Leadership Through Partnership: The Foundation for a Strong School

“Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.” -Abraham Lincoln

While in Washington D.C. two weeks ago for the NAIS Leadership Through Partnership Conference for Heads of School and Board Chairs, my daughter—a Head-Royce alumna who is studying the impact of climate change on the Chesapeake Bay—and I took a stroll through our favorite stretch of the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. As I reflected on my visit to that stunning memorial, as well my first visit to the inspiring African American history museum earlier that day, I noted how deeply important it is for leaders to not just look at the present state of their circumstances, but to also plan ahead—thoughtfully and intentionally—for our collective futures. 

Head-Royce is, in a sense, “lucky” in the independent school world. Not only do we have a long and successful history (133 years!), we currently enjoy high admissions demand for limited spaces, a deeply committed group of educators and professional staff who are mission-focused, and students who are engaged and curious learners. We send our students off to well-matched colleges and universities—and to purpose-driven lives. 

Head-Royce also serves as a leader in the national independent school community, with faculty and administrators presenting at many different workshops and conferences for peer schools, including Women in Leadership, Santa Fe Leadership Seminar, and numerous sessions for the California Teacher Development Collaborative (CATDC), California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and National Association of Independent School (NAIS). With a strong local and national reputation, we are thriving as a school and community, due in no small part to the skilled leadership of our trustees, administrators, teachers and students—and the partnership with our parents. 

And yet, one cannot expect to maintain this position without careful attention to the future and a focus on our WHY. At the Leadership Through Partnership Conference, NAIS President Donna Orem shared the latest trends in creating and sustaining healthy schools for the future. She—and the researchers at NAIS—suggest that in order to create and sustain a thriving school, schools today MUST have a vision for the future and a strategy to get there. Orem states that we must, “Redefine the purpose of education. We need to support children to develop the skillset and mindset to do anything in their future rather than a particular “something.”    

One of Head-Royce’s strengths is our clear and visionary Strategic Plan, which serves as our North Star, guiding our decisions and providing us with a road map for today and tomorrow. How, specifically, are we “redefining the purpose of education” and creating the optimal environment for our students to do “anything” in their future? Many examples of this “anything” are woven throughout the K-12 experience. In the Upper School, for instance, the wide range of current initiatives includes an exploration of cultural competency standards, the use of project-based learning to revisit the teaching of Economics, the creation of video newscasts in languages other than English, and new instructional approaches in diverse fields of study encompassing human rights, poetry, debate, computer science, engineering, and molecular genetics, among other disciplines. The Lower School’s Harvest Faire provides a deep dive into sustainability, while each Middle School grade explores meaningful citizenship through a sustained year-long commitment to a specific community engagement initiative. We are focusing on inquiry-based and purpose-driven curricular initiatives because studies repeatedly show that these approaches help students to more fully absorb and retain material than traditional pedagogical methods.  

The fact that we are a thriving school and a leader in the independent school community is beyond “luck”—it is intentional. We have set an aligned, intentional strategic vision through the Strategic Plan, and our Master Plan will create dedicated spaces specifically for kids to develop the skills, habits, and mindsets to do anything (not just one thing). We are modeling leadership and developing future leaders with purpose and intention.

Back in DC that afternoon with my daughter, I learned that beyond being a monument to a significant figure in our nation’s history, the Lincoln Memorial was constructed with an additional layer of intention that is not readily obvious to most. Henry Bacon, the project architect, purposefully sourced building materials from many different states—granite from Massachusetts, pink marble from Indiana, limestone from Tennessee—to tell the story of a fractured, post-war nation coming together to create something of beauty, impact, and meaning. Over a hundred years later, the power of crafting our work around an intentional, strategic vision remains as relevant as ever. Much like Bacon’s inspiration, we are building a strong school, with our mission, master plan, and strategic plan serving as our granite, limestone, and marble. Here’s to the strength of our present and the bright promise of our future.

-Crystal Land