Head of School Blog

Best Laid Plans

Jill Singleton
As a school leader, much of my time is spent trying to control things. My role requires planning, designing an implementation strategy, ensuring everyone has the resources they need to complete their tasks, and holding everyone accountable to the success of the project. Being in Ecuador for nearly two weeks with our Eighth Grade students, I am reminded of the downside to living in this role: there are many things that are beyond our control, and when things go awry, sometimes the best strategy of all can be a total departure from the original vision – a tough pill to swallow. While I’ve made vast improvements in this area over the course of my life, I still grapple with an innate desire to envision, manage, and control an outcome.

Our annual trip to Ecuador requires a lot of planning. The itinerary is one of the most important tools we use to guide our trip, the result of literally three years of research, planning, discussion, and revision based on experience. Everything is precisely timed – when students will visit the market, or conduct a service project in an after school program, or tour the magnificent Church of Gold in the historic center of Quito. Our group has encountered many challenges this year, from arriving at a museum for a scheduled tour of the profound artwork of Oswaldo Guyasamin only to find that the museum is closed on Mondays, to driving two hours to a beautiful open air market in the mountains, only to have the sky open up and prove that the rainy season in Ecuador, which has been as bad as our winter was cold, has been slow to end. Interestingly enough, it was during the Ecuadorians’ visit to the US that we had three snow days in one week and had to amend our itinerary numerous times. The rainy washout we experienced in Otavalo resulted in road closures that forced us to cancel a visit to the chocolate factory in Mindo – one of the students’ most anticipated experiences while here.

When discussing how we would break the sad news about the chocolate factory, Ms. Vino and I worried about managing our students’ disappointment. Much to our relief and pleasure, when we shared this news with the students, they responded by demonstrating one of the strands of the “21st Century Skills” Ms. Vino wrote about last week – adaptability and initiative. While the students were sad to miss the chocolate factory they had waited all year to see, they were eager to participate in the process of figuring out what we would do instead. Perhaps one student said it best when she quoted a lesson from her Seventh Grade Spirituality class: “Sometimes when God closes a door, He opens a window.” Ironically, this very week the Seventh Grade class is reflecting on the same lesson our Eighth Grader recalled about the moral principal of surrendering to that which is beyond your control. As has happened many times over the years, I was struck by the depth and significance of our unique curriculum, and was filled with optimism about our children’s future. And of course I was tickled to reverse roles if for only a brief moment, and to become the student receiving a reminder from a fourteen year old about the value of flexibility and adaptability.

Questions? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com.