The Myth of Replacement

There are people in this world–leaders and decision makers–who live under the assumption that people can be replaced.  They tell themselves that if someone leaves, someone else can come in and do it too. It’s a myth.  The right people can’t.

I will concede that someone can step in, collect a salary, attend meetings, make decisions, but I cannot concede that just anyone can be replaced.  There are people whose influence is so imprinted on the fabric of an organization that someone can only leave a mark over an already established intricate pattern.

I started this blog post almost a month ago after some difficult news.  On my return to school after Thanksgiving,  my principal announced her resignation, and not for the reasons one would hope.  She’s not resigning for greener pastures (although it is my sincere prayer that she finds them).  She is not resigning because she’s taken on a a new calling.  I won’t go into the reasons she’s leaving the school she helped build; what’s important is that she is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about John Donne’s “Meditation 17”, and while it’s generally regarded as a brief essay on the connection of people through church, it has been on my mind these last four weeks.  Donne writes:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

Even though Donne focuses on death and it’s impact on an entire body, I can’t help but feel its application.  I cannot help but think that there are departures, not just deaths, that  will make a deep impact on our building–that our school  body is diminished for it.

This loss rattles me.  For the past few years, this woman has inspired me through her passion for students and served as a driver for my own success in the classroom.

As a leader, she has endured challenges that most principals at a school our size couldn’t fathom–poor student choices, employee misconduct, humanist lawsuits, difficult decisions.  Each one she conquered  with grace.  She graduated our school’s first class last year, walking with them every step of their four year journey.

Personally, she supported me through some of my most difficult challenges.  She was there when I needed someone most–when I received the news that my father was gone.  That moment she covered my class so I could get on a plane.She can never know the gratitude that I feel for her–how the only end to my deep sadness upon our move to Colorado was her offer of a teaching position at our school.  She took a chance on me, and for that I am overjoyed and thankful.

It’s deceitful to think that this woman can be replaced.  For me, she never will be.



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