By the company it keeps

I’m thrilled to announce that next week, I’m launching a new feature called “By the Company It Keeps,” here on Fordham’s family of blogs.

It’ll be a weekly interview series spotlighting the work of some of our field’s most interesting and valuable contributors.  Generally, each week’s Q&A will be based on a recent event, like the publication of a noteworthy study, a significant personnel move, or the announcement of a major initiative.

In short, you’ll get from-the-horse’s-mouth facts on a timely story.

But we’ll quickly veer into other areas. You might see reflections on the subject’s career, a funny revelation, or personal goals. Or something completely different.

One of my objectives—and I suppose this goes for all interviewers—is to straddle the line between informative and entertaining.  We should learn some stuff while smiling along the way.

But I have another purpose, and it’s suggested by the title of this series.

Years ago, at what I believe was the first or second Yale SOM Education Leadership Conference, I was asked to moderate a panel. I was struggling mightily to come up with some clever or, at very least, amusing icebreaker.

You see, it was all very intimidating. It was Yale, for goodness sake. The audience was chock-full of sophisticates wearing tweed and scowls. My panel was charged with holding forth on some heady topic, the conference organizers were looking on, and—hand to God, this is true—the sharp, take-no-prisoners politico-journalist Alexander Russo was crouched near a wall, hands at his sides, pad and pen threatening to be unholstered.

Eventually it was go-time, and I had no material. I looked down the line at my session-mates, and I’m pretty sure they included the indomitable duo of Dacia Toll of Achievement First and Scott Gordon of Mastery and a couple other esteemed edu-celebs.

At this point, I’m pretty sure the money in Vegas was trending toward my catching the vapors or feigning laryngitis and heading for the hills.

But somehow—Praise be!—I suddenly remembered this wonderful little adage that seemed apt. So I opened with something like, “It’s said that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. If that’s true for lines of work, education reform is in a very good place since it associates with this table of distinguished presenters.”

Well, that’s how I remember it. I’m sure that in reality it came out with a fraction of that coherence and a surplus of stammering. (Let’s ask Russo if he remembers.) But the sentiment was completely sincere. And I believe it to this day.

Though we get wrapped up in data sets and theories, mission statements and strategic plans, behind all of these and giving them all life are people. And in education reform’s case, lots and lots of very good people. Smart, knowledgeable, experienced, committed, caring, thoughtful people.

In my decade-plus doing this work, I’ve had the chance to work with and for some and get to know even more. I’d like to introduce you to some of them.

And there’s one last element of that proverb that’s important to me: the part about keeping company.

It suggests that there’s been an affirmative choice to rub shoulders, shake hands, pat backs, or at least row alongside some group of others. It doesn’t mean you’ll always agree or become besties. But it does imply, in my mind anyway, some degree of good manners, collegiality, assuming good intentions, and giving the benefit of the doubt.

Our work is polluted by lots of meanness, and blogs and their comment sections seem to manufacture venom. I’d like to provide a weekly reprieve from that stuff.

I’ll ask tough questions when needed, and I might even nag now and then. But my hope is that you’ll finish reading each interview having a better understanding of a piece of our work; knowing more about the background, ideas, and hopes of one of our colleagues; and generally feeling better about what we do.

So, welcome to “By the Company It Keeps.”

Tomorrow, I’ll announce the very special three-part kick-off to this series.

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