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First General Session

Brooks, Massey, Vaden Encourage School Leaders

If the First General Session is intended to set the tone for the Joint Annual Conference, Friday’s event certainly was aimed at helping the 10,000-plus participants to dig in and get ready for three days of challenging and rewarding professional development programs.

Carolyne Brooks, president of the Illinois Association of School Boards, opened the ceremonies by polling the audience to find out that many, in fact, have attended the conference for decades. Long-serving board members and veteran school administrators were well represented at the 80 th annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Association of School Business Officials and IASB.

“No one has to tell us — or mandate to us — just how important professional development is,” she said.   “We don’t attend conferences, division meetings or workshops because we have to. You do it – we all do it – because we want to be the best; because we want to give our districts our best; and because we want to excel in local school governance, so that our students can do their very best.”

After the posting of colors by the Phoenix Military Academy color guard and the National Anthem, sung by students from Pikeland CUSD 10, Brooks welcomed Ed Massey, president of the National School Boards Association.

 “My occupation is lawyer, but my passion is public education. We are making a lot of changes at NSBA and re-evaluating who we really are. We are about public advocacy and about serving our state association members,” he said, referring in part to the association’s recent change in executive directors.

The first general session also saw honors given out for the juried Exhibit of Educational Environments and WCSIT Risk Management Award.

Keynoter for the Nov. 16 session, held at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Chicago, was Rory Vaden. In addition to writing a book on self-discipline, he also has staged an ongoing campaign to climb the 10 tallest buildings in the world. His message to school leaders was focused on successful habits and avoiding easy or obvious choices.

With a theme of avoiding escalators and choosing to take the stairs, Vaden also used examples of classic procrastination, creative avoidance and what he called priority dilution that not only reduce productivity but encourage too much time spent on the least important tasks.

“Fortunately, we are not born with discipline. It can be learned,” he said. “The challenge is to start doing the things we don’t want to do but know we should be doing.”

Vaden, who grew up in Colorado, noted the different behaviors of buffalo and cows during severe weather or storms. Whereas cows tend to follow the storm, thereby increasing their misery, buffalo instinctively turn into a storm, and reduce the amount of length and severity of the storm’s impact.

“We can’t always choose or control the storms we face, but we can use the buffalo’s mentality and choose how we respond to them,” Vaden said.

He drew a similar comparison between adequate and successful leaders. “Choosing a neutral or passive position by focusing on the ‘should’ of a decision is really a negative option. Successful leaders sense what they are able to control and instead focus on the ‘how’. When we start to ask that question, we start to eliminate the obstacles and instead imagine the possibilities,” Vaden explained.

“Success is like rent,” he continued. “Success is never owned; it’s only rented. And the rent is due every day.”

Vaden concluded his remarks by offering to sign copies of his book, “Take the Stairs: Seven Ways to Achieving True Success.”


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