Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading more poetry than usual of late, but as the calendar rolls to a new year and #YourEdustory asks “what is your ‘one word’ that will inspire you in your classroom or school in 2016?” my first and most honest response comes from an opening line by one of my favorite poets: “Courage!”
Alfred Tennyson, that scowling, bearded grandfather of verse, is seldom better than when he is writing about Odysseus. In “The Lotus Eaters” he picks up Homer’s adventurer mid-storm at sea, calling out to his crew as the waves batter the ship.
Courage!” he said, and pointed toward the land
“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”
As a high school principal, having courage –to challenge conventional expectations, to be honest when conversations get hard, and to accept feedback with humility and an open mind– is a quality worth striving for. Taking the easy way out, believing what is can’t be improved on, avoiding crucial engagements, these are a path to failure. In 2016, as always, my goal is to remain courageous in the face of challenges and always forward thinking, buoyed by the anticipation that comes from believing the best is yet to come.
Courage is also a quality I hope to inspire in the people, both students and staff, I have the pleasure to work with. Like Odysseus, I know that I’m not alone on this journey.
In 2016, I hope to be willing to embrace the adventure that is education, supporting and inspiring others, and staying true to my own mission statement.
That said, I know that adventures are adventures because they have challenges; take away Sauron, and Lord of the Rings is a nature walk. I aim to have the courage to embrace these challenges.
Tennyson knew this. Following Odysseus’ opening words to his crew, Tennyson’s poem describes the hazard the sailors face on an island where they are tempted by beautiful, reassuring, and ultimately false comfort. In honeyed words, the poem describes the hazy glow of a wonderful world, a world inviting rest and an end to travels, a world whose beauty attempts to keep Odysseus and his crew from their voyage home.
Like the land of the Lotus Eaters, education (or any field), particularly at a place where students are thriving, tests scores are high, and discipline is under control can whisper “everything is wonderful” when the reality is that things can always get better. Seeing past the present good and acknowledging that the future can be even better, with hard work and the courage to try new things, is a lesson that speaks to me through Tennyson’s poem, across more than a century to the work I hope to do.
Another poet, CP Cavafy, less grizzled than that demigod, Lord Alfred, described Odysseus’ journey in his poem “Ithaka.”
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.”
I don’t know what adventures will fill 2016, but I’m looking forward to the voyage. I’m excited to discover kindred spirits I don’t yet know, visit places new to me, and be inspired by that “rare excitement” that comes from a life lived with purpose. As a principal this means spending time with students, teachers, parents and those who care about teaching and learning.
This year isn’t about Ithaka, but it is about the journey and, for me, the courage to lean into the wind, look toward the horizon, and embrace the adventure.