewed commitment for the imperative of continual institutional growth, and a better understanding of what it takes to sustain it.
Charles Fadel, the author of Four Dimensions of Education, was another featured speaker.  His session not only added to my reading list, but his work provides a framework for redesigning curriculum in order to better prepare our students for a world that continues to change at a dramatic pace. A futurist and technologist, Dr. Fadel started the Center for Curricular Design at the Harvard School of Graduate Education as a source of information and inspiration for schools. His writing will inform the work we are doing to create learning spaces that are inviting, flexible, reconfigurable, and support collaborative, project-based learning. You will learn more about these learning spaces in upcoming "raise the paddle" communications next week.
Many of you are likely to be familiar with the work of Sir Ken Robinson.  If not, this Ted Talk encapsulates his genius and is worth a few minutes of your time. Always engaging, I have followed Sir Ken for years.  His message of the importance of creativity in the educational process resonates with the ethos of SFDS, is an example of how we want to transform the instructional spaces, and will be a significant part of the messaging Mission Minded is helping us develop.

What I love the most about schools is how everyone, children and adults alike, is engaged in and impacted by the energy of learning. What happens in our classrooms on a daily basis is part of and related to the learning taking place in regional, national, and global organizations. Design thinkers know the importance of looking both within an organization while also keeping an eye outwards in order to benefit from all of the thinking and learning surrounding us. At SFDS, we are making a conscientious effort to do both.