Summer plays a critical role in my work as an educator and school leader. I count on the nine weeks when faculty and students are away for summer to find new sources of inspiration. Inspiration is derived from the latin meaning “to breathe in.” Like a swimmer who has gone a lap without breathing, educators need a new breath of fresh air before turning the kick-flip into the next school year. Many summers I find inspiration in books and this summer is no exception with Mira Jacob’s Good Talk and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give adding new depth to my understanding of the diverse experiences of individuals in this country. My greatest inspiration, though, has been seen on the television with the US Women's National Soccer Team winning the World Cup.
The diversity of the USWNT stands out. It is true that the team is diverse on many of the standard vectors of diversity. As Megan Rapinoe recently said, “We got pink hair and purple hair. We got tattoos and dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between. We got straight girls and gay girls.” Along with this diversity, what excited me most on the pitch, was the diversity of playing styles. There was Rapinoe over and over going up the left side and offering an outstanding cross to the center. Dunn and Sauerbrunn game after game played shut-down defense with little fanfare. Morgan who scored and scored with much fanfare. Naeher whose steely nerves in goal and outstanding penalty kick save against England were essential to the teams’ success. And, my favorite, Lavelle who seemed to turn on a dime, have a different level of speed than any defender and improvised with the ball in a way that excited and made me whoop out loud. Each player brought something different to the pitch, and yet they played as a unified team. Diverse and cohesive. That inspires me.
The twenty three women of the Women’s National Team also inspire me in how they act as role models. The soccer talent displayed during each game has brought many – my children included – back on the soccer pitch with new excitement to try a Rapinoe cross or Tobin Heath nutmeg. These women also showed us that you can be serious and successful while having fun and being goofy. We followed the team on Instagram and loved seeing their dance circles, silly celebrations, and funny antics mixed in with images of their world-championship winning shots and headers. Yes, the team is undoubtedly role models for girls, giving richer meaning to “Play like a girl.” They have also been great role models of my two boys who did not miss a single game. Huck and Harrison remarked at their skill, their intensity, their fun, and their success. Gender was not a factor – these women just rocked it and we could all appreciate that.
Finally, the gold medal winning team inspired me in how they played for more than just the game and the win. The team used their success as a platform for a number of issues including equal pay for women; the USWNT players made about one fourth of what a US men’s player would have made for a World Cup win. Rapinoe and others, though, went even further to use their platform to speak to larger social issues. At the celebratory parade in New York City, Rapinoe told the crowd, “This is my charge to everyone: We have to be better, we have to love more and hate less. Listen more and talk less. It is our responsibility to make this world a better place.” These words and this team have inspired me to focus on larger causes in the midst of the daily rhythm of the 2019-20 school year. The lessons taught, the papers graded, and the projects completed are part of a larger whole. As educators we are dedicated to shaping minds that create change and that inspires me.
Yes, the summer is far from over, and I am already into my next book as I continue to breathe in fresh air to recharge for the school year ahead. I doubt, though, that any of the pages I read will inspire the way the US Women’s National Soccer team has. They won the World Cup, and they fired me up!