I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, as a principal or superintendent, what I was going to do over the summer – as if we locked the schools when the kids left in June and opened them again sometime in late August or early September. People always expected me to say something like, “The whole family is going to Maine for the summer” or “I’ll be taking courses in Ohio for a couple of months” or maybe “I’ll be working in the garden and then drinking margaritas at the side of the pool.”
But if you’re a school administrator you know that there’s a lot to be done over the summer. Final reports, school maintenance, staff development, hiring personnel, meetings, conferences, etc. – all kinds of activities to wrap up the old year and get ready for the new one. But if you’re smart, you will take some time to refuel – to exercise, to travel, to spend time with family – whatever it takes so that you can reopen in a few months with energy and commitment and courage.
Summer provides more time to read and reflect. Currently I am reading Robert A. Caro’s latest biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power. The book is the fourth in a series of biographies Caro has written about Johnson, and all of them have been award-winners. This one will be no exception.
Like David McCullough’s biographies, this one reads like a novel. It focuses on the years from 1958-1964, and it describes in fascinating detail Johnson’s move from the powerful leader of the Senate to the powerless vice-president in the Kennedy administration, derided and isolated by members of the cabinet, particularly Robert Kennedy. We see the assassination of President Kennedy though Johnson’s eyes, and we begin to understand the transformation Johnson had to go through to assume the presidency. The story is thoroughly researched, but personal. If you lived through that period, you will be riveted by the descriptions of what went on behind the scenes and how personalities influenced the course of our nation’s history.
The development of leadership has always been of great interest to me, particularly in the cases of some who have had to rise to the occasion like Johnson or like Truman and Lincoln. We learn something from studying the progress of these men. And every time I read one of these well-written political biographies, I think, Why can’t kids’ history textbooks be written more like these? Why can’t they just tell the story? Why don’t textbook writers understand that kids really do want to know what happened next, and that our history is the story of the men and women who went before us, not the chronology of wars and acquisitions?
But I digress. Take some time to refuel this summer, to read and reflect. Get a little distance between you and the daily job.