Life after headship: From Lenesa Leana

On a crisp, bright October afternoon last fall I was caught up in a wild game of tag with my grandchildren, charging around our lake home with the maple leaves at our feet and the birds in the air. As I rounded the house at full speed, I heard my grandson shout to his sister: “Be careful! Now that Grandma has time to exercise, she is fast!”
There it is. “Now that Grandma has time.” That is my story of life beyond headship. Time.
I don’t believe I realized how much my mind was full of problem solving during my years as a head of school, full of conflicts to address, of timelines to develop, of reports to read and write, of publications to create, of technologies to learn. Whether it was a weekend walk with my husband or a vacation dinner with my family, there was always a part of my processing space focused on a task related to school.  Even when my son teased me about “there she goes again, getting lost in Belmont Day School,” I had a difficult time coming back to the present and giving my all to the conversation.
As I think of how my life has been different these last almost two years since my retirement, I ponder the importance of time and reflect on how I have used it.
Most importantly, I have had time for the people I love. After twelve years of a commuting marriage that was constructed to provide me with the professional opportunity of heading a wonderful school, my husband Frank and I are in the same space. During the last two years we have had spontaneous walks in the park, movies in the afternoon, visits to museums and to arboretums, games with grandchildren, and trips to relatives.  We read together, cook together, explore together. And it hasn’t taken hours of looking at calendars.
I have had time to be a grandmother engaged in the educational experiences of my grandchildren. I have re-discovered the mysteries of reading with Eleanor, who is in first grade, and have dived into researching inventors and inventions with Joseph in his fourth grade science curriculum. I take them to sports practices and cheer at their games. I attend talent shows and art exhibits and remember all the amazing times I spent in schools over the years with the students whose work I cherished.
Since leaving my headship, I have found many opportunities to volunteer in schools through connections with friends and colleagues. I confess these experiences have been mixed blessings. I love being with the children, sitting at their tables and guiding conversation and helping them in their communications and their learning. I relish chaperoning field trips and helping the students focus on the details of the moment. In addition, I have appreciated the conversations with teachers as we share observations of the students and celebrate the successes we mark together.
The challenge comes when I see the possibilities for change and recognize that I am not really in a position to make recommendations!  I have a new status. I am a volunteer with a capital “V.” I am not the head of school or the classroom teacher. I cannot oversee the decision-making process! I have had to learn to let go and simply participate.
I confess that I am still pondering this dilemma and trying to decide if I want to re-enter the realm of school or try some new directions. Time gives me the chance to consider this question and explore many pathways. Here are a few ways I have been using my time in addition to my volunteer work.
I have been writing a book during these last months, connecting with a colleague and researching about the importance of creating healthy cultures in our schools.
I have been making new friends, rediscovering what it is like to “hang out” and simply listen and share stories without a goal or a task to accomplish.
I have watched birds and listened to their songs.
I have read countless cookbooks and have rediscovered my love of baking.
I have joined a gym and exercise weekly.
I have had my piano tuned so that I can take lessons again and rediscover the joys of making music.
I have reflected deeply on the people and places that have made a difference in my life and have marked those experiences in my journal.
“Now that Grandma has time,” she is finding a new sense of self.
-- Lenesa Leana
Lenesa is the former Head of School at Belmont Day School (MA) and served as ESHA President from 2010-2011. She can be reached at
   A non-profit subscriber of               Elementary School Heads Association               Powered By WhippleHill