From June 16 to 17, a group of Academic Leaders gathered in Washington, DC for the Association for Academic Leaders’ first Academic Leaders Forum. Attendees were excited to gather in person; for some, it was the first group professional learning event they’d attended in person since 2019. Attendees were inspired by keynote speakers Holly Hinderlie, who spoke about the importance of balancing wellness and leadership, and Jen Cort, who provided tools on how to communicate effectively and strengthen connections when doing DEI work. Coming together created a space for Academic Leaders to reflect on the past year, and recharge for the strategic work of the summer in preparation for the 22-23 school year. We couldn’t begin to cover all the insights and inspiration we felt at the Forum. These three takeaways, however, capture the energy, honesty, and joy that characterized our time together.
"As Academic Leaders, we're the people who operationalize the strategic plans and the vision from the mission. That is a weighty responsibility."
We know that Academic Leaders can feel like an “island of one,” because they’re often the only person in their exact position at their school. Sometimes, a participant reflected, it can feel like there’s no common language on campus, because everyone does such different work. At the Forum, however, educators were speaking the same language and making authentic connections about their goals, successes, and challenges.
Academic Leaders have to toggle back and forth between opportunities and concerns, and between the urgent and the important. Keynote speaker Jen Cort talked about responding to issues by being “proactive, reactive, and reflective.” She emphasized the “power of the pause” in high-tension situations – the idea that sending out a holding statement, or taking a moment to regroup and clarify your thoughts can mean clearer communication, better decision-making, and more authentic alignment to mission.
The “power of the pause” exemplifies what this forum was designed to do: to allow attendees to take a moment to breathe and step away from their day-to-day responsibilities, and seize the opportunity to think strategically about what their roles are and could be.
“If you’re working nonstop and exhausted, you can’t be visionary.”
The first day of the Forum guided Academic Leaders to think about how to balance personal wellness and community wellbeing. All too often in the past three years, the day-to-day work of Academic Leaders has been consumed by innumerable urgent challenges, creating a constant tension that can quickly deplete educators.
The work that matters most in Academic Leadership is future-oriented thinking and strategic implementation, but that’s exactly the kind of work that requires time to reflect and breathe. Keynote speaker Holly Hinderlie helped attendees reflect on their own wellness and the wellness of their school communities, and grappled with the balance between personal wellness and community wellbeing.
“This is exactly what I needed.”
Throughout the Forum, Sarah Hanawald, Senior Director of the Association, led a series of unconference and group activities designed to stimulate conversations about values and academic leadership. Attendees connected with colleagues in similar roles, working in schools experiencing similar challenges and growing in similar ways.
Academic Leaders told us that the two days we spent together were both “professionally and personally invigorating” and “a great resource.” This summer, the Association for Academic Leaders is continuing to expand resources and programming. We invite you to join us in building a community dedicated to growth, reflection, and connection.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)