Monthly Archives: February 2009

Why So Somber?

First, I want to thank Heather Hoerle, Amy Ahart, Satira Bushell, and the rest of the NAIS staff for a tremendous conference.  When I spoke with them late this afternoon, they reported that not one single complaint, via email or face to face, was registered. When one considers the number of speakers, participants and guests, the size of the convention center, and the scope of the conference (Oprah was here!) that statistic stands out.  As Willy Loman would say, “Isn’t that remarkable?” 


What is also remarkable is that each time I attend one of these conferences I am struck by how similar my concerns as an educator are to the thousands of educators who descend on the conference.  Not only am I struck by it, but also I am comforted by it, for I realize that the challenges that I face in Ohio are similar to the ones educators are facing in California, Texas, Virginia, and New Hampshire.  This year, not only were the concerns similar, but also the mood.  Sobriety, even somberness, pervaded the conference, and I don’t believe that the weather–mainly temperate for Chicago this time of year, but rainy on Thursday and cold today–created the mood; rather, I suspect the hard, challenging economic times that all our schools are facing is the culprit.  There were many seminars and workshops dedicated to financial sustainability, for that subject is very much on all our minds.  In spite of that reality, however, I think that this present challenge, which has caused so much uncertainty and heartache in our schools, has also given rise to another phenomenon that was actually wonderful.


As noted, neither Heather, nor Amy, nor Satira registered a complaint, and I attributed that to the superb work that they did to plan this conference.  Registration ran smoothly, sessions began promptly, venues were clean, easy to access, and comfortable, and every seminar I attended was thought-provoking and well done.  What’s to lament, save the rapacious prices at Au Bon Pain–$6.50 for oatmeal, $25.00 for soup, a sandwich, potato chips, and a drink?  Are you kidding me?  But, as noted, I also suspect another cause for our satisfaction with the conference: the dire economic situation caused us to walk among one another with more awareness, more understanding, more humility, and more of a sense of shared purpose and understanding.  No school has gone unscathed, and we all seemed sympathetic to stories of budget cuts, firings, and changes in our schools that will be felt for a long time.  With that as backdrop, it was hard to complain.  I suspect that all of us are a bit more sensitive, a bit more caring, a bit more sober now, for we are returning to communities where a great deal of work is left for us to do.  This conference, even though it has never been such, was no boondoggle; rather, it was one where a group of educators came together to ask honestly how we can weather this storm, steer our crafts safely into port, and prepare for sunnier, brighter days; days that will come, but that are difficult to see on the horizon at present.  That lack of vision gave all of us pause and made all of us gentler, kinder, more generous, more sympathetic, and more empathic.  In short, we revealed our humanity, hunkered down together, and shared ideas on how to ready ourselves for the gales ahead.  I wish you safe travels home and thank you for your attention, and your good work.






Oprah Speaks, We Listen, We are Inspired

            Almost 20 minutes elapsed as we waited for the program to begin.  Then the Groove Yard Jazz Band from Francis W. Parker School here in Chicago stepped on stage and immediately broke into a heavy bass laden piece, “The Message” arranged by Jay Dilla, which featured trombone, piano, and drums.  They easily rolled into a Sonny Rollins standard, “Oleo,” which galvanized our attention.  The appreciative crowd applauded during the solos by the talented members of the band.


            Reveta Bowers, Head of School at the Center for Early Education in California, introduced her good friend, Oprah Winfrey. 


            “I am here today because I believe in what you do.  I sent my niece to Miss Porter’s School, and I have sent five girls to Miss Porter’s this year.  I have a number of nephews and nieces in independent schools all over this country, so thank you.  I believe in you and what you do and appreciate what you do.”  I started a school a leadership school in South Africa for girls.  Starting an independent school is the most demanding, worrisome, and fulfilling thing that I have ever done.  Do you know what I have learned about being rich–Oh, that’s, you are educators, you are not rich!–if you are not careful, your daydreams become reality.  Some days I am overwhelmed by having these schools, but every day I am grateful for it.” 


            She then described the process of creating the school.  What had been done for Oprah as a little girl on welfare in Milwaukee by kind nuns, giving her a Christmas, she wanted to do for these girls in South Africa.  That is where it started: just to give presents to children.  Inspired by her own “humble beginnings” and disadvantaged background, Oprah Winfrey stated that she founded the Leadership Academy to provide educational and leadership opportunities for academically gifted girls from impoverished backgrounds in South Africa who exhibited leadership qualities for making a difference in the world.  Nelson Mandela invited her to stay at his home for ten days.  She ate 29 meals with Nelson Mandela and listened and learned from him.  The spirit of the man fed her and at the end of her 10 day stay, she knew that she wanted to do something important for South Africa.  She wanted to build schools for South Africa.  She wanted to build a school for girls, for when you educate a girl, you change a community: teenage pregnancy drops, AIDS drops, the educated girls have more stable families; the whole community improves because of the girls.  Wanted to create a school that would teach leadership and would take girls with the will but not the chance or opportunity and give them a place of beauty, safety, and hope.  Beauty can inspire, so she hired artists to create sculptures to give art.  The government didn’t support her desire for beauty, so she fought with the government over comfort, luxury, and beauty.  Oprah wanted to send the girls a message: you are valued.  You matter to this place, to this community, to this country and you will matter to this world.  That is why Oprah wanted beauty and comforts (such as closets, bathrooms, and linen for bedding) for these girls.  She wanted these girls to know that they matter.


            During the interview process Oprah went to the school and interviewed many of the girls, these beautiful, powerful, strong, inspiring girls, from abject poverty and dispiriting circumstances.  The video that she showed inspired, as we watch these girls talk about their need to get out their environment where they are victims of rape and abuse.  These girls touched our hearts. Oprah went to interview the girls and to find the “it,” what we used to call at Roxbury Latin, the high “I Will” in the admission process–students who will themselves to achieve, to excel.  Are we good enough to come to your school, am I good enough as a person, am I good enough?  That was the question these girls asked.


            “These girls are so radiant in spite of or maybe because of their circumstances.  It was agonizing to make choices that would lift up or return a girl from or to those circumstances.  150 girls were chosen.  I am certain that these girls will change Africa.” 


            15 December the country closes down in South Africa for Christmas, but the School had to open on 2 January.  Lots of challenges in the beginning, including plumbing, but the greatest challenge was finding good instructors, teachers, and staff members.  “You don’t have a visionary school without visionary staff members and leaders.  We have many capable, committed faculty members, but we need more. We need teacher education and training and professional development.  It is a complicated environment in South Africa, which is just 15 years out of apartheid, and that makes it complicated.”  Right now, she is looking for a head of school, an academic dean, a college counselor. 


            “I expected too much, too soon.”  She has to remind herself that this country is only 15 years out of apartheid, and she has to help the students and the teachers to understand that they can be larger, better.  “The teachers also need to know that they can be larger and greater than they are.”  That is the goal as well know.  Help the staff know that they can aspire to be greater.


            There have been challenges–enough money for clothing, braces, appendectomies, travel–but it has been worthwhile.  There are security guards there, and there are all kinds of security measures, but the abuse still happened: someone accused of sexual abuse.  The girls had trusted Oprah, and she felt as if she had let them down when she first heard the news of the alleged abuse.  She wept with the news, then flew to South Africa to comfort the girls.  How to deal with the crisis, any crisis: stay in the moment.  Stay in the moment and be determined to tell the truth, have transparency and stay in the moment.  Tell the truth, you can be criticized, but you can never be hurt.  15 girls came in to talk of the arbitrary punishment that was occurring and then they said there was something strange between the matron and one of the students.  That uncovered it.  Oprah welcome the girls coming forward and speaking up, because that is what true leadership is: speaking out. 


            Sidney Poitier donated more than 600 DVD’s to the School, and he wanted the following: “I Want these girls to be seated at the table where the decisions are made and to contribute to these decisions.” That is the purpose of this school. 


            What she is trying to do can be encapsulated in the ending of Mr. Chips: While Mr. Chips is lying on his deathbed he over hears someone say that he never had any children and Mr. Chips responses is, “…but you are wrong, I have had thousands of them, all boys.”  Oprah wants to be that inspiration in Africa, and she thanked all of us for our inspiration. 


            Pat Bassett came on stage and thanked Oprah and gave her three paintings commissioned by Rafael Lopez, including “Nuestra Voz” which is a painting of Barack Obama.  Rafael López’s work is a fusion of strong graphic style and magical symbolism. Growing up in Mexico City he was immersed in the rich cultural heritage and native color of street life. Influenced by Mexican surrealism, dichos and myths he developed a style with roots in these traditions.


            Pearl Rock Kane came on stage to present to Oprah Winfrey The Klingenstein Center for Independent School Education 2009 Leadership Award.  She also promised that the Kingenstein Institute will provide professional development for Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy in South Africa.

Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child: Options and Forces

Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child: Options and Forces


This session, led by prominent independent school leaders and contributors to the new book Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child, gave us an overview of an emerging landscape of educational choices.   Paula Carreiro Beauvoir, The National Cathedral Elementary School (DC). Peter Branch, Georgetown Day School, Rich Fitzgerald, Head of School at the Bentley School in Oakland, and Dick Jung, Education Access Strategies were the presenters.

The Book:

New understandings of learning and the brain, a greater appreciation of the impact of culture on learners, and the differing values and expectations of families have created an educational environment ripe for expanded school choice.  The result has been a rapid and little understood expansion of precollegiate educational opportunities.  For parents anxious to find the best fit for their children, the growth in choice has been both a boon and a challenge.

Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child reveals various school designs, from public to private, from secular to religious, and from progressive to conservative.  The mission assumptions, the economic models, and the pedagogical practices of each design are examined.  With chapters by leading experts from a variety of educational paths, the books offers readers a thorough understanding of the ever-changing landscape of American education in the twenty-first century.

The book emerged from Oxford Rounds Table conversations.  The book is an excellent exposition of the current issues facing parents and society in the provision of education for the youth of America. Paula Carreiro and Eileen Shields-West (not at the conference for she was in Africa at the time) credit the discourse at the Oxford Round Table that was devoted to the exploration of the many aspects of the concept of choice in schools with providing the foundational thinking for the book. This Oxford Round Table was held at St. Antony’s College in the University of Oxford in July, 2003. The book has received excellent reviews, notably, Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote, “If the proverbial visitor from Mars or Venus wanted the scoop on the gamut of American Schools, I’d recommend this book.” Amy Dickinson, nationally syndicated columnist, Chicago Tribune, observed that “we parents owe the authors a gold star for doing our homework for us,” and David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post, added a rich accolade that concluded “I can’t think of a book that would be more helpful for parents who are trying to figure out what’s best for their kids.” Carreiro’s pervasive knowledge as an educational leader, Head of School at the National Cathedral Elementary School, Beauvoir, Washington DC and Shields-West’s work as a freelance writer, her in-depth experience as well as her tenure as a former San Francisco bureau chief for Time, combine to form a highly insightful view of the issues that will help define the schools of the future.

Paula Carreiro, Head of School at Beauvoir, The National Cathedral Elementary School, her comments:


  • The idea for the book grew out of a partnership between a school head and a board chair, Paul Carreiro and Eileen Shields-West, the board chair for her school and a journalist.  A quotation from Michael Thompson who wrote the introduction:  “When I grew up in NY in the 1950’s there was no school choice for me; I went to where my parents sent me.  If I have been unhappy there, they would have concluded that I wasn’t much of a student, not that it was the right school. After all, I went to one of the best schools in the city.”  Families cannot wait today: they will choose the best schools for their children and we need to be prepared by focusing on our mission. 


  • The book talks about all kinds of schools, from home schools, and virtual schools and traditional schools to charter schools and magnet schools.  In short, every kind of school that might help students learn and grow.


Peter Branch: Head of School at Georgetown Day School


  • The book was written in a better financial time.  Peter, “I am a sailor; calm water is no fun.  During a storm, that is the time to sail.”  His chapter in the book is Financing education; the worm in the apple.  Money has always been a keen element in distinguishing who gets a good education and who doesn’t.  Understanding the relationship between giving, endowment, government contributions is essential as parents look at schools and determine if it is right school for their children.  There have been similar financial challenges, but they have been located specific schools, regions, or particular places; now with the impact on all sectors, we all have decreasing endowments, loss of retirement values, etc, and it all affects the economics of schools.  As much as it affects independent schools, it also affects public schools as well.  As challenging as it all seems, we are rushing toward the bottom when we don’t have to do so. Schools, even ones that are strong, feel pressure to hold the line on tuition increases.    Even the NAIS initiatives on global education and environmental sustainability need to be kept alive as we focus on our goals and our missions–children and faculty centered–while we live in fear.  We have to focus on our missions not this current financial piece.  Some schools are gutting pensions and not giving cost of living increases, and this is wrong.  It is better to cut out programs and to let people go than to hurt our missions.  Parents with limited funds will spend it on what they believe is important.  Applications at Georgetown have increased 17%; that stems from value. Parents will spend toward value, but if we gut our values, we will have a short term gain, but a long term disaster.  If schools gut what they do, we will put ourselves at risk.


Richard Fitzgerald, Head of School at Bentley School in Oakland, California


  • Give this book to your Parents Association so that they can read it and share it with other parents.  The history of education intrigues Mr. Fitzgerald.  Was asked to write a piece about traditional education, since Bentley is a traditional school, but wanted to write about progressivism and traditional school and consider the connection.  When you look at the progressive moment, we see the second or third or fourth movement of the 60’s.  When people weren’t thinking in the philosophical terms of John Dewey, who had a long educational life.  After Dewey’s death, progressivism takes a different turn in the 60’s with tearing down walls and combing classrooms, but that is superficial and leads away from the progressive movement of the 1890’s: how do we improve the lives of individuals.  Progressive education started the idea of community service which started in the 1920’s in a progressive school.  We have carpets in schools because of the progressive education, and we have reading circles in schools because of progressive schools, we have standardized testing in our schools, because of progressive education.  The progressives were the first to say we need to know how students are doing in a standardized way.
  • Traditional schools: educational in them was all over the map, so a committee of ten, chaired by Harvard President Eliot in 1893, determined to give a standardized curriculum.  Comprised of university representatives and national education leaders, this group was chaired by Harvard’s Charles Eliot, and included William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education. Its purpose was to establish order and uniformity in a secondary education system that included public high schools, academies, private and religious schools, and various other institutions. That committee had come out in favor of traditional academic study in the public schools, which they fancied should be devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the training of the intellect. But what can you expect from a bunch of intellectuals? The Eliot Report of 1893 was given to things like this: ‘As studies in language and in the natural sciences are best adapted to cultivate the habits of observation; as mathematics are the traditional training of the reasoning faculties; so history and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power which we call judgment’ [p.168]. They asked of the high schools to help in the pursuit of knowledge and the exercise of the mind in the cause of judgment.


Dick Jung

  • Is there community in these schools?  What separates out successful school is the governance structure at these schools.  We need to make sure that we are not only educating the students before us but providing education for our communities.   Schools too often make cautious moves, not courageous ones, and that will hurt us in the long run.

The Paradox of the Anxious Parent, Dr. Michael Thompson, Ph.D

The Paradox of the Anxious Parent, Dr. Michael Thompson, Ph.D


“Teaching is a rational profession, parenting is an irrational one”


            This is Michael’s first appearance at NAIS since Boston 2006 and he noted how grateful he is to return. 


            His main theme: we have to find a way to put limits on parents, because more and more information will neither ease the paradoxical parent nor improve the experience of the child.  The more involved the parents are, the less the child trusts the adults in our community, the less independent they become, and the less able they are to believe that the experience that they are having belongs to them, is for them.


            Over the past few years, Michael has spent more time teaching parents directly or working with teachers about dealing with difficult parents.  Why is that?  Teachers are not trained to work with adults–they went into teaching to work with students–and in the past 20 years, parents have really wanted to be involved.  They want to be informed and involved in the process.


            There is the paradox of the parents who won’t let go, who want the “laidback” experience, but also want their children to get into “those” colleges, the most competitive ones in our country. 



  • Parents are more involved in the education process.  Parents are fully mobilized to see their children (and their children’s experience) through the school journey, and when they sign a contract with us they make a covert and unreasonable contract with us, one that we neither see nor recognize initially, but because readily apparent very quickly.


  • The re-enrollment contract and the “psychological contract” are not the same thing.  We don’t know what the psychological contract until we let the parent down.  Parents want their students in the very best schools, but are disappointed and frustrated when their children struggle or are in the bottom half of the class of these very good schools.
    • New Yorker Cartoon: A mother talking to a friend while she has her arm around her daughter in front of the school: “Can you believe what’s happened to me?  She earned a low grade in self-esteem!”
  • The school romance: irrational hopes for schools
    • Parents often have an irrational belief in what a school can do for their child.  Schools are deeply flawed institutions, just better than anything else that we have tried.  We understand that we are deeply flawed, but we also believe that we are working to do what will be best for our students.  Parents are irrationally hurt when they see that the school that they have chosen somehow isn’t perfect.  They become intensely hurt and respond poorly when their irrational hopes for the school is somehow betrayed.
    • New Yorker Cartoon: Cheerleaders before a crowd of parents shouting: “Hang your fading hopes and dreams on your children’s high-school teams!”
  • Parental Expectations: Rational and irrational; some are rational and some are irrational
    • Parents want their children to grow and develop in a moral community
    • Parents want their children to develop meaningful relationships with adults outside their family; both rational expectations
    • What we are seeing more and more is that the teacher has to play the part of the parent’s psychologist; an irrational expectation
    • They want to be full partners in the educational process; an irrational expectation 
    • Parents start to use teachers as therapists, and it is insidious how it starts, as it starts with helping the child then the attention turns to the parents.  It is important to let parents know when they are outliers in their parent behavior.
    • Parents have rational expectations of administrators, but they also have irrational ones, such as wanting to organize and determine who will be fired or determine which children should be taken out of the class–the ones that may be interfering with a child’s learning experience.  They make special requests for child to have unreasonable time away from school
    • New Yorker Cartoon: Father talking to friend at his home: I address all of Daniel’s and long-division needs”
  • Teacher Expectations: rational and irrational; again, some are rational, such as wanting to be supported both by the administration and the parents, but some are irrational
    • Teachers want no criticism from parents; that’s irrational
    • Teachers want to believe that they can say anything–your child is ADD–and not be criticized; that’s irrational
  • Expectation for administrator: to provide a safe, autonomous environment
    • New Yorker Cartoon: Parent teacher conference with little girl standing between the parents and the teacher: “Tracy will be a good little poet someday if she’d lose some weight”
  • Administrators Expectations: Rational and Irrational; it is rational for administrators to expect teachers to be prepared, engaged, thoughtful, and professional, but it is an irrational expectation of the administrator to believe that it is the teachers job to make the administrator look good.
    • Can expect teachers to support the mission of the school, but you cannot expect them to make you look good
    • New Yorker Cartoon: Commencement speaker before a group: “First off, but way of establishing some credibility, I’d like to note that twenty years ago I was living in a fur-lined van”
  • 4 Paradoxes of Parents
    • The paradox of control: this generation of parents has had unusually high control levels of control over their children. Radios and cameras in the nursery for instance.
      • The problem of having so much control that they cannot let go.  Having students at boarding schools and talking with their children 8 and 9 times a year; parents want the boarding school experience, but those parents who want that contact are undermining the mission of the boarding school.  The parent’s actions tell the child/student that the adults there are not competent enough to take care of him/her; the only competent, trustworthy adult is the parent, and that is a harmful message
      • New Yorker Cartoon: Children standing on a playground with football helmets on their heads: “I liked recess a lot better before the safety helmets”
    • The paradox of choice: the more choice that one has the less happy that one will be with his/her choices; the more choices that one has, the more that one will second-guess him/herself.
      • New Yorker Cartoon: Admission officer speaking with parents with their child in a classroom in a school: “We’ve created a safe, nonjudgmental environment that will leave your child ill-prepared for real life”
    • The paradox of information: Parents believe that they should know everything all the time.  They think that if they have information every day, then they believe that they can steer the experience of their children. Parents who check their children’s grades every day are interfering with their children’s ability to grow independently.  Too much information for the parent interferes with the child’s ability to believe that this experience is his/her experience.  Parents who are hooked on information (weekly letters, daily emails, daily checks on grades and progress, on-line commentary) have trouble letting go and interfere with their child’s ability to grow independently.  Parents have to learn to trust their child.  Parents with too much contact with their children are unable to trust their children.  We used to walk to school or bicycle to school or take public transportation.  Now students spend so much time with their parents in the car. Parents are hooked on control and on information, which undermines the children, the school, and can undermine development.  If a parent tracks his/her child constantly, then the child can come to believe that the only trustworthy adult is the parent.  That is not good.    
      • New Yorker Cartoon: Elementary School teacher with flashcards in her hand while sitting before a class of students: “Who dealt this mess?”
    • The paradox of the “great parent”: no child’s school journey was ever made greater by intense vigilance by parents.  95% of parents are wonderful, helpful, interested in partnering with the school.  It is the 5% that is problematic.
      • New Yorker Cartoon: Mother talking to child: “Why are you special? Because I’m your mommy, and I’m special.”
  • Improving the Relationship: Between Teacher and Parents: we have to find a way to put limits on parents, because more and more information will not ease the paradoxical parent.


Pat Bassett’s Opening Remarks

After listening to the choir from Quest Academyand hearing a few introductory remarks about the recession, Pat Bassett strode forward onto the stage with scene of a tempestuous sea raging behind him.  He confidently made a joke and then delved in to share the history of Chicago’s most famous moniker: “It is called the windy city, not because of gusts, but because of the bluster of politicians.  In your time here, you will experience both–gusts from Lake Michigan and bluster from politicians.  He expressed gratitude that over 3,000 educators came, in spite of the economic downturn that has affected every one: “I know that it a sacrifice for you to be here, and we appreciate your coming.” 


Mr.Bassett honored all those who have worked tirelessly to make this conference work, including Ms. Heather Hoerle, Ms. Amy Ahart, Ms. Satira Bushell the 2009 Think Tank, and the generous sponsors who have contributed greatly to the conference.  The formalities continued with his introducing the new NAIS Regional Directors, Amy Hammond, Kristen Power, Heather Rogers, Aaron Waschholz, and Abdul Yaro, who have been commissioned to serve each part of the country better. 


The theme, Schools of the Future, Sailing the Winds of Change” was created and affirmed long before this present economic crisis.  How appropriate it is for now, but even if times were easy, this theme would still resonate: independent schools need to be innovative and need to be agents of change, preparing students for their future.  All schools, as Mr. Bassett noted, are riding the waves of a perfect storm during a roiling sea.  He then mentioned how he often gains his inspiration from children, so he used Google “Letters to God” and came across this gem: “Dear God, you don’t have to worry about me: I always look both ways when I cross the street.”  Our heads of schools are a lot like that boy: they are cautious by nature, looking both ways and preparing the best that they can, but this wreck hit us all nonetheless.  A clip from Mel Brook’s High Anxiety,which showed a nervous man with an obvious fear of heights inching along with his back snugly against a wall, hoping not to see the edge, illustrated Mr. Bassett’s major point: “We can hunker down, pressing our backs against the wall, or we can head boldly into the storm, sailing right into the storm, staring down uncertainties.”  Leaders stare down uncertainties, leaders make bold decisions.  Hamlet, who is stymied by all the decisions before him, fails to act, opening the door for Fortinbras to walk boldly through and to serve as the hero–the one who brings order to Elsinore at the conclusion of the play.  Leaders, then, have to be bold, have to look right into the eye of the storm. 


An old expression reminds us that a smooth ocean doesn’t make a skilled sailor nor does a straight and level road make a good driver.  Opportunities abound now, then, to learn to sail and to drive and to navigate our schools back into peaceful harbors and toward welcoming destinations.


In this time of economic tumult and uncertainty, how appropriate it is that we are in Chicago, home to a new, dynamic, confident president.  As our new president noted, “We are the change we are waiting for.”  While here at the conference we must be good students: do our homework, look at the data, make analyses, draw conclusions, share the results in a clear, transparent way that includes all and look to build a stronger vessel, ready to weather the next storm.

Mary Cullinane

I attended Mary Cullinane’s presentation this morning. Mary Cullinane, the director of innovation and business development for Microsoft Education Group, served as director of technology and as an administrator at a regional high school in the state of New Jersey. While working at the high school, Ms. Cullinane became intrigued by the opportunity that technology has to enhance the teaching and learning process. Ms. Cullinanethen helped her school become one of the first in the nation to provide every student with a notebook computer. Her Anytime Anywhere Learning Program seeks to provide notebook computers for all 9th through 12th graders. After leaving education, Ms. Cullinane helped to establish a start-up Internet company,, which provides K-12 solutions that improve student performance while providing a user friendly, secure, and personalized environment. Since then Ms. Cullinane has spent the past nine years focused on driving innovative programs and initiatives. Creator of the Microsoft Innovation Center Awards, Ms. Cullinane was also the national manager of Microsoft’s K-12 marketing, programs, and strategic investments. In 2003, as a result of a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and Microsoft Corporation, Ms. Cullinane accepted the position of School of the Future Technology Architect, responsible for driving the creation of a new high school in West Philadelphia. The school opened in September of 2006 and to date has received visitors from over 50 countries and has garnered over 350 million media impressions. In February of 2006, Ms. Cullinane became the Director of the US Partners in Learning Program, responsible for over $35 million of investments in innovative programs around the United States. In January of 2008 she became the United States Director of Innovation and Business Development for Microsoft Education Group. A recipient of the Microsoft Circle of Excellence Award, Ms. Cullinane has spoken at national and international conferences on the topics of educational technology, school reform, and strategic leadership. She spoke persuasively on the topic of innovation, opening with a video of students speaking enthusiastically about their school day. As she noted, “If our students aren’t as excited about what they are doing in our schools, then we need to rethink why we are doing what we are doing.” The purpose of our work is to inspire and make learning accessible and thrilling. In order to do so we need to make sure that we involve ourselves completely in what we are doing, seek to build bridges, take risks. We can start this process by asking the right questions: “are we truly creating learning environments that stimulate our students and prepare them for their future?”

To emphasize how quickly the world is changing, she gave a quick history lesson on 150 million users:


·        The telephone 1876-1965, or 89 years

·        Television 1928-1966, or 38 years

·        Cellular Telephone 1983-1997 or 14 years

·        IPod 2001-2007 or 6 years

·        Facebook 2004-2009, or 5 years


While it took almost 90 years for the telephone to reach 150 million users, it has taken Facebookonly 5 years to reach the same number of users, and yet, many of us are still unfamiliar with Facebook, afraid of it, or unwilling to incorporate it into our teaching.  In sum, with this kind of sweeping change, we need to think differently about the tools we use.  In rethinking which tools we use and how we educate students we need to start with the following questions:


What if:

  • We understood our students
  • We guaranteed no one could fail
  • We knew exactly what we wanted in a learning environment
  • We had resources, commitment, will, and courage to build whatever kind of school we wanted; what kind of school would be build?

 Innovation is the key, and we are well positioned to innovate: we control our governance policy, we control our curriculum, we control all the factors that play into good innovation; now all we need is to be flexible.


“Experience forced on men’s minds the conviction that what had ever been must ever be”  Henry Adams


We can be handicapped by that statement, or we can seek to be adaptive, for we are working with the most adaptive generation we have ever known.


Looking for and creating innovation, ironically enough, comes through process, rigor, and opportunity.  The status quo will no longer due. We need to understand that innovation and disruption go hand in hand.


As much as we would like to think that technology inspires and drives innovation, people are at the center of all good innovation.  Proctor and Gamble is one company that understands that people drive innovation.  On their website they encourage their customers to make suggestions: 60% of Proctor and Gamble’s new ideas come from their customers.  Proctor and Gamble isn’t afraid to say, “I don’t know all the answers, so let’s look to our consumers to help us with the answers.”  We as educators need to listen to our customers, our students to hear what they want.


When preparing to innovate a few principles must be kept in mind:

  1. learning is first, technology is later
  2. language is paramount: use the power of language to communicate
  3. lack of process impedes success
  4. be comfortable not knowing
  5. identify the questions and the answers will come


What are we trying to create: a successful learning environment should have the following objectives:

    • continuous: a learning environment cannot be dependent on time and place; the students should be able to learn anywhere and at anytime
    • relevant: a learning environment must have content, curriculum, and tools that are current and relevant
    • adaptive: a learning environment must be a place where instruction adapts to the needs of the individual students


It is all about the process: Introspection, Investigation, Inclusion, Innovation, Implementation, Introspection


Stage 1: Introspection

Before any large undertaking, schools must spend significant amounts of time examining their organizational structure and establishing frameworks for instruction and methodology. Furthermore, they must attempt to define their culture, project benchmarks, and success metrics. In building the School of the Future, we began by creating a yardstick for measuring progress. This approach paved the way for a clearer journey.

Objectivity is a key component to successful introspection. The ability to view one’s strengths and weaknesses honestly can lead to tremendous growth. Without this capability, the status quo prevails. A tool known as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis can help you accomplish this task. By identifying these qualities within your organization, you can plan more effectively, mitigate threats and weaknesses, and maximize opportunities and strengths.

Stage 2: Investigation

Our team has visited numerous schools around the world to see what education-related methodologies and technologies have proven most successful. Our efforts have allowed us to see beyond our own limitations.

An important part of the investigation stage was the creation of an International Advisory Council. Composed of leaders from around the world, the council provided us with an objective viewpoint when we became too close to the project. We learned the importance of having a knowledgeable, outside perspective. It’s OK not to know. Our motto has been, “It’s easy to grow…when you know that you just don’t know.”


Stage 3: Inclusion

This stage identifies the many community stakeholders involved in building a school. In Philadelphia, the list was large. We brought more than 50 people from the community into the process. To ensure the community was well represented, we created five separate organizations. We made the critical decision to bring the community to the table at this point—stage three—instead of at the beginning of the project because we thought it important to complete both the investigation and introspection stages first. The community respected our decision. Philadelphiahas a practice that has proven very successful: “If we are coming into your neighborhood, you are part of the process.”

Stage 4: Innovation

Here is where the rubber meets the road. While many wanted to start building right away, our team held off. We held off on technology development until we had made instructional plans. We held off on classroom design until we had determined methodology. However, once we started, the creativity was explosive.

This stage of the development process is rooted in the idea that we can always be better at what we do, and we must try constantly to improve. In this spirit, innovation thrives. No idea is too small, no thought too outlandish. Everything was on the table. Then, through careful consideration and application of the “educational yardstick” we created back in stage one, we were able to determine what ideas and innovations had true educational value. Those ideas and only those remain. If something could not be mapped to a stage of learning, it was deemed a wasted investment.

Stage 5: Implementation

Vision becomes reality in the implementation phase. Construction begins, the school principal is selected (more than a year in advance of the school opening), the staff is identified and trained, and eventually the doors are opened. Our schedule was considered to be unrealistic. We are building this school on a 14-month construction schedule, which began in March 2005. Not an optimal timeframe, to say the least. Our contractors built in overtime, and everyone understands we will open in September 2006. However aggressive and unrealistic this may be, we are going to deliver on schedule.

Professional development is critical to a successful implementation. A comprehensive professional development plan was formulated during this stage and will commence during the first half of 2006. We will make the full plan available on the School of the Future Web site when finished.

Stage 6: Introspection

The chaotic nature of schools can make introspection difficult. We complete one project and rush to the next, with little time to ponder what we have just done. We must recognize the importance of debriefing and reflection. The time spent on introspection can be as fruitful as the time spent on the work itself. We believe that introspection is the only way to ensure that our goals and success metrics are met. Another key component of this stage is making sure members of our organization are comfortable with being wrong. Honest reflection is only possible when we allow ourselves to admit failure and mistakes. Creating this culture within an organization is critical. A climate of fear or intimidation can hinder honest introspection.


In addition, you need to know your client, your customer, your student: MOTIVE

  • Motivation
  • Obstacles
  • Trends
  • Interests
  • Values
  • Environment




Lessons Learned

  • Be brave, be bold, be thoughtful
  • Money and technology are great, but people are better
  • It’s more than a professional development plan; it is creating a culture of professional development
  • Be comfortable saying “I don’t know” and be self-critical
  • Language matters

Fellow Bloggers Unite

Jonathan E Martin:

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