Our Slowest Rower

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.
William James

My wife has a cousin who was on a collegiate crew team. We were talking at a holiday gathering and she made an interesting comment about rowing as team. In talking about working as a team, she said, “we are only as good as our slowest rower.” She went on to explain that the entire team must row in unison. That meant even though some of the team might be able to row at a faster pace, they had to stay with the pace of the lowest rower or they would lose speed as their strokes became unsynchronized.

So much of the same can be true as we work in our schools. As a school or as a staff, we can decide our beliefs, practices, structures, and tools that we will use to support the students we serve. But, if these beliefs only drive practices for some, or the practices that are needed are only implemented by a few, then are our schools really serving students to the best of our ability? If students go through their day and their needs are met by most teachers, but not all, the students day may only be as good as our worst teachers. We are past the days of closing our doors and only worrying about the kids that are sitting in front of us. The responsibility falls on all of us to educate all of our students. And, it is all our responsibility to hold each other accountable to the mission that has been set forth by our schools. We are in this together.

But, who is the slowest rower? How do we know who needs our support the most? The challenge comes in the fact that sometimes any of us could be the one holding the group back. We can all drift in and out of having a positive attitude. We all have bad days; we all take on the role of the slowest rower from time to time. The great part of this is that if we all fall into this trap from time to time, then we should feel comfortable pulling the weight and supporting each other as we go through the challenges of our work. At times, each of us are the faster rower and each of us are the slowest rower. True change comes when we are willing to call each other out when the boat is slowing down and tell those around us to pick up the pace because we are not working to our potential.

This concept is vital in leadership as we try to equip others to improve. It is not enough to focus on those who are “on board” or those who are willing to put in the work. Our focus has to be on finding ways to equip all to improve. Everyone is starting at a different point, but everyone has room to grow and improve in the service of students. As leaders, we must make sure that we are not only supporting those who may be rowing fast, but also supporting those that might be holding us back. Our kids deserve the best teachers possible, and the slowest rowers do not just work in isolation, they impact us all.

So as you go forward into your school year. Find ways to support each other. Find ways to help each other improve. Do not accept the negative attitude from the person in the room next to you. As folks get frustrated and drift away from our mission, bring them back, address it, and remind them that we are only as good as our slowest rower. 

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