Reflection: Discovering a Path to Headship

Summer 2022

Kimberly Field-Marvin
Head of School
Louise S. McGehee School (LA)

I first began to think about the possibility of headship in 2007. The small, New England, startup school where I’d been a teacher and leader for more than 15 years was getting ready to search for a replacement for our founding head. At the time, I didn’t believe that I was ready to take on a headship role, but I was very curious to learn about what it meant to do the job.
The board chair at the time asked me to represent the faculty on the search committee for the new head, which is where my education began. I got to know and work closely with trustees and hear more about what they expected of a new head of school. As we narrowed down our questions for candidates and readied for the first-round interviews, I began to understand the complex skill set necessary for a head of school: being a visionary who can aptly lead others through change; a strong and dedicated educator who understands the elements of a rigorous curriculum; a storyteller who can engagingly knit together the past, present, and future of a school community; a financially astute mind who makes budgetary choices based upon what is best for students; a lifelong learner who demonstrates a growth mindset; an active listener who makes others feel heard and respected; and so much more.
Much of my learning about headship had come from my proximity to the seat of power. I had allies on the board of trustees, and I had a strong voice in the search process. And as a tenured torch bearer of culture at the school, I felt a certain responsibility to help the new head we selected acclimate and understand our unique school, the community, and its culture. This experience provided me with useful development that I would not have gained in any other way.
What struck me most about that new head’s transition is that she asked good questions—her questioning technique, used by all good teachers, was akin to turning over all of the rocks along the stream bed to see what could be found underneath. She was also a good listener. She was visible, interacting in meaningful ways with students during recess, with parents during carpool or weekly all-school meetings, and with faculty during weekly meetings.
She spent nearly a decade in the role, until she was recruited by a larger school in a larger urban market. And in the three years that we overlapped at that small school that took a chance on hiring someone who didn’t have prior headship experience, she inspired me to imagine myself taking on the role of leading a school. I discovered something about my growth edge and took another step as division director of a much larger school in a big city before moving to a completely new region to take a headship.
We are now both leaders of historic girls’ schools in different parts of the country, and we often find ourselves on planning committees for conferences or in study groups with other heads of school and their board chairs. In the path toward headship, it is vital to have a mentor to show you the way and a sponsor to give you the opportunity. Ask questions, try roles on, and lean in. The only way to learn is by doing.