Beyond These Doors: A Snapshot of the 2021 NAIS Annual Conference

The 2021 NAIS Online Annual Conference united school leaders and educators with a simple truth: We’re here together. Despite the literal doors that kept attendees in their homes and offices, the sense of connectedness and community was still ever present as the conference theme Beyond These Doors: Activating Our Communities suggested.

Many participants also engaged with the conference in a new way, with Signature Experiences that featured cohorts of 50 attendees delving deeply into intensive workshops, discussions, and presentations on a chosen theme, including diversity, equity, and inclusion; wellness; and innovation. These experiences allowed attendees to personalize the conference and leverage the experience and knowledge of colleagues and experts to explore challenging issues such as how to integrate health and wellness in a school setting, make progress on racial justice, and adapt to a changing education landscape.

Keynotes: Activating Our Communities

This year’s keynote addresses touched on a variety of topics from the health and well-being of students to how leaders can project confidence and gain support and trust from their constituents. Tristan Harris, co-founder and president of the Center for Humane Technology, focused on how to build healthier relationships with technology. He challenged educators to act decisively when it comes to students’ social media use at school, linking it to political polarization, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and a rise in narcissism.

Heidi Grant, director of research and development for learning, EY Americas, and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University, spoke about the science of dealing with uncertainty, which our brains process as the strongest source of threat. She offered insights into how leaders can build trust and gain support in an environment where our brains are under siege. One key takeaway: We’re harder to understand than we think, and if we’re grounded in this truth, we can take extra steps to communicate clearly.

Suneel Gupta, founder and CEO of RISE and former vice president of product development at Groupon, delivered a talk that outlined a set of learnable qualities and techniques for getting people to take a chance on you. This included sharing what is possible during meetings, convincing yourself of your idea, and going beyond Google to learn insights about it.

On the last day of the conference, Jason Reynolds, a New York Times bestselling author who writes novels and poetry for young adults and middle-grade audiences, shared his personal story and struggle of not seeing himself in the books taught in school and how rap music saved his life. He inspired educators to think about how to teach students so they can develop as whole human beings.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s The 1619 Project, about the history and lasting legacy of American slavery, closed the conference with a Q&A.

Keep the conversation going on social media with the hashtag #NAISAC.

Writing can also be a great way to continue these important conversations. As you reflect on the calls to action from the speakers, consider writing for Independent School magazine or the Independent Ideas blog. If you’re interested, send us a note at [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you!


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