As I write these words, Barbara Morgan is preparing to launch into space aboard the space shuttle Endeavour as our nation's first Educator Astronaut. Twenty-one years ago, Barbara was the backup to the winning "Teacher in Space" astronaut candidate, Christa McAuliffe, who died tragically in the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986. When asked what's kept her focused for more than two decades on fulfilling the dream she and McAuliffe shared, Morgan answered with two simple words: "perseverance and patience."
"We Choose to Go to the Moon"
Her dedication and commitment to the mission, and to lifting teaching and education to new heights, brings to mind the words President John F. Kennedy spoke at Rice University in 1962, rallying our nation to a greater commitment to science education and accomplishment. Kennedy said, in part, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon ... not because it is easy, but because it is hard, ... because there is new knowledge to be gained. We shall send to the moon- 240,000 miles away-from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented ... on an untried mission ... on the greatest adventure."
Rising Above Requirements
When I picture President Kennedy delivering those words with passion and intensity, I am inspired at the prospects of the coming school year. He was talking about lofty goals, confident they would be achieved. His call was to commitment, to principled and deliberate execution, unrelenting until the mission was accomplished.
In this spirit, as we look to the coming school year, forget NCLB requirements, forget state standards, scope and sequence, and curriculum alignment. Forget budget constraints. They each have their place amidst your myriad responsibilities. You can't just disregard them, but don't let them dominate your thoughts, discussions, or actions. Instead, start the new school year with vision and with the hope of promise. What promise? The promise that every child in your district's charge can have a rich, meaningful, and rewarding school experience.
The fulfillment of this seemingly insurmountable objective is not achieved by regulation or requirement. It is only driven by a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. Does every member of your staff and faculty know the vision? Are they individually and collectively on a mission to see it accomplished? JFK set a goal, painting with words a powerful picture of achievement, making his listeners believe it would happen. And indeed it did. In less than ten years from the day he gave that speech, the United States sent nine manned missions to the moon.
Fulfilling the Mission
Christa McAuliffe's favorite saying was, "I touch the future-I teach!" High school seniors who listened to JFK's speech in 1962 are nearing 65 today; those who watched the Challenger disaster in 1986 are nearly 40. Some of you may have been among them. It's now your children and grandchildren heading back to school. What better time for you, as a school district leader, to remember that you are first and foremost a teacher. You may not be in a traditional classroom setting, but you teach every day. You teach by example, and you teach by the principles and philosophies that form your beliefs about how schools should be organized and how education should take place.
As the excitement and expectation of the new school year bring your classrooms, cafeterias, and hallways to life, it's a good time to consider how you will lead. What will be your call to action? What initiatives, approaches, and materials that "have not yet been invented" will your leadership bring to your district? What will be your district's "untried mission," your "greatest adventure"? How will you touch the future?
Daniel E. Kinnaman is publisher of District Administration.