The Head of School
D. Scott Wiggins
My desire to become an educational leader was sparked thirty-three years ago during my first year as a boarding school teacher. The path I have taken since that time to arrive on the threshold of a second posting as a head of school has been deliberate, and has prepared me to lead with confidence, conviction, and vision.
My formative years as teacher, coach, and dorm parent revealed to me the rewards of heart and spirit that underpin the profession of education. Later, my tenure as a director of admissions and a director of athletics acquainted me with the important and often nuanced work of administrators and afforded me the opportunity to influence the pursuit of institutional excellence. Having established my commitment to education and setting a goal of ultimately becoming a head of school, I was convinced that a familiarity with law and the legal process would be a tremendous asset to me in that role. To that end, I attended law school and served as a criminal prosecutor for several years.
Having achieved my goal, I returned to the ranks of education, joining Indian Mountain School as the dean of students. During my four years in this capacity, I am proud of my role in helping to reclaim this school that had been in great peril, both financially and spiritually. Given the opportunity to serve as upper school head for Metairie Park Country Day, I was then able to enhance the range of my administrative expertise and to have input into and influence over a broad range of educational and institutional issues, policies, practices, and programs.
The past eight years as head of school at Lawrence Academy has been a wholly rewarding experience that has allowed me to guide this institution in a direction that is consonant with my vision for what a school can and should be. Central to that vision is the essential need for close and healthy relationships between students and adults. It is important to me that teachers understand and embrace the notion that they teach young people first and subject matter second. It is my expectation that teachers and administrators will make the investment of time, energy, and genuine attention in their students to cultivate relationships that yield loyalty, respect, admiration, and trust. Student/adult relationships of this caliber, once formed, are the quintessential conduits through which adults can impart to and inculcate in their students the specific values, traits, understandings, and skills that I deem essential for every graduate of an independent school to possess.
In the academic and intellectual realm, these essentials include internalizing the notion that learning is a life-long process and that learning how to learn and how to think critically are the favored outcomes of education, assuming a role far superior to and more practical than that of rote memorization or content hoarding. I believe, too, that students need to take ownership of their educational success and that they must come to understand that learning means change. I also want them to embrace the powerful role that failure plays in learning and to develop a preference for straying from the shores of safety in favor of calculated, constructive risk-taking that will lead to academic excellence. As an absolute, I want students to prize the life of the mind and to acquire the ability to think and act independently; I want them to be their own people. And, most importantly, I want the students who graduate from my school to value education and intellectual pursuits as ends in their own right, not merely as a ways to bolster a dossier for admission to secondary school, college, or graduate school or to serve as entrées to a high-paying job.
In the personal and citizenship realm, the qualities and traits I deem essential to instill in students include honesty, compassion, empathy, perseverance, hope, charity, and a sense of humor about oneself. It is important to me, too, that students come to commit to the proposition that one’s word means something and that a handshake is a promise another can count on. It is vital that students develop a sense of integrity, that they truly understand right from wrong, that they try their best to do what is right, and that, when they fall short, they possess moral compasses that allow them to feel shame. In my view, it is also critical that students develop the ability to admit when they are wrong. And lastly, it is my expectation that the educational experience afforded by my school will arm students with an appreciation of cultural variability in a global environment and help them to discover and develop a passion, desire, and commitment to serving others and the public good in some meaningful capacity.
When students are inspired to develop these intellectual and personal traits and qualities over time, it is inescapable that they will gain a growing sense of who they are and what it means to be human and to value that in themselves and others. Ultimately, I want students to see themselves as good people who have faults that they are constantly working on. In so doing, they never really arrive at a final destination, but they are committed for life to an academic, social, and spiritual journey that is full of joy and personal reward.
Bringing to life an educational vision of this sort requires assembling a community of adults who want to be with young people; who see their vocation as an opportunity to live and play with, care about, and guide young people; and who embrace with commitment all aspects of the job of being a teacher or administrator. Effective educators do not take a cafeteria approach to performing responsibilities and duties – they understand that good role modeling means performing all tasks with equal purpose.
The last ingredient that is necessary in bringing an educational vision to life is that teachers and administrators must model the desired student outcomes – not only for their students but also for each other. Given the close scrutiny students give to examining how the adults in their lives behave, an adult who falls short in interactions with another adult undermines student investment in the essentials the vision seeks to promote. In this regard, as a head of school, I must set the defining example and serve as a worthy role model for faculty, staff, parents, and students alike.
As my wife and I turn our sights to a second posting as a head of school family, we look forward to finding a school community that embraces the educational vision and philosophy that has come to define our work in independent schools.
D. Scott Wiggins