Services for Schools, Educators, and Families

A New Conference Experience: The Association of Boarding Schools


I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from my first experience at The Association of Boarding Schools annual conference, but, as good events do, #TABS13 (as the hashtag goes) left me with plenty to think about and a sense that some of the things I’ve been yammering about as a blogger for the past five or six years are beginning to come to pass.

Without going into the experience on a session-by-session basis (try searching Twitter by that hashtag), I found myself especially impressed by TABS’s commitment to research; two sessions, including a long pre-conference program offered by TABS executive director Pete Upham and director of research Richard Phelps, produced a bundle of data on everything from the boarding school market to TABS member schools’ rather impressive college graduation rateswork that should challenge individual member schools and other (i.e., day) independent schools to match it.

I also noted a strong thread of sessions devoted to aspects of social and emotional learning, not a surprise considering the centrality of affective education in all its manifestations to the boarding school experience. Equally prominent were sessions devoted to communications and marketing, and I was elated to hear mission and values frequently mentioned in these contexts; readers know my obsession on this.

The only slight letdown was keynoter Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, who hit an entertaining ground-rule double when a home run would have been some real effort to tailor his message to his audience: hundreds of educators might have really been charged up by some commentary on what makes kids happy and on the multifaceted role that boarding school can play in the dynamics of parenthood. There was interesting stuff to be teased out of what he had to say, but oh, what he might have offered us.

Huge kudos to TABS folk for opening up the end of the conference to a new concept, the TABS Unconference, an EdCamp-ish event organized by EdCamp board member and Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools director of professional development Kim Sivick, Hill School head Zack Lehman, and the new Bridge Year ‘s director of studies Thomas Steele-Maley. While our colleagues were headed to the airport, a couple of dozen TABSers dived into questions of our own devising. (If you don’t know how this all works, check out my thoughts on one EdCamp this past summer.) That so many of the participants arrived new to and left enthusiastic about the unconference model is a tribute to both the aptness of the event and the openness of TABS members.  For me, I’ll say right here, the best part was finally meeting in the flesh Stoneleigh-Burnham’s middle school dean and fellow blogger Bill Ivey, whom I have been pleased to call an e-friend for nearly twenty yearswe go way back on the listservs.

I am pretty sure that we are seeing the stereotypical resistance to change of boarding schools to fairly rapidly succumbing to the imperatives of 21st-century education. Indeed, in some cases I believe that some rather large and weighty places are realizing that their own gravity in the market can leverage innovative thinking and practice; there were certainly a ton of excellent ideas floating around this conference.

I’ll be offering up some further reflections as time goes on, but I am pretty stoked tonight even after three straight days of conference–and Unconference. Love it when that happens!