Each month, the Chancellor selects a children’s book that she feels is inspirational and informative for the students, parents, and staff members who make up the City’s public schools. For past book selections, review the “Book of the Month” category right here on The Morning Bell.
Written and illustrated by Jodi Hills
Walman House Press, 2003
During my four years as Chancellor, I have taken to heart the message of the book, Believe, by Jodi Hills. This story about possibilities was a gift from colleagues after my first retirement from the NYC Department of Education back in 2006. Now, this book has come full circle.
On December 21, the day I announced my plans to retire (for the second time), I read excerpts from Believe to staff members gathered inside the DOE’s headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse. I wanted everyone to know that our accomplishments are not about me but about us – thousands of educators, students, and families working together.
I have always loved this book because it captures the human need to believe in something or someone, in others as well as ourselves. I am convinced that the ability to believe is a gift we must share with colleagues, family members, and friends. I hope this book will inspire you to reaffirm your own visions and recount the many reasons you used to choose your educational and career paths. Here are some of my favorite passages:
“It isn’t that something comes along and gives you a reason to get out of bed… I believe you have to get out of bed and go find that reason every day.”
I believe that the most successful leaders wake each day with a sense of purpose and a stated intention. Maybe it is to improve their management skills, to mentor aspiring leaders, or to help new employees find their footing. For more than 50 years, I started the day by asking myself one question: why am I doing this job? My answer—to make a difference in children’s lives—is what got me out of bed every day.
“I believe, along the way, there are some people that you have to let in, and there are some you have to let go… and… one is not necessarily easier than the other.”
I believe that challenging people can enter our lives to help us improve our craft or to make us better human beings. Sometimes, we must put our ego aside and appreciate these challenging people as gifts for our lives. But when our relationships are not adding value to our personal or professional lives, we must make the hard decision to cut them loose. Believe me, either decision can test our strength.
“I believe we don’t always get what we ask for, and so often we’re lucky we don’t.”
When I retired the first time, I had no plans to return to education full time. I certainly did not expect to become the Chancellor of the largest school system in the nation. And yet here I am, four years later, convinced this has been the best experience of my life. There is nothing more rewarding than putting 1.1 million students on the path to their dreams. In this case, I was lucky I didn’t get what I asked for.
“I believe there is no bravery without being afraid.”
As educators and parents, we take on daunting and sometimes anxiety-provoking tasks. Many days, we don’t feel brave. But the fact that we persist despite our occasional doubts, and believe in our students and children when they may not believe in themselves, reflects our courage.
“I believe that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are still the ‘magic words.’ But I think the words, ‘I believe in you’ may be the most magical of all.”
I believe in you, City educators, students, parents, and community members. I always have. I always will. I hope you will take some time to recommit to your own beliefs. On the days when you have doubts, find something to believe in. As Jodi Hills writes, “inside this beautiful struggle to believe, we are given the power to comfort, to heal, to inspire, and to love.” In the end, what matter most are “the things we do, the things we say, the lives we lead, and the hearts we touch.”
Thank you all for the hard work you have done and that you will continue to do on behalf of our schools. It has been the greatest honor to serve as your Chancellor, and I look forward to our shared work ahead.