Year-End Reflections from a First-Time Submarine Captain

Over the past few months, I often found myself thinking about an article I read by an American nuclear submarine officer. There was one line that really stuck with me – “If there is one thing my experience as a submarine officer taught me, it’s that you get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Since COVID-19 turned our lives upside-down back in March, I’ve felt like a captain of a submarine. Because since then, everything that I took for granted about running a school has become anything but comfortable. The way we deliver our curriculum, the way our students interact with each other, the way our faculty works together, the way we run our clubs and assemblies – all of it needed to be re-thought, re-planned, and re-invented. I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and quickly.

The first few weeks after we closed our facility was the most intense experience of my professional life. I felt a bit like a first-year Head of School again, because so much was totally new and unfamiliar to me. But this time, I had to make all those new decisions in an incredibly short period of time. By all rights, it could have been a total and complete disaster.

Of course, sailing a giant pressurized metal tube with no windows hundreds of meters underwater should be a recipe for disaster as well. But the reason submarines work is very simple. It’s because of teamwork. No submarine captain can – or should – try to check every valve and plug every leak. Captains are only as good as their team of officers, sailors, and support staff onshore. Our KCS submarine has been successful these past months for many of the same reasons we’ve been successful in the past: because we’ve all been supported by an amazing community of students, faculty, staff, Board members, volunteers, and families.

As soon as I realized that we would have to close the school, I knew that everyone on our team would be ready to jump in, help out, and support each other. That’s because I’ve seen it happen again and again throughout my years at KCS. But seeing that kind of amazing teamwork in action on such a grand scale has been incredibly rewarding and humbling. These are intense times, but they have reminded me how lucky I am to be surrounded by such a great community of people.

That includes our parents and families as well. Just like our faculty and staff, our families have rolled up their sleeves and helped us make it through this experience. They have been our own “front line workers” these past three months, and we could not have made it work without their tireless efforts on the home front! I’m also very proud of how hard we worked as a school to give families the opportunities to ask questions or raise concerns, as their experiences at home gave us valuable insights and feedback that helped inform our thinking and decision making.

But even with all this support and teamwork, the pressure can build up. For years, I had a simple strategy that helped me deal with the stress of leadership. I would just walk down the hall, wander into a classroom, go outside for recess, and start chatting with our students. Believe me – if you want to feel grounded and rejuvenated, nothing beats a conversation with a student in one of our youngest grades. Five minutes of that puts everything I do back into perspective.

In many ways, not having that ability to regularly connect with our students has been the hardest part of this whole situation for me. That’s probably why I found myself looking forward to my weekly Hockey Card Club meetings.. Spending a half-hour just talking with grades 1-3 students about cards helped me remember why I do what I do. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with people. Every individual in our community matters, and maintaining that sense of connection between all of us at KCS has been our number one priority these past months.

I know that I’ll never actually be a captain of a submarine (I was in a Soviet submarine once, but didn’t enjoy the tight quarters given my size!). But this experience in the last three months has shown me that becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is not just a survival tactic for submariners. It’s also a good reminder that navigating choppy waters is a lot easier if you’ve got teamwork, positivity, and a strong community on your side.

As we cross the finish line of a very unusual but ultimately rewarding school year, I hope everyone in our community enjoys a happy and healthy summer. As I reminded our graduates at closing ceremonies, be sure to always let our three school rules guide you. They served me very well these past few months, and I know they will serve all of you well, no matter where you go or what life throws at you.

Have a great summer KCS. I can’t wait to see all of you again soon!

-Derek Logan

Along with “How a Nuclear Submarine Officer Learned to Live in Tight Quarters”, another great read on the subject of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is “Planning Your Future Is Pointless. The How and Why of Embracing Uncertainty”. Both articles provide interesting insights into how to handle the unique challenges of our times.

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