Inside SFS

Steve’s Reflection on Fellowship for Heads of Schools

I recently returned from completing a two-week Fellowship for Heads of Schools at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. There really is never a good time to leave work and one’s family for such a long period, but thanks to the Board of Trustees, the Administrative team and my family I was able to attend. I’d like to thank Jeanette Moore, the Director of Finance and Operations, in particular for stepping up at school and taking on extra duties so that I could be away. I would also like to publicly thank my wife, Beth, for holding down the fort with three kids and a new puppy at home!

When I first took the job as Head of SFS nine years ago, my predecessor, Terry Edeli, told me, “If you make it to year 7, 8 or 9, you have to do the Klingenstein program - besides, it is fully funded by Columbia!” Once I got past the “if you make it” comment, I set my sights on the program.

Spending two weeks at Teacher’s College came at the right time in my career - it offered a wonderful opportunity to look back and ahead. I was able to deeply reflect on my path as a leader at The San Francisco School, and beyond. I am so grateful to the many faculty, staff, parents and board members who have partnered with me over the years to continue to make SFS into one of the BEST Pre-K-8th Grade independent schools. Sometimes it takes stepping away from work and interacting with others who do the same job and run similar institutions to realize how fortunate we are to be at SFS. Ultimately, we work at a great school where kids love to learn, and staff and parents are united in a common Mission.

In addition to my personal and professional reflection while away, there were two great components to the program. First, I was part of a cohort of 20 other school Heads from around the world. Altogether, our group represented seven different countries and eleven different U.S. states/territories. My network of Heads and schools around the world is now deeper than ever before – and this benefits our community. Second, I took three graduate level courses: Philosophy and Education, Research in Education and Leadership for Social Justice. In my philosophy course, I was steeped in the work of great philosophers like John Dewey (who taught at Columbia University for many years), Michel De Montaigne and others. I found it remarkable that the progressive values these philosophers espoused then are so relevant today. For example, Montaigne, who wrote in the 1500’s, talked about the importance of children at play, hands on learning, teaching to different learning styles, and the partnership between parents and teachers. All of these topics are relevant in 21st century learning and essential tenants at SFS.

In my Research in Education course, I pursued a challenge that Independent Schools across the country face and one that I am passionate about – “What factors influence the lack of faculty and staff of color in independent/private schools?” Unfortunately, there are too few teachers and staff of color in our schools (fewer than 16% across 1700 private schools nationwide), and studies show that this can ultimately impact our students’ learning, in particular students of color. I researched questions such as: Are there specific outreach/recruitment efforts and strategies that have been put in place to hire staff of color, or, is there simply a lack of strategy about how to do this outreach effectively? Are there particular factors that would make for workplaces that would better serve teachers and staff of color? Furthermore, are there specific skills and knowledge that people of color need to thrive (and stay) in independent schools that differ from their white colleagues? My work is not done in this area, and I look forward to sharing my findings over time.

In my Leadership for Social Justice course, I crafted my own definition of “leading for social justice”. I believe that it is having an ultimate concern for the marginalized. The fellowship coincided with the first couple of weeks of our country’s new Administration. As Executive Order after Executive Order was handed down, my cohort (which represented a great deal of diverse thinking) and I were enthralled in debates and commentary around the impact that this post-election time would have on our very different schools. The issues that have arisen during this first month of the new Administration directly conflict with many of our School Values, our Mission and my own educational philosophy. In response, I have honed and recommitted to my own educational philosophy statement which is: I believe in a student centered, hands on approach to learning where teachers are equipped to differentiate their instruction and assessment. Teachers are not the sole providers of knowledge, but instead, they are meant to guide students to ask beautiful questions and seek answers in multiple ways. The throughline to all of this teaching and learning must be a commitment to equity and social justice. These courses affirmed that my educational philosophy is one that is steeped in hundreds of years of progressive roots which, now, in these post-election times, feel more vital than ever.

I feel privileged and honored to have participated in the Teacher’s College Head of Schools program. I will be reflecting on this transformational experience for months to come. I have re-entered our community feeling more grounded in my own educational philosophy than ever before and confident that it “holds hands” with SFS’s Mission and Values. Furthermore, I have an even deeper understanding of being a leader for social justice. My sleeves are rolled up, I am ready to partner with our community in providing a space where we can continue to understand the complexity of the unfolding identity of our country, and, most importantly, figure out the best ways to give our children and students a voice and the skills to be leaders. See you around the hallways! 

Posted February 14, 2017