Last summer I attended the musical Avenue Q with my father. He was 77 years old and, although I didn’t know it at the time, I only had a few more months to be with him. What I remember about that day was how hard much we laughed and how much he enjoyed the show. On the surface Avenue Q is a show filled with puppets and people who are very funny and a little bit vulgar. At it’s heart it is a show about purpose. The lead Character Princeton sings a song about his struggle to find his purpose.
I have spent the last two weeks in a variety of conversations about schools. Those conversations have me invigorated for the coming year. At the heart of my enthusiasm is that I have come to recognize that my colleagues in education don’t have to search hard for purpose. We come to our profession knowing that we want to do what is best for young people. How we get there isn’t simple and there is room for lots of conversation, but after being around hundreds of educators in the last two weeks there wasn’t one of them who wasn’t coming to the conversations with a motive other than to improve our schools for our students.
Our job as educators is to cut through the static and keep coming back to our shared purpose. There are many people outside of our profession who have agendas to promote when they talk about “reforming” education. My local paper ran an editorial today from a man who has a variety of agendas regarding public education which, in my opinion, have little to do with providing more and better opportunities for our public school students. But, that’s the exact kind of static that we, as educators, have to continue to tune out.
Educational initiatives will come and they will go. What won’t change is our common purpose as educational leaders (and by educational leaders I mean teachers, students, administrators, board members and community leaders). Our purpose will be to engage students. Our purpose will be to set rigorous standards for our students. Our purpose will be to make our schools safe and welcoming for our students. When we view education from that lens it makes the decisions easier.
I am fortunate to teach in a district where that focus continues to drive the work we do. We do so many things very well and we continue to work to improve every day. When educators advocate at the local, state and national level we do so from the perspective of professionals who want to do what is best for young people. Unlike Princeton on Avenue Q our purpose is clear.
The public policy debate about education will continue. As long as everyone is honest about their agendas the debate will only make our schools stronger. I believe Iowans are speaking pretty loudly and pretty clearly about what they want. Keep talking, keep sharing, keep asking everyone (educators included) to be honest about what we really want. That will be good for Iowa and if everyone’s purpose is to make Iowa’s schools better for our students we will be able to hold our heads high as we elevate the debate beyond dollars and cents.