Why We Need To Kill Our Darlings

Every writer knows what it means to “kill your darlings.”

It’s a reminder that there will be times when you’ve written a beautiful sentence, or a paragraph — perhaps even a whole character or scene — and yet you may need to leave them on the cutting room floor, if it turns out they no longer fit into the larger picture of what you’re working on.

That’s what editing does — it forces you to make tough decisions in service of crafting a final piece in which everything finds its rightful place.

I see this same problem everywhere in modern school reform. Ours is a crowded landscape of sacred cows — filled with competing beliefs, priorities, and acronyms. But here’s the thing: if we’re serious about collaboration — and the good news is I see a greater willingness to think collaboratively right now than any other time in my career — then all of us, to some degree, are going to have to kill our darlings.

That doesn’t mean we sacrifice what defines us, it doesn’t mean we compromise on our values, and it doesn’t mean we keep nothing of what we’ve built up to this point. But it does mean that if you’re serious about building a diverse coalition, and you’ve reached a point of having a pretty fabulous five- (or four- or six-) point vision of the future, then you need to be willing to break down — and then rebuild — your core vision and strategy with others.

That won’t work if the people you want to collaborate with aren’t fundamentally interested in the same set of core questions to drive their work. And it won’t work if anyone falls too deeply in love with their own ideas or language.

It will work, however, if we believe strongly enough in the processes we went through to make those darlings in the first place. It will work if we are willing to answer anew the questions we feel are most important to reimagining education for a changing world. And it will work if we realize that what matters most is not our list or our language or our framing — but our willingness to re-engage in the work with a wider net of partners.

That’s how movements are born. The goal is not to show people your own most beautiful pictures; it’s to hold up a mirror together and each be prepared to describe what we see.


Categories: Democracy, Leadership

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