Parish’s Challenger Brand Quest

Ikea. Warby Parker. Southwest Airlines. Red Bull.

You have likely heard of these companies. You might even be able to identify a trait or behavior which makes each unique – Ikea’s flat-packed furniture and distinctive catalog, for example.

These companies sell different products, but they share a defining identity: they are challenger brands. Simply put, while brand leaders in their space have zigged, these companies have zagged.

RedBullMost energy drinks, for example, sought to outdo one another attracting athletes in traditional sports to their product. Red Bull, on the other hand, embraced an edgy identity and aligned itself with extreme activities like cliff diving or airplane racing which demand not only physical performance but mental acuity.

WarbyParkerChallenger brands reject a fundamental driver of their category. Warby Parker’s founders disputed the notion that designer eyewear had to be prohibitively expensive. It shifted manufacturing in house, offered a home try-on program, and developed an- e-commerce site to enhance the consumer experience.

SouthwestOften under-resourced compared to legacy brands, challengers also refute the prevailing culture prevalent within their category. Southwest brought a new approach to flight scheduling and boarding. But it also redefined the passenger’s high fare, long-haul, impersonal flight experience with its fun-loving commitment to “positively outrageous service.”

Challenger brands project what Adam Morgan refers to in his book Eating the Big Fish as a “Lighthouse Identity” – a clear sense of who they are and what they stand for – articulated in strong emotional terms. As path forgers, they demonstrate a curiosity about where their industry might go and the courage to alight toward the emerging path.

Now Parish does not sell eye ware, produce furniture, or transport passengers, but we do share with the companies profiled above the mindset of a challenger brand.

I have written and spoken extensively on boundless thinking this year. How fitting it is, then, to highlight Parish’s lighthouse identity as an educational leader transforming teaching and learning so as to better prepare today’s young people for the “complex global society.”

Our present effort to Reimagine School stands as a challenger’s quest. We contend that long-held operating paradigms of schools – some of which are highlighted in the chart below – require deep reconsideration if today’s children are to be prepared for tomorrow’s world.

ReimagineComparisonThese operational features have defined the student (or consumer, if you will) experience. Other societal factors have arisen within the last generation: increasingly competitive college admissions, the global economy, and social media among them. Together, they have cultivated a learning culture in college preparatory schools fixated on outcomes and metrics (e.g. GPAs, test scores, college placements) and thus steeped in anxiety.

Julia Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean, is just one of many who have gathered data – derived in her case from college counseling offices (see image below) to demonstrate how unhealthy the prevailing culture of the college preparatory school industry has become for young people (her TED Talk is among the most frequently viewed).

Lythcott-HaimsIndeed, this culture is bad for our kids and needs reimagining.

Since 2009, we’ve unfurled a fleet of signature programs to uncover and feed the passions of students. More recently, we’ve piloted initiatives designed to blend disciplines, personalize instruction or enhance enduring habits of mind. Presently, we are deep into Reimagine School and how time, technology and curriculum delivery might best serve our students in the future.

We believe we can be a North Star in our industry – a school that garners attention for unquestionably preparing students for tomorrow’s world without breaking their spirit or squelching their love of learning.

There remains one other noteworthy trait of challenger brands. As a result of their fearless commitment to challenge category norms and embedded cultural characteristics in their sector, they become the brand “everyone is talking about” and evoke the “highest sensed momentum” in consumer’s mind. They become thought-leaders.

As you can learn more about in this video, Parish has been visited by close to 70 schools, colleges, businesses and community leaders since 2013. We have commanded attention for posing the provocative questions; demonstrating a boundless spirit; and leading the way.

We embrace our role as a challenger brand. We derive energy from our quest to better serve our students and our global community by producing a new generation of leaders replete with robust minds and thriving, intact spirits.

Forging Bold Leaders with Inclusive Mindsets

“In most cases, the blessings of our resources afford us the opportunity to stay comfortably tucked in our enclaves insulated from the messiness of our world… Put challenging issues before [your children] at a level appropriate to their age. Text them editorials on contrary sides of an issue; share informative video clips. Discuss all of this at dinner. Do what you can to help your children become aware that they are part of a larger, complex global community – not above it, apart from it, or absolved of responsibility for it.”  

– Parent’s Night Comments, September, 2016


A lot can happen in six months.

When I wrote and delivered the statement above as part of my Parents’ Night remarks in September (referenced in my September 2016 blog post), Colin Kaepernick had just a week earlier kneeled for the first time during the national anthem. An already divisive election season – to which I also alluded in my comments that evening – was still two months from yielding a generally unexpected result. The drumbeat of headlines and news stories on domestic Executive orders, travel bans and immigration policies had yet to register a social media click.

Indeed, our children live in a complex global society.

In this space throughout the year, as well as in my chapel talks to the community, I’ve highlighted boundless thinking. I’ve pondered the characteristics of individuals and organizations that, like Parish, embrace such a mindset of hopeful optimism and possibility. I’ve offered examples of how our program, alumni and community demonstrate it.

While some may find my musings uplifting, I recognize that for others, a bleaker world view may prevail.  Images of society riven by divisions and boundaries flood our senses from a variety of sources.

As educators (and parents), we’ve been presented an opportunity. I would frame it using questions:

  • Will we watch our children slide passively into one of the isolated and insulated ideological camps which characterize our present national profile?
  • Or will we explore and evaluate with them the contours of today’s knottiest issues so that they become bold standard bearers of civil discourse and architects of collaborative solutions?

In my September remarks, I offered my answer as both a dad and Head of School:

“I want my sons and the students who graduate from Parish to live and lead with a boundless spirit, unencumbered by fear; I want them to modulate ambition and empathy; I want them to be guides to the middle ground where solutions, compromise, and steady – if at times deliberate – progress is made.”

– Parent’s Night Comments, September, 2016


No one would mistake “deliberate” progress for boundless accomplishment. But when it comes to building intentional, mission-aligned programming to prepare our students to navigate and mend the evident fissures in our complex global society, I think a steady advance is noteworthy.

At Parish, three interwoven programs buttress the formation of impactful leaders.

First, daily chapel instills time-tested lessons in love.  Love for one another, love for our neighbor, love for those with opposing views and, yes, even love for our enemy.

PLeads_GirlPowerLunchSecond, a robust homeroom, advisory and experiential learning program complements the ethical foundation chapel establishes,  using the ParishLeads framework to build student capacity for relationship building, empathy and awareness of difference.

ParishLeadsFrame

Finally, as I wrote in  January 2016, we have initiated complementary programming in the area of Diversity & Inclusion. Guiding this effort has been the revised mission and diversity statements approved by the Board of Trustees in 2015. Now in her second year, Director of Diversity & Inclusion Tyneeta Canonge has convened several groups to assist in the development and implementation of initiatives in this space: Divisional Diversity Committees, The Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board – comprised of parents, a school Trustee, and faculty and staff members – and a thriving Student Leadership Diversity Board in our Upper School.

D&LFocusAreas_blogTogether, these groups have helped craft action steps in several key areas identified in the accompanying chart.

In doing so, we have kept in mind the developmental needs and readiness of our students. We have also evaluated closely the time allocation deemed appropriate for the work.

The below visuals offer a summation Diversity & Inclusion programming developed and implemented thus far this year.

LS_D&IMS_D&IUS_D&I

 

This work of forging bold leaders with inclusive mindsets has – especially in these unsettled times – left segments of our constituency uneasy. Some feel chapel need not be every day, or that it is too Christian, or not Christian enough. Others think an advisory period committed to ParishLeads usurps time from our academic purpose. Some believe we are not moving swiftly enough to be a more inclusive school community –  defined as one which is whole, unified and loving, but at the same time sensitive to and respectful of opinions and backgrounds of difference in our midst. Meanwhile, others believe we are moving too quickly or that our program content serves more to divide than to unify.

We accept this feedback and appreciate it. We will continue to improve our communication on programming in this arena. Notably, I am pleased to introduce a new blog resource within our Diversity & Inclusion webpage – Voices & Views – where you will find resources, examples of activities in which students have been engaged, and news on upcoming programming (third trimester activities are now posted).

Enriched by this feedback, our mission-driven commitment to this work will remain steadfast.  Tomorrow’s complex world demands the boundless, collaborative and attuned leaders we believe it will yield.

Life Prep Not Just College Prep

In my November blog post, I highlighted how Cole Jones’ ’14 post Parish experiences demonstrate the boundless mindsets of our first wave of graduates.

In January, Cole returned to campus and took questions from the juniors in my class, all of whom are members of the Leadership Institute ’18 cohort. It was perfect! With no advanced prompting from me, Cole shared his personal mission statement (something my students had just been asked to do) and espoused how leading a life of possibility requires one to develop a working relationship with fear (messaging I have shared this year with all students in my monthly chapel talks).

leadershipclass_crop“Cole speaking to us today was probably one of the most impactful moments I’ve had at Parish…He grabbed my attention from the beginning when he started to talk about working on a 67 foot schooner…The way he carries himself with his values and adventurous attitude is inspiring…I think that Cole helped us realize the importance of our personal credo. To be honest, a couple of weeks ago I didn’t see the point to the personal statement/credo, but now I see it as something I can use to guide me. I have come straight home to open my laptop and revise my credo making sure it’s what I want it to be…”

Member of Leadership Institute cohort’18 reflecting on visit from Cole Jones ’14.

Every school should be blessed with graduates like Cole and Emily Sher ’13. Whenever Emily is in Dallas, she stops by for a visit. Emily understands the power of networks and mentors in today’s complex global society, so she diligently cultivates ongoing relationships with her Parish teachers.

Emily also represents the best of what Parish seeks to produce. She’s a learned and intelligent person to be sure, but Emily is also defined by her tenacious work ethic, refined relationship building skills, and indefatigable drive.

Emily’s path to powerful internship experiences called on her to evidence each of these traits and more. She had chosen the University of Miami over an early acceptance at Wake Forest (I still remember our conversations weighing that decision!) because she embraced the challenge of a more cosmopolitan, diverse city. She has thrived at Miami, but financial firms like UBS and Morgan Stanley, which had become the focus of her career path, did not recruit directly at the University.

emilysher_2Undeterred, Emily took the initiative to apply to the Bermont/Carlin Scholars Program within Miami’s Business School. She was one of 20 students accepted after a two-part interview. As a Scholar, she completed a team-based summer project learning more about one of the major financial institutions, took a fall recruiting trip to New York to hone interviewing and networking skills, and ultimately landed a prized internship in Manhattan with Morgan Stanley this past summer.

At the conclusion of her 10 week internship focused on institutional wealth management, Emily was offered a full time position with Morgan Stanley which she will begin after graduation. Needless to say, that was an exciting exit interview (and productive summer internship) for Ms. Sher!

ParishBridgeLast February in this space, I introduced ParishBridge, one component of which is a professional experience of 15-50 hours depending on the senior’s course schedule.

Through ParishBridge, we are introducing our oldest students to the power of internships, network building and learning beyond the classroom. In an amazing and unexpected twist in ParishBridge’s first year, nearly 10 percent of the class of 2016 turned ParishBridge professional experiences last spring into summer internships (many of them paid!) last summer. In our second year, members of the class of 2017 – observing their peers in last year’s pioneer class – have been poised to capitalize on this unique opportunity. Already, they’ve investigated potential professional experiences with the likes of Disney, the Dallas Mavericks, the Perot Museum and Top Golf.

Parishbridgeprogram

Combined with ParishConnect (which I highlighted last month), we are building a powerful and unique set of services. Together, they will equip our oldest students and young alumni with the skills and experiences they need to establish powerful networks – ones which will be essential to their thriving in the “complex global society.”

I anticipate that boundless futures, like those of Cole and Emily, will be the norm for Parish graduates to come, and I can’t wait to watch their individual journeys unfold!

Delivering on My Promise

In December, I vowed to restock my sense of boundless hope and optimism. I pledged that the global, domestic and campus-related challenges of 2016 would not deter my aspirations for a better tomorrow.

As a man of my word, my initial First Monday of 2017 will highlight Parish-related initiatives which buoy my spirit, especially when I consider their imminent positive impact.

Gene E. Phillips Activity Center is on its way
I love watching construction projects. The architects, project managers and construction workers possess such admirable skills as planners, problems solvers and artisans. I find witnessing the incremental and tangible results of their work to be immensely satisfying. As you can see in the image series below, in just four months tremendous progress has been made in bringing the Gene E. Phillips Activity Center to life!

trackthemac

By summer the Center will offer our students an additional 24,000 square feet for learning, competing and performing. This space will seat close to 500 and feature lighting and acoustical attributes which make it an attractive option for music, dance and community events. Already, we are planning for how it can be utilized most efficiently to best serve the community. Jennifer Wilson, Head of Lower School, leads a committee presently investigating opportunities the Phillips Activity Center might offer, such as:

  • alleviating the need for early morning athletic practices and/or allowing Middle School teams to practice more often;
  • shifting when Physical Education classes meet thereby liberating key instructional time in the morning for 3rd and 4th grade students;
  • serving as a site for select ParishArts music & dance performances;
  • hosting key community events such as when we partner with The Perot Museum of Nature & Science to host FIRST LEGO® League robotics competitions in December and February.

I am confident the first new facility added to our campus in over a decade will have a dramatic and positive impact on our community when it opens this August (2017).

geneephillipsactivitycenter

Momentum for the Performance & Community Center build
Amidst the excitement of the Phillips Activity Center taking shape before our eyes, I am equally enthused about the progress this fall toward making the Performance & Community Center (PACC) a reality. As you may have read in our special announcement, we have received several major gifts in the last few months, putting us over $7 million in pledges since July 1, 2016, including an incredibly generous $5 million anonymous commitment. Our development team, comprised of Diana Sobey, Carrie Burton and Daniel Novakov, and led by Amanda Meter and Marci McLean, has positioned us for success. Our Board of Trustees has pledged close to $3 million to our two venue projects while providing thoughtful and responsible direction to our construction and fundraising effort. My optimism peaked by these tangible signs of support, I am even more energized to bring our dreams for the PACC to broader segments of our community this year. We want to put this second vision-supportive facility to the service of our dedicated faculty and talented students within the next four years.

parishconnect_lowParishConnect launches
As I wrote in November, our young Parish Episcopal alumni (remember, having had only 10 graduating classes, they are all still young!) represent a great source of excitement and hope for me. We have an immense opportunity before us as a school: to define, in richly distinct terms, what we want our relationship with our alumni to be. Beyond annual homecoming events and reunions, might we impact and enrich the lives of our graduates once they have reached the “complex global society” as meaningfully as we did when they were students at Parish?

alumni_lsThis question fueled the creation of ParishConnect, which we launched softly last summer and announced more broadly in our most recent Pantherbeat. It will assume a much more public identity in our community this year. Overseen by Advancement & Alumni Coordinator, Lauren Henderson, ParishConnect links our graduates – both those proceeding through the final years of college and graduate school and those who’ve recently entered the workforce – with professional contacts from our parent body, both present and alumni. Less a job center and more a Parish “LinkedIn,” ParishConnect helps our young alumni explore the professional topography in their chosen field of interest. It also helps our graduates develop their skill constructing powerful networks, a vital conduit for making things happen in today’s interconnected world. As you can see from Lauren Sandstedt’s ’13 feedback at right, the value of ParishConnect has already been realized.

ParishConnect represents just one component of a more comprehensive plan to engage our alumni. As day-to-day school operations shift more distinctly to Michelle Lyon (after July 1 in her new role as Assistant Head of School), I will enthusiastically engage in a more coordinated way with our alumni – through ParishConnect – by offering an ongoing series of “Purposeful Lives” seminars & workshops, and by staging a variety of campus and city-based social events.

Indeed, my supply of hope and optimism overflows! I am blessed to have been called to the work of school leadership, especially at time of such dynamic change in our world and especially at a place like Parish – a community which has always embraced a sense of what’s possible.

Boundless Hope & Optimism Shall Prevail

I am ready for 2016 to end.

Generally, I do not hold such antipathy for entire calendar years. I also recognize each day God has made is a gift and should not be wished away. Still, 2016 has been particularly irksome.

It’s ironic, my yearlong writing and speaking theme of “boundless,” because my most pervasive recollections from 2016 evoke images of loss, setback and divisiveness rather than expansive hopefulness. Perhaps I was subliminally influenced!

To be sure, the last 12 months have offered highlights. Parish graduated its 10th class in May, which included my eldest (who, it should be noted, has not appeared on our doorstep forlorn and with suitcase in hand from Texas A&M!). A new building rises from our Midway campus for the first time in over a dozen years; it will be ready for use by next summer. And on a daily basis, we steep in a joyful, communal environment enriched by immensely dedicated professionals and potential-laden students.hillcrestfire2016

Still, 2016 has been a handful.

On campus, the at times relentless march of loss began with a fire in Building E on our Hillcrest campus in January, which necessitated a five month relocation of multiple classrooms. The loss became more painful and personal this fall. Four deaths in our community in six weeks challenged our optimism and tapped our emotional reserves.

Meanwhile, as citizens of this country and the world, 2016 threatened to leech our supply of hope and resolve.

standworlandoBy July, major terrorist acts had occurred in Brussels, Orlando and Nice, among other locales. According to the global mapping software company, ESRI, there have been 1,600 terror attacks across the globe to date in 2016 claiming over 14,000 lives. Aleppo, Syria emits constant images of devastating human suffering and despair.

dallaspolice16Racial tension flared in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Charlotte with both citizens of color and law enforcement officers harboring justifiable fears for their safety. With four police officers shot in four different cities on November 21 alone, we in Dallas were haunted anew by unspeakably sad memories of July 7, when five police officers were slain on our streets.

election16The Presidential campaign – featuring two flawed candidates – and its result served to heighten the country’s sense of anxiety, division and bewilderment. I am a student and teacher of leadership; in fact, I have just begun this second trimester teaching the “Leading Self, Leading Others” course to juniors in our Leadership Institute. Our course begins with the topic of values-based leadership, with the premise that credibility is the foundation of leadership, and with an introduction to the now nearly 40 year old research of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Their study identifies credible leaders as ones who are honest, competent, forward thinking and inspiring.

I’ve pondered how I will address students who justifiably question the results of this research when assessing the campaign of 2016. I’ve yet to arrive at a reasonable explanation as to how the prevailing traits of these leaders rewarded with the honor of representing our two major parties marry with what I teach about credible leadership.
Of less global import, but still relevant to my relative disdain for 2016, I began my 50th year this past August. With it have come those challenging mid-life questions about life choices made in order to pursue passionately and completely my calling to school leadership and their consequences on my role as husband, dad, son, brother and friend. Introspection on my 2016 performance in several of these capacities has been less than affirming.

So where does this leave me? Must I silence for this month the talk of limitless possibility, hopeful optimism and personal growth associated with my boundless theme?

Not so fast!

In fact, research tells us what the healthiest and most productive individuals and organizations possess and tap into regularly, but especially in times of trial: boundless hope and optimism.

martinseligmanMartin Seligman, past President of the American Psychology Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the last half century. During that time, Dr. Seligman has been the visionary behind “Positive Psychology;” he has shifted discussion from a focus on mental illness to “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Among these virtues is optimism and hope.

In his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Seligman explains that we can learn a set of cognitive skills which help us interpret what happens to us in a more hopeful way. According to Seligman, “Optimism is hope. It is not the absence of suffering. It is not always being happy and fulfilled. It is the conviction that though one may fail or have a painful experience somewhere, sometime, one can take action to change things.”learnedoptimismquote-jpg
Seligman’s research is clear: Optimistic people are happier, healthier and more successful. How important, then, it is for us to practice resilient living; to model fortitude for our children; and to teach them to assume command of their internal dialogue and craft a hopeful forward-moving narrative.

Even in the foundational Judeo-Christian Holy Days to be celebrated this month, we witness the power of hope. A Menorah candle remains lit for eight days though it had enough oil to burn only for an evening. A child savior is born humbly in a manger to parents of common station and a government which sought to eliminate Him. Amidst these trails, faith and possibility prevailed.

I carry into this holiday season a resolve to restock my sense of hope and optimism. A difficult 2016 will neither confine nor define. It will not deter boundless aspirations for a better tomorrow.

Parish Alumni: Boundless Thinkers in Real Time

paul_ephesians4

The Apostle Paul faced quite a challenge.

A dutiful follower of the crucified Jesus, and a leader in his own right, Paul had discovered a fractured and fickle community of early Christians. Those Paul sought to lead to the teachings of Jesus kept falling back into old habits. Paul penned the people of Ephesus a letter meant to grab their attention. In it, he urged them to “take off” their old self, consumed as it was with worldly attitudes and actions, and put on a “new self” tailored for a relationship with God – one which reflected Jesus’ dispositions of compassion, kindness and meekness.

My First Monday letters and chapel homilies typically emerge from a theme. This year, that theme is “boundless;” more specifically, what it takes to embrace a mindset of possibility, hope and growth. I used this verse from Paul in my opening chapel talk to students in September, imploring them to envision how they might put on a “new self” by the conclusion of school in May. Successive homilies have extended the theme, looking in part at how boundless thinking reflects an attitude and how it requires us to forge a working relationship with fear.

My First Monday letters have offered complementary riffs on the boundless theme. In August, I shared insights derived from my summer reading. Each book reminded me why unleashing limitless possibilities for each child is a center-point of our Reimagine initiative. In September, I wondered what milieu produces individuals who lead boldly around and through obstacles. And last month, I highlighted a handful of the boundless thinkers who inspire our entrepreneurial work.

homecomingOur recent homecoming presented me with the precious opportunity to engage firsthand with living examples of the boundless theme: our alumni. As I move deeper into my tenure at Parish, spending time visiting with, learning from and continuing to mentor our graduates represents one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. In their emerging life narratives, these young people (remember, the oldest Parish Episcopal graduates are only 26!) demonstrate what leading lives of possibility and growth look like. Quite often, they can trace their boundless disposition to their time at Parish.

Beginning with this piece on a recent graduate still in college and continuing later this spring with the profile of an “older” alum already tackling the “complex global society,” I’ll highlight how our alumni have answered Paul’s challenge to “put on a new self.”

Parish graduates presently in college share common experiences. Navigating new relationships – whether with a freshman roommate or through the fraternity/sorority system, for example – present opportunities for self-definition and value identification. Of course, the exploration of new ideas and exchange of perspectives with bright classmates and thought-provoking professors expand their horizons as well.

But increasingly, the most differentiating and liberating experiences for Parish graduates in college happen outside the classroom. Particularly in their choice of global travel opportunities and the verve with which they pursue internships, our alumni demonstrate their acumen as boundless thinkers.
colej14_textFor Cole Jones ’14, global travel has amplified his learning experiences post Parish. Cole spent the final three months of his sophomore year at USC studying in New Zealand. Of course, studying abroad represents a rite of passage for many college students. Cole, however, differentiated his global experience by embracing a boundless mindset. He constructed a self-directed excursion for himself and a travelling companion which took them to Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia in the weeks preceding their arrival in New Zealand.

Cole’s unique experience, one in which he charted his own journey, chose what he would see when and who he would meet along the way, proved to be formative. By stepping adventurously and curiously beyond the known, Cole discovered a worldview he will carry into his future as an impactful leader. “Understand first, judge second,” is how Cole explained it to me; his journey, he noted, “shattered the preconceived notions created by the boundaries of my own city and country of upbringing.”

colej14mtntopIf his horizon-broadening experiences beyond Parish have taught him anything, it has been the very relevance and applicability of the “balanced, thoughtful” mindset which Cole says Parish instilled within him. He sees now how “daily chapel and mentorship opportunities,” both with adults within the community but also between students in activities such as Legacy, sharpened his reflectiveness and relational skills. Such attributes, Cole is already learning, will benefit him in a complex global society fueled by collaborative thinking and flattening hierarchies.

Cole returned from his global travel to an internship experience at Stanford University this past summer. He leveraged his USC network – once again demonstrating the importance of the relational capacities cultivated at Parish – then learned how to “communicate with scientists who were a lot smarter than me” as he did heat and structural testing on the largest digital camera in the world. It will be used in the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope which will deploy in Chile to study the transient night sky.

We are so proud of Cole and our other alumni whose journey and discovery of becoming their new selves unfolds before us in such inspiring, exciting and boundless ways!

From Where Our Inspiration Comes (in part…)

Among the questions I am most frequently asked by those intrigued by Parish’s entrepreneurial culture are “who are your sources of inspiration?” or “who do you follow in the world of education?”

Indeed, Parish exudes a boundless mindset readily perceptible to those introduced to us. Our expansion story of the last decade exemplifies it; the radical hospitality and warmth people feel when stepping on our campuses conveys it; and our audacious vision to reimagine the dimensions of school as we’ve long known them to be derives its energy from it.

But we do not walk alone along the explorer’s path. We solicit guidance and draw inspiration from voyagers on their own innovation expeditions. Such crusaders can be found in a variety of locales – at public and private peer schools (both nationally and globally), in the world of higher education, and even outside of education in the corporate sector. This month, I’ve chosen to highlight just a few of the boundary-breakers we admire.

hightechhigh_sandiego

Inside High Tech High School in San Diego: Open, collaborative work spaces and student demonstrations of understanding (such as this student designed and constructed “Stairway to Nowhere”) reflect the learning culture

Student work and glass: these are the first things you recognize when you enter High Tech High School in San Diego, as I did during a September visit.

 

This reimagined high school, which began in 2000 and has since morphed into a network of multi-grade schools, has broken with many of the predominate philosophies of present day schooling –there are no AP courses; curriculum engages students using projects framed from real world issues rather than sprinting through volumes of content. Learning leads students off campus to learn from and present findings to community members beyond the doors of the school building.

hightechhigh_sandiego2

A vision for teaching drives instruction at High Tech High: students connect learning to the real world and student products reflect “voice & choice” in their uniqueness

I visited High Tech High as one of four Heads of School serving on the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) Commission on Accreditation – the body composed of leaders from 20 organizations which accredit over 3600 schools worldwide. On school visits such as these, I look for a unifying vision which drives innovation.

High Tech High clearly has such a vision. If you follow my writing or speaking, or that of our other academic leaders, you know Parish does as well.

 


Beyond a compelling, forward-looking vision, I’m moved by institutions successfully driving innovation throughout their entire system. Our Reimagine vision is comprehensive. At present, driven by our mission’s charge to guide “creative learners” and by our “why” statements, our work focuses in several key areas:

reimaginewhy

Parish’s quest to Reimagine the use of time, learning spaces, and texture of teaching and learning is driven by a clear vision

  • Articulating curricular content and skill mastery targets; these will open pacing pathways for students.
  • Reconfiguring our time model; this will maximize student engagement and promote flexibility.
  • Identifying a robust technological infrastructure to support the guiding, documenting and assessing of student learning.

Atop my list of most admired educational explorers is Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). In 2011, on a 21 hour flight from Kuala Lampur to New York, LeBlanc penned a thought paper which set Southern New Hampshire University on a course to be a recognized leader in competency based learning. In short, this model uses the results of assessment, not seat time, as an indicator of a student’s proficiency.

snhu_web

“This recognition from U.S. News and World Report reflects our commitment to reinvent higher education,” said Paul LeBlanc, President, SNHU. “We push the limits of the status quo every day through innovation, creativity and risk taking, to find new delivery models and ultimately, better serve our students.”

Not long after his initial musings on the topic, LeBlanc and SNHU launched College for America which now offers online degree programs for $3,000. And last month, SNHU was once again named one of the country’s most innovative universities. LeBlanc’s influence has had an extended reach. The entire public school system in LeBlanc’s state of New Hampshire has embraced this learning model which helps students reach new levels of mastery as they are ready. Read the full story “How New Hampshire Transformed to a Competency-Based System.”


As we bring our own Reimagine vision to life, we are watching and learning from
colleagues in the Granite State. Over the last 18 months, New Hampshire-based consultant Rose Colby – who has worked closely with many schools there on the redesign of their models – has teamed with Parish academic leaders to articulate curricular pathways in each subject from PreK -12th grade. This exhaustive undertaking will continue over the next 18-24 months, positioning us to launch our Reimagine model fully in August 2019.

But we know grand visions do not become realized at once. As such, identifiable prototypes of our Reimagine program can be found on both campuses:

rose-colby

Former New Hampshire principal, and college professor and consultant, Rose Colby has partnered with Parish, building our Reimagine curriculum model

  • Personalized math programming in all three divisions features learning centers, problem sets, small group instruction and “adaptive” software like Dreambox designed to challenge students optimally. These models will inform how we balance the collaborative, hands-on learning we value with opportunities for more individualized learning.
  • New Academic Support Teacher positions serving our 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades offer flexible, and smaller, groupings of students for more tailored learning. These positions may teach us lessons about new staffing configurations for our Reimagine model.
  • Our most recently launched signature program, ParishBridge, remodels the final five weeks of senior year to feature student-directed learning on campus, online and in the community through a professional experience. This tailored, 12th grade capstone may present scalable features we can use in our Reimagine high school design.

Prototyping like this serves as a proving ground to better understand which vision-aligned, new strategies work well and can be brought to a larger scale as we Reimagine our total program. We take our lead here from corporate bastions of innovation, such as Google and Amazon, where the consistent prototyping of new concepts is endemic to the culture.


georgetown_bass

Georgetown’s Vice Provost and professor of English, Randy Bass, leads the Unversity’s “Designing the Future of the University” initiative

But even some of the country’s most esteemed – and tradition-rich – institutions like the University of Virginia and Georgetown University have begun to model this disposition. Georgetown initiated its “Designing the Future Initiative of the University” in 2013 and located it in a red townhouse adjacent to campus. In what has become known as “The Red House,” Vice-Provost for Education, Randy Bass, and colleagues have launched a series of pilot initiatives.

 

mwmoct_uva_cropThe goal? To fundamentally rethink “the structures of the traditional higher education model: including courses, credits tied to seat time, the 15-week semester, the four-year bachelor’s degree,” and the divide between curricular and co-curricular learning experiences. (Read more about the exciting pilots at Georgetown here.)

It all sounds very similar to Reimagine Parish.

There are many more sources of inspiration beyond the ones cited here. Any explorer embarking on an ambitious journey is wise to gather tools and insights from as many fellow travelers as he can. Our journey will be our own, however, and the Reimagine model we launch in 2019 – and tinker with almost daily in the interim – will indeed prepare our students to “impact the complex global society” in which they lead and serve. In doing so, it will be a model from which future educational innovators will gain inspiration.