March 1, 2012

Sleepless in Seattle

I am writing this entry from afar, as I enjoy the privilege of attending the conference of the National Association of Independent Schools in Seattle, Washington.  There are over 4,000 people here from all over the country, from Canada, and from independent schools across the world.

I’m sleepless, not so much from the cranky heating system in my hotel room, nor from the sirens wailing below on the downtown streets.  It’s from excitement.  Excitement about all of the amazing things that are happening in the independent school world and how our schools are leading in the way in giving our students the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

The theme of the conference is innovation.  The opening speaker was Bill Gates who knows a thing or two about innovation, from what I’ve heard.  He was introduced by the head of the Lakeside School here in Seattle, the only school from which the young Bill Gates ever graduated. 

When Gates was a sophomore at Lakeside, he invented one of the first educational scheduling programs that the school used and he manipulated it to benefit himself, his friends, and, it is said, his dating life.  As a high school junior, he and Paul Allen sold an urban management software system to the city of Portland.  The headmaster of his alma mater said that one of the best things his school did for the teenage pair was to get out of the way and let them innovate.  It is a wonderful argument for giving kids choice.

While Bill Gates focused much of his talk on the rapidly expanding world of technology in schools, and gave me some great new ideas about how to think about the ways our students need to think globally on this interconnected planet, I came away most impressed by the work he is doing with his foundation.  

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to fund education throughout the United States and the world.  They have made dramatic inroads into the eradication of certain diseases.  And it has all been driven by one single motivator.  They are using the power of innovation to save and improve lives.  Gates encouraged his audience to do as he has done, in whatever big or small way we can:  to get involved and to do something, anything, to help our fellow beings.

As an aside, I was slightly warmed to note that the Microsoft CEO had a spelling error in one of his slides.  Not only that, but I and hundreds of others around me were taking notes on his talk on an Apple computer product.  It’s nice to know that nobody’s perfect.

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