Adaptability Project, Day Seven

The noose is beginning to tighten, and the Adaptability Project group is feeling the propinquity of Thursday’s presentations. It feels like angst.

Nancy continued her pattern of starting our day with a TED video. This one is from Julian Treasure on the topic of public speaking.

As she did early last week, Nancy stressed that a good presentation/proposal needs an emotional appeal (pathos). I just love that Treasure’s talk uses the word “prosody” and assumes that people know that that means. (English teachers do!)

After the TED video, our teams split up to get down to work, but I lingered in the conference room to talk to Scott, our Assoc. Head of School, about my side project (a proposal to bring adaptability to George School in an ongoing fashion). Nancy came over and joined us, so I spent about 30 minutes sitting between the HOS and Assoc. HOS giving a pitch about how we should change our internal committee structure to encourage innovation along the lines of what Rita Gunther McGrath lays out in The End of Competitive Advantage. Scott and Nancy agreed with most of my ideas, and Nancy thought I should present this to the other members of the Adaptability group tomorrow. However, when the entire group met up at 3pm today, Nancy asked me to explain it right then and there. I didn’t have my computer plugged into a projector, so I just gave a two-minute summary without my slides. My colleagues agreed with my assertion that our existing committee structure makes it difficult for innovative ideas to ever reach faculty meeting for approval, and they would support my ideas for fixing that in principle. I apologize for writing in such generalities; if my presentation ever gets a formal airing, I’ll post it to my blog. In the meantime, I gave my colleagues food for thought.

Upstairs in the MDA Library, my teammates were working to try to get our presentation ready for Thursday. Our group is the farthest from being ready to present (there was an informal poll taken at the end of the day), but we feel like that indicates the complexity and depth of our proposal, not a lack of organization or diligence on our part. I spent about an hour today making a five-year financial impact chart for our presentation, and then I worked on a five-year roadmap for how our proposal affects FTEs. As I’ve written before, we’ve come to see that the potential cost savings in online education and blended learning are small, but embracing these models could ultimately have a large impact on the structures of our business model. We could potentially break out of the vicious cycle in which independent schools find themselves. Families want more services from us and more academic offerings, but to provide those things we have to keep staffing up. This causes tuition to rise faster than CPI year after year. Obviously, the trend is unsustainable.

Our team met with Scott in the early afternoon to talk about the weakness I mentioned in last night’s post: How will we assess the success of our plan over the years after it is implemented, and whose job is it to do that? Scott allayed our concerns and felt that there is enough administrative bandwidth in place to do that. (I read a listicle recently that was bashing overused corporate jargon, and “bandwidth” was on the list. But I love it!) Online courses are externally assessed by their very nature, and many of the courses that our students might elect to take are AP classes, so we’d get those scores. Since we recently started giving the PSAT to our sophomores (our juniors have taken it forever), we now have more data that we can use to assess changes in our students’ verbal and mathematical abilities, at least. Also, beginning next year, we’ve spun out some administrative duties into a new Director of Professional Development and Evaluation, so that admin can help monitor the progress of our plan should it be selected as a winner.

We spent the rest of the afternoon dropping our slides into a rough order, blocking out the major parts of the presentation and who will say what, when. As we worked on the introduction, which, alas, I will be tasked with delivering, we went searching for online videos that introduce the concept of blended learning. I think we will end up showing a couple of minutes of this one:

I’m very worried about making it to the finish line. I’m going to be pulled out of the Adaptability Project for several hours in the middle of the day tomorrow because I need to interview some candidates for a couple of positions that we still have open. Also, our wonderful new Interim Dean of Students will be on campus tomorrow, and I need to meet with her. It’s poor timing since tomorrow is the last day to prep before we face the “shark tank.” My teammates and I will probably need to act like grad school students, schedule a working dinner, and keep going well into the evening. We are all passionate about this project and don’t want to fall on our faces, but we have family members who were hoping to see us now that “vacation” has begun. We give a lot of ourselves in boarding school land.


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