Commence with Courage

It is the time of year when commencement speeches are being shared with groups of new graduates. Some of the best are available for all of us to learn from on the web.  After watching a few, I started thinking about both the message and the method of these highly anticipated and often moving speeches. Did you know, by definition, commencement is not about the end of a journey, but really is the beginning of one?

As we finish this year, close up shop, and head off for the summer, I want to commence with words of wisdom and encouragement for the very same reason we gather graduates and speak to them: how you end matters. It is the end that leads to the beginning, which ultimately propels us through what’s next.

True to my elementary-school roots, my commencement speech to my colleagues would reference that simple, yet powerful tool available to all of us… the picture book.

Commence with Courage  (Based on the book Courage by Bernard Weber)

Educators have to be courageous. Everyday. And in many ways.

“There are many kinds of courage. Awesome kinds. And everyday kinds. Still, courage is courage—whatever kind.”

Courage is ending with honest and transparent dialogue about what didn’t go well this year.

Courage is doing what is right for students, even if it means more work for the adults in the room.

Courage is trusting your end-of-year words will be read as carefully as you wrote them.

Courage is pressing send on a reference letter that tells the truth.

Courage is smiling through a parent meeting when the news is new and the questions are harsh.

Courage is trying to teach in ways that are new and different in the face of standardized measurements and expectations.

Courage is asking “why” instead of just thinking it; then being ready to build on the response in positive ways.

Courage is standing up for a colleague who is trying, and standing up to one who isn’t.

Courage is reading your anonymous survey results and keeping that barking dog called doubt tuned out long enough to reflect.

Courage is signing your name to an anonymous survey ensuring your feedback has enough context to matter.

Courage is moving to a new country, a new job, and a new school.

Courage is reading testing data with a question mark in your voice.

Courage is closing the door and letting them take the exam, knowing life isn’t an exam.

Courage is trying new techniques and strategies- especially during the last week of school.

Courage is leaving on a high note, even if you can’t wait to get on that plane.

Courage is believing next year will be better. (And believing it every year.)

Educators have to be courageous. Everyday. And in many ways.

Best to begin and end, with courage.

As I read over my list, I’m certain there are statements of courage I’ve missed, and probably need to add. Building this list has been an affirmation of my professional experience, beliefs, and journey. The best part? It isn’t over yet.

Courage is heading off for the summer only to return refreshed and ready to learn.

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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