Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Progressive = Good business

It's been almost six months since I've blogged here, and I apologize to anyone who has been waiting.

My "unassigned time" in the past half year has largely been spent doing some writing for the National Association of Independent Schools Financially Sustainable Schools project. I've been talking to CFOs, admission folks, development officers, and school heads, working to develop a set of principles and best practices for independent schools that would like to make it through a another decade or two. Not surprisingly, a fair number of my conversations have begun as inquiries into financial management.

But, funniest thing, the more I talked to the most creative and reflective people, the more I found myself on the familiar ground of New Progressivist thinking. Smart, forward-thinking schools that are actually DOING SOMETHING about improving their programs and professional practice`tend to be the ones that are thriving. Schools that are sitting on their hands or (worse) resting on their laurels are the ones worried about enrollment and whether they're going to have to lay off more teachers.

I have found myself talking with educators who have discovered in Multiple-Intelligence theory the keys to better curriculum design and who have successfully challenged even the most senior of faculties to attend to new understandings about assessment and evaluation so that their schools will continue to be the centers of excellence that annually bring bright, motivated, and intellectually engaged students into their classrooms--kids who become more engaged as their teachers become more innovative and intentional.

I have spoken with development officers who understand that schools have to be active, vibrant places where resources are used not just to make people more comfortable but to ramp up the level of the educational experiences and challenges that make students go home excited and even exhilarated--feelings that become the kind of word of mouth marketing campaign that no amount of money can buy.

I've spent hours on the phone with business officers who understand deeply not just the operational nuts and bolts that allow their schools to thrive but who are excited by the missions and values of the schools where they work--values that embrace taking care of the school community but that also acknowledge the higher quest for social justice and educational equity.

Smart school leaders everywhere are seeing the clear connections between innovative curriculum, the leveraging of technology, global thinking, and Green awareness. These are the connections that not only mean "doing the right thing" educationally but that also energize teachers, students, families--and even donors.

I'm just sorry that NAIS membership is needed to get access to much of the work that has come out of this project, including my latest big piece, "Alive and Well: What It Takes to Thrive in Hard Times." Over the next few weeks I will try to offer here a summary of the key findings.

When I first jumped into this work I assumed that it would be an interesting task that wouldn't have much to do with my New Progressive initiatives. Now that I've really dug around into what it means for a school to be sustainable, I'm ecstatic to think that sustainability in 2009 is inherently New Progressive. How cool is that?!!!

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