The children who were the focus for Leadership 2020 when I began writing about them in 1997 are no longer children. Their children will soon take their places, and the efforts that were being made 15 years ago to replace a one-size-fits-all school system with one that would support the uniqueness of each individual child have fallen on deaf ears.
That thought occurred to me this morning because I’m visiting my grandchildren. They are just about the same age as those kids in my class in 1997. When the phrase “Leadership 2020” crossed my mind for the first time in August 1997, I was on my way home from vacation to teach another year of 4th and 5th grade. As it turned out, that was to be my last year in the classroom.
I listened to two audio books on that trip home, and together they changed my life. Joseph Jawarski’s, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership opened my mind to the fact that the children in my class would turn 30 in the year 2020. As I thought about when my kids would assume positions of leadership, I realized that the President of the United States only has to be 35 years old!
Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More then I.Q. made me realize that if those young adults were going to have the skills necessary to move into positions of leadership, we should be creating learning environments within which they could practice those skills.
That idea took over my mind, and a year later, through a series of unexpected, but synchronous events, I found myself leaving classroom teaching, moving to a different state, and focusing on a vision that I thought would impact the future of public education.
So now, here I sit, 15 years later, only 5 years before what I thought to be the “target date” for Leadership 2020, wondering what went wrong.
The answer? Nothing went wrong. The children of the generation that was dubbed “Gen X” in the 1990’s has given birth to a generation that we are calling “Millennials” … who, in turn, are beginning to have children that one writer is calling the generation of “Homelanders.”
Systemic change does not happen overnight. In fact, true systemic change does not even happen in one generation. It occurred to me this morning that my son – and the children who were in my last 5th grade class – are now becoming the parents, teachers, and leaders who are questioning the restrictive one-size-fits-all school structures. And what is even more interesting to me is that they are not necessarily railing against them; some have simply decided that they want something different for their own children and have chosen homeschooling, charter schools, or if they can afford it, private schools. Others are becoming more involved and are seeking ways to improve the system from within.
The house is quiet now. My son has taken 6th grade Mason to middle school. My daughter-in-law took 1st grade Miles and 4th grade Reese to school and will be a substitute teacher there today. And I have time to think.
Sometimes I talk about “20/20 hindsight.” That’s when I look back and think “if only I had done things differently.” I need to stop those thoughts as soon as I become aware that I’m going down that path again. It’s fine to learn from the past … but it is not fine to live there and regret decisions made or roads not taken. Instead I need to step back – consider the larger picture – and envision a future when the children of the children of the kids in my class in 1998 are in charge.
We have a choice. We can let fear color our thoughts and dim our vision, or we can look into the faces of our grandchildren, encourage their sometimes faltering or misguided attempts at leadership, and help them fully develop their own unique potential.