New View EDU Episode 10: What Have We Learned and Where Do We Go From Here?

Available October 12

Find New View EDU on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other podcast apps.

After a season of conversations about education, leadership, and the future, we’re pausing to reflect. What changes do we need to make to our systems and practices to best support students in navigating a future shaped by the events of 2020? Teaching and learning through a pandemic and a period of historic social and political change has exposed cracks in our system—but also surprising strengths. What have we learned to value more highly in our learning environments? What new, meaningful contributions were made by students, and what enabled them to make those contributions? And how do we design new, better systems of education that support the changes we want to introduce?

There’s no denying that the past 18 months have transformed all of us. Our work and our world have been reshaped by this period of challenge and rapid change. But part of practicing long-term thinking is recognizing the opportunity this moment presents to turn a critical eye on our systems and practices, and make clearer, more thoughtful decisions about the way we want to move forward to create schools for the future. Amidst all the bad news of 2020 and 2021, there have been good stories unfolding in education as leaders have seized upon a moment of crisis as a catalyst for transformation.

Episode 10 panelIn this episode, hosts Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon highlight some of the “good news” in a panel discussion with NAIS President Donna Orem and three dynamic, committed independent school heads: Ashley Harper of Wakefield School (VA), Lisa Yvette Waller of Berkeley Carroll School (NY), and Luthern Williams of New Roads School (CA). Together, our guests represent nearly 100 collective years of experience in education. They share reflections on the themes of student agency, well-being, and purpose that have been core to the conversations throughout the first nine episodes of this season, as well as personal observations and experiences of pivoting to not just meet, but embrace and conquer, the constantly evolving challenges of the pandemic.

Luthern examines his calling to liberate human potential within his students and school community, while Lisa Waller muses on the potential and agency unleashed within students who found new passions and purpose during lockdown. Ashley reflects on the evolution of agency within Wakefield’s faculty when the school was forced to abandon the careful, step-wise progress of their strategic plan to transform teaching and learning for lockdown in just 48 hours. And all three leaders continually return to empathy as the root of leadership and learning.

How does that empathy manifest in school leadership practices? Our panelists offer a number of innovative ideas from their own communities. Creating “peace lofts” and “peace gardens” for student self-regulation; inviting others from the outside community to join a school as mentors and helpers during difficult times; turning governance over to the entire student body rather than a select few, and asking the students to take the lead in creating the vision of their school that best serves them all. These are just a few of the successful practices our panelists have implemented to make their school communities more connected, thoughtful, and attuned to every member.

And then there’s the opportunity to think about what’s next. Ashley uses the metaphor of a “vista view,” inspired by Wakefield’s campus, to encourage students to look beyond the here and now and begin to take in different perspectives to imagine the future. Lisa Waller speaks to the inherent strength of a diverse school community as an incubator for the ideas and initiatives that can help create a participatory democracy with greater justice and empathy for all. And Luthern shares his thoughts on “one size fits all, fits none” as he articulates his view of 2020 as the death knell for old models of industrialized education, making way for more dynamic, student-centered, personalized, and purposeful learning.

Calling on all schools to move forward with the goal of contributing to social regeneration, Donna sets three priorities for educators: Knowing yourself, seeking to understand others, and finding your purpose. She closes the episode with appreciation for school leaders and an observation about the power of the increased collaboration among schools she witnessed during the pandemic. Setting aside the usual ethos of competition and rivalry, school leaders came together to leverage their collective strength and learn from one another—a posture Donna hopes will become the default in the future. 

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Lisa explore in this interview include:
  • In each episode of this season, the purpose of school has risen to the top as an avenue for exploration. Are we at a new moment for understanding and redefining purpose in education? And how can we design for the future with all the lessons we’ve learned at the forefront? 
  • How does a big-picture understanding of purpose in a school community drive the development of student agency and personal development?
  • How can school leaders design environments that place student well-being at the center of daily practice, not just as an afterthought or a “nice to have?”
  • What does it mean—and look like—for school leaders to approach their work as “the embodiment of hope?” What are the concrete practices that infuse hope into a school community?
  • How can leaders lean into the tension between the “fixed” aspects of school and the “loose” aspects—finding the things that can and should be let go of in the future to make room for growth?

Episode Highlights

  • “If I was to center education around three principles in the future, it needs to center on knowing yourself, seeking to understand others, and finding your purpose. I think those are the three most important elements of education.” (5:12)
  • “There's a way in which students also tapped into their capacities, into their passions, and had more time and latitude to pursue them. And I think this then goes to the development of certain habits of mind in terms of seeking to understand perseverance, the capacity to present what you've learned, the capacity to create knowledge. Those things are as important as having our students parse language that has been created by others, knowledge that has been created by others.” (7:01)
  • “And so for me, I think the role of education has to be now foundationally to provide a foundation for well-being—and, you know, as the basis for liberating human potential, in all of its forms, and helping the kids understand how to function in a variety of contexts. And sometimes when they don't have the skill, to create the skill, that they need to improve upon our condition and to serve the common good.” (9:08)
  • “I always say in a school, there is no one who is not an educator. Everyone in the school is an educator, and that's the sort of position and posture that everyone should take.” (17:57)
  • “When the pandemic hit, we were doing all of this work, and good work, and we were moving forward and I was proud of what we were doing, but I felt like in many ways we were taking very incremental moves. And something bold had happened and incremental moves weren't going to make it. And so in that moment, I said, I want you to take those stacks of paper and put them on your left-hand side and forget that they're there. And I want you to do what's right for the students in your estimation. We have 48 hours for you to pivot from one style of learning to another style of learning for our students. And I trust you.” (19:18)
  • “We have to move to having the drummer's instinct. And that is an urge not to lead people, but to be part of it in rhythm with others. And I think that that's a piece of what each of the heads have said, is that we have grown and learned so much by letting go of those instincts, by being vulnerable, by being humble. And so, if I have a huge hope for the future for leaders, it's that we all adopt the drummer's instinct.” (23:54)
  • “That, to me, is really exciting, that these schools, whatever one might feel about where a given school is at a given moment, are actually incubators for doing this work of creating a participatory democracy, a place of justice, and a place of empathy.” (35:05)
  • “We're all in it together trying to create these informed people of conscience who are the citizens we need in the workforce, who can work together, who understand the local problems and see themselves as engaged in those, but also the state and global context. We have to create schools that, to me, build our awareness of the global family. And if we can't understand the interconnected nature of the global family, then I think there is no way that our children will be able to build the cooperation and compromise that'll be necessary for these existential threats they face.” (40:05)

Resource List

Full Transcript

Key Takeaways

About Our Guests

Ashley HarperAshley Harper is head of Wakefield School in The Plains, VA. Prior to her tenure there, she served as director of advancement at Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh and was also the Winchester lower school director. She previously worked as middle school director at the Brookwood School in Georgia, where she taught algebra and fifth grade. 

She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Florida State University and a master’s in teaching and learning/curriculum and instruction from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. She was a National Association of Independent Schools Aspiring School Heads Fellow in 2011-12.  

Lisa Yvette WallerLisa Yvette Waller is head of the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, NY—a pre-K-12 independent, preparatory school that draws students from a wide range of neighborhoods throughout the city and beyond. Prior to that, she held several positions at the Dalton School in New York. 

She has done extensive research on race and education, resulting in the publication of her article “The Pressures of the People” in Manning Marable’s and Peniel Joseph’s anthology titled The New Black History: Revisiting the Second Reconstruction (2011). Her work to resolve the inequities in U.S. education has made her a leading scholar and speaker on theory and practice related to race and education. She has served on both the executive committee and the school leadership team at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art & Performing Arts, and she is currently a member of the board of trustees of Oberlin College. Waller earned her B.A. from Oberlin College, and her A.M. and Ph.D. in history from Duke University. 

Luthern WilliamsLuthern Williams, a visionary educational leader, is the head of New Roads School in Santa Monica, CA. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an Ed.M. in school leadership from Harvard University. Previously, Luthern was the assistant head of school for program and middle school director at New Roads School. Luthern has more than 25 years of experience as an administrator and English teacher in independent schools in New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. He served as the director of college preparation and college admissions at College Launch, an educational consulting company; the director of studies at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood, CA; the upper school director at Beaver Country Day School in Boston, MA; and the director of diversity at the Winsor School in Boston, MA. 

Throughout his career, he has drawn on his extensive knowledge of education to align schools’   programs with their missions and to build educational models where all children thrive; learn love, respect, empathy, and compassion; and develop the tools to create a world based on the inherent dignity and worth of each individual. To prepare teachers to educate for this “new world,” Luthern has contributed to the design, redesign, and development of one of the premier teacher induction and professional development programs for independent schools in the nation as well as created professional development processes in many independent schools. In addition, Luthern has trained teachers to devise strategies and assessments for students with various learning styles as well as culturally sensitive teaching methods and curricula. Luthern is deeply committed to democratizing meaningful access to high-quality education for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and developing schools built on well-being that are catalysts for societal transformation.

Donna OremDonna Orem is the president of the National Association of Independent Schools. Prior to joining NAIS, she was the vice president for products and services development at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). She speaks frequently about leadership, governance, innovation, trends in independent education, workforce development, and student health and well-being. She is co-author of the NAIS Trustee Handbook and contributes regularly to Independent School magazine, the Independent Ideas blog, the NAIS Trendbook, and Looking Ahead