Small, Fast, and Warm-Blooded: Leadership in the Small Independent School

February 8, 2017
Dinosaurs had all of the advantages, until they didn’t. They were large and therefore seemed to be impressive and unstoppable; no one dared challenge them directly. They consumed tremendous resources and had the strength to take what they needed.
 
When the meteor hit, things changed.
 
The mammals had a niche, and they knew how to thrive within it. Because it was a niche, it could never be large enough to sustain the dinosaurs—they had it to themselves. Because they were small, they didn’t need to consume as many resources to survive. They could move with speed and agility, and they could warm themselves when it was cold.
 
This is a metaphor, obviously. But there’s a reason that every recent NAIS conference has been about innovation, design, change, or sustainability. The metaphorical meteor is coming, and it’s going to impact what’s possible in the classroom, what millennial parents expect, what happens to an inflated cost structure, and what the market will pay for. Depending on your market, it may feel like the meteor already came.
 
This book is for heads of small schools—which I’m defining as roughly 250 students or fewer—and also for heads of schools that want to lead with the passion and focus of a small school. (Mount Vernon Presbyterian School is one that comes to mind. Don’t worry. You’re not a dinosaur.)
 
Small schools can be wildly different from each other. They can be Jewish day schools or Quaker; focus on experiential education, or gifted students, or the arts; be places where students wear coats and ties or be places where dogs freely roam the halls.
 
What they have in common is that they can compete and win by knowing (and owning) their place in a larger ecosystem. They aren’t for everybody, and they don’t try to be. And for those committed to their missions, these niches can be more compelling than the wide open field where the bigger, slower animals compete for the same territory.
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