the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Alice Tao ’24
I had the great honor to sit down and chat with our new Head of School, Mrs. Elaine White. During the interview, she shared many insights and stories, and she provided some more texture to the person we are getting to know. I am so excited to share this with the Westminster community!
How have your first few months at Westminster been?
Mrs. White: They’ve been awesome — really, truly, just wonderful in so many ways. The warm welcome from the entire community has been remarkable. I’ve been inspired by the people I get to work with — the adults I get to work with every day — and the inspiration absolutely continues when I see kids here and how they are interacting with each other. I get to see games, see classes, and experience community in a way that we haven’t had for 18 months. It’s been great; absolutely positively great; more than I could have imagined.
What has been your favorite thing about Westminster so far?
Mrs. White: That’s such an interesting question. It’s actually not hard to answer. My favorite thing thus far has been the welcoming and supportive community, and I do think it’s a tradition — I do think it’s a hallmark. Although I greatly enjoyed the pin ceremony and the new student sign-in, it’s that welcoming and supportive community that helps make everything else make sense.
What motivates you every day?
Mrs. White: I am motivated every single day by trying to be the best person I can be, the best edition of myself. Every day I wake up, and I think about how I can be my most generous self today. How am I kind? How am I empathetic? How am I supporting others? At the end of the day, I try to review and think about what I have done.
Have you dealt with any challenges so far, and, if so, how did you overcome them?
Mrs. White: I think that the greatest challenge that I’ve faced thus far is managing expectations around COVID. We have this opening where it feels so much more normal, and that’s wonderful, but we have another side where we still have to pay attention to the fact that we are very much in this COVID situation, and that means we have to be flexible and nimble. There are times where we have to be quick and change our approaches. Trying to manage that, along with all of the expectations is a challenge; and, in some ways, the expectations this year are even more difficult to manage than last year because everyone is so tired of the pandemic. Everyone has had a taste of freedom, so it’s very hard to keep a handle on the reality we are facing — like getting students to mask, when appropriate, and paying attention to the potential impact of positive cases. The challenge this year will be for us to learn to live with COVID, and that’s an emotional roller coaster.
What is your vision for Westminster in the next five years?
Mrs. White: Westminster is in great shape — this place is remarkable for all it has, all it believes in, and all that it hopes to believe about others. I think the progress of the next five years is evolving programs: thinking about how everything about Westminster potentially changes while, perhaps, some parts stay the same. There’s always this question of maintaining the tradition, but where does our academic program need to go in the next five years, and what have we learned from our COVID experiences that are going to make us better teachers, better thinkers, and better communicators? How do we integrate that into the curriculum? We are also thinking about what experiences students should have in their afternoon programs, in their residential programs, and how we are purposely building leadership skills. The biggest question of all is about grit and grace. We see that prominently displayed on the Sixth Form flag this year. So, how do we, as a school, continue to build the virtues of grit and grace in students? As I think about the next five years, I want answers to those questions, and the answers will come through the evolutions of programs — everything from academics, through residential life, and into the social aspects of our community.
Thinking back to the past, why did you decide to become a teacher, a coach and a dorm parent in the first place? What made you want to become an educator?
Mrs. White: I was planning on going to medical school. I was a pre-med biology major, and I happened to take an education course, and it changed my life. As dorky as this sounds, I felt called to teach, and when I learned that there are schools that enable me to coach, teach and live in a dormitory with students — to truly be part of high school students’ lives — I knew that’s exactly what I would do with the rest of my life. I love to teach, but, more importantly, I really love to watch students discover themselves, push themselves to be better people, better thinkers, better athletes, and better communicators. There is no more joy for me in my life than seeing that happen in front of my eyes.
What do you think are the most important qualities of being a good leader?
Mrs. White: I think a good leader has to be able to listen and solicit feedback from a variety of places — to allow as many voices as possible to be heard, and, at the same time, to ask yourself, ‘Wait a second, who doesn’t have a seat at this table yet?’ I think that’s really important — it’s about being a good collaborator. It’s also about knowing when to make the move, to stop listening, and to get people to make a decision. I think good leaders help everyone to understand the decision that is being made, and that this decision supports the mission of the school.