March 20, 2020
Dear Heads of School,
Here is our third edition of Reflections on Leadership. I hope you have been able to take a moment out of your busy schedule to hear what your colleagues are saying about how they feel about this unprecedented leadership challenge for our schools. I am grateful to John, Eric, and Mark for taking the time to share their thoughts today.
The challenge of leading a school in the time of Coronavirus is very different from that of leading a military unit in combat, but the same principles apply. Accomplish the mission--in this case, keeping the light of learning alive while maintaining the relationships between teachers and students that are the heart of everything we do--and take care of your people. That's hard to do when you can't look them directly the eye or comfort them face to face, but we use the tools we have to do the very best we can, knowing that we can get through this together.
John Nagl, Headmaster, Haverford School
A guiding principle for me is summed up by Dorothy Day, a 20th century journalist and activist, who said, "The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are bound to feel, is community."
So I'm encouraging my community, while practicing responsible social distancing, to be intentionally present for those around us: to regularly reach out via email, video chats and social media to connect with loved ones and friends, and to engage our students, parents, and colleagues with patience and compassion as we work through inevitable kinks in initiating our remote learning initiative. In this way, when we're back offline, we will have maintained and potentially deepened the connections that give us life and make us more ourselves.
Eric Jones, Head of School, Community Partnership School
I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's first chief of staff, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." With clarity and creativity, independent school teachers are about to deploy more tech tools than we have ever used. Our teachers, they will create something spectacular and it will be a solid stop gap to keep kids learning and thinking while they are at home. Every head of school faces what my father used to call "big chair" moments - times when we must step up to the plate as leaders. The death of teacher or student. A decision to exit a member of the community. A public decision that we know will be viewed unfavorably by many. The CoronaVirus is "big chair" moment for every head of school at every independent school in this country. As I told my faculty Friday, "We got this." You got this!
Mark J. Anderson, Head of School, Sanford School
Gary J. Niels
Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools (PAIS)
37 E. Germantown Pike Suite 302
Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania 19462