I was struck by a story that was shared with me and the wisdom it holds for this present time in education—the eve of ESEA Reauthorization.
The story is Living Between Steps by Barbara Brown Taylor and Rick Ezell. It is about a professor who was invited to speak at a military base. He had flown into the local airport and was met by a soldier. The soldier was sent to greet the professor and take him to the base for his speaking engagement.
In the short time it took them to walk to the baggage claim the soldier interrupted his steps to graciously provide assistance to several individuals along the way, each time returning to the professor with a smile. The professor asked the soldier how he was able to be so helpful and considerate when interrupted from his primary task. The soldier, a veteran of the Vietnam War, explained that he had learned this in the war.
The soldier had been a mine sweeper. He had experienced great loss, literally, with a single step of a fellow soldier when that step landed on a hidden mine. So he learned to ‘live between the steps’ knowing each step might be his last.
There is wisdom in the mine sweeper’s story, and an example of how we can navigate the unknowns over the coming weeks and months as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized. The reauthorization is just the beginning. It will be followed by a series of transitions as leaders wait for guidance and regulatory language to clarify the law.
How do we lead during this time of transition? One the one hand, we must act in response to the law and the changes that it will bring. On the other hand, we don’t know what each step we take will hold. We know the general direction we must take—one of transforming the lives of our children through education, and thus transforming our communities and to improve the current and future quality of life for all.
We don’t know the exact path we need to take. There are details within the law that are beneath the surface and will require us to move cautiously as we wait for clarification in federal guidance. Acting too quickly might land us in situations that divert us from the path to which we are committed. As we wait for the details to unfold we still must live—we must continue to do what is best for our children in the classroom. As Congress works to reauthorize ESEA and enact the Every Student Succeeds Act, we will have to learn to ‘live between the steps’. We’ll need to focus on what we can do now, in the moment, to transform the lives of the children in our care—mindful of, and between the major steps that will surely need to follow.