Hockey Parents and Heads of School by Nancy Mugele


I love hockey parents. They can be found standing around in freezing cold ice rinks in random towns, watching the fastest game there is at all times of the day and night, moving constantly to keep the circulation flowing, screaming at their son or daughter – oh, and guzzling hot chocolate. I spent this past weekend with my two favorite hockey parents. My brother and sister-in-law Tom and Tracy spent the weekend with us so that we could watch their son David, senior captain of the Villanova Ice Cats, play the Navy Midshipmen at John McMullen Hockey Arena. I saw Dave get a beautiful assist on a goal, but the Cats lost by one.

Before the game we paid our Veteran’s Day respect at the Naval Academy Cemetery where we saw Senator John McCain’s humble gravesite at sunset. (Tom was not able to join us inside the gate as he had misplaced his license – needed to gain entry – but, that is another story.) A belated yet heartfelt thank you to all service veterans. Our freedom rests on your strong shoulders and we are forever grateful.

After Tom and Tracy left on Sunday, I packed a small bag and headed to Princeton where I spent a few days at the Head Mistresses of the East annual conference. HMAE, as it is now called, I am guessing you can see why a move to initials only was preferable, is over 100 years old. Legendary heads and founders of independent schools in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia created the organization for networking (a word I am sure they did not use in 1911). The mission was “to provide an opportunity for the furtherance of mutual acquaintance among heads of secondary or elementary schools… for the interchange of ideas of common interest or looking toward the advancement of standards.” The conference always inspires and this year was no exception as we explored the theme of Developing Democratic, Civil and Civically-Minded Citizens in an Age of Partisan Polarization.

I spent three days with about 70 Heads from across the country – including my mentor Jean Waller Brune, Head Emerita from Roland Park Country School. Despite the name, the group is now coed, and I was grateful to spend time with my Eastern Shore neighbor John Lewis, Headmaster of The Gunston School. It was an opportunity to reflect on leadership, renew old friendships, form collegial new relationships and be motivated by professional learning. I soaked everything in for the duration.

My time away from Kent School affirmed my view that we must educate students about civil discourse in brave classrooms filled with relevance, collaboration, choice, and discussion. We must let students examine multiple perspectives and weigh them. “Civil discourse is the keystone of democracy.” (Rob Bohrer, The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College)

Don’t tell any of my colleagues, but Heads of School remind me a little bit of hockey parents. We persevere. No matter the time of day or night, we show up to lead our school community. We stand up regularly and cheer on our students in so many ways to celebrate their diverse talents. We drink lots of hot coffee and move continuously throughout our days. Sometimes we stand apart from the crowd as we observe the landscape. And, like the Olympic-sized ice sheet, our arena is large and can sometimes be slippery.  A hockey dad I know said “Enjoy the game. Keep it fun, keep it in perspective and enjoy the madness.” I can relate.

As we look ahead to Thanksgiving next week, I am deeply grateful for the fellowship of other School Heads, for the Kent School community, and for my family who will begin arriving on Wednesday for our national holiday of Thanksgiving. Enjoy your harvest feast. See you in town.


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