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Empowering Head Leadership: 2015 SAIS Heads Leadership Retreat

Tuesday, February 10, 2015  
Posted by: Sarah Stewart
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By Sarah Stewart 

The 2015 SAIS Heads Leadership Retreat is right around the corner. Scheduled for April 19-20 in Nashville, TN, this annual event offers heads a chance to reflect on how to improve their leadership style and culture while networking with colleagues from around the region. While this retreat is designed primarily for heads of school, the audience for this year has been widened.  Each head attending may bring one additional person - an assistant/associate head or a division head.

Al Calarco from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) will be facilitating this year’s event. Attendees will review leadership styles throughout history and learn to evaluate their leadership by the outcomes in their communities. Calarco will also focus on a whole-system approach to leadership in which effectiveness is determined by the direction of a group’s work, the alignment of the different aspects of that work, and the commitment of the group.  

Lastly, attendees will complete a personal assessment from CCL called the Change Style Indicator. The assessment will help leaders understand how they manage change and identify areas for improvement. “Great leadership begins with self awareness,” says Calarco. “Come learn a bit more about yourself as a leader, and the impact of your leadership style on those you work with.” Click here for more information about Calarco.

Comments from Previous Attendees: 

Last year, SAIS welcomed more than 30 heads to its leadership retreat, which was facilitated by consultant and speaker Ian Symmonds. Attendees walked away enthused by the conversations around organizational structures and leadership, as well as the valuable networking opportunity the retreat provided. Ian Craig, Head of Harding Academy in Nashville, TN, noted that it was “great to be around colleagues dealing with similar issues. Although we were from different schools, many of us are facing similar challenges and dynamics, and sharing our strategies is very useful.” 

Craig enjoyed the discussion that arose from open-ended questions such as: Are you modeling leadership? Are you worth following? Are you visionary enough to inspire a following, but collaborative enough to listen and learn from others? “There was lots of great food for thought. I loved the critical questions that we wrestled with. I also think it’s important to take time out to examine how we are leading and developing leaders in our schools. When you are handling issues in the day-to-day or in a crisis, you rarely have time to stop and consider alternative leadership practices.”

Craig also appreciated the focus on dispersed leadership and the need to empower leadership teams in their work. “I pride myself on doing a lot, but as a head, you can take on too much,” he said. “Delegating leadership roles is a strength not a weakness. It frees you and others up to be more effective and balanced.”

Jackie Westerfield, Head of Grandview Preparatory School in Boca Raton, FL, says the retreat helped her evaluate her leadership style and strategies. “I felt on a professional level that the insight was very pertinent and very current to issues I was dealing with at my school. I also appreciated the inclusive nature of the discussion. We were encouraged to offer our own stories and experiences and you learn a lot from those types of interactions.”

Westerfield also said the retreat offered a safe place for heads to tease out ideas or ask for advice from other heads. “The environment is very conducive to progress. Everyone at the table is typically experiencing some similar issues at their school. You could really be honest about your struggles and the things you need help with in ways that you can’t always do with your own leadership teams or with local colleagues. The perspective and the collective wisdom is priceless.”

Suzanna Jembsy, Head of the Galloway School in Atlanta, GA, also found networking to be the most valuable part of the event. “I’m always astonished by how much you learn from other people in the trade. We had the opportunity to talk about different school situations and share our professional practices in a safe environment. I made some great connections and have remained in contact with a good number of people from the retreat.”

Glyn Cowlishaw, Head of Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC, and a fan of Symmonds, appreciated the content of the event. He said the questions challenged the traditional view of leadership teams and that he warmed to the research-driven theme of the workshop. “Some people were frustrated with how open-ended the sessions were, but I think that’s part of Symmond’s message – that leadership has to be honed for the needs of your school and community. There’s no one size fits all.” Click here for the full notes from Symmonds' workshop.

Bill McGee, Head of Hill Country Christian School of Austin, TX, appreciated the organizational dynamics discussed at the retreat. “I came back from the retreat with a lot of great ideas, and shared my notes with my executive staff. One of the things we specifically talked about was the leadership roles in a group, which we used to evaluate ourselves as a team.” McGee notes there are six roles that leaders play in their communities. There is the designated leader, which is the head of school, as well as the task leader, the situational leader, the social-emotional leader, the central negative, and the tension-releaser. One leader can play different roles, but typically they are spread throughout a leadership team. 

Like the others, McGee also found the networking aspects of the retreat to be of great value. It can be tough for heads of schools to find peers they can share ideas with. They have to be careful about what they share in their market, but when visiting with heads from other states or cities, they can open up. “It was extremely helpful to be in a room with other heads of schools to share common challenges and ideas,” he said. “Heads don’t have a lot of opportunities to do that and those conversations are some of the most helpful and practical for addressing issues we face every day.”

We hope to see you at the Heads Leadership Retreat, April 19-20 at Union Station Hotel in Nashville, TN!  For more information about the retreat, visit

Calendar more
Board/Head Retreat
October 22, 2016 | Atlanta, GA
This retreat offers an excellent opportunity to strengthen the communication and partnership between heads and board members.

Annual Conference
October 22-24 | Atlanta, GA
Join us to network with regional colleagues as we delve into relevant independent school issues.

All Events
Survey Center
SAIS offers a variety of value narrative surveys to its member schools.

Click here for more information.

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