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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow


Updated: Aug 1, 2023

A quick rundown on the topics I've heard percolating through the conversations I've had with heads of school this summer. I'm coming off an intense round of these conversations, two full weeks, in fact, of 23 IRL visits to the member schools in the Association of Independent Michigan Schools, where I am the new Executive Director. In this completely unscientific study, I'm extrapolating the common threads from those conversations into guesses at the issues that will resonate throughout this school year.


  • Culture Wars: Heads of schools in communities with heterogenous political make ups will continue to find themselves managing conflict. They'll focus on clarity in the admission office: this is who we are, what we believe in, and what it all looks like in practice; if that doesn't match your values, let's say a fond farewell now, no hard feelings. And, they'll focus on hard conversation strategies, like the ORID framework, to arrive at efficient resolution to conflict.

  • Faculty Retention and Recruitment: Suffering from a second year of broken contracts and arduous searches that stretched deep into the summer, school leaders will start the year with clear retention efforts in place and the motivation to build a year round recruitment plan to mitigate the institutional impact of the sellers' market for school talent.

  • Compensation: Partly a product of the current challenge of faculty retention and recruitment, but more a product of a generational shift in work expectations, the long era of modestly paid "triple threat" faculty who saw teaching as a calling is over. Independent schools have fallen further and further behind their well-resourced public school counterparts in cash salary and benefits (where we've long been uncompetitive), and the work has become harder, more intensely scrutinized. A five-year plan for compensation package improvement should be on every school's strategic plan.


  • Elemental Programs: Forest schools, expedition schools, schools with rich outdoor education programs are having their day. They're ideally suited to meet the intense social and emotional needs of students (and adults) post pandemic. Parents see them as safer, healthier, attractive because of the small (for young children, non-existent) role that technology plays in their programs.

  • Mission/Value Review: I alluded earlier to the importance of clarity and transparency in the admission process about the school's mission and values. This work should start with a careful review of the school's critical value statements using this essential question: does this statement still describe clearly what we believe in and do? In our work with strategic planning clients over the last few years, we often encounter mission statements that are word salads of syntax and diction. The school's orginal statement is in there somewhere under strata of additions identifiable by their zeitgeist-specific diction--global, ever-evolving, 21st century skills, personalized, whole child. They are overlong, overpromising and defy comprehension. Clarity of mission has never been more important.

  • New Talent: : By searching long and more widely, school will gain new kinds of talent they hadn't identified before: people coming from parallel industries, homegrown talent from internship programs and partnerships with university teacher preparation programs. second or third career employees. These people will bring new insights and skill sets to independent schools and inspire their "traditional" colleagues in new ways.

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