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Education Opinion

Leadership for the Impossible Dreams

By LeaderTalk Contributor — May 09, 2009 3 min read

It is that time of the year - graduation season - a time of celebration; a time of endings and of new beginnings. This past week, I have had the opportunity to be part of two graduation ceremonies - one for an Executive Ed D program where I attended in support of members of my cohort; the second for Journalism majors where I watched my daughter receive her Masters degree. These experiences have made me start thinking - what are we telling our graduates as they move on to the next phase of their lives, their education, or their career? What is the message about leading and leadership?

Well, Google co-founder Larry Page addressed the grads at Michigan State University - the university his entire family attended. Page talked about the summer training program Leadershape he attended while a student at the university; the program’s slogan: “have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Part of Page’s message -

Overall, I know it seems like the world is crumbling out there, but it is actually a great time in your life to get a little crazy, follow your curiosity, and be ambitious about it. Don’t give up on your dreams. The world needs you all!

is something I would want my daughter to hear and my colleagues who have completed their Ed.D’s - as a matter of fact - I would like the 8th graders leaving my school in a few short weeks to heed Page’s words. Yet, the real heart in Page’s words come when he tells a brief story about his father, who died at an earlier than expected age:

always remember that the moments we have with friends and family, the chances we have to do things that might make a big difference in the world, or even to make a small difference to someone you love — all those wonderful chances that life gives us, life also takes away. It can happen fast, and a whole lot sooner than you think.

So, I am left thinking about how to achieve a balance in our work in education; how to encourage leadership from all that will allow us to achieve what may seem impossible - work that will demand time and energy and commitment, while at the same time supporting and reminding those with whom we work to cherish and make time for family and friends. For there seems to be so much work to do. At times I grow weary of reading the latest reports about what Obama has said about education, or Aren Duncan, or the McKinnsey report. It seems as though we will never come to enough of a consensus even about the effectiveness of education in this country, let alone what direction we need to be moving and what our students need throughout the time they spend in school.

And thus, the words of historian and novelist David McCullough as he addressed the graduates of the University of Utah, seemed to resonate. McCullough spoke about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1869 - during a time of greed, corruption, and excess - a time not unlike the present. Yet, as McCullough explains, the Brooklyn Bridge - a structure of great beauty, great purpose, and great technical achievement - also serves as a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of a nation founded on the beliefs of self-government and equality.

And about education, McCullough asserts:

Nor does the fact that we have so long believed in education for all mean that quality public education will quite naturally continue without our constant attention, or that good teachers will just come along, because they always have. There is no more important work than that of our teachers, or more important people in our society

As educational leaders - by role, by personal belief and commitment, or both - I think we must build careers that incorporate cherished family and friends. We cannot choose one over the other. In fact, I do not think we can even parcel our lives into time for family/friends and time for work. I am beginning to think that those who will be able to make a real difference in education will be those for whom family, friends, and education are one and the same. However, the only way that would be possible would be to make our educational places family friendly.

In my district, our superintendent, Linda Brewer, has relentlessly worked to have a daycare facility on our campus so that teachers with young children could have them close-by. It is a dream that is seemingly close at hand - but has recently become a part of a political storm. Yet, this is an example of the leadership we need; leadership that is willing to create a vision for something that is not widely accepted, not understood, and not the norm. Yet, in creating a school district where the values of family are supported in more than just words; where expectations for standards of work and student achievement are very high, but are accompanied by support for those that are hired to do carry out that work - that is the leadership that is needed in these times - the type of leadership that is rooted in the dreams and hopes upon which this country’s education system was built - but firmly focused on the future.

Sue King

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.