It is an exciting time of transition and progress for us here at St. Gregory, and while there are many examples of this change, no single item better encapsulates it better than our new slogan and tag line, Creating Leaders and Innovators for the 21st century.   Today I want to share some of the background, significance, and the future opportunities this new slogan offers us; this new “mantra” is intended as the successor to (building upon, retaining the value of, and enhancing) our school’s previous statement: Character, Scholarship, Leadership.

The current issue of Independent School magazine features a cover article about Missions, Mantras and Meaning. Author Peter Gow quotes Guy Kawasaki, a 2009 NAIS Annual Conference keynote speaker, on the value of a “three word mantra: a guiding idea that can both inform a school’s planning, and provide it with a sparkling marketplace identity.”  Gow then cites another NAIS speaker, Dan Heath, on the value of sticky messages: “potent expressions that drive and differentiate.”   I believe that our new statement, succinctly expressed as  Creating Leaders and Innovators, does meet Kawasaki and Heath’s mandates in exactly the ways they advocate.

Background: I began my headship here in June.   Immediately it was impressed upon me by board leaders and others the critical need for a clear and new strategic vision, one that would help organize our school’s future and offer a compelling value proposition to school families, present and prospective.    I was also urged by board members to have pieces in place by January, for enrollment season, of what we were adding and building into the school’s program and profile to enhance the school’s value for our students.

I took time this summer to meet individually with each of our 20 board members; I listened carefully to themes as they described to me what they thought was most meaningful to them about the school, and what their goals were for our students.   I also reviewed the school’s previous motto and message, Character, Scholarship, Leadership: a fine statement to be sure.   My conversations were fascinating, and leadership emerged very early on as a consistent theme.   One trustee impressed upon me the outstanding leadership his son and his son’s St. Gregory classmates were providing at their colleges, and said he believed the school should adopt Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders as its core expression.  But others with whom I spoke expressed concern that character, scholarship, leadership was not a compelling enough message in the contemporary environment and that “scholarship” was a word that confused people– some thought it meant tuition scholarship, others believe it connoted primarily an image of studying in a library or archive.

Another trustee forwarded an essay this summer from Tom Friedman, in which he called for American educators to embrace innovation as the ultimate skill required in this fast changing era, and, she wrote me, this is what we must concentrate on.

Therefore, the country that uses this crisis to make its population smarter and more innovative — and endows its people with more tools and basic research to invent new goods and services — is the one that will not just survive but thrive down the road.  We might be able to stimulate our way back to stability, but we can only invent our way back to prosperity.   I still believe that America, with its unrivaled freedoms, venture capital industry, research universities and openness to new immigrants has the best assets to be taking advantage of this moment — to out-innovate our competition.

Since my very first interview with St. Gregory, I have spoken frequently about my enthusiasm for the 21st century skills movement, and I have emphasized my own commitment to advancing the school to the forefront of 21st century schools.  (btw, I am very pleased to report that NAIS President Pat Bassett recently emailed me that he has added St. Gregory to his running list of NAIS member 21st century schools).   The list of 21st century skills is of course long, as many as a dozen, but increasingly, and in alignment with Friedman, the skill of innovation is rising to the top.   To quote the very recently published book, 21st century Skills by Trilling and Fadel:

As we journey into the 21st century, creativity and innovation will become the brightest stars in the constellation of 21st c. skills… Though there will be an increased demand for skills in science, technology, engineering, math, (the STEM skills), there will be even higher demands for creativity, invention, and innovation.

These conversations and these ideas influenced me greatly as I sought in summer to identify and articulate what should be the thematic vision of the next chapter in St. Gregory’s history.

We then took a series of additional steps: surveying all teachers, parents, and board members on their views of the school’s core strengths and points of differentiation; tabulating those surveys, publishing them on-line, and reviewing them.    Working with the board, we reviewed the concept of a “hedgehog principle,” taken from Jim Collins’ ideas in Good to Great, that there has to be some compelling vision of a organization’s purpose, simple and succinct, that could and would capture and convey what we are passionate about, willing and able to be best in the world at, and would be attractive and differentiating in the marketplace.

All this went into a very intense session with our board in September, culminating in a unanimous decision by our board to re-frame and update our strategic vision and school motto or mantra to become Creating Leaders and Innovators for the 21st century.   (It should be said that the first four words are the major chord; the second four, for the 21st century, is a minor chord, and something we don’t always use in our publications and expressions).

I am, clearly, impassioned about this expression and vision, and thinks it fits perfectly.   Creating Leaders links backwards and inspires forward.  It goes back both to our previous (Character, Scholarship, Leadership)  statement and to the founding vision of the school, that it educate Tucson children for future community leadership.   Creating Leaders clearly builds on strength: it was immediately apparent to me upon entering this school community that the school’s experiential education, challenge courses, and the peer leadership program overseen by Fred Roberts all demonstrated an outstanding record of accomplishment in leadership education.

But I believe our new embrace of innovation as a core concept also builds on strengths.   The school has had an outstanding excellence in the arts, fine and performing, since the eighties.   St. Gregory also has what I believe are among the finest science lab facilities of any pre-collegiate institution in the country (and a faculty to match).   And we have also long celebrated writing, and, more particularly, creative writing.  On these three legs is built a historical legacy of strength in educating innovators, a foundation upon which we will carry this forward.

For the time being, the St. Gregory board has not deemed it necessary to revise the school’s mission; we believe that creating leaders and innovators is well supported by the wording of the fuller mission.   However, in the coming year 2010 it might behoove us to return to this question and act accordingly.

Moving Forward:  With the new “mantra” in place, we are now hastening to use it for both of Kawasaki’s suggested applications: a sparkling marketplace identity and a driver for for innovation and planning.    Our new website features the statement prominently, and our St. Gregory logo has been revised accordingly,  and being deployed widely.   Our print advertising, in, for instance, Tucson Lifestyles, uses the new wording in its banner and then is supported in the imagery and the narratives; our new TV commercials next month will be organized too around leadership and innovation.    It is also my guiding influence as I speak about the school, and I have already used it widely to describe the school in various forums: the St. Michael’s high school information night, our own Upper School preview night, at the Rotary Club Car Show, and at Grandparents Day.

More importantly, we are also using the mantra to “inform our planning.”   We are looking to organize various aspects of our school-life around these two themes: examples would include our proposed new Summer Camp program for middle school students, with a featured focus on innovation and leadership, and our new Speaker series program, just getting going, prioritizing hosting and presenting speakers on the themes of leadership and innovation.

We are also borrowing ideas from other schools around the nation to better formalize this programming at our school.   Most prominently we are taking from Cushing Academy (as written up in the Summer 2009 Independent school journal) the idea to create “institutes” on campus for the development of leadership, and of innovation, in our students.   These institutes, currently in development, will each feature a director, an advisory board, and an agenda to strengthen our programmatic excellence in leadership and innovation studies for every student at every grade level.   The institutes will serve to offer advice for enhancing curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular education in these areas.    They will host speakers, and provide special workshops, clubs, and conferences for their fields.  One aspect we are especially excited about is developing what we are calling “summits,” whereby the institute leaders offer an annual weekend program for emerging and budding student leaders (or innovators) from around the state, hosting them here on campus in a special program of training and mentoring.

The leadership institute has a bit more momentum behind it, with St. Gregory Dean of Students Fred Roberts taking the helm and drawing upon his years experience here in the peer leadership programs.   We have already selected a date for the first Leadership Summit, in late April, and have already secured financial sponsorship of the summit from Provident Corporation.

Another feature, in development, of the leadership and innovation educational programs will be special diplomas awarded in each.    This, too, is borrowed from another NAIS school, Providence Day School in North Carolina, which shared its analogous special diploma program (in global studies) at the 2009 NAIS Annual Conference.   We will welcome our high school students to choose in their freshman or sophomore year to seek one or both of these special diplomas, and then earn special merit units (akin to merit badges) by their displaying or achieving distinct and high skills or accomplishments in the specific field, earning enough units by senior year to be awarded these special diplomas  (akin to eagle scout honors) (and earning them in time for recording on college applications.)  These diplomas will not come to students as surprises; they will not be awarded by faculty or administrators as prizes or by secret jury, but rather earned by students through clearly designated, explicit,  pathways (to be determined and published by summer or fall 2010).

In conclusion:  We don’t think that “character, scholarship, leadership” has been lost; I want to argue it has now been naturally succeeded (evolved forward from), but is still vibrant and influential in our new vision and mantra.  Perhaps it is implicit now rather than explicit, but certainly it is still an authentic expression of our mission, and our commitment, to create leaders of character, leaders who influence others for good, using leadership skills to facilitate collaboration and improve their community.   We believe too that innovation best occurs from the blend of knowledge, thinking skills, and creativity; that our best innovators are those who draw deeply from the well of scholarship and add to it the imagination and the ingenuity to solve complex problems and generate original solutions.