I am back from New York City and eager to share with you my unique experiences from the Klingenstein Heads of School fellowship at Columbia University. During the last week and a half, I met 16 unique, intelligent, and engaging heads of school from all over the world. I learned so much with and from them and considered myself incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by such thoughtful individuals. 

Hailing from Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Singapore — not to mention the east, west, and midwest United States —the 30th Klingenstein Cohort, Class of 2022, spoke six different languages and represented a variety of cultures. We were fortunate to be chosen out of the 180 applicants to attend this prestigious program specifically designed for heads of school, and I am so forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, sponsorship, and new friendships.

The fellowship was divided into two weeks. The first was thematically centered around inspiration and included discussions about educational philosophies, best practices, and aspirations. The second week was practical; how do these inspirations become reality? How are changes implemented?

First Week at Klingenstein Fellowship: Learning from Home 

Due to COVID, the first week was online as the university was closed. We were asked to read many pages every day from an array of texts. I was overwhelmed by the connection I felt toward bygone educational philosophers like John Dewey, James Mark Baldwin, and Michel de Montaigne who inspired educators for well over a hundred years to think critically about educational theories, social, and psychological pressures. 

Dewey believed in a total democratization of education, from students to teachers to administrators. I proudly realized that Pilgrim parallels the very pedagogical ideology and values that Dewey spoke of. Our students and educators’ voices are respected equally through our active-inquiry approach and mastery-based grading systems which empower students to make meaning for themselves. At Pilgrim, the student is at the center of learning wherein students focus on growth, continuous improvement, and mastery of essential skills. 

Students engage in authentic and challenging learning experiences where they develop an understanding of themselves as learners and what they need to reach their goals. Education is living, as Dewey would say. 

Diversity and Inclusion in Independent Schools

The in-depth discussions surrounding the topic of inclusivity were also inspirational and encouraging. As a woman of color occupying a historically exclusionary space as the head of school, I understand firsthand how vital diversity, inclusion, and belonging are for the wellbeing and success of all students. I returned from the fellowship with specific goals and ways to move forward with our newly formed DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) committee. The strides our committee has already made are astounding; its members will continue to work tirelessly toward a more inclusive Pilgrim Community.  

Through our Purpose, Promise, Core Values, and Principles of Learning, we affirm our commitment to the role of school as a vehicle for positive change in our world.  As we nurture students in their personal growth from toddlers through teenagers, our core identity and beliefs proactively guide us in ensuring that our students have what they need to thrive in our ever-changing world.

Finding Community in New York City 

Teachers College Columbia University Klingenstein’s 30th Cohort, Class of 2022!

The second week I was at the Columbia University campus. I walked 9 miles on average daily through the cold weather in the low 20’s, rain, and snow (and picked up a few bagels and black and white cookies on the way!). I took the subway twice and experienced a Snow Day for the first time in my life! 

The areas of focus during the second week were collaborative thinking, listening leadership, climate change, DEIB, and many practical case study scenarios to unfold, think about, and present together. What struck me most was how this class of seventeen heads of school came together from all walks of life and had to learn to work together without knowing one another. We collectively had about two hundred and seventy years of experience in education, and we are all still learning! 

I was curious about each head of school’s personal stories, how they interact with their communities, how I can connect with them, and how they tried to connect with me. Our students are also a collective of individuals from many places and backgrounds; they think and process differently, so how could anyone expect the one-size-fits-all educational system to work for them? Pilgrim has always been a leader in innovative approaches to education including differentiating and personalized learning for all and I look forward to continuing our forward-thinking approaches to education. 

I am recharged, inspired, and even more determined than ever to promote our shared experiences and perspectives. Every Pilgrim community member should feel not only included but represented; they should feel as though they belong because we all do. I also can’t wait to share our DEIB Strategic Plan in the next few months as the committee continues to set goals and priorities and collects data and feedback from our community.

In Summation

While completing the program, I was on a mission to lead by example and to have an open, collaborative, and inclusive heart and mindset. I believe I did just that; I learned a great deal, but I stayed true to my own values as well as Pilgrim’s.

Communicating and staying connected with students

Our Core Values

Individuality + Community, Kindness, Inclusion, Service, and Play 

I hope to take all of these lessons, teachings, values, and goals for our community into the coming school year. Remember, we are all leaders: leaders of change, leaders of thought, and leaders for the greater good. 

I appreciate our community for all of our talents, dedication and betterment of Pilgrim.

Stay tuned for more blogs. Be well, safe and healthy!

Patricia Kong
Head of School