This month I’ve been talking to students about how to display courage. In order for our young people to understand how to embody courage, we must show them examples of those who have confronted obstacles and risked comfort for the sake of progress. Individuals who put the needs of the group before their own are the example of courage our young people need to see. Muhammad Ali is a perfect example of this. Between 1967 and 1970 he was banned from boxing for refusing to participate in the Vietnam War. He lost his title, was sentenced to five years in prison, and fined $10,000 as a result of his decision. A contemporary example of this is Colin Kaepernick, whom I mention in my new book, The Mountain Principles: Lessons on Leading & Learning. Both Ali and Kaepernick engaged in noble fights on behalf of others.
People driven by a cause and purpose are relentless. They are undeterred when it comes to moving around or through obstacles. Along with the other 115,000 other school principals around the nation, I’m fighting for the quality of the education of our children. The fight is ideological, philosophical, and theoretical. The opponents in the fight vary depending on the circumstances. At any given moment, the opposing parties could be publishers, vendors, politicians, parents, or media outlets. Regardless of the opponent, the fight ensues daily.
Principals must never allow themselves to become prisoners of their position, afraid to confront harsh realities with the bitter words of truth.
Rather than going through the motions, I want to unravel the tangled pieces of public schooling, with the help of a talented team of educators, and create spaces where students thrive and grow in ways that aren’t necessarily measured by normed referenced tests. How do we get beyond where we are now as a school and community and push forward? It is a noble fight.
Another fight worth fighting is for the autonomy of teachers to be creative and innovative in their practices. We’ve traveled light years beyond the days when my teachers stood in front of the class holding a teacher’s edition reading off pre-printed directions to the class. Teachers have the world at their fingertips and can extend the classroom to other states, countries, and galaxies using instructional technology. The unfettered genius of teachers should never be stifled. Teachers are professionals and should be treated as such. As long as the curriculum is being taught, I love to see teachers integrating students’ interests, the arts, and discussion into the curriculum. Standardization is a mixed bag of guidance, clarity, and constraints on creativity that can dull the luster of a brilliant educator if thrust upon them irresponsibly. The fight is to find the delicate balance between teaching standards and teaching the child in a way that meets their needs. It is a worthy fight.
The fight for the respect of the profession is one that principals should be prepared to join. Respect their time. Respect their intellect. Respect their voice. For the most part, parents understand that teachers are professionals and treat them as such. However, there is a small subset of parents who engage teachers and schools in a verbally aggressive manner unbefitting of the role that teachers play in our children’s lives. Profanity laced text messages, veiled threats, and unreasonable demands are poor models of interaction for our students. When parents engage in these behaviors, leaders should gracefully step in to support teachers in a way that teaches the appropriate behavior and establishes clear norms for how teachers will be treated. Teachers prepare for this work by completing years of education, certification tests, graduate school, and a wealth of ongoing professional development. They deserve the respect that is afforded to any professional. Sometimes that respect is shown by simply bringing a valid concern to the teacher before escalating it to the administration. The fight for the respect of the profession is real. It is a righteous fight.
Edgar Albert Guest describes the drive to fight a righteous fight in the most eloquent way in his poem titled “Courage”:
Courage isn’t a brilliant dash,
A daring deed in a moment’s flash;
It isn’t an instantaneous thing
Born of despair with a sudden spring
It isn’t a creature of flickered hope
Or the final tug at a slipping rope;
But it’s something deep in the soul of man
That is working always to serve some plan.
Courage isn’t the last resort
In the work of life or the game of sport;
It isn’t a thing that a man can call
At some future time when he’s apt to fall;
If he hasn’t it now, he will have it not
When the strain is great and the pace is hot.
For who would strive for a distant goal
Must always have courage within his soul.
Courage isn’t a dazzling light
That flashes and passes away from sight;
It’s a slow, unwavering, ingrained trait
With the patience to work and the strength to wait.
It’s part of a man when his skies are blue,
It’s part of him when he has work to do.
The brave man never is freed of it.
He has it when there is no need of it.
Courage was never designed for show;
It isn’t a thing that can come and go;
It’s written in victory and defeat
And every trial a man may meet.
It’s part of his hours, his days and his years,
Back of his smiles and behind his tears.
Courage is more than a daring deed:
It’s the breath of life and a strong man’s creed.
Edgar Albert Guest