Adaptability Project, Day Two

The Adaptability Project Group gathered at 8:30am in the Molly Dodd Anderson Library for a packed day of discussion, research, and collaboration. For the second day in a row, our Head of School started us off with a TED video to set the tone. This is the vid, featuring Simon Sinek at TEDx Puget Sound in 2009:

The video led to a conversation of Sinek’s “Golden Circle” as it relates to George School. What is our “Why”? The discussion got bogged down in Mission Statement vs. Vision Statement wrangling. We also talked about our school’s college preparatory DNA vs. its whole-child-feel-good DNA, but Nancy argued that those categories are on the level of Sinek’s “How,” not “Why.”

Anyway, Nancy was trying to lead us to a quotation from Innovation As Usual about “recombinant innovation” (p. 60). This is innovation that results from the combining of two or more things (synthesis, if you will), and it comes from exposing yourself to a wide range of ideas, interests, books, conversations, etc. Nancy is trying to foster this kind of recombinant innovation in the Adaptability group by asking us to work in teams (– whether we like it or not –) with colleagues whose project ideas are similar to our own. I know that my ideas for this project certainly come from my outside interests in technology and business, and I steal a lot of my ideas from Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends presentations. In particular, her focus on “unbundling” a couple of years ago has been a major influence on my (still in development) Adaptability Project proposal, and her comments on education always draw my attention.

After the early morning TED kickoff, I spent over an hour talking about online school consortia with our Associate Head of School, Scott. Other Friends schools that we respect have joined such consortia; for instance, Sidwell Friends and Germantown Friends School are part of the Global Online Academy. My proposal (or a proposal that emerges from my group) will almost surely suggest that we join a consortium. The question is: Will it bend the cost curve? We delved into those numbers a bit, but there is still more research to be done. Likewise, my groupmates and I spent a lot of time in the afternoon talking about pushing a school-wide blended learning initiative. Would that bend the cost curve? Both technology-focused ideas (which are really sort of the same idea) could save GS money by reducing faculty FTEs (over time, via attrition), but only if the related expenses of consortium membership, professional development, software, etc. aren’t greater than the compensation costs saved. We all believe that embracing these models will actually improve educational outcomes, so we’d like to go in this direction anyway, but the finance is not to be ignored.

My groupmates and I had a terrific collaborative conversation in the hours after lunch. My unbundling approach has a technology side and a non-technology side. Meanwhile, they are working on a blended learning initiative. I am pretty good at finding ways to bend the cost curve (four years on the Finance Committee will do that to you), and they have been wrestling with that. I could benefit from their idea-generation and insights into our colleagues’ reactions. Can I suppress my ego and let go of my individual proposal that I’ve been developing in my head all year? Or do I keep that proposal alive but give up the technology piece to their proposal? I was looking forward to wowing the panel of “sharks” with the big dollar amount that I can save the school if I keep my proposal intact, but maybe the joint technology avenue will be more coherent and present a clearer vision for the future. What to do, what to do?

Jennifer and John from our Admissions Office spent a little over an hour with the entire Adaptability Project Group at the end of the afternoon doing Q & A. We all had lots of questions about surveys we’ve done with families that chose George School and those that didn’t. This is important data, but I side with the Henry Fords and Steve Jobses of the world: Our job is to imagine what our customers want before they know that they want it. As a result, I don’t find backward-looking surveys to be of much use to my work.

Tomorrow, we start the day with a visit from Heather Hoerle (of SSATB), and then I have a meeting with John and Rachel from Admissions to model the financial implications of one of my unbundling schemes. It is going to be a busy day.

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