It starts long before reaching NAIS, this process of being a part of the annual conference. First, there's the online registration for conference and accommodations, both of which are easy enough and somewhat in the distance. Next come the round of emails with colleagues from around the country: Are you attending? Can we get together? Sure, let's meet up in the lobby.... Forgetting how big the lobby has become and how many colleagues, known and unknown, are in the process of assembling.
A day or two prior to departure, the "crises" start cropping up on campus, until actually leaving can become problematic. But we manage, anticipating a snatched hour or two of peace and quiet in the airport, the train station, or the solitude of a car. But we forget, again, how large our circle of colleagues has become, and it's only two or three minutes into the security line when we notice another head of school or teacher queued up in the opposite direction. So we exchange brief anecdotes about our current year or news about colleagues. Ironically, these are the times we see the most of our local educator friends -- in the lines going to and the rows of session seats at NAIS.
And so begins the anticipation of the next few days in San Francisco. They will be packed with conversations, questions, stories, dilemmas, humor. We will be reminded of the astounding breadth of our experiences and the equally astonishing similarities in our schools. We will be challenged to grow and reminded of what we bring to our schools as leaders. In all likelihood, we will stop -- frequently -- to consider what makes us the leaders that we are, why we are matched with the schools that employ us. We will hear speakers who represent worlds unfamiliar to us, as well as presentations that inspire because of their familiar truth. We will stay up late, get up early, and run into people we haven't seen in years. We, whose focus so often is on balancing the mundane of carpools with visions of expansion and enrollment, will have the opportunity to dream big and to muse with our friends -- the country's school leaders -- about who we are and why we are.
Most of us aren't quite there yet, however, so we will watch the airports and train stations, then the lobbies of our hotels for other independent school folk. Somehow we can always tell who they are. By the time of the opening session tomorrow, we will have left far behind our schools and be fully involved in the annual NAIS celebration of all of us.