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We Must Learn to Unlearn

By Jeffrey Shields posted 09-30-2016 03:48 PM


CEO Notebook |

Strange but true: Schools are beginning to teach students not just to learn, but to unlearn. After reading about unlearning strategies at NBOA member school Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I'm sold on the concept as well. In fact, I believe it's a process that educators — teachers as well as business and operational leaders — can benefit from too.

What exactly is unlearning and how is Beaver Country Day setting an example? It started when the school began to develop its Research and Design Center, which is scheduled to open next fall. While construction workers were building out the physical space, a group of teachers began rethinking teaching and learning strategies. They brought in Marga Biller, a trustee of the school and a senior project manager at Harvard, to lead teachers through their "unlearning journey." Biller, as explained in Education Dive, defines unlearning as "the process of learning to think, behave or perceive in a new way when there are already beliefs, behaviors or assumptions in place that threaten such progress." Too often, an unwavering commitment to the "right" way to do things can blind people to alternative approaches. At Beaver's new facilities, students will get used to experimenting, testing out new strategies and being open to imperfection instead of trying harder with familiar strategies and expecting perfection on their first go-around.

In reading this article, I started to think of ways the entire independent school enterprise might benefit from unlearning. We could probably unlearn a few things in the area of governance, for example. Too often we assume that good governance consists of numerous committees, frequent board meetings and a long list of reports on board agendas. I would suggest we unlearn this mindset, critically consider governance best practices and hold more meaningful discussions about what governance, oversight and transparency truly mean within our independent school boards and committees.

We can also take a closer look at faculty professional development, particularly our investments in expensive speakers and in-service days starring "the sage on the stage." Could we instead employ the 21st-century techniques of collaborative and peer-to-peer learning that we strive to use in the classroom?

Likewise in the business office, where we sometimes tackle work using processes and procedures that have outlived their efficacy, whether for financial management or facilities maintenance. When someone says, "We've always done it this way," you might reply, "Let's try unlearning this."

Changing mindsets is probably the toughest thing to do as a leader. But we operate in a more competitive landscape, and our schools have become increasingly complex financial operations. Revenue management, financial reporting and human resources compliance are becoming more challenging every day. In other words, we can't afford to go through the 2016 school year operating like it's 2006.

I know I have things to unlearn to help ensure that NBOA continues to serve its mission and advance business excellence at independent schools. What does your school office need to unlearn in the year ahead? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

From Bottomline, September 27, 2016.

#Procedures #Leadership

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