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MISBO has a new website! Come take a look around at!

Beginning May 4th, all new blog posts will be posted on the new site. This is the last post to this blog and the blog will be retired within the coming year, but your favorite posts have been saved at

Be sure to come visit us at and take a look around (and read)!

The MISBO Staff


From the ED 4.5.18


We did an activity with the MISBO board not too long ago that is borrowed from the world of improvisation. One of the facilitators, Dr. Ryan Welsh from Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC, has a Ph.D. in improv and learning, is a renowned design strategist, and is a nice guy. The acting and improv community refer to the activity we did as the “Yes, and” method: the first person makes a statement to establish the scene and subsequent participants accept the statement as true and continue the narrative somehow. You can read a short explanation from Tina Fey here. While the products can be beautiful or utterly absurd, the process of acceptance and co-developing a more robust scenario is useful training in listening, digesting, and incorporating an idea into a new reality. Here is a very short snippet of what we created:

On a vacation trip, we took an interesting Uber ride. And it was actually a red bus that we rode to look at the amazing artwork around the city and then got hungry. And the driver of the red bus took us out to eat affordable chili.

The “yes and” activity served as a guidepost for the way we wanted to treat each other’s ideas. Nothing is too far-fetched and everything can be used as a springboard into new and exciting pathways. By starting with this activity, we created a norm that values and respects ideas from wherever they may come and we created an experience that was transformational rather than merely transactional. The “yes and” activity has been an excellent start to work collaboratively to clarify the goals and objectives for the association over the course of the next few years. I encourage you to try this activity in a department or staff meeting sometime and see how it helps you utilize your time together to create greater value.

You can read in this issue of The Pulse about some of the upcoming MISBO events – the On the Road later this month and the two summer events are going to knock your socks off. As a sample, the opening speaker for the Summer Summit: Talent Acquisition in June will speak about the corporate use of AI in talent acquisition and how that is being used to advance the work of finding the right people for their organization. What does this mean for us in independent schools? That is only one of the questions we will get to tackle!

There are also other BIG THINGS happening at MISBO that you should be aware of:

  • Your benefits and savings report is coming: the format has been overhauled to get you the information you need about the key ways MISBO helps you grow and get better at your job.
  • A new website and database is set to launch in May, which will greatly enhance your experience with MISBO.
  • Digital Educational Resources (DER) ordering opens April 16 – the test sites are open right now and our team continues to work to keep the prices low and the convenience of ordering from more than 35 vendors at one time a smooth experience.
  • We have launched the Auxiliary Programs Directors listserv – please send the name and email address of your folks who run your summer programs, after-school programs, facilities rentals, and other entrepreneurial endeavors. This listserv is in advance of an Auxiliary Programs Director conference in Atlanta coming in January 2019.
  • A member survey will launch this spring, the purpose of which is to help understand your needs and serve you and the independent school community better.

The book I am reading now has challenged some of my most basic assumptions about how numbers work. There is a fascinating introduction about the redesign of the Air Force fighter cockpit. Lieutenant Gilbert S. Daniels gathered measurements on 140 physical characteristics from over 4,000 Air Force pilots and averaged each of these characteristics to create an average pilot, which would be used to redesign the cockpit. Daniels was skeptical and took the ten measurements believed to be the most significant for design and compared the dimensions of the 4,000 pilots to those specifications. He allowed for a 30% margin within each characteristic and found that exactly zero pilots matched all ten. Daniels discovered that if you took just three of those characteristics, alarmingly only 3.5% of pilots matched. When trying to find the best fit for all, they found something that fit none. The military embraced the mindset of fitting the cockpit to the individual, rather than the Procrustean alternative and created individualized environments. Daniels published his findings in 1952.

Read the book if you have a chance and then please, go have some affordable chili.


What I am reading now:
The End of Average, by Todd Rose



From the ED 3.1.18


The Parkland students returned to school this week. The tragedy is now two weeks old and the community of students and teachers, parents, and loved ones have had to walk through the halls that witnessed such a massive tragedy just a fortnight ago. There are good conversations going on in many forums, some public and some private. On our own MISBO listservs there have been some conversations about reactions to the shootings and talk is now turning to preparations schools are making to help students engage with the #NationalSchoolWalkout on March 14. I’d also like to draw your attention to this statement from NAIS President Donna Orem in which she reiterates our call to provide a safe and secure environment for students. In his most recent article, Jeff Shields, President and CEO of NBOA, begins with the hashtag #NeverAgain. Many eloquent and impassioned statements have been made by state, regional, and national association leaders and by public and non-public school administrators across the country as we all wrestle with our roles as educators, parents, and citizens. Significantly, students have added their voices. Independent schools are making independent choices that are appropriate for them and I encourage you to share and continue to rely on your colleagues for advice and leadership. While MISBO is not a policy-making group, I think we can all agree: safety is the foundation of what transforms a place of learning into a community of growth and development.

The article that follows is a continuation of the stories of transition that have come out of the MISBO Emerging Issues (EI) Committee. While senseless violence and unbearable loss of life is in the foreground, preparations for change are upon us and the vigilant need to foster the kind of culture that we want is even more pressing and poignant.

Within the next five years, we could see the transition of 50-60% of the senior leadership in schools. I reported this statistic last month and I promised I would return to the extraordinary work of the EI Committee. This is a very energetic and forward-thinking group; they tackle big issues of the future of school and help to envision the solutions to some of the problems most of us haven’t thought of yet. As a side note, we will be accepting nominations for board service in MISBO beginning on March 7th and, being biased, I think the work of the entire board is energetic and forward-thinking and urge you to consider nominating someone or self-nominating if you fit that description.

One of the interesting things the people on the EI Committee do is to try to look at situations from a different point of view and assume different personas as they work through problems. This is empathy-driven and our friends at IDEO and in the design world would call this the human-centered approach, which is central to the success of the design thinking methodology. In an old Orson Scott Card book, Ender’s Game, which I have probably read one or two dozen times, the title character is faced with what he perceives as a no-win situation and learns to adjust his viewpoint – to see himself through the eyes of another. This presents him with solutions that he could not have otherwise seen. When you read the book, you will notice that the first several times you encounter this idea, he is saving himself or his fleet from overwhelming odds of destruction and assumes that the only answer is the zero sum game. But later, he uses the same technique to save the one he thought was his enemy from extinction and creates something that is bigger than either one could be on their own – the opposite of the zero sum game. This change of perspective and of rotating the view leads to a pure form of empathy, which turns out to be the title character’s greatest strength.

You will be experiencing transitions at your school due to retirements and movement of faculty and staff, hopefully mostly planned. We think about preparing for transitions in terms of getting the individual ready for entry, placing the onus on the outsider to learn the culture and integrate with what is already established. This is something that can happen away from campus because it affects the person coming in, rather than the community into which the person is coming. They are joining us and need to learn the way we do things! One of the often-overlooked concepts about group dynamics is that when you introduce a new person to a group, you have a new group that did not exist before – we would be wise to pay attention to the needs of the existing members as well as the new members of the configuration. If we flip the viewpoint, as the EI committee has done, we can ask this question differently: what if we spend time preparing the community for the entry of a new person or people with the same deliberation we prepare an outsider for entry into the community? Here is a video from Brené Brown on the difference between sympathy and empathy that helps make this point.

One thing MISBO is doing that you might be interested in is a summer program designed around the idea of the business office team is the Business Office Team Intensive. A goal of the program is to have this team develop greater empathy for each other, and through that lens, create greater capacity and productivity for the rest of the school. The Business Office Team Intensive promises to be an amazing opportunity to strengthen an existing team and to integrate a team with members who might be new.

PS – Ending on two notes of fun:

If you are going to NBOA, please plan to join us in Nashville for a reception jointly hosted by our friends from PAISBOA on Tuesday, March 6, 5:00 pm-6:30 pm at the Crystal Gazebo, Opryland Hotel. Click here to RSVP.

And, in case you missed it, here are the official new emojis for next year – I am especially happy to see a lacrosse stick emoji.

What I am reading now:
Leadership is an Art, by Max De Pree


From the ED 2.1.18


There is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, that while history may not repeat itself, it rhymes a lot. At this time of year, you are deep into the budget planning and refining cycle, sending out re-enrollment packets (unless you do continuous enrollment – I’m a fan), shepherding families through admissions, figuring out how to deal with all those days missed because of winter storms and hurricanes, predicting what faculty and staff openings you might have, and preparing for transitions among leadership positions – in other words, you are busy. I heard a statistic the other day at the Kennesaw State University’s Symposium on Independent School Leadership that was so profound and stark, it gave me shivers: within the next five years, 50-60% of all sitting heads of school will retire. If you will allow it, I think we can safely extrapolate that the same number of CFOs and other administrators may be retiring in that timeframe. This means we can clearly see the need to cultivate the next generation of school leaders for whom there is enormous opportunity to lead schools into the middle of this century.

Guided by the mantra that hope is not an action plan, the MISBO Emerging Issues Committee tackled the concept of succession and planning for the future at a recent meeting. I would like to share some of their comments and conclusions with you. Alas, the committee, talented as they are, and very capably led by Larry Pittman, CFO at The Pine School in Hobe Sound, Florida, did not figure out how to reverse time and solve the problem of an aging population of leaders in schools by creating more Dorian Grays. They did however, identify some real struggles and suggest some solid solutions.

One comment that sparked imagination was this: “The hiring process in our schools is horrendous! Anything we can do to train people in better process is key.” This comment was mostly concerned with the lack of adequate background checks, reference checks, and basic elements of due diligence, but also suggested an antiquated model of vetting that is neither intentional nor aligned with the mission and vision of the school. MISBO has several vendors who can help with background checks, and one in particular has produced a report to help us all manage some of the risks of our most vulnerable populations. Faculty members rarely realize that they are part of the interviewing process. When asked to speak to a candidate, or take them to lunch, or something that feels less formal, the same rules of hiring apply. Questions you can’t ask when you are taking notes behind a desk still can’t be asked when you are in the cafeteria. In a 2017 survey on hiring practices conducted by NAIS, 75% of responding schools indicated that faculty members take part in interviewing potential new faculty members and 25% of schools indicated that students take part in the process. Just over half of the schools responding provide interviewing teams with preferred interviewing questions. We all have horror stories of interviews that did not go well and perhaps the best way to manage the risk of delving into areas that are off limits is mandatory training, or at least general orientation, for any who are involved with the interviewing process. The court of public opinion is still alive and well in the hiring process. Parents, faculty, trustees, administrators, and even students may snoop on the candidate’s social media profile and digital footprint. This may be an emerging practice, but beware of discrimination and bias that may ensue if you discover something related to one of the EEOC protected characteristics: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, sexual harassment. As always, if you are in doubt, contact an attorney. There are many who specialize in independent schools, and MISBO members have access to a wealth of legal resources here.

Most schools seem to be following a talent acquisition model that was developed years ago and has been passed down and maybe tweaked a little bit here or there. But, what if you could completely reimagine how you locate, attract, vet, and onboard members new to your community? How would you approach this endeavor with the mission and vision of the school in mind and try to get the answers to the questions that really matter? You may have heard the expression “culture eats strategy,” but do we interview and assess for culture fit in a meaningful and measureable way?

MISBO has put together a Summer Summit on this topic where we will have deep dives into new, smart, and boldly progressive models of uncovering how the people you are considering will fit within your community. We have much to learn from places like the business world, valid research, and trends in the most effective employment practices. We have been dreaming about this event for a long time and I am thrilled to see it come to fruition this summer. One overarching theme at MISBO is that we provide a space and framework to help you move from thoughts to deeds, from questions to answers, and from aspirations to operations. We are anticipating an intimate audience of heads of school, HR directors, division heads, and others in academic or operational leadership with responsibility for hiring and shaping the future of your school.

Next month, I want to circle back to share more with you about what the MISBO Emerging Issues committee crafted – especially their insights into how to prepare the school community to receive new leaders or teachers, a neat twist on our customary model of preparing only the new person who is entering. For now, I leave you with this new and inspiring video that captures the spirit of your association – you are MISBO!

PS – If you are going to NBOA, please plan to join us in Nashville for a reception jointly hosted by our friends from PAISBOA on Tuesday, March 6, 5:00 – 6:30 pm at the Crystal Gazebo, Opryland Hotel. Click here to RSVP.

What I am reading now:

A Spy’s Guide to Thinkingby John Braddock. 

New Tax Law Update – 529 Plans

Now that the new tax reform bill has become law, it is time to dive into the details and learn how these changes will affect our industry – both positively and negatively. In the past few communications we’ve addressed the items that had at one time been on the chopping block (tuition remission/employee educational assistance, tax-exempt bonds, employer provided housing and charitable giving). What we haven’t addressed is a new benefit from the law for independent schools in the area of 529 plans.

529 college savings plans began in the mid-late 90s and immediately gained popularity as a tax-free way to save for higher education expenses. The change in the new tax law has expanded the definition of “qualified expense” for 529 plans to include tuition-based schools.  Independent schools (along with religious or public) that charge tuition will now be considered an eligible expense and families can use up to $10,000 per student per year from their 529 savings. More details are being worked out in the areas of rules, definitions, and when eligibility begins, but this is a helping hand to all our schools.

Our friends at NAIS have recently issued a full legal advisory on this topic. If you are an NAIS member school, you can find that document here (login required).

Since most 529 plans are state sponsored, each state has varying restrictions and regulations so we encourage you to use the resources below to learn more about the specifics to each state plan. There can be secondary benefits to 529 plans in the area of a state income tax deduction, and the benefits continue when you look at it from an estate planning perspective since grandparents and other family members may also contribute to 529 plans.

Helpful resources:

What can schools do now?

  • Prepare for the possibility of a new IRS filing requirement.
  • Learn about your state’s 529 plan documentation requirements.
  • Keep abreast on any state-level advocacy for state law changes pertaining to 529 plans.
  • Think about how to handle financial aid decisions now that 529 savings are eligible funds for tuition expenses.
  • Communicate internally to ensure school personnel are not providing any type of tax advice.
  • Develop a communication plan for families AFTER these steps have been taken.

We’d like to keep this conversation going. Please leave a comment below that can help your colleagues at other schools.

Michelle Shea
Associate Executive Director


From the ED 1.4.18


It is a new year! The turning of the calendar means we get to look back to the previous year and celebrate all that was accomplished and make lists for the new year about all we want to accomplish. At this time of year, Janus, the Roman god with two faces, always comes to mind. One of his faces is looking back and the other is looking forward. He keeps watch over doorways, thresholds, boundary crossings, transitions, beginnings, and endings. While it may be a false etymology to think that January is derived from his name, his image is a convenient icon to mark the passage of the year.

A few weeks ago, I ran across a story about a very old shark that resonated with me and I want to share it with you. This particular shark was said to be slightly over five hundred years old. Of the several articles, one went a little deeper into actual science (because yes, I admit that I succumbed to the “click bait” and read more than one article on the subject). The more fact-entrenched article indicated that in a study of a group of 28 female Greenland sharks, researchers analyzed eye tissue and found an age range of 272 years up to 512 years. More clicked links delved into the science of what it means to analyze eye tissue and the margin of error in calculating age, but you can discover that on your own if you wish. Greenland sharks can grow to 24 feet long and weigh in at over 2,500 pounds. They live in very cold water and are usually at depths of over a mile. These sharks are extremely slow moving and swim at a rate of about a mile per hour with a top speed of less than two miles per hour. It got me thinking about what events throughout history a Methuselah like this would have lived through from the 16th century to now: the Ottoman Empire, Galileo, the age of enlightenment, French and American revolutions, industrialization, lunar landings, Steve Jobs, globalization, the internet, just to name tips of some of the most massive icebergs in our history and society. But, this is the look back and only half of the Janus model. What comes next for a shark like this?

The reality is that while our shark friend might have been alive during momentous occasions in history, she was probably more concerned about her next meal than what the humans were up to. She is an example of something that was built to last and if the measure of sustainability is simple existence, then nature has perfected it for her. But if the measure of sustainability is relevance in the world and making a difference, then I’m not sure how to measure her success. Do you know the Rip Van Winkle story popularized by DesignShare (about a decade ago)?

Rip wakes up in the 21st century and he marvels at what he sees. “Men and women dash about talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears . . . older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic . . . airports, hospitals, shopping malls – every place Rip goes just baffles him.” You can predict where he goes next: into a school. There, he recognizes the place immediately and exclaims, “This is a school. We used to have these back in 1907 only the blackboards are now white.” Funny. Although I bet Rip didn’t go into many independent schools like yours where things do look quite a bit different. Learning and laughing still take place and the relationships throughout your community are as strong as ever. But, there are new tools in use and these tools have liberated us from being the sage on the stage and helped us hone our skills in pedagogy and in focusing on the needs of the unique learner.

The transition from the first to the second semester breathes new life into students, faculty, staff, and your community and allows a new start midway through the year. Sometimes it is important to imagine what we want the future to look like and sometimes it is important to plan for how we will make that future happen. We have our own new things cooking at MISBO: a calendar filled with relevant webinars and On the Road meetings; two summer workshops: one for the business office team to work together more effectively and help others in the school work better with you, and a second on profound changes in hiring practices and philosophies in independent schools; a fall conference dedicated to moving from questions to solutions which will be keynoted by one of the big thinkers in independent education today, Ian Symmonds. We will be at NBOA in Nashville in March and hope to see you there, especially at the MISBO reception jointly hosted with our friends from other associations around the country. Also on the horizon for MISBO is a new look and feel to our website that will allow you to get to the answers you need more quickly, revised list-servs that will allow you to connect with others and rely on the shared wisdom of a community deeply dedicated to lending a helping hand, and a renewed emphasis on your ownership of the purchasing consortium.

2018 is going to be great and who knows, maybe we will find a way to teach an old shark new tricks.

What I am (still) reading now: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. An important collection of essays on race in the U.S.

From the ED 12.7.17


Leaders are readers and in our field that means staying as informed as possible on the trends in various segments of education, demographic trends, market movement, and examples of innovation from other industries. We struggle to balance our commitment to the ideals of those that came before us with the pressures of today’s fast moving changes that disrupt the way we do things. I ran across this particular statement on a listserv recently from an organizational theory and governance master whose books I have been reading for some time now:

Entrepreneurial thinking is employed by every exceptional [leader] we know. But, it is driven by value to [students and families]; not just financial return. On the for profit Boards on which I serve, we see the company’s job as finding a hole customers want filled and to be the place to fill it for a cost less than the price they are willing to pay. On the nonprofit Boards on which I serve, we see our job as finding a hole our members or mission need filled and making sure it gets filled the best way possible. A subtle but significant commentary on culture. Form follows function and function follows purpose. (Glenn Tecker, November 2017)

With the holidays nearly upon us, I am sure that in your school the anticipation of the break is becoming more real and palpable every day. Students (and maybe some faculty and staff members, too) are squirming more than usual as we head into the last few weeks of projects and tests and holiday performances. Staff members are moving at lightning speed, engaged in a myriad of different activities. There are multiple events and parties, each with unique setup and catering needs. The tax year needs to be closed out with the requisite filings and wage forms issued. There are final board meetings filled with budget and enrollment planning.

Very soon, this whirlwind we are all experiencing will be replaced with another, more personal one. Visions of sugar plums will dance in our heads as we move at lightning speed to prepare our homes for the arrival of family members, friends, and neighbors. Some of us will stay home (and rest!) and others will travel short distances or long, celebrating traditions that were passed down to us that we in turn get to pass to the next generation. We will take comfort in these traditions and in the rituals of the season.

When we hit January and the second semester, we will have the chance to take up the conversations about change and the elements that are causing it and MISBO will help you take up the mantle to lead your community to the solutions that matter. In fact, next month I’ll share more information about our amazing calendar of 2018 events. In the meantime, save those dates and take some downtime to recharge – 2018 is going to be great!

What I am reading now: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Probably not the best holiday reading, but an important collection that you should get around to.