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Leadership in Times of Dramatic Change

Posted on: February 11, 2019

The Headmasters Association 2019 annual meeting

Last week, I attended the 126th Annual Meeting of the Headmasters Association, an annual gathering of some 100+ leaders of urban, rural and suburban, public and private, day and boarding schools from across the country.


A Fitting Theme


Each year’s meeting has a theme that is selected by the HA’s executive committee, with past themes ranging from The Arts in Our Schools and The Presidential Election, to Unsung Heroes and The New Millennium. I truly look forward to what I gain from the gathering and its speakers who never fail to expand upon the theme by offering challenging, stimulating and timely insights.

The Headmasters Association 2019

Over the course of the two-day meeting, held this year in Durham, NC, we heard outstanding presentations from two college Presidents (the University of Richmond and Sweet Briar College), Alexander “Sandy” Vershbow, the former NATO Secretary General and U.S. Ambassador to Russia, and Jon Meacham, a distinguished author and presidential historian. While our speakers were from diverse backgrounds, each had the benefit of a broad and deep grounding in the liberal arts.

Qualities Essential to Effective Leadership


In a time of political and cultural turmoil, this year’s theme of “Leadership in Times of Dramatic Change” could not have been more fitting. From their collective years of leading in various capacities, the above-mentioned speakers see the following qualities as essential to effective leadership:

  1. A passion for principle and excellence
  2. Honesty with self and other
  3. Holding one’s self and others accountable
  4. Self-awareness — an ability and willingness to acknowledge one’s strengths and weaknesses
  5. A hope-filled spirit— looking for the best in others
  6. An understanding of complexity without over-thinking the matter
  7. Prudence, discernment, and a sense of proportion
  8. Curiosity and creativity
  9. Resilience
  10. Humility and empathy

With PBDA’s emphasis on developing leaders within the community, I find reassurance in knowing that we as faculty and parents are doing all we can to instill the above characteristics in our children at Palm Beach Day.


Upholding Tradition While Embracing Innovation


Included in the conference was the Service of Remembrance, a long-standing tradition in which we honor our colleagues who have died throughout the previous school year. Held in one of the beautiful Duke chapels, moving meditations were offered for six fellow school leaders who collectively gave over 200 years of devoted service to their schools. Although the two women and four men led very different communities during their careers, it was clear from the tributes that they shared a deep-seated care and love for people, for teaching, and for learning. Each guided their schools through significant change — including the tumultuous years of the 60’s and 70’s — balancing thoughtfulness and determination with integrity. Each honored their schools’ most important traditions while understanding the need to be responsive to new research, technology, and the evolving needs and expectations of students and families.

For me, these “lessons for leadership” from respected and experienced scholars and thought leaders are and should be synonymous with “lessons for 21st century learning”. I have so appreciated my time at PBDA and this is in large part because of our faculty and staff who, in ways appropriate to the ages of the children we serve, work daily to model, teach, and live these lessons for education and leadership.