Winston Churchill took office the day the Germans invaded the low countries of Europe.  Perhaps born a warrior and an idealist, Churchill in some ways relished the epic nature of conflict but never took it lightly.  A recent HBO film, Into the Storm, explored Churchill’s leadership and life during World War II—a compelling story of a confident, articulate, bully of a man carrying the weight of the world.

The film made me think of the unbelievable weight President Obama carries as he attempts to prosecute two wars, influence an economic recovery, and deal with a dysfunctional congress.  Secretary Duncan also has a big yoke with upcoming awards for the biggest grant programs in history and a pending reauthorization of federal education policy.

On a much smaller scale, but in some ways more personal, I recently visited with a small town superintendent weighing terribly difficult decisions that will affect careers of teachers today and students in the future.  These are decisions that he’ll be reminded of in the grocery story, at church, and on the soccer field with his kids.

Federal grant programs are pushing a huge amount of responsibility to district superintendents.  They require renegotiating employment agreements and massive staff dislocations at low performing schools.  The grants provide a fantastic opportunity to reopen and reexamine policies and practices, but they add to the weight of leadership of thousands of superintendents.

What I most appreciated about Brendan Gleeson in the Churchill role was the alternating pain, brooding, anger, and pity displayed while wearing the yoke of leadership.  While it’s not like the decision to bomb Dresdan, closing the flagship high school in a small town is about the toughest thing a superintendent can go through.  There are thousands of school and district leaders carrying the weight of leadership right now.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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