Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My 3 Take-Aways from "The Mitchell20"

We love stories with happy endings. The protagonist is confronted with what seems like an insurmountable problem. In the end:

Good triumphs over evil.
The guy gets the girl.
Hard work is rewarded.
Everyone lives happily ever after.
All of the above.

But then you have the story that end differently.
The kind which more closely resembles life.
Stories which are incomplete.
Stories where the good guy doesn't win, or at least not yet.

Now the audience has to work, has to think, has to start filling in the blanks that were left when the curtain closed.

I had the opportunity to view The Mitchell20, the real-life story about 20 teachers from a single high-poverty school who, as a group, undertook National Board Certification. The movie chronicled their hard work. I just knew they would all achieve their certification...but they didn't. In face, most didn't. And a second attempt didn't yield the results we would have liked either.

I knew the school would be upheld as a shining example of what could be...but it wasn't. The star teacher was transferred. The faculty who begged for reconsideration of that move was threatened with insubordination. The principal who was so supportive of the faculty was pressured to resign.

I am not sure what lessons we are supposed to learn from the film, and every person may take from it his or her own. For me, the take-aways are three in number:

Focus on what you can control—the quality of your own performance
How often do the conversations we hear center around how someone else should be doing something differently. We second-guess everything from the policies of the President to the play-calling of the Little League coach. Life would be so much better if those other people would just shape up. The Mitchell20 decided to focus on the one thing over which they had control—the quality of their own teaching.

What if each of us approached our days with the zeal to hone our own craft, to be better when we went to bed than we were when we awoke? Can you imagine the collective impact of individual excellence?

The task is easier when we hold hands
The Mitchell20 undertook National Board Certification as a group. They laughed and cried together. They supported each other. Geese long ago realized that wind resistance is lessened when they fly together in that familiar formation. They rotate the lead position and they honk to cheer the leader on. When fatigue and frustration seek to derail our dreams, it is often the cheers from our comrades which get us through the rough places.

Life is easier when the big dog has your back
Rather than do everything in his power to help the Mitchell20, it seemed the superintendent was doing the opposite. Daniella was transferred, the faculty threatened with insubordination, and the principal forced out. It's easy to picture him as the bad guy, and he may well be. But what attempts were made to get him "on board"?

We can have great ideas, but if nobody understands the value of what we do, those ideas will never go viral. They will never be the benefit they could have been. Part of making change happen is greasing the wheels that turn the machine. The world has enough martyrs without you and I joining the ranks.

If you have the opportunity to see The Mitchell20, take it. It is inspiring. It is sad. Most of all, it's real life.

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