06/30/2017 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Learning to “Lean On” Together

Faculty members

After months of  conversation, planning, and reflection, CS&A held its inaugural Women’s Institute on June 16 right here in beautiful Boston. More than 100 educators from across the country joined us for our sold-out event, the theme of which was “Lean On: Strengthening One Another Through Mentorship and Collective Wisdom.”

After a pre-event Welcome Reception at the Maritime Museum the day before, the Institute kicked off with an inspiring introduction from Kim Garner, CS&A’s Director of Operations and Conferences, who set the tone for a day of peer learning and sharing through professional development and mentorship. Two co-keynote speakers then shared with attendees the stories of their professional journeys, starting with Lisa Lyle, Head of School at MICDS in St. Louis. Lisa told the story of how she was once responsible for installing a school’s first-ever computer network…when her academic background was in French. The experience taught her that a key to success is to always ask good questions while remaining open to good questions from others. Sometimes the most successful person in the room is the one who asks the best question. In reflecting on the definition of leadership, Lisa explained that good leaders can step outside their circle of responsibility to let others thrive; they create conditions that encourage and nurture success. As educators, it is our job to create conditions for students to become the best versions of themselves.

Becky Sykes, President of the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation and former Head of Philips Academy in Andover, MA, reflected on the topic of mentorship as the second co-keynote speaker of the morning. She shared the story of her first mentee and the rich reciprocity of their relationship. While mentors serve as guides and confidants to their mentees, they gain something equally as valuable from the experience. Becky also emphasized that having a safe space to share, ask questions, and even cry is not something that should be deemed unnecessary. She reinforced the notion that a woman can be in touch with her emotions while still being an effective leader. “Why can’t we take charge and take care?” she asked the audience. To close, she encouraged everyone in the room to continue to “ask your why’s” because our work as educators is never done.

Lisa Lyle and Becky Sykes speaking to the crowd

Lisa Lyle and Becky Sykes

The remainder of the morning was dedicated to professional development panel discussions, led by members of the Institute’s Honorary Faculty. Sessions included topics such as negotiating, the journey to headship, intersectionality in our schools, and the work/life balance. Participants and panel leaders had inspiring and valuable conversations and shared relevant life experiences in the sessions; as one participant said, “I loved the format of the breakout sessions and wished I could have attended all of them!”

The later part of the afternoon was reserved for the Institute’s mentoring session. Attendees broke out into pre-assigned small mentor groups, each with an Honorary Faculty member serving as a guide in discussions. This portion of the event emphasized that women are stronger when they come together. Regardless of title or what stage one is at in her career, everyone can serve as a mentor. Participants used this time to ask questions of the more experienced members of the group, share lessons learned from challenging situations, and offer support to peers who are navigating through the often rough waters of career advancement. Said one attendee, “The mentor session in the afternoon was amazing. It was so powerful to be able to talk through scenarios with a leader who does not work at my school.” The mentorship session was also helpful for those who are already in a leadership position. “I was able to get some great advice and some new ideas on how to mentor the many women I work with,” said one Associate Head of School.

Attendees laughing around a table

Having a blast during the mentorship session.

To wrap up the day and allow time for reflection, former CS&A Placement Associate Checka Antifonario led attendees in a group meditation exercise. She challenged everyone in the room to dig deep into the lessons learned and stories shared throughout the day, and to align ourselves with the positive energy that filled the room.

We are extremely grateful to the incredible women who joined us at our inaugural event, both as attendees and as panel leaders. The day was full of inspiration around empowering women and tackling the challenges women face both personally and professionally. We couldn’t be more pleased with how the day unfolded, and we look forward to next year!

What else are attendees saying about the Institute? Glad you asked?

“Please keep offering this remarkable Institute! There is clearly such a need and desire in today’s world. I am very grateful for the opportunity, for the information gleaned, and for the contacts I gained. My head is inspired and full.” -Director of Donor Relations, Amherst College

“The conference was such a positive experience. I truly can’t say enough wonderful things to express my feelings about the day. It was informational, educational, inspirational, and a well-rounded day focused on diverse and significant topics.” -Math teacher, Trinity Prep

“It’s great to be in a room with the women who helped pave the way for the younger generation to be able to move into administration smoothly and confidently.” -Dean of Students, The Hun School of Princeton

“The Women’s Institute was fantastic. I enjoyed listening to women leaders in education and learning about their specific paths. The insight they offered was valuable to the advancement of my career. Personally, I felt connected to the stories involving family life. This event was exactly the boost I needed to know I can do it all.” -Associate Director of College Counseling, St. George’s School

“Spending time learning and networking with other female independent school leaders was tremendously empowering. Thank you CS&A for such a fabulous event in a beautiful location!” -Assistant Head of School, Kents Hill School

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