The Head Evaluation: Assessing Constructs

In its fiduciary role, the independent school board has as one of its primary responsibilities the hiring, nurturing, and evaluating of the head of school.  The evaluation is particularly important because, when done correctly, it provides good clarity between the head and board around the school’s strategic goals.  It ensures that agreement is reached on the goals and objectives for a given year and that appropriate assessments of these goals are put in place.

The board is responsible for the long-term sustainability of the school, which includes regularly undertaking strategic planning.  As the keeper of the mission, the board adopts the strategic plan and expects that the plan be implemented under the leadership of the head of school.  The head evaluation is a primary means by which the board assesses progress toward strategic goals.

The head of school evaluation process should be structured to intentionally focus only on areas relevant to the board’s expectations of the head.  Boards should resist using the evaluation process for individual trustees to voice complaints that are not pertinent to the work of the head.  It is important to remember that the evaluation process is not a popularity contest.  Often, well-liked individuals are ineffective as heads while less well-liked heads can at times be very effective.  The board should assess the head on effectiveness as the CEO of the school since the board’s sole focus as fiduciary for the school is to do that which is best for the school.

The evaluation of the head is solely the responsibility of the board and should never be relegated to stakeholders outside of the board.  Confusion often exists when stakeholder groups (i.e. parents, students, faculty) are asked to rate the head’s performance.  This tends to imply that individuals other than board members have an evaluative voice.  For example when a faculty member is asked to provide input into the head evaluation process, the impression is given that his or her input is a de facto vote in the evaluation.

This reality, however, should not be interpreted to mean that the attitudes of stakeholders are unimportant.  In fact a school’s sustainability is dependent on positive attitudes from stakeholders.  These attitudes should be assessed without implying to the stakeholders that their responses are part of the head evaluation.   Stakeholder input exists for the assessment of given constructs that help the board understand whether or not goals are being met, not as direct input in the head evaluation.

A construct is a conceptual understanding of a set of more complex ideas.  It is an explanatory variable that is not directly observable such as intelligence or motivation.  Several constructs are imbedded in virtually every school’s mission and therefore are important to assess to determine if the mission is being accomplished. Life-long-learner, civic responsibility, and academic excellence are examples of a few constructs regularly found in independent school missions.

Furthermore, it is appropriate for the board to evaluate the head on various other constructs such as community relations and parent satisfaction if determined that they are important to mission fulfillment.  However, the assessment of these constructs is a process that should remain separate from the head’s evaluation even when their results contribute to the head’s evaluation.  For example, if the board agrees that faculty morale is important to fulfilling the school’s mission, this construct could be included as one of the criteria on which the head is evaluated.  However, an assessment of faculty morale should be undertaken separately from the head’s evaluation process.

Common constructs that can influence the head’s evaluation and are measured outside of the evaluation process are:

  • All mission based constructs (i.e. academic excellence, life-long-learner)
  • Leadership
  • Faculty morale
  • Parent satisfaction
  • Student satisfaction
  • Community relationship
  • Advancement of the school

Along with defined expectations, there are industry expectations that should influence the annual evaluation or in certain extreme cases provide cause for a mid-year evaluation.  The head of school is expected to act legally and ethically.  Additionally, the head is expected to know and adhere to policies established by the board, including areas such as budgetary, admissions, and financial aid policies.

Important key understandings for the evaluation of the head are:

  • The annual head evaluation is the responsibility of the board only.  It is appropriate to assess key constructs for which the head might be held responsible; however, these assessments should be undertaken with an understanding that no one outside of the board has a vote in the evaluation.
  • Boards should take special care in identifying the goals, objectives, and constructs that should be used in the evaluation process.  Upon defining these items, a plan to assess them in a reliable and valid manner is important.
  • Clearly stated goals and areas of evaluation should be defined prior to the year for which the head will be evaluated.  As much as possible the goals should be developed jointly by the board and the head; however, the head evaluation should be conducted on areas that have been defined in advance.
  • It is expected that the head act in a legal and ethical manner. It also is expected that the head of school adhere to board policies regarding the administration of all school business.

Assessing Constructs

Once the constructs to be assessed are identified, it is important for the board to agree on an operational definition for each.  This operational definition provides the basis for measuring the construct.  For example, a construct of Parent Satisfaction could be defined as the degree to which current families would make the decision to enroll in your school if they had it to do over, feel proud to be members of the school community, and encourage other families to send their children to your school.  Obviously, the assessment should be designed around the operational definition; therefore, if a commercial assessment is used, it will necessarily dictate the operational definition.

Once the construct is described, there are a variety of methods to assess them.  The school administration rather than the board itself will manage most of these assessments; however, there may be certain assessments that are more appropriately administered by the board.

Listed below are some methods of assessing constructs:

  • Surveys are commonly used which can be commercially developed or self-developed.  The surveys should be both reliable and valid so care should be taken to choose a good survey.  See (white paper on survey design) [https://drsteverobinson.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/asking-the-right-questions-tips-on-collecting-constituent-data/] and [http://www.sais.org/associations/5007/files/The Well Informed School Data collection tips.pdf]
  • Focus groups are also a good way to assess certain constructs.  To ensure the process is reliable, it is important that the facilitator be trained in focus group methodologies.
  • Personal interviews of individuals from the target demographic can also be very effective.  If interviews are conducted, it is important to create a safe environment for those interviewed to ensure the most honest responses.  It is advisable to use one interviewer; however, if it is necessary to use multiple interviewers, a highly structured process should be implemented to create a high degree of inter-rater reliability.  This addresses the degree to which each of the interviewers provides an identical or consistent experience for those interviewed.
  • School data already exists on many levels.  Data on academic achievement such as AP, SAT, ACT, or ERB scores currently exists.  Development data includes dollar amounts generated by the Annual Fund or Capital Campaign.
  • Qualitative assessment from individual trustees is, on some issues, the most appropriate measure.  It is impossible to quantify every facet of the evaluation and there are areas in which trustees should be asked to make a judgment on the head’s performance.  This should occur through a survey to board members, on which they are asked to make a judgment on the head’s performance in areas previously identified as a part of the evaluation process.  Care should be taken to ensure that the judgments are made only on areas appropriate to the evaluation and that it does not provide a forum for trivial complaints or nit picking which is irrelevant to the head’s role.

Evaluation Strategy

The appropriate evaluation strategy and preparation by the board to undertake an annual evaluation of the head of school is:

  1. Review, as a board, the school’s mission and determine what expectations are appropriate to ensure that the mission is being implemented to the fullest degree.  This could include things such as the admission of mission appropriate students, adherence to school policies, management of the board-approved budget.
  2. Review, as a board, the importance of other constructs on the sustainability of the school.  This should be a comprehensive discussion that honestly recognizes how these constructs interact with a variety of other factors.  For example, how faculty morale might be impacted by a board mandated reduction in faculty or reduction in budgets.
  3. In collaboration with the head of school, establish goals and objectives for the upcoming school year.  These goals and objectives should be central to fulfilling the school’s mission and should be measurable, either by quantitative or qualitative methods.
  4. In collaboration with the head of school, decide what data should be collected, how it will be reported, and the process of assessing the goals and objectives.
  5. Use the data to inform the head evaluation as well as the strategic initiatives of the school.

Board Evaluation Survey

Surveys are often administered to trustees seeking individual ratings for the head’s performance on several items.  This survey should be conducted after the trustees have read the head’s self-evaluation.  The areas that should be represented on the trustee survey pertain to the head’s performance and effectiveness on goals, expectations, and the generally understood areas of performance.  The board survey should likely include the following areas for the trustees to evaluate:

  • Board relationship
  • Representative of the school
  • Overall Leadership
  • Objectives and goals as agreed upon prior to the beginning of the year
  • Additional comments

Sample Head of School Evaluation Survey for
Independent School Board Members

Please respond to the following items regarding the effectiveness of the head of school on the following items:

Not at all Effective

Less Effective

Effective

Highly Effective

Extremely Effective

Working with the Board:
Participates meaningfully in board discussions

Communicates well with the board

Informs the board of independent school best practices

Generates meaningful ideas for board consideration

Provides appropriate support to the board in Strategic Planning

Representing the School:
Appearance is appropriately professional

Is appropriately visible at school functions

Is appropriately visible in the non-school community

Maintains an appropriately positive attitude

Communicates well with the school community

Leading:
Is mission focused

Administers board policies

Executes the duties of Head of School ethically

Displays stewardship with school resources

Provides leadership for academic programs

Provides leadership for co-curricular programs

Provides leadership for fund raising activities

Provides leadership for campus operations

Accomplishing established goals and objectives:
<Goal 1>

<Goal 2>

<Etc>

Please provide additional comments related to the head’s effectiveness during the past year:
Comments:

Sample Evaluation Timeline

Prior to the start of the year:  Establish jointly with the board and the head of school goals, objectives, and expectations for the year.

Prior to the start of year: Identify additional constructs or areas to be evaluated.

Throughout year:  Commission an assessment of additional constructs identified to influence the board’s evaluation.

Bi-monthly:  Board chair and head discuss progress toward goals, objectives, and expectations at regular intervals throughout the school year.

Late spring:  Request of the head of school a self-evaluation related to goals for the year.

Late spring:  Request of the head proposed goals for the following year.

Late spring:  Administer the head evaluation survey to all trustees

End of school year:  Convene board or evaluation committee to discuss the head’s self-evaluations and trustee evaluations.

Prior to start of next year:  Draft evaluation report for approval by the board.

Prior to start of next year:  Present evaluation report to head of school and establish goals for the following year.

Following presentation of the evaluation to the head:  Identify any areas in which the head would benefit from a specific professional development opportunity.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 11.28.03 AM

Note This sample evaluation timeline is intended to represent the type of yearly cycle that is important in the evaluation process, not to suggest that all schools should adhere strictly to this model.  Additionally, most heads of school are on multi-year contracts and during times of contract negotiations the timeline could be altered to accommodate the negotiations. 

Growing Administrative Talent: A Case for an Increase in Internal Successions to Head of School

The ratio of external placements to internal placements in the hiring of new heads of school is drastically out of proportion.  Instead of a majority of schools hiring the new head from outside of its community, it is my belief that the majority of new head hires should come from within the school.  Indeed the search consultants, with whom I am acquainted, appear to have noble intentions in their service to schools and they appear to approach their task as true professionals.  However, it is the belief of many independent school leaders, as it is my personal belief that the proportion of new independent school heads hired from external searches is out of balance.

When an independent school undergoes a change in head of school, there is immense pressure on the board to conduct a national search.  The head search industry, as it exists today, is benefitted by national searches and short-term placements.  There is an implicit, if not explicit, message conveyed that a school only maintains respect in the independent school world if a national search is undertaken.  Boards are often left with the impression that their school will be slighted if they do not conduct an external search.

Boards are encouraged to believe that the perfect candidate for the position is somewhere outside of the school; a grass is always greener mentality.  This is not only erroneous, it could imply that the school has not considered its full range of options for succession planning and has not appropriately engaged in developing the talent of its own administrators.  For this reason, independent school boards should seek advice from a wide array of sources and listen to voices, in addition to search consultants, when determining whether or not a national search is in order for their school.

Large corporations routinely have leaders within the ranks of the management team that could assume the reigns of executive leadership, if necessary, without a drastic change or disruption to the organization.  Over sixty-percent of Fortune 1,000 companies CEOs were hired from within the organization and this percentage is perceived by many in the corporate world to be lower than desirable.(1)  Likewise, having a talent-deep administrative team, from which the new head of school might come, provides confidence to the school community and will convey that the board is concerned about the continuity of mission and long-term sustainability of the school.

The interview and search process should be handled differently when an internal candidate is being considered.  Prior to undertaking a national search, the board should first conduct a thorough review of any internal candidates and make a decision of whether or not the candidate will be offered the position.  A consultant can help guide the evaluation and review of the internal candidate; however, this consultant should agree not to undertake the external search in the event that the internal candidate is not hired.  This agreement will eliminate a major conflict of interest for the consultant since a contract for a national search is not possible if the internal candidate is not hired.  The consultant retained for the purpose of evaluating the readiness of an internal candidate should be solely focused on that task.

It also is important not to engage in just one search process when an internal candidate competes with external candidates.  When a strong internal candidate is included in the candidate pool of a national search, it poses at least three problems.  First, there is an inherent difficulty with maintaining a similar and impartial process for internal and external candidates.  The internal candidate is already known by and knows the community and therefore shouldn’t be vetted using the same methods appropriate for unknown external candidates.

The second problem occurs from the tendency of good external candidates to be more hesitant to apply for a position when they know that an internal candidate is in the pool.  The perception by potential external candidates is frequently an assumption that an internal candidate has a distinct advantage and the search is merely an exercise of due diligence

A third problem arises when an internal candidate is included in the same search pool as external candidates in that it creates a greater potential for the internal candidate to be embarrassed or humiliated if not offered the job.  Additionally, this process often strains the relationship between the new head and the internal candidate that often leads to the internal candidate moving to another school; thus, the loss of one who is often a valuable asset to the school.   Although a separate process does not guarantee that an internal candidate will remain at the school, it does provide more opportunity to “save face” if not publicly or specifically rejected in a head-to-head competition.

The current state of independent school head searches in some ways undermines our goals as independent schools.  The way searches are handled places too little value on continuity of leadership and cultural fit and perpetuates the message to strong administrators that they will need to move out to move up.  Independent schools have an opportunity to grow talent from within and should view talent development for administrators and teachers as one of the primary methods to sustain and perpetuate the mission of the school.  We lose an opportunity to foster the intense loyalty to the school that is usually developed with long-term tenure.

Without a doubt, there are times when a new head should come from outside of the school community. When the board seeks to change directions or undertake a drastic overhaul of the school or when the school needs to recover and heal from a disruptive head or traumatic event, it is often useful for the new head to bring to the school a fresh perspective.  Also, when a potential successor exists within school, there will be times when it is clear that person is not sufficiently prepared to become the next head of school.  Yet when this is the case the determination can and should take place outside of and prior to a national search.

Although to some this may seem like a radical idea.  However, when considering the value of a highly qualified administrative team and leadership that is steeped in the culture and mores of the school, it is not radical at all.  It is my hope that schools will be more intentional in the professional development of its administrative team and that more strong candidates for head of school positions will come from within. It is also my hope that in the future the first question asked by a board of trustees is which of our talented administrative team should be considered for the head position, rather than the first question being which search firm do we hire for a national search.  National searches will still be an important activity within the independent school community but it is my belief that there should be considerably fewer than presently occur.

Perhaps a new model of search consultant will emerge to supplement the current industry; those who specialize in assisting schools with the assessment of internal candidates while not undertaking national searches.  Consultants whose success is measured not in how many placements they have done or in how many candidates they have in their stable, but rather in how long each placement has thrived.

Additional steps to consider:

The first step in any succession-planning endeavor is a full examination of the cultural values of the school, the congruence of mission with all aspects of school life, and tone and tenor of the school community.  It is important that boards engage in a regular process to assess the opinions and input of stakeholders in reliable and meaningful ways so that the board is able to listen to many voices and not just the loud voices.  This is both a best practice and a basic tenet of good governance.  Understanding the culture and values of the school will allow the board to build a profile of desired characteristics, personal traits, and professional credentials for its next head of school.

The second step is for the board and the community is to understand the direction it is headed.  What are the strategic visions for the school in the next 5-15 years that will help the school continue to fulfill its mission with the next generation of stakeholders?  Understanding the strategic visions for the school will allow the board to build a profile of desired competencies and skill sets for its next head of school.

All too often searches focus more narrowly on finding the right person for the second step rather than someone who is the right person for the culture and the community of the school.  Too often boards incorrectly assume that the second is the more important of the two.

When boards are inclusive of the entire school community, then they have successfully answered the questions and they have built a snapshot of the next head of school.  This snapshot includes characteristics, personal traits, professional credentials, competencies, and skill sets.  Now, as a board charged with the continuity of mission and succession planning, they are ready to search.

References:

1.  Charan, R. (February, 2005).  Ending the CEO Succession Crisis.  Harvard Business Review.

Independent School Students and Class Rank

The overwhelming majority of independent schools refuse to provide a class rank for students. In a recent poll of SAIS heads, 94% responded that their school does not provide a class rank on the student’s official transcript. This is a long-standing position embraced by independent schools for a variety reasons. The primary rationale is that independent school students are disadvantaged in the college admission process by being ranked within a group of students that are more selective than the overall population of students.

Colleges use rank as a variable to determine how students performed relative to other students in their school. This variable is highly predictive when the student populations are similar and adequate variance in academic ability exists. In the United States, public schools make up almost 88% of the student population. Typically, a public school student body represents a larger variance in academic ability than does a normal independent school student body. This is largely true because public schools are designed to educate all students within their district. Even when public schools have specialized programs to serve the academic high-achievers, the overall student population will provide good variance in ability, if not a normal distribution.

While non-public schools make up approximately 10% of the overall student population in the US, independent schools comprise a very small portion (1.8%). However, the independent school admission process results in a more homogenous student body on academic ability. This is an important characteristic of a mission driven school that is expected to admit only students for whom they have a reasonable expectation to serve. As a result, the range of academic ability is drastically restricted in independent schools, causing student ranks to be far less useful for predicting academic success in college.

Independent schools focus on a specific mission that is ‘owned’ by the school. Missions are not prescribed to independent schools but rather schools are free to adopt a mission to address the needs of a specific population of students. Some independent schools serve only the academic elite, some serve only students who embrace a particular faith perspective yet with a slightly broader variance in academic ability, and some serve only students with particular learning styles. This homogeneity on learning style or ability, allows schools to be more specific when educating students. Even in the schools that admit students primarily on characteristics other than academic ability, rarely is academic ability as varied as the overall population of US students.

Ranking students in independent schools will only be relevant if the distribution of academic ability among the independent school student body is similar to that found among public schools. For example, if an independent school admits only students in the 95th percentile on academic ability, it is unreasonable to assume that this population of students will distribute in a fashion similar to the larger population of all US students.

Class rank is identified in many studies as the most predictive of all variables in forecasting academic success in college, accounting for up to twice as much variance when predicting college academic success, than is accounted for by SAT or ACT scores. However, this is true only for an applicant pool of students who matriculated within a similar population of high school classmates: a population with similar range and variance. This is much easier to assume with public school students yet rarely possible for independent school graduates, given that 88% of all US students attend public schools. Even if factoring in a higher dropout rate in public schools than in other types of school, it is safe to assume that approximately 80% of those completing high school in the United States graduate from a public school.

Since class rank is often a variable in college admissions and scholarships, it is an entirely unjust representation of the student’s ability to be successful in college for independent school students when comingled with the overall pool of applicants. In reality the least ranked students in a highly selective school will regularly represent a higher probability of college success than the mid ranked students of the overall population of high school graduates. This is a matter of dissimilar populations, not a disparaging commentary on the larger public school graduate pool. Indeed many outstanding graduates matriculate from public schools; it is simply a matter of range and variance of academic ability within the populations.

Independent school college counseling staff members often believe that colleges demand a student rank to be considered for admission. Colleges do indeed prefer a class rank on the student’s transcript; however, an independent school student is more likely to be disadvantaged by a class ranking than advantaged when one is provided. Independent school students continue to gain acceptance to the top universities in the world without being assigned a class rank. Universities are accustomed to the fact that most independent schools do not provide a class rank of students and college counselors should not fear that failure to provide class rank would disadvantage their students. There is no reasonable argument for the ranking of independent schools students other than celebrating the very top ranked students – a recognition that often creates a de facto shaming of those ranked in the lower portions of the class.

When an independent school weighs the value of assigning a class rank to students the following questions should be asked.
• Is the school’s student population representative of the overall US student population?
• Does the variance in academic ability of the school’s student body reflect that of the overall US student population?
• Do the students admitted to the school look similar in academic ability to the overall US student population?
• Are the educational outcomes of the school’s academic program similar to the overall educational outcomes of all US high schools?
• Does the school believe that the last ranked student in its graduation class is similarly prepared for college as the last ranked student in the average US high school?

If the answers to any of these questions is no, the decision on whether to rank students should also be no. There is reason to believe that students who attend independent schools are not representative of the overall US student population on academic attainment or readiness for college. Likewise, there is reason to believe that the selectivity and academic quality of independent schools are not representative of all US schools.

If their students are not representative of the overall US student population then there is no reason to believe that independent schools should ever rank students. In turn, if there is no benefit for schools to rank students, the question must be asked why would an independent school put a large portion of its students at a disadvantage by rank ordering them according to academic performance. The mission driven independent school has the opportunity to sing the successes of every one of its graduates and colleges and universities have a duty to listen.

The Head of School Evaluation: An Introduction

The responsibility for the head of school evaluation rests completely with the board.  Some boards conduct what is referred to as a “360 evaluation” of the head in an effort to collect input from many of the school’s stakeholders.  This can be a productive process in that it brings to bear many perspectives of the head’s effectiveness.  However, it can also be a very destructive process if not handled appropriately.  This 360 process should be referred to as “360 input” rather than “360 evaluation.”

The board assumes ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the school.  In light of this role, the evaluation of the head’s performance is an extremely important undertaking.  This is a role that is too often relegated to a committee or is not given sufficient attention.  The evaluation of the head should be honest, based on reliable methods, and instructive.  Each evaluation should provide the board with a set of expectations for future performance.  In reality the board can set any expectation they choose; however, if they wish to retain an excellent head of school the expectations must remain realistic and attainable.

Head evaluations should begin with clear expectations.  The head should be evaluated only on the degree to which he or she accomplishes the pre-defined objectives and on whether the day-to-day administration of the school is carried out so that the school is not jeopardized by negligence or illegal activity.  Board discussion during the head evaluation should not deteriorate into a “nit-picking” session where each board member is asked to give their opinions on the highly subjective issues such as the “way in which the head interacts with stakeholders.”  Indeed how a head interacts with stakeholders is important, but it is essential that the way this is assessed is defined when the expectation is expressed.

In addition to the industry norms of maintaining a school that satisfies the expectations of safety and lawful operation, a head of school can only reasonably be held accountable for objectives and goals previously defined by the board.  It is not reasonable for a head of school to be evaluated by a board of 20+ individual trustees when the evaluation focuses on personal preferences or personality issues.  I often state that the board / head relationship is much like a marriage; however, in every case the board / head ‘marriage’ has at least one of the partners with multiple personalities. It is not reasonable to expect a head of school to satisfy the personal preferences of all board members.

For this reason the expectations should be defined in advance.  The board must begin with an honest appraisal of expectations and what constitutes meeting those expectations.   The decisions regarding the future employment and compensation of the head must be tied directly to satisfying the defined expectations.  It is okay for boards and heads to have personality differences, even to the point of not being personal friends, as long as the interests of the school are being served.

Because the board selects and provides strategic direction to the head, only the board should be conducting the evaluation.  It is not uncommon for the board to direct the head of school to implement an unpopular or challenging strategy as a result of tough decisions the board might make.  The head of school should not be seeking to sway public opinion, but rather leading in a way that serves the best interest of the school. The head’s evaluation should never be a popularity vote but rather an effectiveness vote.  The board’s sole focus on evaluating the head is whether or not the head is meeting the performance expectations of the board.

And while performance expectations could include maintaining  a “happy and contented student body” as measured by a student survey, I do not recommended that students be asked to assess how effectively the head is running the school.  Indeed most of the stakeholders will rarely understand the board’s performance expectations of the head.  By extension, I suggest that not even the faculty will completely understand the performance expectations of the head.

For boards that choose to employ a 360 evaluation, yet another concern rests in how it is interpreted.  The board must be prepared to interpret the responses appropriately and not succumb to a temptation to take each individual response as cause for concern.  When such broad input is sought for an evaluation, a single response rarely represents reality.  Rather a pattern of responses should cause concern and warrant further scrutiny.  I suggest that there is likely not a head of school that would have no negative comments lodged against him or her if all stakeholders were given an opportunity to evaluate them.  This fact does not minimize the value of a broad-based input model, but rather gives rise to cautions for board members when interpreting such evaluations.

It is clear that a school operates at maximum effectiveness when both the head of school and the board operate effectively.  This occurs when communication is honest and clear, goals are collectively developed and understood, and the head of school and trustees understand that their role should be entirely focused on the students that the school serves today and in the future.  The board and the head must have open and honest communication, if for no other reason than for the sake of the children.

Duty to Report: What Independent Schools Can Learn from the Penn State Case

As I watch the unfolding of the horrific story of the alleged sexual abuse of children by a Penn State football coach, I am reminded of the need for educational institutions to be deliberate about its policy for reporting child abuse or neglect.

Educators have a special professional status that brings with it a higher standard of the Duty to Report, which includes a duty to report when there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect of a minor child. In some jurisdictions, it is also required of educators to report drug or alcohol use by minor children. School staff should know with whom they should discuss concerns that arise from a student’s report of physical abuse, neglect or other inappropriate behavior or their observation of such. A student displaying physical injuries such as bruises, reports of inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with adults or other forms of concerns should be taken seriously and appropriate procedures for sharing such information should be clearly discussed with faculty and staff to make certain that proper reporting obligations are satisfied.

This discussion is not intended to provide legal advice but rather encourage SAIS schools to act in a proactive manner by developing appropriate policies to address this Duty to Report and set up systems and procedures for addressing these issues prior to their occurrence. It is essential that schools have a policy for the handling of situations that require reporting to the appropriate authorities or agencies. In the development of the policy it is strongly recommended that the school’s legal counsel be consulted when writing the document to make certain that the school addresses its legal obligations and thereby limit the risk of confronting a legal claim for failure to comply with the law.

Independent schools historically have preferred to handle discipline issues as a school-only issue. Particularly in boarding schools, where the school operates in a more isolated environment or community, the concern is that bringing in outside law enforcement would make the situation a public matter and bring to the school unwanted publicity. However, virtually all states have passed statutes related to the reporting of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, and certain drug use incidents for minor children. Being aware of the reporting requirements is essential and the lack of reporting to the appropriate authorities, when required, can put a school at great legal risk as well as bring public scrutiny over the moral responsibility of school officials to protect children.

At a minimum, a school policy should be developed to address the Duty to Report and should be consistent with the federal, state, and local laws governing the institution. It should clearly outline the school’s and the individual’s specific obligations as well as provide guidance for all school faculty and staff on the reporting process. Many states place the “liability” on the party who was personally made aware of or witnessed the abuse or neglect; others consider reporting to the institution sufficient. The policy should include instructions for notification of appropriate administrative individuals or counselors and the steps that should be taken to ensure legal compliance. The process should also include a method that keeps the reporting staff informed regarding the resolution of the reporting process.

Professional educators have a higher standard of reporting than does most other citizens. Since teachers can potentially be legally liable if not reporting child abuse, it is appropriate that school administration keep informed any teacher initiating a report. Although in most states, a teacher fulfills their reporting responsibility by making the report to school administration, a policy should outline the method in which the report should be made, the administration’s responsibility to keep the reporter informed. A school may also wish to consider any follow up systems they want to put in place such as sending a note to the authority who received the complaint confirming the report as well as calling the agency to obtain an update on the investigation.

Only time will tell if university staff at Penn State is found legally responsible for breeching a duty to report; however, a lesson can be learned from this situation. As this case unfolds in the media and the courts, independent schools should take the cue to review their own reporting policies before a need arises. A clear and comprehensive policy, along with regular training of school staff on their Duty to Report, is definitely in order for all schools. The consequences for mishandling such an unfortunate situation is potentially catastrophic for an independent school and, as those in State College, PA are learning, the damage can affect the entire community.

Preparing Students for a Twenty-first Century World with a Global Perspective

Conference Address

First Nashan Dialogue: Sino-Foreign Excellent Principals Forum

Shenzhen, China

June 17, 2011

My American colleagues and I are thrilled and honored to be with you today to have dialogue among educators who are committed to helping students achieve a global perspective.

Our delegation is made up of administrators from independent schools located in the southeastern part of the United States, schools that are members of the Southern Association of Independent Schools.

The Southern Association of Independent Schools is the largest association of its type in the United States; serving over 350 outstanding American schools.  The partnerships that are being established today between SAIS schools and Chinese educators will only serve to strengthen the schools that are collaborating and the students that have the opportunity for a greater understanding of the world that they will be charged with leading.

This is my third consecutive year to visit your great nation of China.  I must say that during these past three years I have fallen in love with your culture.  For over 4,000 years China has been a great civilization and every time I visit I am reminded of this history and the greatness of its people.

Who does not marvel at the Great Wall, an architectural feat built, rebuilt and maintained over a period of 2100 years?  My first opportunity to visit the wall was last summer and I can tell you that the pictures from that visit are the most often shared photos that I have taken.  I have read of the Forbidden City and the Terra Cotta Warriors.  A visit to both sites, along with a ride on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, is on my “bucket list.” A bucket list is what we Americans identify as things we want to see or do before we die; or what is commonly referred to as “kick the bucket.”

As China has built the world’s largest network of high-speed rail lines and constructed the world’s largest hydroelectric dam (Three Gorges Dam) it has provided a model for other nations to emulate as we attempt to be more efficient while preserving our natural resources.

And of course I would be remiss if I did not point out that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were, by virtually any measure, the finest of all time.  I clearly remember the way that my family and I were mesmerized by the unforgettable opening ceremony.  As an avid fan of the Olympic Games, I am certain that there will be few, if any, future games that will match the skill and grace with which the Chinese people welcomed the world to share in their celebration.

All great civilizations have understood that the education of youth is the surest path to sustaining and furthering its greatness.  Without a doubt China has placed great value on education.  Throughout history, the inventive and creative genius of the Chinese people have given the world such important inventions as paper, gun powder, the compass, and block printing.  The words of Confucius still inform the education of Chinese youth some 2 ½ millennia after his life.  No doubt China has remained great largely because of the education of its youth.

Additionally, education has been a cornerstone of the American civilization.  Although a civilization only a fraction as old as China, there has never been a time in American history that children were not encouraged to learn to read and write.  The successes that America has been fortunate to achieve over the past 250 years, from the mass production of the automobile to space travel, have all been accomplished by hard working educated persons.  Today the American higher education system stands as a shining star of America’s continued commitment to educational excellence.

Both of our nations can look to the education of our youth as a reason that we are today leading nations on earth.  Both nations owe our past successes to an educated citizenry and both nations stake our future sustainability on our commitment to schools.

In 2011 two of the world’s most economically and intellectually powerful nations, The Peoples Republic of China and the United States of America, have an opportunity to work together to ensure that Chinese and American students join forces to provide solutions for a world that has many challenges.

A civilization or society has always counted on the education of the young to ensure its sustainability.  I suggest that in the same way, the future sustainability of our world is largely dependent on the education of our youth; an education that recognizes and respects cultural differences while ensuring that the collaboration between students not be restricted by national boundaries.

As Chinese and American students study together they will better understand solutions to scientific and social problems that mutually threatens our existence;  as Chinese and American students work together they will provide an energy capable of guiding the world into a positive and sustainable future;  as Chinese and American students live together they will better understand how the joys, fears, and motivations of the other has been arrived at through traveling different paths that are no less significant than their own.

The English word empathy identifies an attitude of understanding that attempts to view another person’s perspective; to see the world through another person’s eyes.  An empathic world view will allow one to accept cultural differences as an alternative way of viewing the world rather than from an ethnocentrism that views only one acceptable cultural norm.

I suggest that educational partnerships, such as we are discussing in this conference, allows students to understand and appreciate the different cultural values and different modes of solving problems.  The more that students engage in cross-cultural interactions, the greater the chance that they will be culturally empathetic as adults.

Cultural empathy in turn creates a condition of what the Czech psychologist Max Wertheimer referred to as “Gestalt” or as I understand that is referred to in Chinese as Tuan jie jiu shi li liang Unity is strength; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  It is my opinion that this is essential for our twenty-first century world.

Most would agree that student success is largely dependent on subject area knowledge; students must learn mathematical formulas and scientific process.  This is the content knowledge that will be meaningful as scientists identify cures for human disease or engineers build devices that are yet unimagined.  This subject area knowledge is essential.

However, in the Western world we believe that there is another aspect to the preparation of our youth.  American scholars and education leaders are engaged in an ongoing discussion of the “skills” that will be necessary for our students to realize success in the 21st Century.  What these scholars and independent school leaders suggest is that the next layer of educating young people is assisting them in the development of the ‘skills’ necessary to apply their subject knowledge in meaningful ways.  They argue that it is when knowledge is applied with the proper skill set that optimum effect occurs.

Tony Wagner, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggests there are seven skills that are necessary for students to survive in college, careers, and as citizens.  These seven skills were consistently identified in a study in which he interviewed over 600 CEOs asking them the question, “Which qualities will our graduates need in the 21st Century for success in college, careers, and citizenship.”

I do not suggest that his methodology is indisputable nor do I suggest that these ‘student qualities’ are all applicable and transferable across cultures.  What I do suggest, however, is that it is important for us to consider the ‘skills’ that will be necessary for our youth to be successful in sustaining our future.   I also suggest that it is important that our education processes incorporate skill development into the curriculum so that the subject knowledge and skill development grow together in a synergistic way.

The necessary skills for 21st Century success identified by Wagner’s research are:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving;
  • Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence;
  • Agility and Adaptability;
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurship;
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication;
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information;
  • Curiosity and Imagination.

Others have also contributed research to the topic of 21st Century skills, not the least of which is Daniel Goleman in his work on Emotional and Social Intelligence.  Goleman, yet another Harvard scholar, has explored the theoretical construct of Emotional Intelligence as a furthering of the theories of multiple intelligences and the notion that there is more than one area in which a person needs to achieve proficiency.  In running the risk of providing an overly simplistic explanation of Emotional Intelligence, let me say that it is best understood by the degree to which one can negotiate their environment and those who co-exist within their environment.

Another Harvard professor, Howard Gardner, poses an additional perspective in his book Five Minds of the Future.  Gardner’s research is also a part of the multiple intelligence construct from which many of our futuristic thinkers work.  Gardner postulates the notion that there are five minds that must be cultivated for success in the twenty-first century.  His list includes:

  • The disciplined mind
  • The synthesizing mind
  • The creating mind
  • The respectful mind
  • The ethical mind

Gardner believes that the cultivation of the five minds is, not only essential, but possible in our education system; a belief that I believe we educators must consider when developing our curriculum and school programs.

We believe that when students are allowed to develop appropriate skills and cultivate appropriate minds, as they acquire subject knowledge, it will prepare them better to solve problems and negotiate the future that lies before them.

Not only should our schools focus on this skill development in students, I believe that the development of these important skills is enhanced when students communicate and collaborate across geographic boundaries.  A new perspective is gained when students apply their knowledge and skills across cultures.  This important process should result in a better understanding of issues from a global perspective; an understanding that is essential to a 21st century world.

Technological advances have provided teachers and students tools that assist our education process.  In 2011 it is more possible than ever to network, collaborate, share knowledge, and retrieve information.  I believe that technology is only a tool to be used in assisting the educational process.  However, in spite of being only a tool, it does make the world appear smaller.

Today, school children in Atlanta Georgia can work more closely with students in Shenzhen China than could school children in neighboring villages a mere 50 years past.  With this in mind and with the ability to interact in ‘real time’ across the globe, I hope all that are here can agree with me that an education process in the 21st century can be so much more effective with a global perspective.

In closing let me suggest that history is a marvelous teacher yet a burdensome master.  As educators we can learn from our past successes and failures, so that we might maintain that which is valuable and discard that which is not.  However, we should not allow the way we have conducted school in the past to burden our efforts as we pursue a twenty-first century model of education.  No longer can education of students be narrowly focused on math, science, and language.  We must develop in our students the skills necessary to succeed in the future and the ability to apply those skills with a global perspective.

This dialogue today is a beginning of an important effort; the work of the Foundations such as the Ameson Foundation is central to this effort; the willingness of my Chinese and American colleagues in this room is a testament to the effort.

I am deeply honored to be with all of you distinguished educational leaders.  For the work you do in preparing our youth, I commend and thank you.  You are involved in the most noble enterprise on earth; the future of our world is counting on your success.