I am thoroughly impressed with John Chubb, the new President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). He brings a diverse array of experience to the position, and I have no doubt that he will bring our community to new and even greater heights. More than anything, though, I’m elated by his passion to communicate and foster dialogue with teachers—not just administrators and trustees.
Several weeks ago, I read a highly critical open letter to John Chubb, then newly appointed as President of the National Association of Independent Schools.
“The challenge for you as a leader, John, will be to find balanced, temperate language and a clear narrative to express independent schools’ collective commitment to playing a vital, contributing role in American education as it also conveys a generous and humble openness to entering into dialogue with other sectors,” writes Peter Gow, who serves as the Director of College Counseling and Special Programs at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Gow also mentions that NAIS members worry about Chubb’s involvement with “for-profit educational enterprises and with organizations and ideologies that appear at odds with the mainstream of American public education.”
In 1999, when I was a sophomore in high school, Gow served as my American history teacher. While I enjoyed his class and still think highly of him as a teacher, the overall tone of his letter leaves much to be desired—as if Chubb, an accomplished educator, author, and academic, is going in blind.
Whatever Gow’s beliefs, I find it irresponsible that he would publish such remarks without first trying to contact Chubb. To be fair, Gow later conducted an insightful one-on-one interview, and he posted the exchange online.
Still, I reserved voicing judgment until meeting Chubb, which I did earlier this month at Episcopal High School in Alexandra, Virginia. Chubb spent the morning with me and other NAIS Teachers of the Future, visiting workshops and asking deep, insightful questions. I left the conference thoroughly impressed with Chubb’s vision for a brighter future, one that makes effective use of new technology and pedagogy.
Unlike Gow, I’m wholly appreciative of where Chubb worked before starting as NAIS President, which most recently includes serving as Interim CEO of Education Sector, a nonprofit education think tank. Previously, he acted as a founder and chief education officer of EdisonLearning, the for-profit educational management organization that Gow references in his letter. Chubb was also a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, “a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solution.” He remains a distinguished visiting fellow at The Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University “dedicated to research in domestic policy and international affairs.”
Independent schools—and American education in general—need all the fresh ideas they can get, especially if this country hopes to do a better job of educating students to succeed in the world of tomorrow. Clearly, Chubb has a lot to offer. My enthusiasm about Chubb’s appointment surged after reading his recent book, The Best Teachers in the World: Why We Don’t Have Them and How We Could.
“The teaching profession can be improved by helping teachers be more productive. As in every industry before it, education can improve productivity by turning to technology,” Chubb writes. “Reconfiguring schools to use teachers and technology to the best of their respective abilities could transform teaching.”
If Chubb’s work history has led him to such enlightened views, we should covet the diverse experience he brings to NAIS—not denounce it.
To learn more about Chubb’s views and goals for the future, I requested an interview. He responded almost immediately.
I’m elated that Chubb is fully committed to working with teachers, not just administrators and trustees, to improve the quality of independent schools.
“There’s historically been something of a division of labor—not a clear one, but something of a division of labor, with NAIS focusing more on school leaders and trustees,” he says. “On the other hand, NAIS has also done a bunch of things for teachers, especially in recent years. If I am able, I will accelerate that.”
Chubb also speaks with me about what it takes to keep good teachers on the job.
“The main reason that people stay in a school, and they’re loyal to a school, is the environment that’s created, the work environment that’s created,” he says. “That begins with the head of the school. Very successful heads, very successful principals, create environments in which collegiality is valued, in which teachers are supported when they struggle.”
To benefit all students, I have long felt that independent schools should continue to learn from and share ideas with the wider education community. I’m happy Chubb agrees: “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. Independent schools can learn from public and charter. Public schools can learn from charter and independent,” he says. “What I would like to see is a conversation that involves all of the sectors.”
Before we part ways, I ask Chubb how he has coped with criticism for being tapped as NAIS President—not just from Gow, but also other educators in blogs and forums.
“I’ve been in the idea business, more or less, my whole life,” he says. “When you’re in that business, doing research and bringing forth ideas, if the ideas are worth paying attention, some people are going to like them and some are not. Debate about new ideas is very, very healthy. I feel fortunate to have been part of the development of ideas that have generated conversation. I welcome feedback. I accept criticism. That’s part and parcel of healthy debate and how we make progress.”
These are the characteristics of a true leader. From what I sense, Chubb could not be more humble or genuine, even in his eagerness to hear diverging ideas on the future of independent schools.
“The independent schools have the greatest virtue that anyone could want as we face the future, which is freedom, autonomy, independence, the ability to make your own decisions and shape your own future,” he says.
I’m extremely proud to offer Chubb my complete support. He leads with tremendous wisdom and integrity, and I can’t wait to see how he helps foster a bright tomorrow.