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Reflections on Flying One Million Miles

With a nod to Julius Caesar and his famous crossing of the Rubicon River in 49 bc, I believe I just crossed my own Rubicon as well. Fortunately, my crossing won’t start a war.

With my last travels of this summer, I surpassed the one-million mile mark on Delta Airlines. Considering the number of flights that I have taken that have not been on Delta, (don’t mention that to them)  I am quite sure I have surpassed the million-mile mark quite some time ago, but officially, it just occurred.

I must say, when I got the notification, I was a bit stunned. One million miles…wow. That’s a lot of airplanes, airports, airport food, delays, cancelled flights, diversions, de-icing, thunderstorms, snowstorms, mechanical maladies, crew time-outs, standby tickets, sky clubs and (occasionally) upgrades. If my math is right, I have seen at least three iterations of Delta uniforms on their employees, an airline bankruptcy and a logo and branding change. I’ve seen four major airline mergers and the rise of at least five new airlines. I was there the day we all had to throw out our liquids and saw the dawn of the TSA, e-tickets, flight tracker apps, and the 3-1-1 rule (The amount of liquids you can carry on). I’ve logged time at countless airports worldwide and slept in a few. I have rented hundreds of cars and lately am a frequent Uber and Lyft customer.  I have silver, gold, blue and platinum status at several hotels, I just can’t remember which ones. I have eaten meals in airplanes, pubs, school cafeterias, restaurants, clubs, hotels, diners, food stands, carts and conferences all over the world and had tours and visits to places I never imagined I would get to see in my lifetime.

One Millon MilesMost importantly, though, I have had the profound privilege of working with educators in all types of schools and districts all over the world. From Australia, to China, to the Middle East, my travels have taken me to all sorts of places, all sorts of schools, where I learned the structures of education, the rationale for curriculum and methodologies and have witnessed first-hand teachers, worldwide, applying their very best practice to ensure positive outcomes for kids.

In Israel, I visited a high school of the arts. When the bell rang, and the students were changing classes, it looked like any typical American high school. But when you looked closely at the student artwork which adorned every hallway, you quickly saw that almost every piece centered on a theme of violence.

I was struck by this but then quickly understood that unfortunately, this was the culture in which children were being raised. It was a common sight as we walked the streets of Jerusalem to see militants, with Uzi’s strapped to their backs. While in Tel Aviv with a few hours to spend relaxing on the Mediterranean beach, it was cleared three times due to bomb threats.  What I saw to be horribly abnormal was an accustomed way of life and it was depicted in the artwork of very talented Israeli students.

A few years ago, I had the good fortune to work with the International Confederation of Principals at their world-wide conference in Shanghai, China. I had some trepidation that my message of family engagement would not resonate with school leaders from over fifty countries. But it did, and what amazed me was when I learned that the struggles we face in the United States are no different than the struggles of most of the world. We want to figure out how to be more like Chinese education and ironically, they want to figure out how to be more like us.

A group of educators from Africa approached me after my keynote address with the International Confederation. They said “Please come to our country. We need you. We promise we do not have wild animals roaming the streets. That is what you think in America, yes?”  I had to laugh, but honestly, I think I might be guilty of harboring that vision. Someday, I will visit their country. I have a standing invitation.

Educators in New Zealand and Australia taught me about school choice and government engagement with the funding of alternatives to public schools. In Australia I got to see very rural remote schools, like Yea, Victoria, Australia, where my good friend John O’Meara was principal. In contrast, I worked with educators in the large city of Melbourne. The most difficult part of my journey down under was finding a kangaroo to snap a picture of. Two years after I visited that part of Australia, horrible fires decimated whole towns, towns that I had visited and schools in which I had worked. But, the tenacity of educators and communities rebuilt; bigger, better and stronger.

But, right here in the United States, I have had the most profound experiences. I have visited some of the most challenged schools in our country and worked with the most dedicated educators that I have ever seen. I’ve been to rural America, where students ride the bus for hours, just to get to school and family engagement is a huge hurdle because of the geographic distance between home and school. I’ve worked on Indian reservations, in the projects, and in the heartland. I’ve been to border towns, affluent suburbs, our largest cities, and everywhere in between. And as I wrote a few weeks ago, I stood on the stage of Santa Fe Schools in Texas, the very site of the tragic school schooling last spring. It sometimes is overwhelming to conceptualize my fortunes in the lived experiences of my travels. It’s almost impossible to summarize, but, I can say this:

I have learned that teachers, worldwide, care a great deal for the children in their care. Families, every family, wants their child to exceed them in their quality of life. But most of all, I have learned the true needs of our children, the needs that we must ensure that we continue to deliver on a daily basis. Those needs?

They are quite simple: To do well. To be safe. To feel love. Those needs are universal. And that’s what keeps me going.

Tomorrow is the start of my second million miles. I am eager to discover what adventures await me. Stay tuned!

And, Delta is ready when I am.

I’m ready.