Those of you who follow my Instagram account (which I am frankly not very good at keeping up-to-date) will know that I spent a few days in San Diego at the AFSA head of schools conference at the start of this week. I completely forgot to mention it in last week’s letter, even though it would have fitted in quite nicely—like every educational conference taking place these days, a considerable amount of time was spent discussing Artificial Intelligence (in short: it’s a bit scary today, but it will be brilliant tomorrow.)
A few impressions from my short visit to California: First, I could definitely, if I was forced to, get used to the weather there (I got a sunburn!) Second, I now understand why it’s called a “red eye” flight; when I got off the plane at JFK on Wednesday morning, I realized there was no earthly way I could go straight to work as I had naively imagined I would. Finally, and most importantly, through conversations with other heads of school, I was struck once again by something I already know—how lucky I am to work at The École.
Schools are complex and fragile microcosms. Heads of school have to strike the right balance to be sure to satisfy their boards and their ever-changing board members, who run the gamut from too cautious to too audacious and can either be bogged down by short-term logistics or carried away by inaccessible futures (once upon a time, during an interview for a head of school position at another school, I was asked if I could maybe complete my proposed five-year plan— something the board had asked all candidates to draw up— in two years instead. I withdrew my candidature as soon as I got home!) In those contexts, heads struggle to find their place; they have to bow and scrape to get what their team needs. They comprise, challenge, and define roles—tracing boundaries in the sand that the wind threatens to blow away any second.
At The École, it is different (I talk about my weekly meetings with Philippe and Laurence here). When I arrived three and half years ago, I was fresh from a universe of carefully timed board meetings, of presentations 123 slides long, and strategic arguments designed to win my audience over. I discovered an entirely different reality here–a reality where meeting agendas are abandoned the moment we sit down (to discuss something more important!), where confidence reigns without a second thought, where means are made available if used wisely, where Philippe and Laurence’s passion for this school is as strong as it was when I first met them, if not even stronger.
We’ve got a lot to talk about at the moment, and our meetings are running longer and longer. Recruiting a new primary head is a process that is keeping us particularly busy—we have to prepare for their arrival not only on a professional level but also on a personal and, particularly important given the New York context, a financial one.
I am certain that if they knew, other heads of school would envy how easily our conversations flow and how quickly we agree on so many subjects. And I can’t even begin to imagine how they would envy the quality of our students, the generosity of our colleagues, and the support of our families.
I missed it all when I was in California.