#3—The ONE Thing

Mr. David Perry

Having just returned from NESA’s (Near East South Asia’s) Council of Overseas Schools Fall Leadership Conference, I feel fortified by connecting with other school leaders from our diverse region and by the opportunity to reflect with my AES colleagues about how the speakers and sessions might inspire progress within our wonderful school. 

I also feel like I’ve run a mini-mind-marathon. We could say we are a bit out of shape when it comes to conferences—this is the first time we have been in person at a conference in three years—but our energy was high and our ideas and reconnections were flowing. On the way home, there was this feeling of accomplishment but also exhilaration about what comes next. When and how can I apply all the nuggets of learning and insight to AES? There is so much to think about—so many priorities and ways to think about schooling. 

As my head is spinning upon my return to New Delhi, I recall the concept of The ONE Thing as written about in a book by Gary Keller and Jay Papason https://www.amazon.in/One-Thing-Gary-Keller/dp/1848549601. It’s not a new book but shares a concept I think might be particularly relevant as we move from the rather isolating and simplified days of the pandemic into the flurry and hurry—albeit welcome—of our new normal. 

And so, I thought, perhaps it would be helpful to think about the ONE thing I want to carry forward from this conference. And indeed, I have it: lean into discomfort—an idea that seems to have been a main thread connecting the messages of each of the four conference keynote speakers. 

From Said El Kadi (recent graduate from one of our regional peer schools and current Harvard University freshman) to Rosalind Wiseman (co-founder of Cultures of Dignity and author of Courageous Discomfort: How to Have Brave Life Changing Conversations about Race and Racism) to Peter Kelly-Detwiler (Principal and Consultant of Northbridge Energy Partners and author of The Energy Switch) to Derrick Gay (international diversity and inclusion strategist and consultant), all delivered the message that we are at a sort of confluence of uncomfortable currents. From facing deep inequities to ingrained patterns of human behavior that are leading to perilous climate conditions, we need to lean in to get a closer look, to seek the more nuanced or hidden perspectives, and ultimately to find our way safely forward. 

What we each have paid attention to and how we each habitually respond is deeply ingrained, but each of the speakers emphasized that we are collectively called to face the discomfort of leaning in more profoundly, to work harder to become aware of what we might not be seeing, and to be less risk averse in order to make lasting changes. Examples at the conference were to notice the hundreds of the hotel-supplied plastic water bottles, the wake of the litter, and then to speak up about it. Another example was to reframe how we talk about diversity in schools. Derrick Gay led us through a series of exercises about how we think about diversity and how our best intentioned paradigms might in fact be flawed and perpetuating a culture of the other as opposed to a culture of belonging. And as we all know, this can be a topic that feels hot or risky but with guidance, we can lean into the conversation and move through these educational journeys together. 

I want to end this month’s blog by sharing my experience as a novice, though enthusiastic, river kayaker. I love the feeling of the fresh air, the sound of the rushing water, the adrenalin as I approach another set of rapids. And I love the sport as a metaphor: In all the heart-racing fastness, while there’s a natural instinct to lean away from approaching obstacles, I have learned instead to lean in—that this is critical in order to avoid flipping the boat. Our energy and current is super strong at AES. Let’s keep navigating the river together, bravely leaning in when it’s what we need to move fluidly and safely forward.