Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking for Success

The past six months have had a lot to do with looking for success, or actually creating success. I have participated in a book group, reworked and in some cases created curriculum, intensely reviewed curriculum and spent a lot of time speaking with minds that I really respect. It's an interesting concept, success.  As a teacher at an independent school we use the term often to describe learning environments, professional development, and even our physical environment.  How do we create a space, time, group that will ensure success?
But of course we need to define success. What does it mean to be successful? And can we ever really claim it as a permanent status, or is it a fleeting feeling that we can only aspire? Do we have to have full success? Do all areas of our life have to align like some majestic star pattern that screams to the world that we are the chosen, the ones that actually figured it all out. For some, success is the easiest and most pain free road.  Others would scoff that this is simply laziness.  Some seem to need to struggle through a painful almost unachievable  process before they feel championed. Others would find this pointless.
We all have to define it for ourselves. Sometimes I feel really successful.  I have found a person to share my life with, and most of the time feel deeply in love and happy with where I am. Two beautiful children light up my life and continue to grow into amazing people despite my constant struggle with parenting. (A blog post in an of itself). I feel successful this year in my professional life, I feel I am finally getting the rhythm of the school and able to pull together my growing knowledge and skill base to be a successful teacher, integrator and leader.
In truth, I felt pretty comfortable and even cocky about my understanding of success and even my place in the greater scheme of things. And then there is death, unexpected, in the worst possible way and all that goes to shit. My definition of a successful life is shattered and I wonder how I can confidently attempt to contribute to conversations about this nebulous and fleeting concept. Now that I have tilted my view of the world and wonder if I am off kilter or actually seeing clearly for the first time.
So where does this conversation go?  How do we return to an even basic understanding of what it means to be successful? Pat Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools, recently described the qualities students needed to be successful in the world:
Critical Thinking
It seems like a pretty encompassing list.  But what does this mean? Successful where? For who? By what standards? Do we continue to define success in terms of dollars and family in tact? It is definitely the easiest tool to measure, but as an educator I know that doesn't mean it is the most informative.
If you are looking for an easy answer, or a pithy heartwarming wrap up to this commentary - ramble?, you have come to the wrong place. I don't have the answers, and I shun the hallmark storybook ending, because maybe in fact success means ending. How can we know if we are really a success until we get to the end? And then who really gets to determine it?

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