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Projections: Community Beyond Campus

By Jeffrey Shields posted 04-20-2020 10:18 AM


Projections |

What can we learn from the rapid changes to our school routines and processes?

From the May/June 2020 Net Assets magazine

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

As the words “pandemic,” “social distancing” and “peak infections” have entered our vernacular, the responsibility of leading NBOA has felt larger than ever before. I imagine the feeling is the same for all of you leading your schools today. Never has the safety and care of both the staff and the communities we serve carried such profound weight and meaning. But there is plenty of cause for hope.

I’m inspired by the many business officers, business office staff and facilities staff who, as campuses have closed, have continued necessary operations and ensured that current and future students and staff are safe and healthy. You may be envisioning ways to help those community members most in need, weighing the costs and benefits of new opportunities, navigating lengthy and hastily assembled regulations, and considering your school’s financial future in a new light. Your ability to solve problems with limited resources has never been more valued.

I’m inspired by the faculty and students within our learning communities who have hunkered down and stepped up to “learn how to learn” remotely, in a matter of weeks and sometimes days. What capacity might this experience unleash within our learning communities going forward? Many of our parents now have a deep appreciation for the work our schools do as they have suddenly become homeschool teachers, tutors and the like to help their children navigate the trials of learning. I have no doubt these efforts will benefit our schools in the years to come.

I’m inspired by my independent school association colleagues who have been in almost daily communication with each other, working together and erasing the boundaries of membership, to determine how together we can best serve the independent school community. The work of NBOA has been informed in countless ways by the many independent school associations and business partners that are collaborating at unprecedented levels to support those of you serving students, faculty and staff.

And I’m inspired by school leaders like Nancy Mugele, head of school at the Kent School in Chestertown, Maryland, who tweeted, “The value of our independent schools is not in how quickly we can pivot to distance learning (although it is amazingly impressive!). It is how we continue to foster community as we are physically apart.”

At the end of the day, it’s about community. Of course, the beautiful physical plants, classroom buildings, and creative and flexible learning spaces of our schools serve and enhance our missions, but we know now with greater certainty that our value is not limited by these spaces. In fact, the school community, the intangible differentiator that we work so hard to support and nurture every day, is paying dividends for us now more than ever. 

Amid these challenging times, we fall back on our community to grieve together, learn together and find sources of inspiration that may help us maintain focus. It’s my hope that with effort, we can find time and energy to focus on the lessons we are learning in real time that may carry us through the coming weeks and months.

As Ken Downer, who runs RapidStart Leadership, has put it, we are establishing a new normal. The stretch ahead may look unmapped, like a muddy field. But driving forward, we are forging new paths. And if we can repeat that pattern often enough, we’ll have built a road. 

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.

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