It is still “that which cannot be discussed” for another five days. I have kept it close to my mind and heart for nearly three weeks. If someone had told me just four months ago that this is where I would be in late October, I would have called them mad. Yet here I am — in that surreal space between accepting the position of Head of School and when it is announced to the rest of my community and the outside world.
In that time, things need to happen. Letters to two different communities must be prepared and signed, negotiations need to be considered, meetings must be coordinated, and calls must be made. And until these things take place, nothing can be announced. It is a world of plans different from anything I have experienced before. It all makes perfect sense. Yet during this period, I feel as if I am walking next to myself. I am going through the daily routine, meeting with parents, colleagues, and students. I attend meetings, (so many meetings, or does it just seem like more?), take my daughter on high school visits, read, walk the dog, and buy groceries. And daydream. The announcement is coming. For the first time in four months, I can talk about it. And. People. Will. Know.
In an odd way, it reminds me of the window of time between my decision to move forward with the paperwork to adopt my daughter and the time I was legally allowed to go public with the news. For all sorts of ethical reasons, nothing could be said, but I knew the truth. My life was changing — changing in a world still surrounding me with overwhelming normalcy.
The other night I made a new life change when I signed my first headship contract. Finally. I sat down, took a deep breath, and realized it was truly ready after myriad adjustments. Picking up my favorite pen, I scrawled my signature. While sitting at the dining table, chatting with my daughter (who also does not know) about her homework, and checking emails. Just another task at the table. Which changed the trajectory of my career after almost a quarter of a century at one school. No proclamation, no drama; I just signed a contract.
A Journey Guided by Mentoring
I have worked at only two schools in my career. One, a school for girls, where I taught lower, middle, and upper school for 14 years. The other, a school for boys, where I head the lower school. I have loved both schools. Without question, they have shaped me as an educator. It was the work I did for both institutions and the mentoring I received that led me to this next step.
It was not something I pursued. I had always said I had no desire to be Head of School. And I meant it. But when you are asked, you find yourself reconsidering. As Mildred Berendsen once said, “When you are asked to serve the school, you do.” And when it is a school you love, you want to.
Four months later, I walk around the school I have been part of for 22 years, participating in plans for next year, knowing I will not be part of these plans, knowing that nobody else knows that (except for perhaps four people), and having memories overwhelm me wherever I walk and whatever I do.
Now, when I walk to school in the mornings instead of deciding which latte to get, I think about the past 22 years. I remember the first few years and how I knew I was making a positive impact. I think about the middle years, hitting my stride, mentoring new teachers, and knowing I belonged to the fabric of an institution.
I think about the past three to four years when it hit me how much I have to learn about education and administration — when I questioned what I had been doing as an educational leader for the past 15 years. After nearly two decades of working with the same beloved colleagues, I was now working with other talented partners, and I was seeing my field through the eyes of these new colleagues. In seeing my work anew, I realized I needed to question, to stretch, and to grow. I was given a gift I never thought I needed or wanted.
A Walk Guided by Memories
I also remember walking the halls, sometimes running the halls of this school during that terrible Tuesday in September. I can stand where I stood when I heard the Pentagon had been hit, and I can walk in the room where I held a teacher whose husband was in one of the towers, not knowing if he was coming home. (He did.)
I recall joys and tragedies — the students who lost parents over the years and knowing our school community would do whatever we could to step in; students who faced devastating illnesses and families that broke apart. There was also the joy of seeing students walk down the aisle at graduation, remembering conversations I had had with their parents years earlier, wondering if that boy might ever make it to middle school. And the families who called after they left the school, just to say thank you and that the efforts were appreciated.
And I know. It is time to put all of these experiences in the past.
In about 105 hours, it will be time to announce my future. Until then I write letters. A letter to one school expresses my appreciation for the honor to lead and shares my hopes for the years ahead. A letter to another school expresses my gratitude for and connection to what I am going to leave. And then, on Thursday two schools will meet shortly before 8:00 a.m. to hear the news.
Ten Days Later
There have been letters and emails, more than 200 of them, from colleagues and soon-to-be colleagues, parents I have not met, and parents I have known for years. Some from people who I do not know at all but are excited for me and for the school I will be connected to now. I save them all (after answering them), and I am grateful to my dad who reminded me to do so.
As I slowly fill a notebook with questions, thoughts, and ideas, I return to visiting high schools with my daughter, talking to colleagues about classes and families, editing handbooks, and updating calendars. But now, every action is connected to both the past and the future. Daily life continues with complete familiarity. And yet everything has changed.