Before Roger Bannister ran the first mile under four minutes, it was thought to be impossible. Not only that, if you talked to a medical professional about the idea of running a mile in less than four minutes at the time Bannister was chasing that mark, he or she would have likely told you that there were serious health risks associated with even attempting such a feat.
Last month (June 2017), the tenth high school student recorded a sub 4 minute mile. Think about that. 65 years ago, common thought among medical professionals was that this would be seriously risky for your health, but here we are with a new understanding of what is possible because someone dared to push back on an established idea.
Sometimes it feels like we might need more than we feel we have to offer to create meaningful change. Maybe we feel need more courage or different ideas. Maybe it’s that we simply lack confidence. Maybe fear keeps us in our place, or perhaps it’s simply our own inertia that keeps us from moving forward.
In her 2008 Harvard commencement speech, J.K. Rowling reminded graduates that they did “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
I agree with her wholeheartedly. We have the power to imagine better, but I often find myself doing the same old things. Making a plan won’t create the change we want to see, but we will not break out of our old routines and practices without a plan.
FOUR QUESTIONS FOR DISRUPTORS
What do you want to change next year?
Go ahead and think big here. (Of course you don’t need my permission, but a little encouragement never hurt, right?) What is it that you would most like to see change in the next school year? What would you like to change in your classroom?
Why are you in education? What made this sound like a worthwhile career to invest yourself into when you began? Don’t just think about that–write it down.
Now compare that to what your day to day looks like. How will this change bring you back to your why?
What are your current obstacles?
One of the trickiest things about creating change is the dynamic landscape we are often working within. No two schools are exactly alike, and although many are similar, we have to be careful about broad stroke comments about how to actually create change on the ground in schools.
Think about your situation. What are the obstacles that you can already see coming? Anticipating those road blocks (because there will most certainly be road blocks) will allow you to avoid some of the frustration that comes with those interactions with those who do not share your perspective. Will it make it easy? No. Will it help you feel like you are the one continuing to drive this movement forward? Absolutely.
Who will help you create this change?
For this to become a movement (that’s what you want, right–not just you toiling away on your own trying to make a difference), you need to make sure you’re not going to take this journey alone.
Successful change happens when passionate people do what others believe is impossible. What you hope to change is going to make a difference, and that’s why people are in education: to make a difference.
You need a few people around you to help you refine your idea and help you identify those early obstacles mentioned earlier. You also need them as a sounding board for when you begin to get feedback (because as someone who is about to stir things up and create change for good, you will get feedback).
Two things will happen when you begin to get some movement: People will love it, and people will hate it.
Don’t move forward without at least two people you can count on to support and challenge you throughout this process.
Change calls people out of their comfortable routines. Some are going to see what you are doing and be invigorated to make their own change. Some will want to join your cause. And some will not be happy with you. Be prepared for that. Don’t give in to that feedback. I’d shy away from completely dismissing it, but take it in, determine if there’s any validity to the critique, and move past it. You have work to do and only so much energy to spend doing it.
What time & energy can you commit to this change?
You cannot continue to pile more things onto your plate forever. You are not limitless. You cannot do everything. (Yes, I’m talking to you, too, if you just responded, “Yes I can” to that claim.) We have a finite amount of energy, and that’s ok.
You cannot give more than all you have to give.
But that reality is hard to swallow because the common narrative is that the best are the ones who can keep going forever, the Energizer Bunnies who never seem to stop, never seem to waver, and always accomplish their goals beautifully. I’m tempted to say, “That’s great if you can pull it off,” but I am really coming to believe that nobody can pull that off. At least I can’t, so I’m trying to dedicate my available time to the goals that matter most to me (more on that as the school year approaches).
If you give everything you have at school, you likely won’t have enough for your family and yourself when you get home. (I know I’ve heard Jimmy Casas share about the difficulty of balancing an emotionally draining job with the desire to be fully present at home when you’re there. I feel like I’ve heard others share a similar sentiment. If there’s a chance I heard that from you or you recognize where I should give other credit, please let me know so I can give credit where it’s due.) Certainly there are days like this. Things come up, the reality of serving others is that it can be simultaneously live giving and incredibly draining all at once. I’m not exactly sure how, but that’s my lived experience. What I’m saying is that we cannot schedule ourselves to that point. We have to keep something in the tank for the others in our lives and for ourselves.
Giving every last bit of energy you have to your work is not a healthy long term solution. Figure out what you have to give and go full throttle into giving that amount. Be dialed in, focused, and determined to drain every ounce of that dedicated time to create change, but be willing to give yourself the white space to recharge afterward.
Achieving the Impossible
Bannister’s record breaking run in 1954 changed the landscape of track and field. The next runner to break the “impossible” four minute barrier did so just two months later. Hundreds have done it since. Last month, the tenth high school student broke the four minute barrier. Some runners have finished a mile under four minutes more than 100 times.
The impossible is happening.
I’m excited for you and for your future. The changes you make this year will have an impact far greater than you are likely to every know. But they won’t happen without someone like you getting back to the reason you got into education and pushing your reality back toward that original motivation.
Where will you upset the status quo?
If you like what you’re reading here, consider checking out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Imagine It Better–that discusses how we can and should disrupt the status quo in education. Read more about the book here or find the book on Amazon.