Headmaster’s Thoughts October 2018

Workspace is important. At York, we try to constantly improve the working spaces for our students. So this year we have added a makerspace and re-arranged, with new chairs and tables, the configurations of several classrooms. Every year, the student artwork on the walls change. And just as the interior of a school reflects the students who come to it, so each office tells you about its occupant. Mine is no different. It is reflective of my job and how I do it.

If you enter, you will notice that it is very small. None of the couches and fireplaces common in other Head’s offices. It may be the smallest office of any private school head in New York. I use it as rarely as possible, and would rather be out and about in the school or going to see our administrators in their offices, so it works just fine for me.

On the left wall as you enter, is a photo of myself on a horse jumping a fence (not with perfect style) and below it is a photo of the rugby team of Wadham College, Oxford, of 1964. The significance of this team is only that we did not win a game that season. A perfect record of 0 and 18. It reminds me of how bad a rugby player I was, and how much fun it was to play when, shortly into the season, we all realized that we were playing to enjoy ourselves since winning was unlikely.

Near a publicity photo of myself in my barrister’s robes, there are my three Oxford degrees on the wall. They are very plain and in English. My graduate degree is typewritten because only 12 of that particular degree are usually issued a year, and it obviously was not worth it to set typeface. They look like certificates more than degrees, particularly as compared to the flourishing script and Latin pomposity of the degrees of American Universities. Most Oxford students never collect their degrees, and there is no annual graduation ceremony. So you can pick up your degree, if you want, during four degree days in any year after you have qualified for them (and get a free lunch at your college). Certainly not the same excitement as at an American graduation, and no expectation of a scroll or a bound diploma. It is just a piece of paper. Jayme wanted them (I had never thought about it) and she had them conservatively framed.

After the degrees, we come to the next wall, and it is a bookshelf of sorts. By which I mean that it is untidy and full of books, papers, and some supplies. It overflows. The books are a very mixed bag. From classics to quick reads. There is a small area that has books on the Kray case, my last murder case when as a barrister I defended Charles Kray (and why the publicity photograph was taken). There is an area with philosophy treatises (particularly ethics which I teach) and a few books on education theory and practice. But mystery books and humor books have the majority of my bookcase space. Underneath the bookshelf is a mélange of water bottles, calendars, and the detritus of the office, such as galoshes, an umbrella, folders, a ball of rubber bands, etc.

Then there is the wall that faces my desk that has one photograph taken by a student at York. I like that photograph; it is of books behind a wire case. She took the photograph on her iPhone. I have never taken a decent picture on an iPhone in my life.

My desk is hard to find. Under all the paper, somewhere there is wood. I take the motto “if an untidy desk is a sign of an untidy mind, what does an empty desk tell you?” as my mantra. It is organized in a way, but I think I may be one of the very few who understands the order, and the plan is difficult to explain. The most important thing on my desk is the computer. I try and return e-mails within 24 hours and this is the tool to do it. On the floor, where my feet go when I am at my desk, there is a printer. It works very well, particularly considering that it is not young, so I have no wish to change it, on the basis that if it is not broke…..

I have three chairs crammed in for people to sit. Theirs are taller than mine which is a black, low, Aeron. The window has vertical blinds because the sun tends to shine on the person sitting and facing me. The air conditioner works, and I have a separate heater which is totally inadequate when it really gets cold.

On the shelf beneath the window are individual family photos, including one of Jayme jumping her horse, in perfect style, over a fence; several photos of my entire immediate family including the 5 grandchildren, or, as I refer to them, “the brood”; then a photo of one of my daughters when she was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, looking very crossly at a Russian diplomat. That was taken in Geneva. Then a photo of me playing polo on an elephant. I was lucky. They gave me the best elephant (they are always female elephants) who had a great eye for charging for the ball.

Ultimately, workplaces are measured by how much is accomplished there. Parents might want to evaluate their child’s workspace; it is their domain and hopefully, it works for them. It may suggest insights into their character.

So what does my office tell about its occupant? Messily disorganized, eclectic, some depth and some shallowness, short attention span; in other words, I am just like one of our adolescents at York Prep.

Ronald P. Stewart


York Prep