President’s Corner

My Elusive Pursuit of ‘Cheese’

by JOHN R. LAWRENCE


An unfortunate pattern
I have fallen into when writing this column is one of procrastination.
I bet I drive the magazine’s editors nuts by missing my deadline.

The truth is, although I have the time, energy and will to write what you are reading, sometimes the words are elusive. As a superintendent for nearly 30 years I have penned hundreds of staff memos, scores of board member updates and multiple articles for local media outlets, but writing for The School Administrator with its national reach each month is a stretch for me. This one duty would be more manageable if it were not for the plethora of other changes occurring in my life and the lives of educators around the nation in these truly defining times facing our profession.

To that end I have sought help and direction by re-reading Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, a mainstay on the national best-seller lists. I read this little book in the late ’90s as no doubt many of you did, but take it from me, it’s worth a 60-minute revisit.

As written in Ken Blanchard’s preface, Who Moved My Cheese? is a story about change that takes place in a maze where four amusing characters look for “cheese”—the latter serving as a metaphor for what we want to have in life. The maze in the story represents where you spend time looking for what you want, and like all mazes it presents multiple roadblocks to the destinations where the cheese may be found, lost and discovered yet again. Blanchard notes, “Each of us has our own idea of what cheese is, and we pursue it because we believe it makes us happy. If we get it, we often become attached to it. And if we lose it or it’s taken away, it can be traumatic. Everyone knows that not all change is good or even necessary. But in a world that is constantly changing, it is to our advantage to learn how to adapt.”

Whether the recent changes affecting America’s public schools, most notably the No Child Left Behind Act, is in Blanchard’s words good or even necessary is arguable. What is not arguable is that the landscape of public education, largely driven by NCLB, is experiencing unprecedented change at a speed heretofore unseen. A heightened accountability for student performance, the mandate to employ only “highly qualified” teachers and the operation of still safer schools required by NCLB are noble tenets. The problems, of course, rest not only in the details, but also in the nearly universal lack of adequate school funds to deliver the goods. If as suggested in what my daughter calls “that Cheese book,” it is to our advantage to learn how to adapt NCLB. We have an ideal training ground for it.

In Who Moved My Cheese? one of the characters in pursuit of finding his metaphoric cheese within the maze leaves notes of what he has learned from his experiences for others who might follow. These “handwritings on the wall” are simple, but I believe they relate to the challenges of our current industry. I have adjusted them slightly for those who haven’t read the book, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Change happens. Fair or not, the cheese will move within the maze.

Anticipate change. Noticing small changes early helps one adapt to the bigger changes ahead.

Monitor change. Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.

Adapt to change quickly. The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.

Change. Or you may be left hungry!

John Lawrence is president of AASA.