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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Role of a Teacher

Robert Fulghum remains one of my favorite authors. I recommend his work to everyone (check out his facebook page and his web journal). His books are a series of collected essays and observations that are amusing, profound, and thought provoking. I can't recall exactly which book contains this particular narrative that forms the basis of my Blog entry today, nor can I commit to the exactness of my memory, but I can remember the essence of the story. Here it is:

One such experience that Fulghum shared with readers involves a class taught by a wise professor who closed a lesson by asking if there were any questions. A member of the class attempted to upstage the teacher and steer the lesson off course with levity by asking about the secret of life. 

The sage instructor reached in his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. From within his wallet he gently extracted a small shard salvaged from a broken mirror. He held it aloft and redirected the sun that peeked into the classroom and cast the reflected light into a darkened corner of the room. The professor explained that when he was a young boy in Greece during the second world war, he discovered a dead Nazi laying on the road next to a wrecked motorcycle that the soldier was riding when he was shot by a member of the resistance army. 

The boy picked up a piece of the shattered motorcycle mirror and saved it. As the boy confronted life in a war torn country littered with the vestiges of death and despair, he struggled to make sense of life. While contemplating the trauma of his life he found that by manipulating the mirror and capturing rays of light he could bring light to darkened areas. 

That was the secret of life - how humans have the capacity to enlighten, with hope and dreams and projections of what could be. That is my challenge as a school leader. Bringing light to those shrouded in the darkness of doubt and despair. And, that task begins tomorrow when 400 learners open the school year by filling a building short on space and long on promise. A school that has been under-performing and mired in misery associated with low expectations, burdened by assumptions and perceptions of demographics, stereotypes, and surrender.

In researching the school and Bennington prior to applying for the vacant position of principal at Molly Stark, I came across a quote attributed to General John Stark, commander of American forces in the area during the Revolutionary War. On the eve of a battle that would prove to be critical in preventing the British from reinforcing their troops in Saratoga, thirty miles away, Stark declared - "There are your enemies, the British and Tories. They are ours, or else this night Molly Stark (his wife) sleeps a widow." That was a clear commitment to the goal of victory. He would win, or he would die trying.

As I addressed the staff of Molly Stark Elementary School days before the start of another school year, I echoed Stark's words, though with far less sacrifice. I stated - "There are our enemies, doubt and despair. They are ours, or else Molly Stark will have another principal in two years." 

I concluded that if achievement levels did not rise (according to the website, School Digger, we are currently the 172nd ranked elementary school among 175 in the state of Vermont) then I would accept that I am not the right leader to guide our improvement and would step aside so that someone more skilled can replace me and breathe life into the hopes and dreams of the children at Molly Stark.

We'll see....

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