Q&A with ... Aaron Cooper, new head of New Canaan Country School
NEW CANAAN — The halls of the New Canaan Country School, which have seen renovation in past months, are empty save for the bustle of school administrators preparing for the new school year.
This past Tuesday, the school was up and running again for the 2018-19 school year, with a new head of school — Aaron Cooper — included.
Cooper knew from an early age he would be a teacher. Now at 42, this is Cooper’s second stint at the helm of a school following his first at Elisabeth Morrow School in New Jersey.
Cooper recently talked about his goals, lessons and plans for the upcoming year.
Q: Has teaching always been an interest of yours?
A: Yes, for sure. I can even trace it back to when I was a young child. When I was 11, I started a babysitting business in our neighborhood in Groton, Mass. My mom was a nurse practitioner and made me go to the local hospital and take the American Red Cross training, and loved babysitting these neighborhood kids and started tutoring in our local public school when I was in the eigth grade.
I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts, and as seniors we had different leadership positions at the school and one of them was being with the eighth-grade kids. There was always this interest in working with younger students.
Q: Was there a field you liked in particular?
A: As a student, it was always math. In college I drifted away from math, but as a teacher I came back to it. Most of my teaching has been in math, though I have taught technology, Latin and I also coached a number of different things.
Q: Between college and graduate school, what happened?
A: I went right into teaching and coaching. I was an athlete in college and my mind was more into how I would like to coach and get into the athletic world somehow and teaching the younger students.
Within a couple of months, I realized that I was enjoying teaching fifth-graders much more than coaching. I just found this sort of calling and that helped me put two and two together about that and my math background. Soon thereafter, what started to compel me was wondering why I liked teaching these younger students.
The real sort of passion comes from knowing that we’re educating tomorrow’s leaders and that childhood is so foundational to that. What we learn in childhood, those lessons and memories, become so intuitive to who we are that we need to give kids the strongest foundation possible. And then, when they become leaders, they’re going to impact the world more powerfully and that gives me more purpose.
Q: What are the goals for this year?
A: My initial goal — and my disposition — is that in order to think about the future, I have to understand the present and the past. My big goal is to get to know this school, its history and culture.
I’ve dedicated my whole career to educating children, so I feel really passionate about it. So, to me, it’s about getting a sense of where are the opportunities to make a bigger impact on the kids’ lives and to help them want to make a bigger impact on the world.
I have a lot of experience thinking about opportunities as it relates to kids today and to those goals.
Q: What brought you to New Canaan?
A: I think it was a lot of different things. Part of it was being at Elisabeth Morrow School for 15 years, being excited for a new opportunity. Part of it was that I was head of the school for six years and I learned a lot about it, and had a whole lot of lessons and thoughts and was excited to apply them to a new opportunity.
A huge part of it, too, was that New Canaan Country School is one of the very short-list of leading schools of this nature in the whole country. And I’m really committed to that because it’s about childhood and the opportunity to lead one of the best schools in the whole country at this level was really exciting for me.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned in your career?
A: I think the biggest (lesson I’ve learned) is about time. That relates to both me as a leader and my work but also to children.
We live in a world of urgency right now, and good decisions and important lessons sometimes come from taking the time and stepping back to consider everything to think about from different angles.