Over the last few days I have been attending a course entitled The Future of Independent Schools at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Participants were afforded exposure to excellent faculty and discussion on topics such as assessment, online learning and design thinking, as well as opportunities to engage in conversations with colleagues from across the United States, Canada and Australia.
The final day included a session with Jim Honan, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in which we worked through a business sector case study. I appreciated this more than any other session because of its ability to pull me out of the school environment to reflect on vitally important considerations that contribute to making any organization successful and sustainable.
The case involved a company that started with a mission of combining both business and social services to provide affordable housing and necessary social supports to its residents. There were many considerations as we read and discussed the journey of this particular organization and its leaders, including the excitement and pace of growth, the competitive nature of business resulting in a pressure to be at the cutting edge, and, of course, the need for resources to support these things. In this particular case study it became evident as their journey progressed, that the abovementioned factors negatively affected the organization’s success and ultimately its ability to secure its resources.
As independent schools, we work hard to highlight our ‘value-add’ and to ensure that we are doing the best we can to fulfill our missions. What hit home during this class was that too often, because of excitement and/or a desire to be THE school relative to one’s competition, schools risk losing sight of their mission.
I distinctly recall, when in my first year as Principal, some community members indicating that St. Clement’s was not innovative enough because we did not have a one-to-one laptop program like many of our colleague schools. I am mindful that one’s natural tendency is to jump to what another is doing- without asking the important questions about alignment to one’s mission and philosophy. I am confident that our school’s approach to ensuring technology is not about tools but rather about leveraging and enhancing learning through multi-platform support, Bring Your Own Device, and ease of accessibility.
In focusing too much on simply getting ahead and doing so quickly, schools risk their own sustainability. There is a very important need to pause, reflect on one’s mission, identify mission-tied opportunities along with their level of urgency, and then move forward. It is vital to know that patience and grounding are very important contributors to deep and impactful innovation.