Abigail BAYLES Wiebenson ’59, Leadership Coach

A true lifelong learner, Abigail BAYLES Wiebenson ’59 has spent her career wearing various hats in the field of education. After 19 years as Head of the Lowell School in Washington, D.C., Abigail switched gears and became a leadership coach, working with scores of school administrators locally and globally to identify their deeply held beliefs, hone their vision for leadership, and to plan for the many facets of their schools. A ubiquitous force on the Washington school scene, Abigail has also served as a trustee at three Washington independent schools, chaired accreditation teams, taught at Johns Hopkins University, and acted as a mentor for the National Association of Independent Schools Aspiring School Heads fellows.
Years at Ellis:Grade 5 to Grade 12 
Occupation:Leadership Coach
B.A. Government and Education, Smith College; Ed.S. Special Education, The George Washington University
Location:Washington, D.C.

How did you become involved in your line of work? 
After almost 30 years in school administration, and the last 19 years as Head of Lowell School in Washington, D.C., I decided to step away from administration and take a break. It was not long after that that a former colleague suggested applying for a coaching certification program. I did, loved it, and that launched the third iteration of my career in the field of education. 

How has your career changed over time?
While I stayed in the field of education, initially I never imagined doing anything but teaching which I loved. However, opportunity knocked and two individuals along the way encouraged me to try administration, first in helping to run a Lower School and then to apply for a Headship.

Is there a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant of your career?
Without question, the most significant achievement was being Head of School when Lowell finally bought its own eight-acre campus and added on grades 4 through 6. Obviously, I did not accomplish this on my own, but I definitely had visionary ideas about how to create this expansion. Not far behind this accomplishment was creating a diverse and inclusive school community and making sure that the curriculum reflected those who were part of it. This involved years of ongoing professional development work for all of us!

What lessons has your work life taught you? 
The field of education, especially that of young children and their parents, is forever challenging, thrilling, and fulfilling. Being willing and curious are the attributes of my personality that have brought me enormous delight and satisfaction. 

For Ellis students reading this: Is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Be willing and curious. Live a life that always honors your integrity even when that’s a challenge. Take care of your health: your body and mind are super-important partners in life. Read everything that Brené Brown writes and talks about. Develop strong and lasting relationships. Find your passion; sometimes that takes time. Everything you do along the way is leading you there. Be grateful for life every day in some small way. 

What do you think are the advantages to Ellis’s all-girls environment? 
Girls are complicated; having the time, space and guidance to explore and appreciate all the permutations of relationships is a gift. It’s also a chance to have time to hone leadership and achievement over time in the arts, athletics, science, math, languages, and language arts without the distraction of guys who present their own set of complexities— and delights!  

We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis. What does that mean to you? How do you use your voice? 
Voice is authenticity: who you assuredly are, what you stand for, where you are going to put your energies. It’s a formative process over time. I use my voice every day in my personal and professional leadership work: being with clients and simply going about the routines and vicissitudes of life as I make decisions small and large. 

How did Ellis stimulate your intellectual curiosity and creativity?  
Curiosity and creativity are fed through exposure to ideas and the time to explore them with guidance and encouragement. That all happened at Ellis whether on the hockey field, in the classroom, at recess, or singing in Glee Club during a critical formative time in my life. 

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would that be? 
Probably Eleanor Roosevelt. Close seconds: Brené Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Elena Aguilar. All are stellar women who found their footing and have made a huge difference to our world of education and simply being. 

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Purposeful. Curious. Grateful.

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