Head of School Blog: Just Say Yes

One of my nicknames when I was a young teacher was, “Hinge-head.”  I earned that particular moniker as a result of my earnest willingness (head nodding up and down) to join any committee, take any duty, try my hand at coaching a new sport or teaching a new class.  My colleagues knew that if an unpleasant or arduous task needed doing, that like Mikey, that Life Cereal-trying icon of the 1980’s, I was their man.


Most head search processes require applicants to author the dreaded leadership philosophy, a brief overview of the principles and values that inform their leadership style.  I say dreaded because such an exercise inevitably invites the writer to traffic in platitudes like, “People buy into what they help create,” or, “Hire good people and get out of the way,” (both true, by the way.)


In my case, the riskiest stake I put in the ground was, “Default to yes,” a frame by which one looks for all of the reasons an idea can work-how it can work- not leap to all of the reasons it won’t.  Risky because in so doing, sometimes, in hindsight, you wish you’d have pulled the plug right from the start, but you said yes.


Such a choice was presented to me in July, just a few days into my tenure, by Ms. Manchester, when she invited me to run in the Cape Cod Marathon Relay. Though I was no long-distance runner, it was nonetheless important to me to present to my new colleagues that I was up for anything, that if it was good for Falmouth Academy, I was in.  


“Yes,” I said with false confidence and feigned enthusiasm.


Having now competed alongside 19 of my fellow Mariners, an eclectic mix of faculty, staff, students, and friends, in that event, I can say that the experience was most definitely validation of a “just say yes,” approach.  Aside from the obvious, testing my own resolve and bonding with this particular “band of brothers” (and sisters), I found myself reflecting on the connections between my run and my work at Falmouth Academy.


First, while it may look like marathoners compete against one another, entrants are more often competing with one another but against themselves, endeavoring to record a “personal best” time.  The presence of other runners pushing them and more often supporting them, helps them access reservoirs of strength they did not know they had. Likewise, FA’s goal is to help each student exceed each day, each year his or her personal best. Some schools knowingly or unknowingly embrace a competitive spirit in which for someone to win, someone else has to lose. Falmouth Academy students root for one another, even raise the bar for another, so that we all can record our personal bests.


Second, I was reminded of the old adage, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” one often correctly applied to the business of educating young people.  As I have opined in other posts, it can be tempting to take a snapshot of our students’ performances at particular mile-markers and make judgments about the value of their education or even the value of our students based on that snapshot. Short term goals and interim data are useful but our work tends to resist such conveniences. Perhaps instead or urging our children to “run faster!” we should be encouraging them to “run longer!”


Finally, it’s worth noting that this particular race was a relay.  I did not depart from the starting line; I never crossed the finish line. My assignment was the rather hilly, somewhat unsightly section of Thomas Landers Road, the dreaded third leg!  But when I watched my teammate Sam cross the finish line, it felt like I was running along side of him. Despite the foundational American myth of the rugged individual, most of us know that when we attain a goal, we rarely do so alone. In fact, attaining that goal with others can be all the sweeter.


As always, thanks for reading; thanks for indulging my tendency to go on a bit. I suppose I could have saved you some time by letting you know ahead of time that this post could have been summed up in just three words.


Just say yes.


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