Adaptability Project, Day One

Day One of the three-week summer retreat for George School’s Adaptability Project was an exhausting affair. Eleven faculty members gathered at 8:30am, along with our Head of School, Associate Head of School, CFO, and Dean of Students, to spend the day developing our projects. We have eight work days before we pitch our projects to the “Shark Tank” panel on June 25th, so time is tight.

Nancy, our Head of School, began the day by showing us a TED Talk intended to set the tone. In it, Daniele Quercia explains how his research was changed by a sudden decision to try a different route to work one morning.

I was struck by a (characteristically) wonderful quotation from Albert Einstein that Quercia cites near the end of his talk: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Nancy was exhorting us to be imaginative and creative in our thinking about the problems facing our industry. She wants us to remember pathos, not just logos and ethos. (Those weren’t her exact words, but I’m an English teacher, so there you go.) Nancy’s methodology for our group is heavily influenced by the book Innovation as Usual by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. As the “chief innovation architect,” she has broken our three-week retreat into the following structure:

  • Week One — Research and Development
  • Week Two — Presentations
  • Week Three — Process

The Sharks are coming to select the two winning projects during Week Two. Then the really hard work begins. The eleven participants of the Adaptability Group will have to rally around those two projects and devise a (nimble! deft! agile!) strategy to get them through the Quaker consensus process that George School uses to approve changes. It won’t be easy.

We also have two guest speakers coming to work with us this week. On Wednesday we’ll be welcoming Heather Hoerle from SSATB (and a GS parent). She’ll be speaking to us about changes in the demographics and marketplace among families seeking an independent school education for their child. Then on Friday we’ll welcome David Lacey from the Hirshorn Group who will speak to us about supervisory issues.

After the TED Talk video and a discussion of the structures I just mentioned, we got down to work. We shared our ideas so far, did a “speed dating” activity in which we looked for common ground among our fellow participants, and then we broke into new collaborative groups. My project is centered around the idea of exploring the unbundling trend, and as a result it has a number of aspects that relate to technology. I paired with two colleagues who are interested in formally introducing blended learning to George School (there is some happening already) and a third colleague who wants to connect brain research to our boarding program. Our foursome will likely produce three distinct proposals; I know that I am excited to follow my own muse when it comes to the unbundling idea.

In the afternoon I spent time doing individual research about some of the best online consortia of independent schools such as The Online School For Girls, Global Online Academy, and Malone Schools Online Network. (I saw Brad Rathgeber present on the Online School For Girls and blended learning at TABS in Washington, DC this year. Our Associate Head of School, Scott, has helped me with names of other consortia he has learned about at OESIS conferences.) Since Sidwell Friends and Germantown Friends participate in the Global Online Academy, and Wilmington Friends is part of the Malone Schools consortium, it shouldn’t be too challenging to convince the Sharks that George School’s risk tolerance can handle such a move on our part.

I have a lot of research left to do this week. I need to talk to our admissions folks about some ideas I have for a five-day boarding option. I need to talk to Scott about models for joining an online consortium, and how we might think about altering our graduation requirements to adjust to that new reality. I need to collaborate with my groupmates to help them develop their ideas, and I need them to ask me tough questions about whether or not I’m being intellectually honest in my proposals. I’ve got to do some math, too, as I try to “bend the cost curve” meaningfully. I’ve set myself a target to make a 5% impact to our budget through my proposals, and I think I’m going to need one more unbundling idea to add to my mix in order to hit my number.

I welcome your comments and feedback!

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