Good Work: Build a Tractor


“We can make a commitment from where we stand right now.  It requires nothing other than our willingness to make a difference in whatever way feels right for us.   -Michael Toms

My Grandmother gave me a picture of her father plowing his field with a team of two horses.  It was taken shortly after he emigrated from Holland to Western Michigan over one hundred years ago.  It sits on my desk to remind me that I come from good stock, hard working people that made and kept commitments to each other, to their work, to their God.
The other night I looked up from my e-mail and saw my great grandfather on his tractor and smiled.  A round of applause pulled me past the old photograph to a congressman on CSPAN placing blame and making promises to the faithful.  Smarmy doesn’t begin to describe the clown doing the down home version for the conspiracy crowd gathered for the $500 a plate fund-raiser.  The swaggering blowhard simplified and blamed (to another cheap round of applause).
The contrast of hard work and disingenuous demagoguery reminded me to be honest about the problems we face and where the solutions will come from.  We can’t wait for the folks in Washington D.C. to fix the economy, to narrow the achievement gap, or to provide for those in need.  It’s up to us, you and me, to fix things, to leave things better than they were.
Teachers labor in relative obscurity, receiving less and less respect from many students and parents, working with limited time to collaborate with colleagues, few supplies, and limited technology.  The age of personal digital learning holds the same promise of productivity for teachers as the tractor did for my great grandfather.  A quick-fix-sound-bite politician will not make it happen, it will be small groups of people that see a different future and care enough to make it happen.  The future will be created by people that identify the opportunities and build new tools, people humble enough to know they do not have all of the answers but impatient enough to take initiative.  They will fundamentally change the nature of teaching and learning, reconnect education to the society it serves, and create hope for a generation.
Time to build a tractor.  Kids can’t wait.
Good Work started as a series of journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent in the 90s.  It’s a Sunday series about the trials and rewards of mission-related work 

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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