Somewhere between art and science is wisdom

On Monday, I take another step on a journey as a different type of educational leader in a leadership program. In preparation for the work with our group, we were asked to read a few books, one of which is a great combination of poetry and reflections by Judy Sorum Brown. Her poem, Wooden Boats, spoke to me.

I have a brother who builds wooden boats,
Who knows precisely how a board
Can bend or turn, steamed just exactly
Soft enough so he, with help of friends,
Can shape it to the hull.

The knowledge lies as much
Within his sure hands on the plane
As in his head;
It lies in love of wood and grain,
A rough hand resting on the satin
Of the finished deck.

Is there within us each
Such artistry forgotten
In the cruder tasks
The world requires of us,
The faster modern work
That we have
Turned our life to do?

Could we return to more of craft
Within our lives,
And feel the way the grain of wood runs true,
By letting our hands linger
On the product of our artistry?
Could we recall what we have known
But have forgotten,
The gifts within ourselves,
Each other too,
And thus transform a world
As he and friends do,
Shaping steaming oak boards
Upon the hulls of wooden boats?

It reminded me of the art and science of teaching, which has always be a key element in my fascination of with education. I often find myself drifting between the two worlds, or entrenched in one without real rhyme or reason. In one moment, I might wax poetic about the nuances of classroom relationships and then later dig my heels in about creating a system to improve a specific part of our school day. The poem reminded me that both are critical to success and the times we are most effective fall somewhere in between. If my work becomes “too artistic”, I feel the drift toward the unknown, the unrealistic; “too scientific” and I become too rigid in my thinking.

As Brown’s book expounds upon, true leadership comes from viewing the world through multiple lenses, from various perspectives, and knowing when we can’t that we must call upon the wisdom of others to get us there. The master boat maker seems to use science subconsciously, knowing when to make the right bend or add the necessary pressure. A must leader must make similarly scientific and artistic decisions. Yet, in both cases, whether it is a new type of wood, or a new style of boat, a master leader must also know when it is time to ask another for their lens or perspective, because that new perspective will not only lend itself to the current challenge, but make them wiser for all future challenges.

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