General Douglas MacArthur once wrote,
“Youth is not a period of time. It is a state of mind, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, of the taste for adventure over the love of comfort. A man doesn’t grow old because he has lived a certain number of years. A man grows old when he deserts his ideal. The years may wrinkle his skin, but deserting his ideal wrinkles his soul.”
Junior high and high school is the proving ground of the youthful soul. It is a time of transition, of testing, of sifting, and experimenting with what it is to be. It is a time when young people can spend all day trying to be grown up and cool, but still come home and just want to be a kid. It is a time when the young enjoy perceiving the old as “out of our minds,” while still quietly looking to us for the answers to the million questions lying deep inside. As educators come alongside students for this adolescent rollercoaster ride we shouldn’t be overly concerned that our kids don’t seem to listen to a word we say. We should be more concerned that they watch everything we do. The best thing adults can do to help kids through this time is to lead by example.
Each day educators have the chance to help students move closer to discovering their passions and ideals, so that when they have moved on from our care they will be men and women of courage, integrity, and intellect whose souls resist wrinkling.
The calling of an educational leader is to keep people rather than programs at the center of every decision in schools. It is about helping students and staff unlock their potential. It is about equipping and inspiring students and staff to strive for personal excellence and academic rigor without losing their passion or humanity.
When I began my administrative credential program, I was asked to write a professional goals statement. At that time I wrote:
I became an educator because I felt it would afford me the opportunity to invest my life in something meaningful, rather than spend it in a career where the end goal was to simply receive a paycheck. Education provided me the opportunity to touch lives and make a positive difference. While I enjoy the curricular areas I have had the opportunity to explore with my students, my deepest commitment has always been to them as people, beyond the academic content. While it is true that literacy, depth of knowledge, and the ability to think critically are the tools students need to achieve their dreams and be successful, contributing members of society, teaching these things has also given me the opportunity to be involved in their lives. It is from this passion and commitment to young people, that I draw my excitement for education. It is this concern for kids which has consistently driven me to get involved on my campus and seek ways to impact more than just my own classroom.
To be a leader in education is more than a job. It is, as the Army says, “An adventure.” The challenge of educational leadership is to step out of our comfort zone and aspire to something greater than ourselves. This is why we choose to teach, after all. We choose to teach because we believe we can make a difference in the lives of the young people we interact with each day. If not, then perhaps we’ve chosen the wrong profession. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell writes,
“The call to adventure … signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented… but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”
Education, though often viewed differently by our culture at large, is a noble endeavor. It is a place of “Strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.” To make it less is tragedy, imagination killing, and soul numbing.
At one time, each of us in education made a conscious decision to step away from the drum beat of our contemporaries and do something that would make a difference. The question I pose to those who have entered into this fantastic journey is, “Will we dig deep, summon our courage, and strive for the heroic? Or will we fall into complacency and drift with the current wherever it flows?” As teachers or school administrators, we must not settle for less than greatness. I challenge us to step out into unknown territory and embrace the exhilaration of daring to dream great dreams and take great risks, so that our students would follow our example and do likewise. I challenge us to make a difference in the lives of the students we serve. This is the high calling of education.