Monday, January 20, 2014

Why the time is still right to have a dream . . .

This morning I attended our city's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. as I normally do, both as a principal and as a citizen, and I always leave with a feeling of hope.  Gospel music and student speeches inspire me, and listening to Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech yet another time affects me deeply.

Thank God for Martin Luther King Jr. and for his dream.  I grew up in a small town in southeastern Ohio where in it and the surrounding area both my mother and father's sides of the family have lived for generations.  At one point my father shared with me that my Grandfather once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and that helps illustrate the conservative, and yes, racist atmosphere that permeated my childhood.

The 1960's, even in southern Ohio, was a transition time of great emotion, as many challenges rocked our nation.  I vividly remember the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and can recall thinking, as a youngster and teenager at the time, what was happening to the world as I knew it.

I remember Vietnam War protests, violence at the Democratic convention, the Kent State shootings, and the widespread television images of "Burn Baby Burn" in the inner city riots.  All this as the country was united in the space race to put the first man on the moon, the greatest oxymoronic achievement at the time.  We were all united in beating the Russians to the moon and yet we were killing our greatest leaders and burning our cities in protests.

So many of these thoughts flowed through my mind this morning as I listened to Dr. King's speech of hopes and dreams for the future. What courage it must have taken for Dr. King and all of the followers to Washington to speak such powerful words when the country was so deeply and significantly torn apart, in race and in politics.

And so, I am still so thankful today that we have not forgotten Dr. King's life, his mission and his Dream. You see, as a poor Appalachian child who can still remember citizens in our small town treating us poorly as the lower class family we were, I believed that Dr. King was not only speaking on behalf of black people, but as the voice of all of us about whom society seemed not to care.

Later now, as a high school principal and as a person, I still believe in his Dream and in the dreams of others.  I believe that every child in America must have a dream, that every person in life must also have a dream.  For a life without a dream is a life without hope.  And a life without a dream is, in the words of Langston Hughes, a "broken winged bird that cannot fly."  And we need today, perhaps as we did in the 1960s, our children to "fly."

What is my dream?  It is everything that Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, a Dream where all people in the world can hold hands together without the separation of race, sexuality, politics, or nationality.

Our country, unfortunately, is still deeply divided politically, socially, and culturally and the schism it seems is growing deeper in some areas.  We are paralyzed by inaction because of political views, and at times, seem as divided as we were in the 1960s, just over different issues.

To honor Dr. King I have reflected today on some of my dreams and hopes, as a principal and as a person.

Specifically, I have a dream . . .

That one day our schools will once again be safe from school shootings.  Why these horrible actions are becoming commonplace is abhorrent, and we must do everything we can as a society and as a nation to keep our children safe where they should be safe, in our schools.

I have a dream . . .

That our politics will cease being so divisive so that our Congress can solve some of the polarizing forces of inaction that plague us today.  Bill Clinton said it best, "Just because we are different does not mean we have to disagree, and just because we disagree does not mean we have to dislike."  A valuable lesson for our children, ourselves, and our country's leaders.  Perhaps we can solve some of our educational, political, and economic problems by practicing acceptance of others from whom we are different.

I have a dream . . .

That one day our country will support educational reform that truly tears down the barriers of economics and politics that adversely influence every child in America receiving a world-class education, whether they are in school in southern Ohio, Mississippi, or inner city Cleveland.  If legislators truly want to improve schools then ask the experts-- educators, students, and parents, how to improve rather than enact unfunded educational mandates with political motives.

If this country can afford to build and then tear down multimillion dollar stadiums every 10 years and pay professional athletes individual contracts of $200 million then we can surely ensure a quality life and a quality education for every child in America.  Every night children in southeastern Ohio and across America go to bed hungry and receive an education that is not on par with affluent suburbs, and yet, where is the campaign to right these inequities.  I was one of those children, and the people who made the significant difference in my life, who influenced my decision to attend college as a first-generation student, and who inspired me to be a teacher and supported and encouraged me in the face of neglect and abuse were TEACHERS.  I am an educator today because I learned at an early age that school was the best 8 hours of my day, and I wanted to be that person for another child.

I have a dream  . . .

That one day every classroom in America will have a teacher who "secures students' hearts" before they try to reach their brains.

I have a dream . . .

That every person will take time, even if it is just a little time, to get to know one other human being, no matter how chance the moment, to understand, as Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted us to do, that we can all join hands and walk together in caring and compassion, passion and persistence, for making this world, this day, this moment, better for someone else. We indeed are all more alike than we are different; we just have to take the time to see how.  The video Take a Seat, Make a Friend is one of the most powerful testimonials of this.

I have a dream. . .

and I am eternally grateful, that Martin Luther King Jr. did also, and that he was not afraid to share it with others.  It is our job and our calling to keep his Dream and the dreams of all of our children alive.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Word: Courage

As many of you, I have read several of Jon Gordon's books this past year, including The Energy Bus, which we used to kick off the school year with our staff.

As a high school principal I am committed to devoting time to reading regularly, and I divide my reading time, both precious to find and important to do so, between professional journals and recent research and inspirational and motivational literature.  In terms of motivational literature genre, I have a tendency to deeply immerse myself in one author at a time, especially if I become especially inspired by one or two early books.  Last year it was Andy Andrews.  This year, Jon Gordon.

One book in particular has been rooted in my memory since I read it this fall: One Word (that will change your life.)  I was dubious yet intrigued by the title, and I am particularly drawn to the idea of the power of a single word.  Introspective by nature personally, as well as working each day to improve myself as a person and as a principal, I purchased the book and read it in 30 minutes. A powerful half hour.

In short, the authors, Dan Britton, Jimmy Page and Jon Gordon exhort and challenge each of us to choose one word for one year and focus on getting better by visually, emotionally, and physically embracing this one word.  They also encourage each person to then decorate, photograph, post, etc their chosen word.

After reading the book and following its simple yet powerful three steps-- to look in, to look up, and to look out, I chose my word for 2014: Courage.

As each day that goes by as a mother, wife, principal, and human being, I feel the need to focus on courage in 2014.  Why?

Not too long ago I read a novel that embedded a phrase in my mind that I now use on every email I send to our staff as part of our weekly update: "Vision to See, Faith to Believe, Courage to Do."

As an educator and as a leader, I feel that vision, faith and courage not only guide our work but make the difference between what Richard DuFour calls in On Common Ground the Knowing-Doing Gap.  In many schools researchers state that educators not only fail to have the vision to make changes, but lack the faith to believe they can impact education and student learning in the longterm.  But even if vision and faith exist, without action, without the courage to do, no changes in education can or will occur.

And so it is in life.  I grew up in a small town in southeastern Ohio.  Although I know I have demonstrated courage in some areas of my life, such as leaving to attend The Ohio State University as a first-generation college student, I look at other members of my family, such as my father, and feel I pale in comparison.

He was a Marine, 4th Division, who went in on Day 1 of Iwo Jima, a World War II battle in the Pacific immortalized by the famous flag-raising statue and photo.  "Where Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue," the quote on the Arlington statue reads.  A sharpshooter, he fought eight days in one of the most ferocious battles ever engaged in by the Marines, was shot in the spine and paralyzed, and dragged to safety by two other brave Marines, who never leave another Marine behind.

After spending 53 weeks learning to walk again in Bethesda Naval hospital, far from his hometown in Marietta, he returned to face the rest of his life paralyzed in one leg and unable to return to his welding career.  The rest of his life he lived with a Japanese sniper's bullet in his spine and dark memories.

Now that's courage.

And so, in 2014, I choose courage.  One, to honor my father, the most courageous person I know or will ever know.  Two, because I have found the longer I live, I believe life requires more courage each day we exist. I have a wonderful life with a loving husband, phenomenal daughter and terrific son-in-law, and enjoy good health for myself and my family, thankfully.  I am blessed beyond words for I have love in my life.  I love and am loved, and no greater gift in life exists.

Yet life brings challenges with each decade-- burying a son, giving the eulogy at each of my parents' funerals, losing good friends to disease. Too many funerals. Courage in life.

And what about life as an educator, life as a high school principal.  I believe that in the face of societal influences on young people, mandates passed by legislators who may or may not have any expertise in education, and inconsistent latitude to implement best practices, it is courage to do, to act with conviction, to lead, to collaborate, to drive change in the face of adversity that just may change the life of one student for the better. "Vision to See, Faith to Believe, and COURAGE to do."

I have some of the world's most wonderful students, staff and parents that any principal is blessed to have in this state, country and world.  Dublin Jerome is a special school and a special family.

I hope by choosing to work and focus on courage in 2014, I can be the person and the principal that my family and our school deserves.