Tag Archives: Independent School

4 Take Aways from ATLIS 2017

ATLIS logo.pngI returned from ATLIS 2017 last Wednesday invigorated and, to be honest, a little exhausted. It wasn’t just the time change (although that was a challenge in and of itself). Rather, it was from participating in so many robust and deep conversations with my peers, taking part in various presentations and workshops, and the depth and breadth of the conference in its entirety. I’ve taken a few days to reflect on the conference experience (one of the key tenants of the ATLIS mission). Here are some of the key take-aways I had as both a Tech Director and an Educator.

Coding & Computer Science are More Vital Than Ever

Coding and Computer Science have been primary topics in education for the past few decades. However, the significance of coding has become even more vital. Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google, kicked off the conference with a humorous but compelling keynote where he highlighted the need for young people to learn both Computer Science and Coding. Computer Science jobs are still both high in demand and well paying. He was also sure to point out that children can often learn coding on their own (with the self-directed software today). However, we as educators must prioritize the role of Computer Science (and not just of the AP kind) in becoming central to our educational priorities. This concept was further driven home in various sessions.

Doug Kiang of the Punahou School and Mary Radlhammer Kiang of St Andrew’s Priory led a deep dive session on Teaching Coding for the Non-Coding teacher.

Using some key techniques and incorporating games, they demonstrated how even non-coders (like myself) can incorporate coding into their curriculum.

Justin Curtis of the Bryn Mawr School discussed the challenges and rewards of building a robust K-12 Computer Science curriculum (still a rarity in the country that built the first home computers and developed the internet).

All of these hammered home to me that we need more computer science and coding in schools in the whole curriculum, not just a one off course in the Middle or High School.

Cyber-Security is More Important than Ever

With the rise of hacking and ransom-ware, institutions need to be more savvy about how they protect their systems and educate their community. Hospitals remain the number 1 target for attacks. However, schools (especially independent schools) are quickly catching up. As they are repositories of information (social security numbers, credit cards, names and address, etc), schools need to be especially vigilant about the security of their systems.

Denise Musselwhite of Trinity Preparatory School and Jamie Britto of Collegiate School led a deep dive into Cyber-security and Independent Schools. This was a robust look into security policies (like two factory authentication), training sessions, and phishing tests. It’s a precursor to their two day cyber-security workshop in Chicago this summer.

In addition to Denise and Jaime, other presenters led sessions on security, highlighting that cyber security and systems are a key element for Technology Directors around the country. Building systems and keeping them secure is an ongoing struggle as every upgrade brings new vulnerabilities and every day brings new potential attacks.

Equity in Education & Tech

Equity was a prominent topic this year. While equity is often on the forefront of public education, it is a concern for independent schools as well. What made this conversation unique, however, is that it was not just about equity for students, but for administrators as well.

As a woman in technology and education, I was especially struck by Renee Hawkins of Garrison Forrest and Jeff Dayton of Madeira School in their session on “What do Girls see in IT?”

Information Technology is a community within a school that can staffed entirely by men, even when many EdTech faculty are women. Disturbingly, the percentage of computing occupations held by women has been declining since 1991, while women who do enter the profession quit at a rate double that for men. What can schools do to counter the message that IT jobs such as network and systems administration are nearly exclusively masculine?

When I popped into this overflowing session room, I walked into a robust discussion about the role of women in technology and leadership. As someone who has solely operated in co-educational institutions, it was especially striking how male-dominated technology departments are – even in all-girls schools. How does that impact the next generation of young women and men?

In addition to gender, there were several sessions about equity and access. For example, Margie Llines and Rurik Nackerud tackled Equity in BYOD. Many schools with even the most robust scholarship and needs programs still do not include technology and access as a part of those packages! This is especially concerning when a school has a mandated BYOD program. I touched on this issue in my own blog post “Growing Number of Poor Americans are Phone Only Internet Users – What does that Mean for Education?

It is (or should be) About the Kids

The kind of Tech Directors you find at ATLIS are a little unique. We are the Tech Directors that don’t demand “lock it down” systems… in fact, we often rebel against them. ATLIS Tech Directors focus on what is ultimately best for the kids and education. It is always great and refreshing to see that be the focus once again. Whether it’s talking about coding and computer science, how to set up devices, equity and access, or how to support faculty, the center of the conversation was always “what is best for the kids and education?”

As an ATLIS Board Member, I am always excited to watch it grow and evolve. This year, the conference blew me away. I’m excited for the coming year as we develop more robust professional development opportunities, publish our first academic journal, and take technology at independent schools to the next level.

Inspiring & Supporting Innovation at Independent Schools at this year’s ATLIS



Courtesy of Pixabay

“Innovation” — there’s a reason it’s a provocative and powerful topic in the landscape of education. Public, Charter, and Independent Schools are all feeling the pressure from disruptive innovation as well as turning to innovative practices to solve curricular, financial, and recruitment woes. The reality is, we are living in an ever-shifting landscape. Traditional routes of career readiness are no longer reliable, previously “safe” jobs (think accountants, lawyers, and doctors) are now seeing job security fade away, and “traditional” schooling is coming under more scrutiny. The cost of university education is having many individuals rethink the options of pursuing higher education given the relatively flat career landscape facing them on graduation. As such, schools are now looking at innovative practice to help them solve these problems – how can they prepare their students for the jobs of the future (especially if we don’t know what those jobs are)? As a Technology Leader, I am often a part of conversations about innovation. This is not to say that innovation is all about technology, but radical innovation often encompasses employing new technologies. Innovation is challenging… it’s hard. Why? Because it necessitates culture shift and “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” — Peter Drucker.

Facing the challenges of innovation in my career and public life, I am especially excited about attending this year’s ATLIS conference in Los Angeles, California (April 24-26) as its theme is “Magic Magic Happen” and its focus is on innovation. I know that I will be inspired by the keynote speeches of Jaime Casap (Educational Evangelist) and Tim Fish (Chief Innovation Office of NAIS); both of them have worked with Independent Schools, helping them to innovate their curriculum and institutions. Looking at the posted schedule, I’m excited to learn more about innovative curriculum enhancements such as incorporating coding into the whole curriculum, implementing gamification, and creating new educational spaces, such as maker spaces in the library. Even better than learning about these initiatives, I’m especially excited to learn how to support them at my institution through transformative professional development and creating & fostering a culture of change.

This year’s ATLIS conference is the most exciting yet. If you are exploring innovative curriculum and technologies in your school, this is the year to attend! You can still register on the ATLIS website.


The ATLIS Conference Schedule: Making Magic Happen

I am about to begin my second year as an Executive Board member of ATLIS and my third year as an organizational member. I have to say that my time with ATLIS has given me the unique opportunity to learn from and engage with my peers in new and powerful ways. I am so excited for the 2017 ATLIS Conference: Making Magic Happen in Los Angeles. The conference featured speakers Jaime Casap and Tim Fish are sure to inspire and the array of sessions will be amazing. You can view the full schedule here. Here are some highlights of the 2017 Conference:


If you want to attend but still need to register, check out all of the details here.

Independent Schools, Independent Teachers: Freedom and Responsibility – Independent Schools, Common Perspectives – Education Week

Independent-Schools_Common-PerspectivesThe other day a thread appeared on the National Association of Independent Schools online communities speculating on aspects of the great freedom that independent school teachers have to create curriculum and assessments suited to their strengths and to the particular needs and interests of their students and their schools. This got me to thinking.

This freedom has long been a classic double-edged sword. The virtues of “teacher autonomy” in independent schools were extolled to me even before I entered the field back in the Nixon era. As another veteran of that era commented in response to an earlier post here, the idea long prevailed in many schools (and perhaps still does in some) that a teacher would be taken to the door to the classroom, handed a textbook (a.k.a. the “curriculum”), and assured that paychecks would clear until June, short of some act that would rate firing for cause. What happened in the classroom would, by some sort of gentleman’s agreement, stay in the classroom, and the teacher would seldom be inconvenienced…


Difficult, Courageous, & Fierce Conversation – Pat Bassett, NAIS President

Pat Bassett

Our first ‘headline’ speaker is Pat Bassett, the current President of NAIS. His talk’s focus was described as:

“The President of NAIS presents an analysis of conversation dynamics, why tough conversations tend to go badly, and what to do to make them go better. He will address some of the essential conversations we should be having, but aren’t, such as ‘What should we teach (the curriculum/content question)?’ ‘How should we assess (the testing/outcomes question)?’ and ‘How do we embed the 21st Century school vision (the leadership question)?'”

He took the stage and started his discussion by reminiscing about his early teaching career at a small, all-boys boarding school and the lack of direction/mentorship/training that he received as a young teacher just starting out.

He highlighted the need, as school leaders, to navigate challenging negotiations and conversations with colleagues, students, parents, the community, and more as part of job as educators and innovators in education. Also, as always happens at a conference that emphasizes technology, there were technology glitches 😉

The first focus he discussed is the fact that conversations between individuals where there is inherently a power differential (boss & employee, teacher & student, supervisor & subordinate, etc) there are always two conversations going on: the verbal conversation and the silent, intellectual one. So… how do we change those conversations? How do we negotiate that dynamic? How do we manage these conversations so that they’re less threatening and ultimately serve kids better?

He recommended that when we anticipate these conversations, we pause and think – go through the mental checklist:

  • Identifying the deeper issues: both sides’ sense of their own competence and goodness.
  • “Making our point because you are right” always fails.
  • Arguments are only seldom about “truth” and “facts,” they are almost always about feelings and identity.

He highlighted that there are many, many challenging conversations that are going on right now in education right now, primarily: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class. Emotionally charged topics such as these can readily and quickly degrade into ugly, unproductive, and unauthentic conversations.

He recommended another quick check-list:

  • “Delivering a message” vs. “Having a conversation”
  • Developing a “learning stance” as opposed to a grenade-launching stance.
  • Sorting out “what really happened.”
  • Understanding what you and the other party are feeling.
  • Knowing why we see the world differently from others: different information and interpretations, based on our experiences, outlooks, dispositions, and assumptions — and because our conclusions always reflect self-interest.

By reflecting on what we bring to the conversation, what the other speaker is trying to say and communicate before taking a defensive or aggressive stance. On a personal note, as someone who was trained in Anthropology, I’m feeling pretty good right now!

He also emphasized the fact that when dealing with children (even middle and high school kids), their brains aren’t developed enough for full rational and logical thought and action – they are still (at varying stages) in reactionary, instinctive thought. Expecting children (and maybe some adults) to act rationally, is a poor stance to take. If a person feels too threatened, then “fight or flight” will take over… every time.

So, when having a conflictive conversation focus on:

  • The Wrong Questions: Who is right? Whose fault is it? Why are you doing this? vs. The Right Question: Why do we see things differently?
  • Refocusing the discussion away from blame and toward understanding, away from “winning” a conversation toward insight and finding common ground that works for both side.
  • Find common ground and empathetic understanding.

Individual vulnerabilities – our own insecurities – can be a huge hamper in difficult discussions. Instead of seeing these as opportunities for growth and development – they are viewed as a direct, personal attack. So when it comes to difficult conversations – try to step back, “Why is this conversation threatening?” Try to deconstruct the conversation. “Why are we so far apart?”

Strategy and Design of Schools for the Future

He recommended Edutopia (one of my favorites) and the MacArthur Foundation websites for ideas, concepts, and resources (both for public and independent schools). These organization highlight the current revolution and big shifts ongoing right now in education:

  • Knowing becoming Doing
  • Teacher-centered becoming Student-centered
  • The individual…. the team
  • Consumption of information… construction of meaning
  • Schools… Networks (online peers and experts)
  • Single Sourcing… Crowd Sourcing
  • High Stakes Testing (NCLB)… High value demonstration

Due to the nature of independent schools, we are able to lead the way… why? Because we are not constrained by state mandated curriculum and testing… we have smaller classrooms… we have more flexibility. Those have all been hot topics for educators – how effective is the ‘lecture-based model’? I use it, even though I don’t think it’s the best way to convey long-term learning and critical thinking because it’s the old school means of education. It’s how I learned, it’s how I was taught to teach, and it’s what is the ‘standard’ of education.’ However, kids want and need to do something meaningful. They need to create, understand, master, and produce meaningful work.

He highlighted the role of online communities, like ISENET, to collaborate with colleagues and focus on individual and progressive professional development. I can wholeheartedly agree – blogging, tweeting, and collaboration (online and in person) with my colleagues has helped me more than any ‘formal’ training I have received.

Curriculum Content/Canon 

What can we agree upon are the skills and values the 21st century will demand and reward?

  • Communication (writing, public speaking, technical fluency) – children need to be able to communicate effectively in a myriad of venues
  • Collaboration (teaming, working together, developing group projects) – “teaming” shouldn’t be done just outside of the classroom, if you can’t work effectively in a team you are damaging rather than helping
  • Creativity (how do we mandate creativity?) – creativity is often going down in schools and we frequently “kill creativity” in education (except at Trinity Valley of course).
  • Critical Thinking (what do we actually mean by “critical thinking?”), the capacity to discriminate between worthy and unworthy material, propaganda and evidence, garbage and useful information, etc.
  • Character (can you teach character?) – the world is full of smart people devoid of character. How do we develop this in the future leaders of the world? What is a K-12 character track? Modeling is the most effective means by which to teach character. We also need to take advantage of “teachable moments,” help kids sort through the right thing to do.
  • Cosmopolitanism (bringing children into the world) – cross-cultural competency. In our connected world, it is smaller – we need to prepare our students for a connected world.

He highlights these concepts further on his own blog here: “The Five Cs + One” as well as in other articles featured on “Bassett Blog.”

Pedagogy – How Do We Teach?

The charismatic teacher – lots of energy, entertaining, very popular, entertaining. However, it doesn’t always meant hat they’re a great teacher. It’s good to have in repertoire, but not the core. He made the analogy of coaching – know how each kid is different, know what turns that kid on in the classroom, learn how to motivate each child differently, focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

We need to capitalize on education, science, and technology engineering. We need to capitalize on new technologies and allow them to become innovators and creators of real “products” with meaning for the kids.

Design Thinking – we nee do rethink our concepts of “knowledge.” What is knowledge? How do we develop our curriculum around this?


I think that I summarized most of his key points, but i highly recommend checking out Jonathan Martin’s blog post on the same talk here.

Day 1 of the ISAS Biennial Teachers Conference: Teaching Matters

It’s the morning of the conference and after a lovely rest and a sumptuous breakfast, I am so eager to get to First Baptist Academy to get the ball rolling on the 2012 ISAS Biennial Teachers Conference. This is my first official ISAS event (other than athletics) so I’m eager and excited to meet my fellow teaching and administrative colleagues.

The plan is to live blog from the conference (my first time doing that) – so please excuse the typos and grammatical errors that are bound to occur. I’ll likely post a summary at the end o the day. Well, I’m off!

Preparing for the 2012 Annual Teacher’s Conference

Tomorrow, I head to the beautiful city of Houston for the annual ISAS (Independent School Association of the Southwest) located on the campus of Houston’s First Baptist Academy. I’m excited for the opportunity to meet and network with colleagues as well as the opportunity to be an ‘official blogger’ for the event.

The two day conference will cover topics such as:

  • Navigating “challenging” discussions
  • Pedagogical development
  • Motivating students
  • Concepts and theories on learning
  • and more creative concepts about pedagogy and educational theory

I am so excited that my school, Trinity Valley, has given me the opportunity to attend this conference and ISAS for allowing me to officially blog the event. Be sure to look for updates all weekend! You can check out the details about the event here: 2012 Biennial Teacher’s Conference.