New York. Chicago. San Francisco. Three consecutive NAIS annual conferences, each of which contributes to a trend that I have observed over these three years.
The theme in New York was "the educational reNAISsance"; the theme in Chicago was "sailing the winds of change"; the theme here in San Francisco was "adapt, surive, thrive: unleashing the superpowers within". The last two themes seem disconnected from the first...precisely because they represent a shift in our economy, our lives, and our vision for independent schools.
In conversations today, I shared the observation that last year, as schools, we were yet youthful in our place within the great recession. To that end, in my conversations with heads and administrators, the common thread was an experience of holding one's breath to see what would happen. To me, it was rather reminiscent of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, in that some folks nodded their heads and whispered that a dark power had arisen, not in Mordor, but in the realm of Independent School Land. Rumors of potential enrollment decreases, lost pledges, evaporating financing, heavy parental job losses, and more. As professionals, we wanted to talk about advancements in curriculum, technology, student life and the like, but the strong undercurrent was uncertainty. Everyone was experiencing paralysis, except those schools which tend to remain bastions within their communities, no matter external pressures.
This year, I noted, was markedly different, yet it made sense from a growth perspective. Whereas last year, the prevailing theme was "oh my gosh, look what's happening, whatever will we do", this year the current of conversation centered on "change is here, we've accepted that, now...how do we move forward." It has been interesting to observe the tenor of conversations from New York, which represented a time of optimism and an "easy money mentality", to San Francisco, which represented an approach of prudence, introspection, and a willingness to reconfigure our models.
In other words, in two years, the Zeitgeist of the annual conference has gone from "what more can we add?" to "how do we fundamentally change what we do and how we deliver it?". That trend is noteworthy, if nothing else. Actually, I submit that it is downright remarkable.
It is remarkable in that EVERYONE is talking about it. Technology has been with us for some now, and we've been making decent use of it, but now it has progressed to that next level, that of becoming a disruptive innovation (a definite theme at this conference).
Could it be mere coincidence that disruptive innovation and the great recession have come together at this time? I find it highly unlikely.
Prediction: this trend will be shown to have been the initial spark that transformed America's future into something more...something that we don't yet know.
Won't the ride be exciting?