I was recently watching an episode from season six, episode two, of The Crown. Spoiler alert: stop reading if you are a loyalist to the show and haven’t watched this far. The episode focuses on the relationship between the Queen and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Towards the end of the episode the Queen cautions Mrs. Thatcher about making enemies, whereas in response the Prime Minister recites the following poem by the Scottish poet Charles Mackay:
You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.
After doing some research, according to a 2019 BBC documentary, Margaret Thatcher was fond of the poem and kept a copy of it on her desk.
This was the first time I heard of the poem and candidly it took me off guard. I re-watched the clip several times letting my mind marinate in the words. I thought about how this poem related to my own experience as an educational leader. Most importantly, I reflected on how Mackay’s message deeply resonated with my experience of leading during the pandemic.
Never I have experienced the level of vitriol we have seen in 2020. Much of the scornfulness, coming from a place of hopelessness and despair, rather than personal attacks. I have seen my fellow school superintendents across the country weather hurricane-level-five storms throughout this year fighting for what they believe to be the best for the students. While each definition of what is best is intricately dependent on the communities in which they serve, nevertheless the intention remains constant to protect and educate our students.
School leaders have undoubtedly created foes along 2020’s pathway, whether through in-person, hybrid, or remote learning environments. We have analyzed countless data points from our district, community, state, and nation to find a way to fulfill our purpose of teaching children.
As a new adjunct faculty member teaching future principals, I have this to say: if you want everyone to like you, don’t choose leadership. To lead, we have to be courageous in our decision making. We have to hit the traitor on the hip, dash the cup from the perjured lip, and most importantly, turn the wrong to right.