Yet vulnerability and courage are powerful touchstones for Academic Leaders now more than ever. No matter how accustomed we may be to the rhythms of the school year, each First Day of School has a shiny newness to it. Some of us may have new roles, and some of those new roles may be at new schools. All of us will welcome new colleagues, new students, and new families to the building. And we’ll all need to have the courage to recognize and embrace our own vulnerabilities if we’re going to successfully strike the right note of welcome and belonging that will usher our communities into a new school year.
At the Association for Academic Leaders Forum this past summer, I found myself invited again and again to step into this brave space alongside people I had just met, some for the first time altogether, some for the first time in person. Being vulnerable with new friends took courage–and seeing their courage as they were vulnerable with me and each other gave me strength.
Whether swapping silly anecdotes table-wide at dinner or offering and receiving feedback on deeply personal vignettes one-on-one with a partner during the Moth workshop, I was reminded how powerful the storytelling impulse is, how much is gained for both the teller and the listener. When shared from a place of courageous vulnerability, personal narratives reveal what we value, how we hope to be seen and heard. When we make time and space for our colleagues and students to tell their stories, we give them the opportunity to reveal not just what they know but also who they are and build more welcoming, engaging, and vibrant learning communities.
I’m holding these ideas close as the new school year begins. It’s hard to be vulnerable as a leader. But if vulnerability is tempered with courage, if I share my stories and invite others to share their stories with me, I open the door to authentic relationships that make the school - and my leadership - better.
Academic Leaders do their best work when they can connect with colleagues across schools to share goals, challenges, and successes. Our peer Cohorts are all included in schools' membership. 23-24 Cohort Series at the Association for Academic Leaders includes:
If you want to be an Academic Leader who thinks ahead, it's crucial to look beyond your own campus and build strong networks in the independent school community. One strategy that's been generating a lot of buzz is forming professional cohorts. These cohorts create a special opportunity for like-minded individuals to come together, share ideas, and grow together. For Academic Leaders, joining professional cohorts offers a chance to grow and transform professionally.
But here's where the real magic happens: making connections. Through online platforms, calls, or emails, you'll build a supportive network of professionals who are ready to share ideas, seek support, and broaden their perspectives. We spoke to two participants from last year's professional cohorts at the Association for Academic Leaders: Ianthe Hershberger, Lower School Director at the Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island, and Connie White, Director of Learning Design and Innovation at Woodward Academy.
One thing became clear: staying relevant is vital. These cohorts address the specific needs of your role, whether through readings or spontaneous discussions. Ianthe quickly connected with her cohort peers, and Connie pointed out how collaboration within these cohorts strengthens ideas and amplifies plans. Participants gain valuable insights into the challenges professionals face in different fields, especially in terms of school climate, pedagogy, and innovation.
Bringing together Academic Leaders in similar roles unleashes the power of collaborative thinking. Connie highlighted how seeking ideas from colleagues engaged in similar work strengthens projects and leads to groundbreaking ideas. Cohort conversations provide the perfect platform to articulate your plans and nurture innovative concepts that surpass your own expectations. Connie stressed the incredible value of learning from experienced professionals in their fields, while experienced educators see the worth of listening to colleagues just starting their leadership journeys.
Connie’s message was simple, but powerful: we can accomplish so much more when we open ourselves up to collaboration, learning from each other and forming meaningful partnerships that foster growth. That’s why professional cohorts are so important: they foster relevant and timely discussions, encourage open exchange and networking, and inspire collaborative thinking. These communities pave the way for personal growth, meaningful connections, and innovative breakthroughs. When you join a cohort, you unlock a world of progress and success in your professional journey.
As every school administrator knows, August can bring surprises. There are surprises that are minor and relatively easy to handle: the student who discovers a new passion over the summer and wants to change some courses; or the student whose schedule needs fixing because they’ve been double-booked for the same class period. And then there are those surprises that can become full blown challenges pretty quickly: the teacher who needs time off due to a health crisis or decides to abruptly resign; or the student whose life is upended by a family move or a new opportunity. In either minor or major situations, learning online can help solve these unique challenges that arise for schools this time of year.
Here a few ways that we’ve helped schools in August, both minor and major:
In all of these cases, our relationship with the school was key. The schools wanted to solve the challenges and retain these high achieving students–and they trusted One Schoolhouse to be their partner in the process. Find this year’s course catalog on our website and let us know if we can help your community this school year.
Exploring the Potential of Generative AI in Education: Personal Insights and Experiences of a School Leader
I thought it might be interesting to share my personal experiences and insights as I delve into the world of generative AI, using only free and widely available tools, and its applications in my role as a school leader.
Can I Get Started Faster? Definitely
When it comes to writing projects or gathering information for presentations, I sometimes find myself struggling with a slow start. So, my curiosity led me to experiment with generative AI resources such as Bing Chat and Chat GPT. Success! These tools provided me with valuable research insights and relevant data, acting as a catalyst to kickstart my writing projects (I did fact-check). By leveraging AI responses as creative sparks, I have experienced a boost in productivity and efficiency in completing this type of task.
Can I Get New Ideas? Not Really
As a school leader, generating fresh ideas for faculty sessions or goal-setting exercises during in-service can sometimes be a challenging endeavor. Intrigued by the potential of generative AI, I began exploring AI-driven idea generation tools. Results? Meh. I ended up scraping my own saved resources on my computer and then finally having a lightbulb moment as I thought about the Catholic practice of Daily Examen and how much those questions resemble the suggestions I have collected over the years of trying to get people excited about writing goals. Brain 1 - AI 0 (this time anyway!)
Can I Find Specific/Current Data? Sort Of
Finally, I wanted current information and to review the most recent data on adolescent girls' mental health - nope. AI tools essentially redirected me to the World Health Organization and the CDC. First it let me know that it has no data for 2022 - fair enough. Then, when I changed the date to 2021, it generated some really basic information about mental health and teen girls but offered no synthesized data until I improved my prompt and added words to direct it. I recognize that it can't give what I do not ask for (and what doesn't yet exist), but it made me appreciate the power of the prompts. This experience has taught me the significance of effectively utilizing prompts to harness the full potential of generative AI in accessing accurate and comprehensive data. Prompt generation will be a huge area of growth for all of us who may wish to use these tools in our daily lives.
As I wade further into the realm of generative AI, I am mindful of the need to continue to educate myself about its capabilities and limitations. In continuing to explore this exciting field, I want to approach it with a sense of curiosity, adaptability, and a commitment to ongoing learning. Recognizing the transformative potential of AI, I am grateful for the teachers and administrators who are dedicating their time to learning about generative AI during our summer break. By building our AI literacy, we can make informed decisions, navigate ethical considerations, and inspire our colleagues to embrace these technologies in our daily lives.
For more on developing a faculty that knows how to use and leverage AI, read this blog post.
In his much-shared article “The Homework Apocalypse,” Ethan Mollick opens with the assumption that “Not enough educators (and parents) are preparing for the Homework Apocalypse that is coming this Fall.” Given the conversations I see happening among our members and the larger independent school community, I think he’s probably right, although I’m impressed by much of the conversation I see happening.
Mollick advises educators to think beyond trying to define or stop what constitutes cheating on assignments; statistics have long told us that cheating is rampant among high school and college students. Mollick pushes educators to probe a little more deeply into the “why” of assigning students to write essays, read complex texts, and solve problem sets. Academic leaders need to ask faculty questions and lead conversations that seek to get at better defining the purpose of these assignments. Educators need to move to a spot where they see AI as a useful partner in supporting students in reaching learning goals rather than as an enemy to be thwarted in (probably) futile efforts at “catching” AI use.
It’s a great piece and every educator should read all of it, not just my take. Because I think reading it provides the motivation to tack what has to be a central question: what does generative AI mean for me, in my role, at my school?
Academic Leaders have to help their colleagues in schools move from curiosity to understanding faster than any of us may really want to. One of the memes I keep seeing and thinking about these days is the one that says something like: “You won’t lose your job to AI. You’ll lose your job to someone who knows how to use AI.” Just like we all had to learn more about hosting video calls than we wanted to in 2020, there’s an urgency to learning about generative AI that is being thrust upon us. (willing or not). Anyone not retiring in the near future needs to engage in a deep evaluation of classroom work and assignments. In other words, it is time for every independent school educator to become “someone who knows how to use AI.”
How can we become educators who know how to use AI? It’s a three step process.
First, educators need to understand what generative AI is, how it is similar to and different from the robots portrayed in science fiction, and recognize the ethical dilemmas widespread generative AI development and use brings to the landscape. Why and how does generative AI work? What harm has this technology already brought with it? What risks do we face?
Next, educators need to become confident in their capacity to assess AI’s capabilities and limitations. This will require doing some deeper diving into what’s possible than many educators have done. Just putting a few prompts into ChatGPT isn’t enough. Educators need to explore several tools with colleagues, talk about the results, get past the initial “wow” response, and ask real questions. What will this kind of AI mean in my discipline or grade level? In students’ future careers? How can AI help me in completing my professional work more effectively and efficiently? Check out our suggestionshere for a curated list of possible sites to use in this kind of exploration.
Finally, educators have to decide what needs to change immediately, what can wait until next month, and what needs to evolve over time. Not adapting to generative AI’s existence is not an option. During our Academic Leaders Forum, small groups discussed a hypothetical but not far off scenario that incorporated multiple viewpoints around the use of AI to create highly personalized learning experiences for students. We’ve updated that scenario for school leaders use or adapt to encourage conversations about how generative AI might impact multiple aspects of their school.
Academic Leaders are uniquely suited to tackling this process because they’re experts on diving into pedagogy and curriculum. Educators will need to learn “pedagogical content knowledge specific to AI,” says Daniela Ganelin, co-author with Glenn Kleiman of Understanding AI Technology: An Introduction for Educators. Academic Leaders should pull the school’s mission and guiding documents such as a portrait of the graduate into the conversation immediately. Referring back to Mollick, if the goal of reading a complex text is to develop life-long critical thinking and analytical skills, what does that mean for those who teach these skills? What questions need to be asked? What curricular and pedagogical changes have to be made? At which grade levels do those changes need to be made so that our students develop these skills?
These are questions and conversations that can’t be answered in a single one-hour meeting, or even during opening faculty days. This is a challenge to tackle over time, in collaboration, and with iterations. Faculty will benefit from having dedicated collaborative time with teammates, departmental peers, and students (don’t leave out the student voice!) throughout the year to approach this work. Every Academic Leader will need to work with their colleagues to ensure that teachers have this time and that it’s protected and generative.
So that “Homework Apocalypse” I mentioned at the beginning of this essay? The word apocalypse evolved from the Greek word apokalypsis, which translates to "something uncovered" or "revealed." In other words, AI doesn’t have to be the end of the world–it can show us a new path forward.
A few of our members shared their AI policies and commented on each other’s drafts during the forum and they’ve generously shared those in our member portal and we invite others to see those and share their own as well.
Academic Leaders know that talking through tricky situations in the abstract helps teams handle challenges when they actually appear. Our AI scenario is designed to help association members have essential conversations about new challenges, before they become conflicts or crises. Use our scenario to develop your team’s readiness to respond.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)