NAIS 2021 Annual Conference: 'It’s All About Creating a Transformational Experience'

New Features, Big Issues, Total Connection: A Conversation with NAIS's Donna Orem and Jay Rapp

An NAIS 2021 Exclusive

We’re a few weeks away from the 2021 NAIS Online Annual Conference. Are you . . . busy?

Jay: Ha! We’re going full out. What have I been doing—oh, what haven’t I been doing? Selecting and preparing workshop presenters and general session speakers. Making our technology seamless and intuitive. Creating opportunities for informal social gatherings. The list goes on. But it’s all part of creating a transformational experience.
Donna: One of the 30,000-foot tasks is answering the question: How can we change the way people see their work and their world? One of our core values as an organization is innovation. We want the annual conference to open up your thinking, to challenge you, to introduce you to new tools and new frameworks. That’s what growth is about: mixing it up, imagining what’s possible.
Jay: For NAIS, this is a moment when the entire organization comes together to put on a main event. Every single person has a role, every single person works hard to make sure the conference leaves you saying, “Ahhhh” or “Wow!” When we’re totally connected inside the organization, we’re able to build a conference that helps you feel totally connected.
Playing devil’s advocate: Does the world need another online gathering?

Donna: To be honest, I’m excited about this format. Without the time and space constraints of a face-to-face conference, we can use our resources differently, and attendees can customize their experience. You’ll have more opportunities to personalize the conference—to see the people you most want to see, join the events you most want to join, and put together a schedule that will end up having the biggest impact on your practice and your school.
Jay: I think we always need to take the time to gather and connect. We need to share our victories and challenges. We need to inspire and be inspired. And independent school education is changing rapidly—we need to take stock of that. If anything, all of those activities are more important this year.
Aside from the obvious—what’s new about this year’s conference?

Jay: The Signature Experiences. They’re a way to bring a more intimate experience into a large conference. We chose the topics—DEI, wellness, innovation—very deliberately. They address the big issues we’re facing nationally and globally. Our schools, our members, have been wrestling with these topics; this is a chance to get clarity and make progress.
Donna: The accessibility. Simply put: More people can come to the conference. That’s a huge advantage for us as an organization and for all of our members. When you can bring more people together, you can think more broadly and deeply about your work. You’ll hear different stories, new research, compelling conversations. You get the kind of experience that opens your heart, sparks your imagination, and inspires your will.

Donna Orem is president of NAIS. Jay Rapp is vice president of professional development at NAIS.