including the elite exam school. They
earned a Judges Award for being the
team with the most potential.
The principal described the importance of the robotics project: “There’s
not a culture here of valuing academic
achievement. . . . Being on the robotics
team helped build kids’ confidence,
and beating other schools showed
them they can compete with kids they
don’t even usually encounter.” For a
$1,500 robotics kit and students’ and
teachers’ after-school time, Health High
had planted the seeds of hope, both for
the people involved and for others in
the school who saw their success. This
initial project spawned a robotics class
and more student interest the following
In both schools, college admissions
were another area in which hope took
root. From the sheer force of will and
time that the principals and a few edu-
cators in the school invested in making
sure that every senior applied, almost
every senior was accepted to a college.
As other students saw the seniors’
success, they said things like, “If she
can do that, I can do it too. I’m going
to college,” and “I’m so proud to go to
a school where students work hard and
Each of these highly visible wins
seemed to grow hope. In each case, the
following ingredients were key: students
as a focus of the investment, public rec-
ognition of success, and some measure
of externally validated performance.
Energy is directly related to performance, a fact we often overlook when
we take a “work harder” approach to the
urgent challenges we face every day in
schools. The two principals in my study,
like most principals I know, couldn’t
have worked any harder. They worked
seven days a week, 12 hours a day. And
they burned out. Both left their roles
force us to become
after a few years. One is now back in the
system as a school leader; the other left
the profession entirely.
Jack McCall (1994), a longtime
developer of principals and education
leaders in North Carolina, used to tell
this story to illustrate the problem with
the “work harder” approach:
Once upon a time, two loggers had a
contest to determine who could cut the
most logs in a 4-hour period. Henri
worked continuously for 4 hours without
a break and cut 124 logs to specification.
His opponent, Jacques, chopped just
as hard but for only 50 minutes of each
hour. Jacques took four 10-minute breaks
but cut 144 logs to specification. Henri
lost the contest and was furious. Henri
complained that he was cheated since
Jacques could not have cut that many
logs because there were periods in which
he was not chopping. Then Jacques
explained that during his breaks, he
didn’t rest. He sharpened his axe. (p. xv)
As someone who identifies more
with nonstop Henri than with axe-
sharpening Jacques, I’m sympathetic.
But I’m also adamant that most of us
need to be more attentive to our energy
if we’re going to sustain ourselves and
others in the profession. Research from
sports and the business world confirms
that paying attention to energy, in par-
ticular to down time, pays off in terms
of performance (Loehr & Schwartz,
2001). Here are a few places to start:
e-mail between sundown Friday and
midday Sunday—or a silent weekday
time between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. that is
only violated for real emergencies.
n Drink more water.
n Get more sleep.
n Move more.
n Take one day a week totally off.
The Upside to Challenging Times
Almost every educator I know is feeling
the pinch of sustained tough budget
times. But the good news is that tight
resources force us to make choices, to
focus, and to become more strategic and
Resourceful leaders focus on quality
and cultivate the roots from which wise
investments will flourish over time. In
doing so, they help their learning communities survive and thrive, even—
perhaps especially—in challenging
1The nonprofit Education Resource Strategies has created a tool to help principals
see and experiment with potential tradeoffs. “School Budget Hold ’Em” (http://
holdem.erstools.org) lets you play with
different options—some that cost money,
some that save money, and some that are
budget neutral but add value.
City, E. (2008). Resourceful leadership:
Tradeoffs and tough decisions on the road
to school improvement. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard Education Press.
Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2001, January).
Making of a corporate athlete. Harvard
Business Review, pp. 120–128.
McCall, J. (1994). The principal’s edge.
Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Elizabeth A. City (elizabeth_city@gse.
harvard.edu) is lecturer on education
and director of the Doctor of Education
Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program, Harvard
Graduate School of Education.