"Everything tends to work out over time." Gillian Goodman, Head of Lower School, Greensboro Day School
"The division head’s work is primarily adult focused… in the service of students."Danette Morton, Head of Middle School, The Westminster Schools
"Often people are responding to my role… not to me." Liz Perry, Head of Upper School, St. Luke’s School
While the insights each contributor shared were, of course, unique to their experience, some themes emerged that apply to anyone who is reflecting on preparing for an upcoming year in which they'll serve as an divisional leader, even for those who have served in the role for a while.
The academic leadership aspects of divisional leadership is a role that, when done well, is often less visible to parents and students in comparison to the public speaking , and that is how it should be. While your office may have some “frequent flyers” the majority of families will have most of their academic interactions with their child’s teachers and advisors. They’ll delight in their child’s growth during their progress through your division, while your work in supporting each of those teachers and advisors remains largely invisible to them. Be okay with this aspect of your role and celebrate that, when you’re doing it right, only a few folks know you’re doing it at all!
Pause from time to time and ask yourself, what is my role here? In the course, we recommend that new division leaders have a conversation about their job descriptions with their Head of School as they come onboard. The goal is to further understand their role “ask questions, get clarification, and note all the details you may have missed when you accepted the role.” If you’ve been serving as a division leader for a while, it may also be wise to revisit your job description–maybe with a highlighter in hand. What’s changed? What no longer applies? How does an increased understanding of your role help you define strategic priorities for the year? In addition, whether you’re helping students with a dispute or helping an adult navigate a difficult decision, already understanding your place in their experience can guide you in the moment.
“Find your joy” is a part of the advice given by experienced division heads to those entering the role. Noticing the growth of the students in the division may come naturally to you as a new division head. But what about the joy that comes with seeing the adults in the division flourish and grow? Documenting and celebrating that growth authentically brings seasoned leaders satisfaction that they are where they are meant to be.
Another recommendation for new leaders is to begin building the professional relationships you need with other adults (both on campus and in the greater Academic Leaders community). While the purpose of school is to serve the mission in delivering a student experience, once a person moves to divisional leadership, a large portion of their work is with adults. Specifically, the role of division leader is to support faculty so that they can, in turn, support student learning. This framing can help new leaders imbue their conversations with teachers and other colleagues with purpose; “how can I support you in meeting our mission in your classroom” (or other area). Experienced division leaders have been supporting faculty and staff through some incredibly difficult times for the past three disrupted school years, and many are feeling like they’ve been in triage in many of their teacher conversations. Refocusing the adult conversations on meeting the mission this fall may help restore some equanimity going into the new year.
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