What is more important, the journey or the destination? I think that the answer we are supposed to give is that the journey is more important than the destination. Yet, I frequently focus on the destination. This is often particularly true in my teaching. To some degree it may just be the nature of being a high school band director. My band has a concert tomorrow night and we spend our time trying to be as polished as we possibly can. That’s not a bad thing at all, but our focus is certainly on the destination. Schools in general are asked by our legislators and, to some degree, our communities to focus on outcomes that are destinations. We measure ourselves in test scores and other statistics that primarily tell the story of where our students have ended up at a given moment in time. Again, there is place for that. Destinations are important.
Poets and philosophers have said it much better than I will ever say it, but life is really about the journey’s we take. This week has been a blessing in many ways. Through the lens of social media I have been able to observe former students who are becoming parents for the first time, former students who are tackling new jobs, and I have been able to observe students serve as passionate advocates for causes that they believe in. In the last two weeks I even had a former student write to me about their life’s journey, which hasn’t always been easy, but who took the time to say that some of what they learned in my classroom helped them to overcome some obstacles. I cried tears of joy in the reading of that note. What was telling was that the lessons learned weren’t in a performance, but they were in the experience of being a part of a group and in the shared experience of setting high expectations. Lastly, today I had a student tell me that they were accepted to their dream college. It was a proud moment for this student and a proud moment for me. I get to share these journeys with my students; what a joy.
What does this mean for my teaching? Well, it means that I should continue to focus on what my students want to get out of my class. I need to take more time to share my journey with my students. I also need to remind them that while we focus on the destination that is tomorrow night’s concert, that we take time to appreciate the journey that it takes to get there. I need to take time to remind them why the standards that we set and attempt to achieve matter. I also need to continue to believe in the destinations that I choose for my students, knowing that our ultimate destination will surely shape our journey.
What does this mean for our schools? I think we need to take a hard look at whether our schools are doing a good job of creating outcomes that are relevant to all of our students. I teach at a very good suburban high school and I think it is safe to say that our most common outcome is students who go on to four year colleges. So, we as a school focus on practices that help students achieve that outcome. But, what about our students who aren’t headed towards that outcome? Is merely making our students “college ready” a worthy goal? We do lots of great things at my school and our expected outcomes for our students are much like most schools, but is it what is best for our kids? I think it is time that we look at creating more unique outcomes for our K-12 schools. By creating unique outcomes we will surely change the journey that most of our students are on. I believe it is time to be creative in what we want our students to be doing as the travel through our halls each day. They should be able to shape their journey a little more uniquely based on the possibility of unique outcomes. I’m not sure what that ends up looking like, but I believe it’s a worthy goal.
I’ll conclude this post with a personal observation. As I mourn the recent loss of my father I am coming to recognize that he was at peace with his life. But, at the end of his life he was a little lost. He and I had a wonderful and honest relationship. At the end of his life he simply wanted to spend his journey with my Mom and when she passed away he didn’t have anyone to share his journey with. He really missed her in a way that I think even surprised him. That’s the lesson I have learned in recent weeks; that the journey is important and even more so it is who we spend it with. I am blessed to have a wife and son who I get to go on journey’s with. It is why I love to travel. I have a vivid memory of sitting on a balcony at a Disney World hotel with my young son on my lap and my wife next to me watching fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. They guy on the balcony next to me looked over and asked, “will it ever get better than this?” My answer to him was, “no.” But, you know what, it has gotten better. My son is a great young man. He is kind and talented and he works hard at the things he is passionate about. I tear up every time I see him do something with all of his heart. My wife and I went on a trip to Austin, Texas over our winter break and we sat down to a spectacular meal and just had the chance to slow down and savor not only the food, but the quiet experience of being together. It’s the people, the relationships, and the journey that make life worth living. We are a part of so many relationships that matter. I am hopeful that I can provide more people with a companion for their journey. If we get the journey right, the destination will take care of itself.