So a few weeks ago during our holiday vacation I climbed a really, really big mountain. Since I now live in a region that allows me plenty of opportunity and choice to do so, I figured I’d tackle one of the most beautiful and picturesque mountains in the world…Cotopaxi, here in Ecuador…and what an experience! It was easily one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever done both physically and mentally, and looking back on it I’m glad that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I agreed. My great friend and leadership mentor, Scott Miller from Action Learning Associates (http://www.actionlearning.com/) convinced me to give it a try with him and I figured why not…I’m always up for a challenge and I like to push myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible. Well, after hiking straight up in the middle of the night for what seemed like an endless amount of time, in a complete whiteout and 90 mile an hour winds, the doubts started to creep in and interestingly enough, my mind started to make some metaphorical connections to many of the things that we’re trying to accomplish in our school with our new strategic plan.
I know that climbing a mountain is a well-used metaphor for taking on challenging things in your life, and it’s super easy to find parallels with the struggles that you go through on the road to accomplishing something difficult and worthwhile…but at 19,000 feet praying for the wind to die down, with the summit still 1,000 feet or so away, I just couldn’t help thinking about the work that we’ve undertaken as a faculty. In many ways, the five year transformational plan that we’ve rolled out is ambitious and idealistic, and it’s easy to wonder how we’re ever going to get there with so much to do. The trick is to understand that the changes and the vision will not come to life overnight…it will be a long road with steep climbs and difficult decisions, with belief and trust as the one thing that will keep us moving forward. We’re going up a mountain that we’ve never gone up before as a team, and it can be scary to try things that are unfamiliar to us. Our plan will certainly push us as educators and professionals out of our comfort zones, and we have to learn to chunk the work out, and to take it one step at a time. We also have to remember to take the time to stop and look around, and to reflect on the small accomplishments along the way, and to celebrate the distance (however short) that we’ve already covered together. Walking up Cotopaxi was a lot like that honestly, and I’m glad that I started the climb at midnight in the dark. It would have been so daunting in the broad daylight with the peak so, so far away and honestly, if I had only focused on how far I had to go then I might have been overcome with doubt. In many ways that’s what we’re doing here at school too…unsure of where the road might lead us on the way to our goal, but at some point you just need to take that first step, and keep on going with a belief and a trust that you’ll get there. Like another friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Tim Stuart from Singapore American School often says, sometimes you just have to use the ready, fire, aim approach…knowing that the belief in what you’re doing as a school will see you through.
The other connection that was impossible to ignore was the fact that I didn’t do this climb alone…I was with a team that I trusted, and who encouraged me and picked me up along the way. I made mistakes up there for sure, and there were a few times that our guide, and Scott saw that I needed a boost of confidence and an encouraging word…I was with experienced climbers who had done the research, chosen the best route, and been up similar mountains before…just like our leadership team here at school. We’re going up our own metaphorical mountain with experienced climbers and guides (other quality international schools), who will help lead the way and get us all to the summit. Finally, the one thing that I didn’t count on or think about was how hard it was going to be to get down! I was so focused on reaching the peak that I didn’t give much thought to the dangers and hard work of descending. To me that’s a lot like the sustainability of quality initiatives that schools constantly roll out…they get them off the ground, or reach the summit, but they forget about the work that it takes to truly make them part of the fabric and culture of the school. It’s one thing to roll something out effectively (reach the summit) but another thing altogether to complete the journey and make the initiatives sustainable (getting down). Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that we have a big mountain to climb and so much to work left to do…but, if we take it one step at a time, and stop to reflect and celebrate along the way, then we’ll truly enjoy the experience and become all the better for it. Like my Dad always says, if it was easy…it would be easy! Taking on difficult work, and work that is truly transformational is what all schools need to be doing. If you’re not out there climbing mountains and pushing the limits of what’s possible in education, then what’s best for your students and their learning will soon be out of reach. Happy New year everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Make 2015 the year of climbing mountains!
Quote of the Week……
Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way! Dr. Seuss
Interesting Articles on Perseverance and doing hard work –
TED Talk – Carol Dweck
Humans are Awesome – 2015