Managing the Tyranny of the Urgent

Late winter always seems to be the hardest time for schools. While the snow piles up around our campuses, our desires to be strategically focused and mindful are often cast aside to confront the tyranny of the urgent. We are especially vulnerable to Murphy’s Law in these fleeting moments of winter, which is why it is so important that we think strategically and be critically reflective when our energy isn’t devoted to putting out the latest fire.

Education, by its nature, is messy work, but we can always try to keep our workplaces tidy.  At Holderness, I see our ability to keep things clean and organized contingent on our ability to think meaningfully and reasonably on what it is we do and what it is we want to do. We are also reminded of Stephen Covey’s admonition to “schedule our priorities.”  That “scheduling” is especially vital when challenges abound; and, we can be comforted by the fact that we not only have a plan in place to guide us, but we also conjure order from a position of deep self-awareness.  This is most evident in our ongoing NEASC self-study.

NEASC has provided a wonderful framework for self-assessment and improvement, but our community has taken it upon themselves to reimagine the self-study process. We’ve rebelled against the NEASC framework -- with their permission, of course -- to develop a process that would not only meet the standards for re-accreditation but would also best position Holderness for true transformation. And, to be transformed, we must be informed. Thus, we spent time significantly modifying and retooling constituent surveys, hosted countless focus groups and sensing sessions, and engaged our entire student and adult population in this work.  In any given week, for example, nearly 80 adults were researching, interviewing, and reflecting on various functions of the school.

We also realized that there were significant gaps that needed to be covered, especially when assessing the needs of a boarding school.  Understanding that the challenges before schools aren’t rooted in their ability to teach math but to do math, we’ve overhauled the Infrastructure Standard, digging into issues around deferred maintenance, sustainable fundraising engines, and financial forecasting.  In an attempt to see that all adults can find themselves in this report, we created a new standard -- Experience of the Adults -- that directly addresses issues of equity and value among our adult community.

Even as we begin to assemble the findings and recommendations of our report, we’ve already seen real change. This would not have been possible without careful planning and asking hard questions back in the summer.  We are able to do this work now, not because we work well under pressure or are skilled multitaskers but because we made sure that we had a meaningful and reasonable plan in place.

About The Author

Phil Peck
Head of School
Holderness School
Phil has been the Head of School since 2001 but we often forget that he did many things before becoming the Head of School. Phil Peck graduated from Dartmouth College in 1978 with citations in History and Russian Literature. At Dartmouth, he was on an NCAA-champion ski team and won Dartmouth’s Robert C. Gebhardt Award for high achievement in academics, athletics, and the life of the school. After Dartmouth, Phil competed on the national circuit in skiing for several years before being named the assistant coach to the US Nordic Ski Team on the World Cup and at the Olympic Games in Sarajevo.
Following the 1984 Olympics, Phil joined the faculty of Holderness School, where he taught history; coached cross-country running, Nordic skiing, and cycling. He served as the Dean of Faculty before being named Head of School in 2001. As Head, he has led the School through four strategic planning processes, implemented a comprehensive professional development program for faculty, increased the school’s levels of financial aid, and has overseen a remarkable increase in endowment.  Phil has also been a Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia University’s Teachers College, earned his Master’s in educational leadership there, and has subsequently taught in the Klingenstein program. He is in the process now of earning his Ed.D. in educational leadership from Columbia.
Phil and his wife, Robin, have two grown daughters, two dogs and two granddogs.