06/13/2018 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Inspired, Empowered, and Renewed: “You Can” Recap

Shabana Basij-Rasikh with Kim and Jessica

“There's really no other opportunity like this for women to gather and discuss their journey in the field of education, and I'm so grateful to be a part of this.”

This was much of the sentiment around CS&A's second-annual Women's Institute held on June 8 in Boston, as nearly 100 attendees gathered at the Battery Wharf Hotel for a day dedicated to personal and professional development for women and their allies in the education community. After a sold-out inaugural event last year, CS&A was excited to bring even more opportunities for educators to be inspired and empowered to grow in their profession.

Attendees and speakers had a chance to mingle the previous evening at a Welcome Reception that also featured exhibits by female-owned businesses–a new addition this year. On Friday, CS&A's Director of Conferences, Kim Garner, started off the Institute by sharing the story behind this year's theme, “You Can: Striving for Progress, Not Perfection.” Kim explained how many women, herself included, hold themselves to incredibly high standards of perfection, and that oftentimes this gets in the way of making real progress. She and the rest of the CS&A event team wanted the Institute to provide a safe space to learn to move beyond an obsession with perfection and instead towards a mindset that holds progress at its core. It was our intent that this year's theme to appeal to a wide audience, heads of school and rookie teachers alike, and that attendees learn to build a toolkit for progressing towards achieving goals in work, leadership, and life.


Opening address with full room

Featured speaker Barbara Chase gave participants their first addition to their toolkit. A current CS&A Search Consultant and former Head of School of Phillips Academy in Andover, Barbara noted that while she's seen some changes over her 50 years of working in education, women still don't have equal access to leadership. She shared “Barbara Chase's 5 Rules” for what attendees can do to make their voices heard, ensure that more women move into recognized leadership roles, and therefore, to see our schools benefit from the full range of leadership talent.

Barbara was followed by keynote speaker Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder and president of the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA). Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Shabana shared how girls were forbidden to attend school by the Taliban regime. Her parents, believing how crucial it was for her to receive an education, dressed her up like a boy to attend school. She attended high school in the U.S. through the State Department's Youth Exchange Studies program and went on to attend Middlebury College. During her time at Middlebury, she grappled with knowing that her home country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, followed by the highest child mortality rate, and sought “to give back in the most meaningful way” to her country and it's people. Upon returning to Afghanistan, Shabana realized she “needed to become an educator so that no one would shut doors on the girls of Afghanistan,” and co-founded SOLA in an effort to make quality education better-accessible to girls in the country.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh speaking at the Women's Institute

“SOLA is all about striving for progress and changing the mindset in Afghanistan that girls don't deserve to be educated,” says Shabana. She emotionally explained that she is consistently asked why she didn't create a school for boys, why she is wasting her time with a girls' school. Her explanation is clear: while SOLA is a step in the right direction, there is still work that needs to be done to create a culture of acceptance and equality in Afghanistan. The students at SOLA still go home needing to prove to their communities that they are “good girls” even though they attend a boarding school. Some of her students' families have even received death threats for educating their daughters. Shabana is fighting for what should be a basic right of every girl in Afghanistan, and a rousing standing ovation indicated the support of the Institute's attendees.

Breakout sessions were next on the agenda, led by panels of educators and leaders from across the country. “The Glass Cage–Avenues for Advancement” explored how to handle the demands of career advancement without sacrificing aspirations outside of the workplace, while “I AM” examined what it means to be a woman working at a school in relation to gender, race, and identity. All attendees gathered back together for “It Takes a Village–Fostering Mentorships: For Women and Allies,” which was led by three CS&A Search Consultants. Ann Teaff (former Head of Harpeth Hall), Bill Christ (former Head of Hathaway Brown), and Peter O’Neill (former Head of Garrison Forest School) shared the stories of their journeys to headship and the mentees who shaped their careers, as well as answered questions from the audience.

Attendees sitting in a circle during a breakout session

Post-lunch breakout sessions included a well-attended presentation of tried and true techniques for learning stronger self-advocacy through effective salary and contract negotiations. Concurrently, “Give and Take–Lessons on Effective Feedback” found attendees reflecting back on times they received positive or negative feedback, and practicing how to engage in honest discourse with a “feedback toolkit” takeaway card. “Owning It,” the final session of the day, split participants into groups for a parallel lines exercise to reflect deeper on who they are and what they stand for.

CS&A is grateful to the faculty members, attendees, and partners who made it possible to host the Women's Institute a second year in a row. We strongly believe in the work we're doing to provide women access to leadership training, mentorship, and career advancement opportunities in the world of education. From the discussions in panel sessions to the inner reflection to the useful skills taught by our faculty members, we hope the day provided everyone with the tools and courage needed to make progress happen.

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