By Bridget Doogan, NESA Director of Professional Learning
David Chojnacki turned over the role of NESA Executive Director to Madeleine Hewitt on July 1, 2017.
"The power for authentic leadership, Havel tells us, is found not in external arrangements but in the human heart."
― Parker J. Palmer, "The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life"
Leading with great heart, the personal qualities David Chojnacki has brought to the role of Executive Director have become the hallmarks of NESA. Stretching from Cairo in the West to Kathmandu in the East, the NESA region is vast and complex. Through his commitment to people, ongoing communication, and personal connection David has been able to overcome these challenges of distance and time. Always attuned to others, he listens and learns the stories of teachers, leaders, board members and speakers then strives to broker connections, support needs, and extend their personal or collective journeys.
It is this quality that has enabled NESA to attract outstanding speakers who appreciate the high-quality learning community they find, and wish to remain a part of. For so many it has become a professional and caring home from home, to return to again and again. The warmth of David's welcome has become the warmth of NESA.
A passion for learning
The epitome of a lifelong learner, David's voracious appetite for learning is immediately apparent. His razor-sharp intellect and inquiring mind are what keeps NESA current and relevant. He is on top of trends, research findings and emerging possibilities in our professional literature. He reaches out to those on the cutting edge to explore the relevance and possible application of their work.
The rigor and discipline David brings to his personal learning is the same rigor and discipline that he brings to every aspect of his work. His intellectual and professional qualities are mirrored in the learning organization that NESA has become - one whose international reputation is derived from the quality and depth of the learning it offers.
David brings an innovative mindset and forward-looking perspective to the role of Executive Director. NESA's mission, vision, and core beliefs emerged through Board strategic planning and the application of U-theory. Through this process, the organization's activities were distilled down to one over-arching purpose – to maximize student learning – with one means to this end: collaboration.
These principles informed David's leadership of NESA's transformation. It has moved from providing generic learning for administrators and teachers through two annual conferences, to recognizing that everyone in the community impacts students and is on a learning journey. Today, NESA offers four conferences with dedicated offerings for all forms of leaders and educators, including specialists, resource personnel, administrative assistants, business managers, trustees, human resource professionals, and more.
In the early days, conferences were planned solely by the Executive Director. Recognizing that direct input from schools and a broader range of perspectives would enhance the planning process, the Board approved David's suggestion to create a Professional Development Advisory Committee (PDAC). For the past 12 years David and the PDAC have worked together to plan, refine and implement professional development aligned with the needs of member schools. More recently, The Wider Circle was created to ensure that each member school was closely connected with planning.
Innovative learning designs have also emerged. From traditional, one-hour conference workshops, David has led a steady shift to longer blocks, with the opportunity for in-depth learning. Conference sessions are now three- or four-hours long, and extended, multi-day workshops are offered within the conference structure. Two-day institutes with a dedicated focus – often offered for teams – further reflect this commitment to deep learning and application. While in the past speakers were invited to present on a topic of their choosing, today they collaborate with NESA on the content, focus, and level of their sessions.
The most recent innovation is NESA Collaboratives. Made up of professionals from specific disciplines (e.g., literacy, math, world languages) or areas of professional responsibility (e.g., middle school principals, coaches, human resources professionals) Collaboratives now connect learning communities between conferences through social media, and inform the PDAC of their professional learning priorities.
A commitment to partnership and ongoing relationships
Throughout his tenure David has sought to forge strategic relationships with individuals and organizations in support of sustained, systemic professional learning. Examples include The National Association of Independent Schools (on whose board David served) with their work on leadership; The Thinking Collaborative, with their work on Adaptive Schools; and Learning Forward and their work on professional development standards.
Preeminent among them is NESA's close partnership with the US State Department's Office of Overseas Schools, in the person of Dr. Bea Cameron, Regional Education Officer to the NESA region. Their collaboration has resulted in AERO standards, Virtual School, NESA Virtual Science Fair, as well as professional development in mathematics, child protection, special needs, literacy, science and more. The AERO standards project in particular served as a catalyst for collaboration and professional development that continues to have a profound impact on student learning across the region and beyond.
In recognition of his twenty-one years of outstanding leadership, the NESA Board presented David with the Finis Engleman Award at the October 2016 Fall Leadership Conference in Abu Dhabi. It is the organization's highest honor.
During his tenure as Executive Director, David Chojnacki cultivated a compassionate and dynamic organizational ethos and culture. He created and sustained collaborative and supportive relationships among schools throughout the region, and maintained a laser-like focus on quality learning. This is the NESA David created. Finis Engleman would be proud.