"When the Only Constant is Change"

Brenda Hamm | March 20, 2023

A Conversation with Some EC Partners.

Pause for a minute and consider some of the issues that schools and school leaders are experiencing, including the BLM and Me Too movements, a pandemic, school gun violence, climate change, social media and its impact on student mental health, AI, and the politicization of LGBTQIA2S+ communities. Given the ever-changing landscape of these issues and others, name one or two characteristics, abilities, and/or resources you think a head of school needs to be successful today compared to, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

Pilar: My initial reaction is that one person can’t do it all—so you need to hire the right people, make sure they bring skill sets that complement yours, build a strong team, and delegate. Be willing to share responsibilities and give credit to others for their successes.

Mary: I agree. Try to create an incredible leadership team by hiring folks who think differently from you, who have different backgrounds and life experiences. Then, be sure to access all their voices when problem solving.

Tracy: The days of binary thinking and decision making are long gone. Everything is so much more nuanced, and the path forward for a leader can feel murky at best. But as long as everyone in the room has the experience of feeling heard, seen, and valued for who they are and what they believe, there will be a path. Critical is the capacity to own your lack of knowledge or understanding, and then make it a priority to engage in deep, meaningful work to learn. Really learn–not just read an article but truly develop a personal understanding of the issues. Coupled with that is developing the ability to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously.

Sally: Yes, you’re really talking about cultural competence. Having a true ability to articulate an open mind about varying worldviews vis-à-vis how the school is going to protect and honor each student’s individuality and need to grow in a safe space is vital.

Pilar: Empathy, high EQ, and community-building skills. Remember that an inclusive community creates space for everyone. Also, flexibility and adaptability. School leaders should be willing to stand up for their beliefs, but also allow room for change, particularly given the speed of change—technological, political, social, environmental–today.

Sally: These are probably all skills that any good leader should possess but they have felt most important over the past few years. Similar to what you touched on, Pilar, is the ability to walk the line between intense compassion and empathy AND maintaining high performance expectations from employees. Which means a communication style that reflects transparency and clarity of purpose and mission.

Nat: Yes–and going back to another thing that you said, Pilar, leaders today more than ever need to be agile and adept at change management. And they need to really understand and live in the space that encompasses school culture, change, and ambiguity–they need to be sense-makers.

Mary: I feel as though there has never been a greater need for courageous leaders who are creative problem solvers. And while there is no “one template for successful leaders” I would list self-awareness, resilience, courage, and being unafraid of failure as important characteristics of school leaders today. And, yes, the speed of change today, calls for being able to lead a “can do” culture.

Sally: When you say “can-do,” Mary, I immediately think of optimism and energy that come across in authentic ways inspire the same in others.

Mary: School leadership isn’t for the faint of heart but I’m amazed by today’s heads and senior administrators. Challenging times can bring out the best in leadership! I’m proud of our work too. We get schools, we provide important and wise counsel, we help them imagine possibilities.

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