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.


  1. Cathy,
    I love Jennifer's blog and her writing. How fun to realize her mom blogs too! I see she may get some of her writing from you. This was a wonderful post to read. There were so many stories embedded within its lines.

    Courage sounds like the perfect word for you as you go into 2014.


  2. Cathy,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond. Jennifer encouraged and led my life into blogs. I also love it as a way of connecting with others as yourself. Have a good 2014! Live with courage. --- Cathy


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