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March 5, 2020

NAIS 2020 Annual Conference Takeaways

This NAIS was a great one— it’s always exciting to see so many passionate educators in one place! I say this especially since it’s been a tough start to the year. I imagine it’s not easy putting school-wide coronavirus precautions in place while also juggling the typical winter semester duties. In spite of that added stress, we saw a large and wonderful group of educators committed to sharing their own experiences and learning about other schools. Pretty amazing  NAIS 2020!

Looking back at the conference, one speaker that really stood out was Jonathan Haidt, who presented on moral conflicts and its ties to student anxiety and depression. His call-to-action to creating antifragility in students was compelling, especially in light of frequent social media exposure.

“Antifragility”— it’s an interesting word. I love his explanation of glass versus the immune system— glass is fragile. Drop it; it breaks. On the other hand, your immune system only gets stronger if you have the opportunity to get sick; it becomes weak if it remains unused. Thus, he’d describe it as “antifragile”.

Similar to the immune system, our students cannot learn how to deal with conflict if they’re kept sheltered from it. Our bodies learn how to fight diseases; our brains learn how to problem-solve and manage our emotions appropriately, and they both learn from experience.

It really got me thinking: are there other ways we can apply the concept of antifragility?

At Studyo, we work with a lot of academically rigorous schools. The elephant in the room? Maintaining excellence in academics, athletics, extra-curriculars, and personal life can take a mental toll on our students, even with the most carefully-structured programs. Haidt acknowledges that student anxiety and depression are on the rise, and it’s common knowledge that stress can play a major role.

I’d like to go back to the antifragile immune system: your immune system can only become stronger you get sick, but that doesn’t mean that being sick isn’t worrying

We support our immune systems with medicine, tea, rest, and proper care. We support our students going through a conflict with encouraging words, helpful suggestions, and proper care. We support our stressed students by providing helpful resources, counseling, and— you guessed it— proper care!

I know for many of my students in the past, balancing a difficult workload is a major challenge. But as educators, it’s clear the solution is never to make our programs less rigorous for them— it’s truly amazing how our kids can rise to the challenge and exceed our expectations with proper support.

Because we care, we support them through the difficulty of a tough academic program without lifting the expectation of greatness entirely. We help them practice those key executive functioning and mindfulness skills that they need to succeed with less anxiety, but we don’t let them off the hook— we know they are capable, and we know that they can succeed with the help they need.

As we provide a resource to support students overwhelmed by high-level programs, it was a privilege to attend NAIS and learn just how invested you are in dealing with anxiety/depression in students. Ensuring the mental strength of students is no easy feat— there are so many moving pieces at play! It’s such an important goal, and hearing the enthusiasm of the educators there was affirming.

To the educators of Philly (and other out-of-towners like us)— you were such an inspiring group of people! America’s independent schools are definitely in great hands. Thanks again to all who passed by our booth and chatted with us; we’re already looking forward to seeing you again in Houston!