Q&A with Head of Upper School Scott Small
We recently sat down with Head of Upper School Scott Small to learn more about his educational leadership philosophy and his passion for MICDS.
Q: How did you come to lead the Upper School at MICDS?
Small: When the position opened up in 2011, I was wrapping up my 12th year of teaching and coaching at MICDS. While I did not really have ambitions to be a school administrator, I did feel compelled to ensure that I was serving students and colleagues well and felt like this role was potentially an opportunity to expand that service to a community that I care deeply for. Applying for the Head of Upper School position ultimately was an opportunity to either transition to a role with broader impact and service or, if not chosen, at least to reaffirm the commitment to the community that I hope my work in the classroom reflected.
Q: What are you most proud of at MICDS?
Small: I am most grateful for the learning ethos that I get to be a part of each and every day. It is easy to take that for granted, but I know how much hard work our faculty and our students put into nurturing and preserving a learning environment that is even greater than the sum of its parts. From the example that my colleagues set in establishing truly profound classroom experiences to the response that this engenders from our students, each school day yields some remarkable intellectual breakthrough or validation of the commitment that we make to our collective social-emotional growth as well. I don’t think we always appreciate how special this truly is, but it is born of phenomenal effort and that is something we should all be proud of.
Q: How did the School pivot to distance learning so seamlessly in the spring? And how has the School continued to adjust this fall?
Small: It all comes down to relationships. The purest beauty of this community is not found in its bricks and mortar or grounds, though those are certainly breathtaking as well. We were able to move to online learning in the spring effectively because our brand of online education was still fully centered on those connections between students and teachers that enable us all to aspire to great things. Our emphasis on keeping those relationships inherently intact in a synchronous learning environment despite the inherent constraints of technology kept us focused on what truly matters. While I recognize that this fall provided some additional challenges in that not every relationship was as fully formed as those that carried us through the spring, the time that I have spent in virtual classrooms this past month has confirmed that our learning environment is vibrant, resilient, and focused on our people rather than platforms.
Q: What are some of the best ways to build community – both in normal times and now during this time when we are forced to teach and learn physically apart?
Small: In terms of what we have learned during our time online, meaningful community building has a lot more to do with being present for one another rather than simply being in each other’s physical presence. That being said, in both contexts, it takes intentional commitment to be actively engaged to nurture and sustain community. While the Class of 2020 last year, unfortunately, had a few poignant milestones taken away by the pandemic, their joy in being in each other’s company, even when socially distanced and masked, reminded all of us about what is at the core of being an MICDS Ram. Of course, we would rather have all of those bigger moments and traditions in place, but the best way to build community has always been fully ensconced in the spontaneous points of connection that our students (and our adults) engender on a daily basis, in moments grand and small.
Q: What makes the Upper School at MICDS distinctly unique and special?
Small: There are so many things that make our US community special. To highlight one piece that flies under the radar sometimes: the pride that our students take in championing their community to visitors. During hiring season, one of our unique practices is to have our student leadership interview teaching candidates. Without fail, our interviewees cite their interactions with our students as the highlight of their visit and are often enthusiastically surprised by the unprompted and unscripted poise and passion that our students lead with.
Q: Describe your philosophy on educational leadership.
Small: If we are earnest in our commitment to graduating young people who will excel as students and as humans, then our educational environment must promote empathetic intellectual curiosity and a passionate commitment to engage in global problem-solving. Establishing such a culture, paying intentional attention to the meta-curriculum of a school, and building greater purpose and meaning across content represent a powerful opportunity to impact outcomes for all of our students.
Q: What is your favorite MICDS tradition?
Small: Without question, the Running of the Rams before the annual Homecoming football game. I absolutely love the school spirit embodied in this tradition.
Q: What is your favorite place on campus, and why?
Small: The quad/courtyard between May Hall and the library. It is such a serene ecosystem and a contemplative spot.