The First Tree

A few weeks ago in the post, “This I Believe…” I said

“…transforming our schools will take effective and committed leadership at every level and from every individual. Transformation always begins with ME! Whether I am a student, teacher, principal, superintendent or director of technology; it is up to me to change. Teachers wait for the principal to make the changes, the principal waits for the superintendent, the superintendent waits for the state education department, and the state ed department waits for the feds. No one wants to commit to going first. Everyone sees the problem somewhere else. We think “If only the (teachers, administration, parents, community, state ed, or feds) “Got it!” things would surely change. (See: “Accountability 1″; “A Simple Practice to Change Education and the World”)

If we are committed to transformation, how do we start? The answer to that question seems simple…we start with ourselves.

I find this concept pretty easy to understand; but it’s when I begin to put it into action that things seem to fall apart on me. I tend to want to do too much, change the world in big ways; aim high. At the same time I fight the little voice in my head that says, “Who are you to dream such big dreams?”

I remind myself of Wangari Maathai, born to a farm family in the highlands of Mount Kenya, and the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree. Her role as a leader took shape when she began planting some trees in her back garden.


She saw that planting trees could curtail the effects of deforestation and desertification. She wanted to have sustainable wood for fuel, as well as to combat soil erosion. So she began seeking funding to plant more trees. Tree by tree she moved forward. Her work began to build momentum and become organized. In 1976, the Greenbelt Movement was formed.

“It took me a lot of days and nights to convince people that women could improve their environment without much technology or without much financial resources.”


Since its formation, the Greenbelt movement has planted more than 40 million trees and provided work for many women throughout Africa. The Greenbelt movement has gone on to campaign for education, nutrition, and other issues important to women. Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. I don’t know what she dreamed of as she planted her first tree; but I do know that no matter what her dream, if she hadn’t begun planting, the success that followed many years later would not have happened.

I see it over and over again in my life; one person steps forward and starts something in their classroom, or their building and soon the entire place comes alive, and over time takes on a life of its own. What produces the magic energy that inspires others to leave their comfort zones and allow their hearts to join in something new?

I believe it is the simplicity of authentic action.

I need to remind myself…that there are “trees” to be planted in my own yard, my own neighborhood. My transformation and the transformation of our schools will come when I have the courage to step forth and take action. I know it is possible. I must remember to start with the first “tree”; and then the second, and so on; for this is the journey that will take me to places unknown.


3 thoughts on “The First Tree

  1. Guess what? Your blog is amazing! I can’t remember when was the last time i’ve overcome such a good blog that almost all articles/posts were interesting and wouldn’t regret spending my time reading it. I hope you will keep up the great work you are doing here and i can enjoy my everyday read at your blog.

  2. Jody,
    thank you for the kind words. I am still searching for the most effective way to use my gifts in service to education; writing is one avenue, and hearing from you and others helps.
    In appreciation,

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