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.