By Sue Walsh
We live in a difficult and challenging world.
There is deep anger at the level of violence too many people face, and deep fear about how we can truly become a wholly democratic republic that honors and respects all people, not simply in words, but in actions, in our private lives and in our public lives, in our lives as citizens and in our country as a whole. The news from many cities and states quiets us, angers us, moves us. The impact on our families, and those of the families we know or whom we feel even without particular faces and known names, quiets us, angers us, moves us. We have no answers, only resolve that we must be a country and a people of justice, we must act in peace wherever our lives take us, and we must be our brother’s keeper.
We pray for open hearts and sound minds. We pray for actions of integrity that lead us all forward. We pray for ourselves, and we pray for one another.
Why we do the work
We do this work because high-achieving, college preparatory urban charter schools turn poverty upside down. We do this work because quality schools unleash the promise of every student. We do this work because families love their children and see the hope of what the future can be through their children. We do this work because there are quality schools, for some students, but not enough quality schools for all students. We do this work because the power of a quality teacher alters a child’s life and the power of a quality school does that for one child multiplied into the hundreds.
We do this work because it is needed, and we have committed ourselves – our gifts, our capacity, our resolve – to be game-changers, to be leaders.
We do this work not for honors, and not for riches. We do this work because it is holy.
And we have to get it right. Good intentions are not enough. Results are what matter. Every graph of every reading level is populated with faces, and families, and futures. Numbers matter. They tell us where we are, and whether we are truly building the future we want, the future that is encapsulated so directly and poignantly in BES school mission statements from California to New York, and the many states between. We have to be more demanding of ourselves, and harness more joy and energy, more strategy and intention, into the work, than we ever ask of anyone else. And then we just have to get it done. Despite our challenges. Through our weaknesses. That is where courage lies, and that is the road to execution.
Any heart or brain surgeon operating on our father, sister, aunt, or nephew must know their stuff. They must know how to read the EEGs and cat scans, plan the surgery, hold the scalpel, and lead the operating team. They must have practiced hundreds of times, and owned everything they needed to own – before they suit up and scrub down for the OR in which our loved one waits. The surgeon’s desire to be a surgeon, to lead a team, to heal a patient is insufficient. A surgeon’s desire does not heal, and a surgeon’s ability to talk generally, in the clouds, about the lofty goals of healthy hearts and strong brains does not heal. Desire pushes the surgeon to master the knowledge, skills, and the business of surgery to get the job done.
And so it is with all of us. Desire does not educate a child, lead a team, or build a school. Desire pushes each of us to master the knowledge, skills, and the business of quality schools to get the job done.
We are not show horses. We are plough horses.
How we do the work
We continue to get into high-achieving, college preparatory urban schools – studying culture and instruction. We build our founding teams – one right person after the next. We get up early, jump head first into the work, and we stay until we are done.
Culture is about systems, and it is deeply about values – the values that inform who we are, the actions that we take every day, the language we use, the rituals in which we engage, the routines that define our relationships to each other, to our shared work, to the world and to our future. How do we come together and explicitly and intentionally function as a mission-driven team?
We do this by focusing on three key questions when we study the highest achieving schools:
1. What are the leaders doing consistently and ritualistically?
2. What are the teachers and students doing consistently and ritualistically?
3. What is the language and routines of the schools – what are “their ways” of doing school?
And we don’t quickly say, “Culture, check, I’ve got that. Moving on.” Instead we say, “Culture can’t be wrong. I am starting to see. My eyes are open. And I want to see more, know more, master more.”