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Leadership & Listening: Lessons from Rik Dugan

Reflection on Leadership Call

  • The questions given to ponder: What did you learn from being in conversation with this individual? What did you learn or realize about interviewing? What are a few key takeaways or gems of thought from your interviewee?


Leadership as evidenced throughout the other elements of this Capstone Project, iterates from the commitment to listening. The ability to silence one’s inner desire to define what or how leadership looks like, and learn from the multiple voices and actors that are present in the world around us. For my leadership learning call, I had the honor to speak with Rik Dugan, Head of School of Princeton Academy of Sacred Heart located in Princeton, New Jersey. While our conversation could have gone on for hours, I am most appreciative of Rik’s spirit, energy, and camaraderie, particularly as we both work in boys’ education and share the collective purpose of educating young men for the purpose of centering others rather than themselves. Our conversation had the main throughlines of purpose, passion, and vocation, majorly because we both found ourselves called to this work for the main reason of being committed to a purpose that iterated from loving intentionally, centering a passion for excellence, and a vocation to lead and serve because that is where we both found our best selves. The below reflections are my thoughts on our conversation and the lessons I learned from our time together.

  • Reflection #1: Purpose

    • Throughout our conversation, particularly because we both engage with boy’s schools, Rik mentioned the purpose of a boy’s school being beyond the conception of self. Moreover, the point of these institutions was not to maintain hegemonic conceptions of power and class, but to question what is possible when we think about a boy’s education differently? For example, upon reflecting and sharing his story Rik helped to identify that much of his purpose iterated from people and places that grounded his identity. Because of these grounding experiences, he was able to develop an internal compass that guides both who he is as an educator, but also as a leader. For me, this was helpful because I find too often that purpose gets silenced when we are called to perform. In my experience, purpose tends to get minimized when people consider how to stay relevant or important or of market value. There is joy in knowing that our value grows from the seeds of purpose we sow, not our understanding of our market value. I was comforted to learn through the call with Rik that purpose is one of the guiding principles, that when we subscribe fully to it, we allow ourselves to be the best version of ourselves possible.

  • Reflection #2: Passion

    • On July 1, 2021, I will begin my tenure as the Middle School Head at the Browning School. During our call, I asked Rik to share reflections and advice for me as this will be my first division head role and I am aware of the dynamics of being Black, male, and a millennial, specifically in the independent school market of New York City boy’s schools. Rik offered several frames of thought that inform much of my passion for boy’s education and being an educator writ large. For the sake of clarity, Rik’s offerings were: “Be you, they need you, your example, more than your word, have fun , find the wind in your sails and anchors, listen to people’s stories, get to know every boy as best as possible, and tool belt and compass.” Each of these guideposts impacted me, but what sat with me most was to “be you, they need you.” As a Black man, I have been trained through most of my professional experience to show up as something palatable for dominant culture. Whether that was being educated at the ‘right schools’ or even intonating my voice in the ‘right’ way to seem more acceptable to white folks, I have learned that much of my existence has been for the pleasure of others and not for the passions I hold. This phone call, while short, called me back to consider my why. I am not here to be an artificial creation of myself, I am here to be Ronald Taylor, the grandchild of refugees from the American South, the product of Hempstead, New York, and most importantly the person who is fully able to love and educate children because of my inherent gifts and commitments, not my performances. That passion is what calls me to lead in schools to bring the same out of the students and adults I get the pleasure of interfacing with on a daily basis.

  • Reflection #3: Vocation

    • The final take away that I gleaned from my conversation with Rik was centered around an understanding of vocation or, calling. While Rik leads at a school affiliated with the order of the Sacred Heart, that has a specific mission and alignment, we spent considerable time thinking about the elements of what draws us to educate, in this moment of time. I found that Rik’s calling was rooted in experiences with teachers, coaches and other caregivers who gave him the capacity to believe in greater. I, too, shared that throughline. I know that my calling to be an educator and more specifically an educator of young men and boys in my next chapter comes from the lineage of educators that paved the way for me such as my grandfather Raymond Wallace Terry, Sr., Dr. Timothy K. Eatman, and countless others. That lineage of vocation has called me to remember that my purpose is to educate with intention and an awareness that I in fact come from a story and line of amazing people who thought bigger and better was possible - because it is.

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