I was recently invited to submit a poem to a unique mixed media art show. This show pairs visual artists with poets and authors to create a striking, surprising exhibit showcasing the creative process. The artists and writers don’t meet in person; instead, each receives a copy of the other’s work and then creates a response piece.
As we emerge from eighteen months of blended and distance learning, something about this method feels familiar… Below the poem I wrote for this art show. It is my response to a black and white photo of a young woman looking out the window. I believe all poetry is autobiographical, and so, of course, this is also my response to navigating these past eighteen months as I look out of our school windows to this new season.
Today I need only take in
a sweet breath of air—
heavy with ozone,
or hyacinth, or bread
— to know that I am loved.
Nevermind, the times I notice
others noticing my presence
is not quite present.
This birthright I carry is stormy.
Yet, sometimes I remember
to fill my lungs
with flowers and dew.
Not because it makes things
better, or brighter, or lighter,
but because it reminds me
of the rhythmic nature
of nature—of how
in countless small ways
even I can keep blossoming
again—steady and soft.
Light and Shadows
It has been a challenging year. There has been heartache and loss. And yet, it’s also been a year of joy and light. Sometimes it feels disingenuous to appreciate the light amongst the shadows. And yet, we must keep seeking good, celebrating joy, and continuing to come back to each other.
In 2017 my family visited the tidepools in Point Reyes, California. While thinking about this new season in school leadership, I remembered my daughter’s delight in discovering these surprise ecosystems on that hazy afternoon. Here are a few verses from our visit.
The sky changes from blue to gray—an entire world opens below them.
Snails, moss, barnacles; the fortitude of organisms
with a special aptitude for thriving in impermanence.
My daughter takes her papa’s hand,
they crouch down low and lose themselves in this tidepool.
He angles his body to shield her from the stinging seaspray
and points out a small black crab navigating the temporary ecosystem.
I adjust the aperture on my camera trying to set up a photo
that captures the violence of the waves as they crash against the rocks;
the racing of my daughter’s heart as she catapults stones into the ocean;
that soft uncertain feeling as she explores the sinking sand around these tidepools.
What has this last year taught us about teaching, learning, connecting, and leading? Like the tidepools in these verses, what ecosystems of support have we discovered hiding in the most ordinary of places? How are your school communities continuing to thrive in impermanence? What (extra)ordinary miracles of moss and haze do we have to celebrate together? And finally, in this new season, what horizons are opening before us?
The global school system I lead has always operated on the belief that the world is small and deeply connected. This year has shown us new dimensions and possibilities for our connected world. Without leaving our homes, our team has spent more time in partner classrooms around the world than ever before. With your support we have launched new programs, expanded access to new communities, iterated courses, and deepened our own knowledge about the potential for blended learning.
As always, everything good comes back to relationships. I think about the text messages and WhatApp memes sent, the check-in calls scheduled, the creative ways we’ve come together through music, humor, and inspiring service initiatives. I think about the sympathy, birthday, and graduation cards mailed, the creative projects launched, and the difficult conversations that ended with well wishes and laughter.
May this semester be filled with similar delights—reminders of how in countless small ways our schools keep blossoming again—steady and soft.
These remarks were originally prepared for an international school leadership conference titled, Lessons Learned, A New Season in School Leadership