Q&A: Sabbatical Update from the Next Head of School
Blossom on her family’s adventures and what she’s learning this year.
Blossom Beatty Pidduck is midway through a sabbatical year that has taken on new significance now that she has been named as Thacher’s next head of school. Below, she brings us up to date on the adventures she, Brian, and the girls have been having as she looks forward to assuming her new role on July 1, 2018.
How have you been spending your sabbatical?
The four Pidducks, Brian, our daughters Daisy and Addie and I, spent our fall in New York City, which was a truly remarkable opportunity for all of us to live outside our comfort zones. The girls attended Public School 9 on the Upper West Side, a bit of a change from the Monica Ros idyll that had previously defined their educational experience. Brian turned his explorer’s heart to the five Boroughs, running and biking his way through nearly every corner of that vast metropolis. I had the opportunity to visit schools all over New York and New England, an exploration of my own that would be impossible in the course of my normal work schedule. We spent hours in Central Park, our favorite piece of the city, and particularly enjoyed our weekly trips to the Natural History Museum and the Met. Daisy and Addie report their highlight from the fall was having Brian and me walk them to school each day. We’ve got them on record saying as much so that we can console ourselves in those days ahead when they want nothing to do with their parents.
What did you learn from your visits to other schools? I visited public, charter, independent and for-profit schools, hearing from teachers, students, and administrators, and learned everything from ideas for creating greater inclusivity in a school community to lessons from a failed maker space. What I valued most, however, about the opportunity to experience such a diverse group of schools in action was the invitation to see my work and Thacher's work as part of a huge and profound effort to support young people in developing the knowledge, self-awareness, and skill set to do good work in the world. I was humbled and inspired by how many dedicated, inventive, passionate educators and students there are out there and how similar our collective work is. While each school faces its own particular challenges, the common themes were more striking than the differences. How do we equip students with the social/emotional skills to live in a state of well-being and to engage positively and productively in their communities? How do we bring relevance and rigor to the center of every classroom? How do we move from being teachers to being coaches, empowering students to take ownership of their educations? How do we prepare students to thrive in a world changing at such a dynamic pace?
It's easy for schools and educators to become isolated in our day to day work, but when we reach out to one another, when we step outside of our individual classrooms and communities either virtually or in real life (a phrase that indicates just how quickly the world is changing), we not only accelerate our own learning, but we also question assumptions and habits we might otherwise not even recognize. The redoubling of Thacher's long-time commitment to professional development that is central to the current strategic plan and capital campaign is the cornerstone of our evolution as a learning community. My experience over the last three months made that very clear and made me all the more excited for the road ahead.
Any time for reading?
Our reading list over the last few months has focused largely on leadership as Brian and I consider our new roles at Thacher and the School’s mission to train “young men and women in the art of living for their own greatest good and that of their fellow citizens.” In October, Brian and I attended the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute’s symposium on the pedagogy of leadership. It was a gathering of secondary and higher education professionals committed to creating cultures that support young people in building the skills, understanding, and habits of mind to make a positive impact. The speakers and workshops provided a powerful foundation for my own thinking about Thacher’s role in this quickly expanding aspect of education. In one of the workshops, I learned of Brené Brown. She’s a research professor out of Houston whose writing on courage, belonging, and community provide great insight into the work we’re doing at Thacher. I recommend her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, or any of her TED talks.
What is next?
We are now in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for part two of our sabbatical adventure, to be followed by travel abroad in the spring. Winter in Steamboat Springs brings a different kind of adventure, one more aligned with our love of the outdoors. Daisy and Addie are attending Emerald Mountain, a small independent school committed to employing best practices based on current brain and developmental science (two recesses a day!). The girls want to learn to ice skate and to build snow igloos. While we’re not sure how those skills will transfer to life in Ojai, we’re happy to indulge them. Brian is serving as coach and mentor in my on-going education in backcountry and cross-country skiing, and snow camping. He’s quick to note that I need to train physically as well as mentally for the challenges of the coming school year. Those of you who've experienced a Brian Pidduck workout know that I need your best wishes for fortitude!
How are the skiing lessons going? Yesterday, Brian gave me my first lesson in something called skate skiing. I was excited for a bucolic nordic ski tour but quickly learned that skate skiing is the evil twin of cross-country skiing. It's like ice skating on five foot long blades...uphill. I'm happy to report that my marriage and I both survived, although I'm having trouble moving anything but my fingers today. Brian reports all is going according to his plan.
Learn more about Thacher’s plans to expand the sabbatical program.