First Look: The 2013 North American Day School Conference

Liz Pape, online education consultant, shares about online and blended learning in the digital classroom of the Online/Blended Learning Expo.
Liz Pape, online education consultant, shares about online and blended learning in the digital classroom of the Online/Blended Learning Expo.

by Deborah Fishman

The 2013 North American Day School Conference (NAJDS) is taking DC by storm this Sunday through Tuesday, with over 900 registered day school leaders, lay leaders, educators, and field experts. With the theme of “Leading To Learn – Learning To Lead,” the conference features several new opportunities, including networking facilitated by Weave the People as well as an Online/Blended Learning Expo presented by The AVI CHAI Foundation.

On the conference’s first day, some participants described the atmosphere as a “big family reunion,” welcoming of both long-term colleagues and new attendees. The large attendance gave testament to a thriving and committed day school field comprised of deeply passionate people. Here are some of the ideas emerging from conference sessions as they gather together as learners:

Leaders as Shapers of School Culture: Jonathan Cannon, Head of School at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, used the metaphor of conducting to explain components of day school leadership. He argued that heads of school needs different conducting styles, each of which should be used at different times. The goal of employing these styles should be to empower the musicians – or educators, lay leaders, and other members of day school communities – to give of themselves without any individual dominating. This, indeed, produces a beautiful symphony.

Affordability is the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. What is the Question?: Even as discussions amongst day school leaders regarding affordability challenges often unearth many commonalities, this session featured several perspectives as to the path forward toward sustainability. Sacha Litman of Measuring Success argued that reaching affordability will require first reaching sustainability through enrollment growth, itself a product of improving elements of day school offerings. Meanwhile, Harry Bloom of the Institute for University-School Partnership/YU explained why he feels finance and governance are key. The sharing of ideas and strategies across day schools as such strategies are employed could prove beneficial for the entire field.

Leadership in Creating a Blended Learning School Environment: Dr. Rob Darrow of iNACOL discussed that the goal of online/blended learning should not just be about bringing the cost down. Rather, a school should carefully think of the larger vision and plan for what they wish to achieve through the use of online/blended learning – in particular, how it will help the school offer a better education.

The Online/Blended Learning Expo offers an in-depth exploration of online/blended learning. Open to all conference participants, the Expo is providing opportunities for educators to learn from vendors and presenters active in the growing field of online/blended learning. Visitors are exploring new modalities of learning and will also learn how to integrate these advances into their own educational settings.

While the Expo is open throughout the conference, special scheduled programming includes presentations from innovators leading the way in such areas as blended learning, teaching for the 21st century, and the establishment of new blended learning schools. Today’s presentations included “The Power, Promise and Pitfalls of Blended Learning in Jewish Schools” by Hyim Brandes, Executive Director of the Online Jewish Academy; “Finding Quality in Online and Blended Education” by Online Education Consultant Liz Pape; and “Power-Up With Digital Badge Learning” by Sarah R. Blattner, Executive Director, Tamritz.

The Expo will also offer demonstrations of online learning materials, a vendor round robin – and a raffle of ten laptop computers to eligible school teams that attend sessions. The full schedule can be found here.

As the conversations, sharing of expertise, and excitement and energy of the conference continue, much remains to be discussed, in these areas important to day schools and beyond. Please stay tuned for more insights, practical tips, and trends as shared by conference presenters and day school leaders gathered here in DC. In the meantime, those not present in person can check out the conference’s hashtag #najds2013 to hear more!

Deborah Fishman is Director of Communications of The AVI CHAI Foundation.