Daring Greatly With Tamales and Teachers
I invented the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Sort of. The basic concept was mine.
Several years ago, the price of canned tamales went up by what I considered to be a substantial amount from the last time I had bought them. It was an overt act of corporate greed—with total disregard for the plight of the canned food consumer. My hasty research indicated that profits from the radical increase in canned tamale price did not trickle down to the line workers. Disgusting.
I led the movement where people were encouraged to pour out open cans of tamales over their heads. Wasteful, I know, but I thought it was important to use some basic tactics from the Boston Tea Party to gain the attention of people on both sides of the political aisle.
Sadly, it never caught on. The price of canned tamales remains disproportionately high. “But I tried. Didn’t I? At least I did that,” as R. P. McMurphy said in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Perhaps the idea was bad. But it was the best I had, and I was willing to take a chance for what seemed to be a good cause at the time. I was comfortable with the worst case scenario—that I might fail.
I recently borrowed the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown from my boss. Although she proclaims to not be a reader, the book was dog-eared throughout and well-worn. Through her leadership, our school has embraced Daring Greatly as both a group and personal challenge—perhaps you could even say it’s our mantra. I spent an evening reading the pages she marked and was fired up.
A foundation of the book is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech “Citizenship in a Republic”: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
For an administrator, Daring Greatly means I have to create and accept a climate where it’s OK for others (staff, students, and parents) to question what I think, what I decide, and what I do. More importantly, I have to thoroughly and effectively process the questions and challenges that are posed. This is easy to type but hard to practice—especially when standing in front of skeptical professionals or an angry parent.
Daring Greatly also means I must trust the teachers in our school. I must allow and encourage teachers to take risks for the sake of their students—just as I expected when I was in the classroom. Too often, taking a risk only comes with permission beyond the school walls, with a program purchased from a company capitalizing on the cynicism toward teachers and the misinformation associated with “education reform,” and often has to be hidden from staff whose comfort (and often job security) is defined by standardization and consistency.
Daring Greatly means I must accept the vulnerability inherent in proposing fresh ideas—especially those that might challenge the status quo. As long as they are well thought out and student-centered, I must be willing to share what I believe is best, might work, or is worth a try.
What I hope Daring Greatly means for teachers is that they are willing and able to take the non-negotiables associated with being a teacher and challenge the status quo when it’s best for kids. I hope it means they will continuously reflect on what they do and consider ways to do it better. I hope it means they will relinquish some control of their classrooms to students—capitalizing on students’ inquisitive nature and their need for authentic engagement and relevant content. Lastly, I hope they will realize that parents’ input and feedback comes from the heart—an unquestionable love for their child and a yearning for their child’s success. In other words, it’s not a personal attack (even when it seems to be one).
Now that I think about it, the concept of Daring Greatly and having the courage to be vulnerable apply to much more than my profession. They also apply to being a father and a husband, a friend, a family member.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.