“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…” Theodore Roosevelt
This quote is on a poster sitting on my cluttered desk. Perhaps, the unframed poster is a metaphor for my work life this year. Even my motivational reminders lie there, unfinished. There’s time to buy them, but no time to frame and hang them. In the world of public education, things have been tough for years. Honestly, there is only a small hope that they will get easier. Most of us working in this world show up every day to do something difficult.
As a public school administrator, I am frequently faced with at least two valid choices, either of which will be difficult for an important group of stakeholders. I'm pretty new at this, and I feel uncertain every day. How do we balance the need for social and emotional support to build student capacity and the need for challenging academic tasks to increase student learning? How do we balance the need for families to be heard and the need for teachers to be supported? Truly, one of the biggest challenges in my life is to make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons.
These days, the loop of conflicting decisions rarely closes, or when a new challenge arises as soon as the previous one is met. Sometimes, it is difficult to feel like I am making progress or having a positive impact at all. When I am worn down by pervasive doubts, I think of one of my favorite stories, a parable of sorts:
There was a Zen archery instructor teaching in the U.S. After he’s been here for a number of years, a reporter interviews him and asks, “How is your teaching going?” The master replies, “Terrible! These Americans just cannot learn the concept. I try to teach them not to aim for the target, but to practice mindfully, and trust the process. No matter how hard I try, they cannot get it. They insist on trying to win.” The reporter asked him, “Do you plan to return to Japan, then?” The instructor replies, “No. This is my practice. Teaching Americans not to aim for the target is my practice.”
The old Zen master knew his students might never fully grasp the true lesson, yet he showed up every day to strive, knowing that the effort was his practice. Of course, I want my efforts to result in the right outcome: successful, happy students, effective, satisfied teachers, and an informed, engaged community. Like the master, those results may elude me; however, I can focus on the practice. Showing up every day to make the best decision I can.
So, thank you to all of my friends in the arena, struggling valiantly to do the deeds. We are united in our goals and connected through practice. Let us keep calm and keep up the practice.