After years of working in schools, of thinking about what good schools and good classrooms should look like, of thinking about the essential qualities of leadership, of thinking about what excellence in public education sounds like and feels like— after years of this kind of work, here's where I stand: In the beginning of each school year we, all of us, are bent down with our hands aside a rock. Some of us grasp a heavy rock. Some of us clasp one rock with the burden of another on our backs. Of one size, shape, or form, we all hold a rock.
What we, as educators, do next determines, if not conclusively then far too predictably, what happens to the students we work with each and every day.
We can say that the heaviness of the rock or the size of the rock are just too much. The logic flows: The kids are too far behind, the children just don't care enough, the parents aren't involved, the standards are too high, the curriculum isn't good enough, the tests are too hard, the streets are too mean, my effort will not make a difference.
We can say the weight of the rock is the weight of the rock, and then we can get to work. Lifting up that rock may bring joy upon joy. We may release something in the child that has never been released before. The child, in our presence, because of our effort, may learn and grow and improve in ways unimaginable. Or perhaps things won't go so easily, and lifting one rock will bring another and another and another. Or perhaps the rock is just too big to budge. The damn thing won't move.
It's all so hard to predict. But make no mistake about it, lifting the rock is the required work of teaching, of teachers, of school leaders, of principals, of any adult working in any school in this city, in this state, in this country.
Walk away from the rock, pretend that you are trying to lift it but in reality are giving no real effort, deny that the rock even exists— doing any of these things, in any walk of life worth walking, is worthy, I'd say, of skepticism. Countries, cities, communities, schools, classrooms can't be great unless the people who lead them embrace the rock.
We lift, or we lose.