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Ripley and Roam: a Doubleheader that WOW-ed

By Jeffrey Shields posted 04-23-2014 05:10 PM


CEO Notebook |

Between sessions at the 2014 NBOA Annual Meeting two weeks ago, I was stopped time and time again by attendees who thought Amanda Ripley’s Monday Opening Keynote was outstanding. Punctuating these hallway conversations were similar interruptions featuring the same plaudits about Dan Roam, who delivered the Tuesday Keynote.

If you weren’t able to hear these speakers, I’d like to share a few of my takeaways. Amanda Ripley is a journalist and the author of The Smartest Kids in the World—and How They Got That Way. She captured her audience’s attention with these opening remarks: “I heard you weren’t afraid of data … so, I’m going to use data.” The audience—nearly 1,000 independent school business officers, business operations staff and business partners—were with her right away.

According to Ripley, one of the key differences between U.S. schools and those in such “new education superpowers” as Finland, South Korea and Poland is that U.S. schools don’t often communicate a clear message about the school’s purpose. She used numerous examples—athletic programs that receive the lion’s share of a school’s attention and resources; enlisting parents in book fairs and fundraising, leaving them little time to read with their children, ask them questions and otherwise talk with them about learning. I could relate!

Another key takeaway for me involved Ripley’s thoughts on class size, in response to an audience member’s question. When she said, “You can keep focusing on smaller class size or keep throwing money out the door,” I thought, “did she really just say that?” Her point: Support teachers’ ongoing training and development. In short, she echoed the widely held belief that teacher quality eats class size for lunch.

The next day, Dan Roam delivered a message that seemed custom-tailored for business officers. Roam’s book, Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work, emphasizes that much of the information we actually absorb is visual. So why do we use numbers and words to communicate and influence others? 

One memorable quote from Roam’s presentation: “Whoever owns the whiteboard owns the room”—in independent school terms, whoever communicates the clearest picture is the one your staff, faculty and students will follow. I also liked this statement: “Whoever best describes the problem is the one most likely to solve it.” To me, it’s so important to truly understand a problem instead of creating a solution in search of a problem. Bravo, Dan, for communicating these issues so clearly to business officers and all independent school leaders. 

As with every year’s meeting, the 2014 NBOA Annual Meeting provided a wonderful opportunity to learn side by side with this outstanding community of business officers. How will we top it? Honestly, I don’t know, but we’ll certainly try. Mark your calendars so you can join us at the 2015 NBOA Annual Meeting in Boston. “Conquering the Green Monster” is next February 22-25 at the Westin Boston Waterfront. See you there! 

From Bottomline, March 18, 2014
 #Communication #Culture #ProfessionalDevelopment 


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