Reflection: Why I Became a Head

Summer 2022

By Nancy Mugele
Head of School
Kent School (MD)

Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” is about transformation. It illustrates the moment when you dare to listen to your own truth and find the life you were meant to lead. For me, that moment was at The Heads Network Leadership Seminar for Women, when I had the experience of knowing deeply that I wanted to become a head of school.
Some people say they are called to their work, often by a divine spirit. I was called to this work by my inner voice telling me that the most fulfilling and purposeful contribution I could make in my lifetime was to educate students in a joyful community that preserved childhood. As my own children grew into adulthood, I reflected on my story and knew that its legacy must include leading a school.
My path to headship was winding and unconventional, yet I became a head for one reason: I believe the world needs our independent school students now more than ever. By intentionally teaching and modeling critical thinking, creativity, kindness, compassion, empathy, and citizenship, I am confident that we can create humans who will one day change the global community for the better.
As head, I learned early on that I needed to inspire great teaching to build a great school. I believe in the power of collective professional development as a way to create a shared school culture centered on common goals. I read “The Journey” to all new Kent School employees at their orientation and tell them that I hope their professional experience will be powerful, hopeful, and transformative—just as mine continues to be as head of school.
The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
—Mary Oliver