October 24, 2009 by Scott McLeod 8 Comments
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This mountain climbing analogy is an interesting one to me, Scott, simply because so many Americans have either underestimated or taken the easy way out of the actual act of climbing mountains—and have inadvertently destroyed some of the most pristine places on earth in the process!
We depend on sherpas to carry our gear to the most difficult locations and then celebrate our own success when we reach the top of impossible peaks. We demand to summit even when conditions aren’t right or our bodies are physically unprepared. We feel entitled, insisting that our own needs and wants are met by those who serve us on our expeditions.
There really are a lot of parallels to our approach to education, aren’t there—and none of them are particularly pleasant! Both parents and students resist the hard work that it takes to be successful in our classrooms. Kids are fooled into thinking that they are prepared for life’s challenges, when they are instead likely to struggle mightily—-and when they do, there’s likely to be someone standing behind them to bail them out, creating false victories along the way.
(Can you tell that I’m in a bit of a professional funk right now?!)
I had fun thinking about this, though…
I agree with all you said about feelings of entitlement and lack of effort — all the way until you say “parents and students resist the hard work that it takes to be successful in our classrooms.” As I work with teachers all over the country, I see many teachers who fall into that category as well. Committed, passionate teachers often believe most teachers are like them when. in fact, I frequently see teachers who choose the instructional method that is easiest for them instead of what it best for children. There is certainly work to be done by all parties — students, parents, AND teachers.
Ironically. Today I was watching the film “Everest”, the main characters were entering the “death zone”, simultaneously I was reading Gary Marx’s Future-Focused Leadership and this thought entered my mind about educational leadership, the discontinuity of the future, and oxygen starvation: The future is unknown, the summit above us, dizzy and dying from lack of oxygen, but if we reach the top “what a view!” Question is, how many have the will power, the vision and the tenacity to struggle toward that peak?
Here’s my recent article on climbing a mountain with some students… well, one student anyway.
Turns out she had acrophobia. We had a devil of a time coming down, but it worked out all right.
Andrew great story for inspiration.
The anology of sherpas to the mountain climber really nailed a lot of frustrations that I have had.
We have sherpas in every part of education if you think about it. Superintendants that carry the load for administrators. Administrators that carry the load for teachers. Teachers who carry the load for other teachers and teaching associates. Teaching associates that carry the load for students. This list can be reversed at any level. What we need to climb extraordinary mountians are those individuals who realize that hard work and struggle are part of the process and the easiest way up the mountain is not always the easiest… in the long run.
Nice analogy. Made me think of serious mountain climbers. What are the critical indicators of those who are most successful (living to see another day may be among the most critical). Among others, some benchmarks of highly effective mountain climbers (thank you Nat GO) include the ability to:
1. pick their fellow climbers (team) carefully with specific skill sets that play off each other to better assure each members survival and the success of their climb;
2. identify the optimal season for embarking on their treacherous journey, carefully chosen to maximize resources;
3. pre-plan and establish base camps at strategic elevations to provide safe places to reflect on their progress, and to adjust their strategies moving forward;
4. maintain a relentless pursuit towards the mountain’s peak in the face of adversity.
1. Do teachers have the ability to choose with whom they work? Are teaching teams assembled based on the intentional collaboration of skill sets between staff?
2. Are teachers able to envision teaching differently, in a way that is not bound by traditional time and space boundaries that perpetuate the linear sprint from August to June?
2. Can teachers create the time and space necessary to pause, process and reflect on the where they are in their journey, which they can then use to inform their next steps.
3. Will teachers have the ability to maintain that relentless focus on their work over time? Will teachers have the ability to remove time and energy-sucking distracters that diminish their fierce desire to see their work reach peak levels?
Although I am really a big fan of analogies, it’s times like this (referencing Jeff’s thoughts) where the bridge doesn’t always connect. It would be nice if we could say education allows the same parameters and supports, but reality does exist.
And yet, Marshall, the extraordinary mountains are still there. If we can’t figure out how to climb them, someone else will.
Throughout history, companies and organizations and individuals and, indeed, entire industries have noted systemic constraints to making the change that was necessary. Of course they’re gone now, replaced by those that figured it out…
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