Milestones

March 8, 2010 on 4:42 pm | In bruce dennis, education, nais | 1 Comment

I met my cohort in the Fellowship for Aspiring Heads program at NAIS 2010 in San Francisco. What a varied and interesting group of people! I’m looking forward to seeing them all again in Atlanta in July.

During the first meeting, we were asked to take a moment to jot down five milestones that brought us from high school graduation to our seats that day in the Moscone Convention Center. When I stopped to think about my journey in those terms, unlike the others in my group, my life through education was marked not by moments or events but by people.¬† That was a powerful realization to make, so I thought I’d reflect on it here.

John Lawler – University of Michigan Professor of Linguistics, my teacher in the Freshman Seminar “Metaphors We Live By,” a brilliant thinker and gifted teacher, my adviser as a Linguistics major, an insightful mentor. It was John who deepened my interest in language and languages, introduced me to the world of computers, strong-armed me into taking Pascal programming, arranged an internship for me at CompuView. In short, John shaped the way I would grow to look at technology through the lens of language.

Charo Gayarre – Charo was the mother of the Spanish family that “adopted” me when I moved to Spain after college. Without Charo, my year in Spain would have been enjoyable but not transformative as it was. From her I lived and learned Spanish language and culture. She got me my first job in a school, at the American School of Madrid, where I worked as an aid, tutor, and coach. A person of profound insight, she knew that I should be a teacher before I did, and she pointed me to Trenton State College’s summer program in Mallorca, where I began my studies in ESL and second language acquisition. Where I met….

Virginia Rojas – Former Trenton State College Professor of ESL and head of their international programs. It was Gini who, on a beach in Mallorca, convinced me that I should return to the US to work as her graduate assistant, do a Master’s degree rather than the certification I was working toward, and then come back to Spain to teach. In short, she mapped out the next two years of my life. I agreed. When I worked as her grad assistant, Gini gave me ample opportunities to learn and lead. It was because of Gini that I was able to do my student teaching in Khartoum, Sudan, and it was on her recommendation that I met….

Lister Hannah – Lister called me when I was living in New Jersey on his way back from a conference in California to Munich, Germany, where he was Head of the Munich International School. He told me that he’d gotten my resume from Gini Rojas and asked if I would meet him at JFK airport for an interview on his layover in New York. I did, and he offered me a job over hot dogs and beer in an airport food court. I had been planning to go back to Spain, had not considered working in Germany, but I was impressed by Lister and flattered that he would waive the school’s experience requirement to offer me the job. I accepted a week later. I couldn’t have asked for a better school or a better headmaster for my first full time teaching experience. Lister encouraged and supported me to expand my teaching from ESL to IGCSE and IB English, so I grew immensely as a teacher in those four years. He was also instrumental in getting me a job in New York City when I left Munich.

Bruce Dennis – Bruce is my current Head of School, and I feel lucky to work with him. He is a straight-shooter who is thoughtful and fair, and he prides himself on mentoring others to rise to leadership positions. It was he who first suggested that I apply for the Aspiring Heads Fellowship. I won’t say too much about him here because if he reads this, he’ll accuse me of pandering!

As I said when I introduced myself to the Cohort in San Francisco, I have always ascribed to the belief that “Serendipity demands a certain abandon to circumstance,” but it also clearly requires a considerable number of helping hands along the way.

A Journey Begins

February 21, 2010 on 5:25 pm | In dane peters, education, nais, nysais | 1 Comment

I was recently accepted into the 2010-2011 cohort of the NAIS Fellowship for Aspiring Heads. I’m very excited to have this opportunity and am thrilled that Dane Peters, Head of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, has agreed to act as my mentor in the program. I have known Dane for a number of years through the NYSAIS Tri-Committee (Professional Development, Diversity, and Technology) meetings and have always enjoyed our brief conversations, so I am looking forward to being able to work closely with him during this process. Dane is an avid blogger about education, which is one reason I decided to dust off this blog and use it to document my journey through the Aspiring Heads program.

Dane and I met for the first time last Friday over lunch to discuss the Fellowship. I feel fortunate that Dane is so supportive of the Aspiring Heads program; I am the sixth (or was it seventh?) mentee that Dane has guided through the process. His enthusiasm has already put me at ease since when I first approached him, I was afraid that my request might be a burden given the many demands he has on his time. Instead, he seems as genuinely excited about working together as I am. What more could I ask for?

Our first conversation gave me much food for thought about the journey on which I’m embarking, and Dane has already focused my attention on aspects of a head’s job that I hadn’t really considered. For example, he told me about an article he’s working on that examines the dynamics of the crucial relationship between heads of school and boards of trustees. He also gave me an article about the 2009 NAIS Leadership Research Study and recommended two books to add to my reading list: Saying Grace, a novel by Beth Gutcheon, and Daniel Pink’s Drive, a book about motivation (that Pat Bassett also mentioned in his keynote at the NYSAIS conference¬† this year, and a topic Pink addressed at TED). I was struck how Pink’s notion of the importance of autonomy as motivation parallels an example of the power of positive reinforcement versus the “hot poker” approach to management that I’ve carried with me since James McConnell’s psychology class eons ago.

I head to San Francisco on Tuesday for the NAIS Conference and have my first Fellowship meeting Wednesday morning. Off we go!

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