If you take the time to say you’re going to do something, then do it! This seems to be an easy maxim to live up to; but I know I (at times) do not live up to it. Aligning your actions to the philosophy involves two things. First, be careful and deliberate about what you say. Make sure that what you contribute to a conversation is relevant and worthwhile. Second, if you say you will do something, then do it…simple!
In American Ulysses, author Ronald White tells the story of Ulysses S. Grant in such a way that the reader better understands the man behind the myths that have grown around him. I admit that I am an admirer of Ulysses S. Grant. This is the third biography that I have read about him. I am drawn to him because he is relatable. He was an average man from an average family who was extraordinary at leading armies in war. In the middle of one battle that was not going well for the Union, another Union General approached Grant and asked if he had considered his retreat options. His answer is classic. He told the General, “I have not despaired of whipping them, General”. His army won the battle the next day.
Constant forward motion and action were his hallmarks as a commander. He coupled constant forward action with a reserved, quiet demeanor that calmed those around him. At the battle of Shiloh after the first day in which the Union almost lost the battle, General Sherman found Grant alone, under a tree. Sherman said, “Well Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day today haven’t we?”. Grant replied, “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow though”. The Union won the battle the next day. Grant did not start a dissertation with Sherman about what went wrong in the battle up to that point. Rather, he simply stated what he believed would happen the next day and did not give up.
We can learn a lot from Grant’s example of leadership: don’t talk too much and always move forward. In the world of education, there are too many examples of leaders who need to hear themselves talk while forgetting that ACTION is what really counts. We must follow our convictions and quietly, forcefully, do what is right for the learners in our care. We cannot start to plan a “strategic retreat” when a program that we started to help kids does not unfold the exact way we envisioned it. We must have the courage of our convictions to keep moving forward! We must have the courage to see through to the end programs that help kids. We must learn to keep moving forward constantly, inevitably, moving toward our goals. For me, this means creating learning experiences that place the learner at the center of everything that we do. What does it mean to you?
It means learners at the center and staff willing to examine what that means for them. System change is hard but has very little chance if the people in the system do not understand and accept that it does need to change. A tall order but one that Grant would fain from undertaking……