Ten questions for Robin Appleby (ASL 2017-present), ASL’s Head of School


During the 2020-21 school year, we're celebrating ASL’s 70th anniversary with a series of 70 stories highlighting our school’s vibrant past, present and future.

Our current Head is the eighth to take office since ASL’s founding. She’s also a current parent, and the first Head to lead in a pandemic! Here, Mrs. Appleby shares some of her favorite things and places and how she spends her (fleeting) spare time.

During January's snowfall earlier this year, Robin built a "snow-student" on the Waverley Playground to spread cheer during lockdown. It worked!

  1. As a young child in Rhode Island, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was it a head of school? 

    Being a head of school would never have occurred to me! I wanted to be a dancer when I was very young—but then I grew too tall. In high school, I wanted to be a journalist and then a lawyer. But the first job I really fell in love with was teaching, and that led to where I am now, so I’ve been very lucky.
    Robin reads in her bedroom as a senior in high school
  2. You majored in English literature at Dartmouth College. You must like to read! Do you have a favorite book? 

    I have so many favorite books, I can’t choose just one. My favorite recent read is Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me. It reimagines Britain in the ’80s through the lenses of artificial intelligence and political upheaval. 
    Robin, far right, and some friends hang out during her final year at Dartmouth
  3. If you find yourself with a free hour in an evening or on the weekend, how would you spend it? 

    Settled into the conservatory at Bruce House with a good book and one of my cats curled up on my lap, or out on a walk.
  4. Where is the first place you plan on traveling when COVID-19 is no longer a concern? 

    To my family’s home in Vermont, which is my peaceful, happy place.
    The view from the deck of Robin's house in Vermont, her "happy place"
  5. If you could have dinner with any person in the world, dead or alive, who would it be? 

    My maternal great-grandmother, who died when I was nine. I remember her fondly but did not learn until after her death that she was a professional photographer in the late 1800s who traveled all over New England shooting portraits, including indigenous American communities. This was a very unusual thing for a woman to do, and she worked well into her 90s. I would love to spend an evening with her now hearing her life’s stories.
  6. Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor? 

    I’ve had several supportive and influential mentors throughout my career who really helped me to learn how to be the best head of school I can be. Two who jump to mind are my former boss, Rick Spradling, who was director of The American School of The Hague when I was principal there, and Margaret Atack, an incredibly supportive leader and role model to me during the six years I served as a superintendent at Dubai American Academy. 
  7. Do you have a secret talent? Is it performing in surprise faculty musicals? 

    Actually, I can whistle through my teeth while smiling, or with a pencil in my mouth, so you can’t tell it’s me!
    As a new Head in 2017, Robin quickly learned the choreography to join the MS surprise musical performance, 'Back to School' ('Take on Me' by A-ha)
  8. What is the most important lesson you have learned about leadership during a global pandemic? 

    I think I have learned to be a better communicator in a crisis. It’s about paying attention to both the emotional and practical needs of a big community. You can reach out and listen remotely in different ways, so it has been helpful to switch things up a bit, using email, social media and Zoom.
  9. What is your favorite spot on campus? 

    I consider Bruce House part of campus, and the backyard behind 47 and 49 Grove End Road is my favorite place here because I love to garden. It feels like a way to “tend” to the campus we love.
    Enjoying the Bruce House garden in sunny weather
  10. If you were entertaining an out-of-town friend who only had 24 hours in London, how would you spend your day? 

    Wandering! I love to walk, and my family and I have done a lot of walking during the pandemic. In terms of tourist spots, the Tower of London is a great place to explore, as well as any of the parks. And lunch in a pub is a quintessential London experience!