A rising tide lifts all boats


Fishing boats. karol m. CC BY

At a recent team meeting of K-12 cross-curricular educators dedicated to improving writing instruction, we discussed the Calkins and Ehrenworth article entitled “Growing Extraordinary Writers: Leadership Decisions to Raise the Level of Writing Across a School and a District” (The Reading Teacher, Vol. 70, No. 1, July/August 2016). While takeaways included the need for a shared vision of good writing and good writing instruction, as well as a need for shared expectations and ways to track growth – the reason for the formation of this team – what struck me most was this line on the transformative power of professional development: “It should be focused on strengthening teachers’ methods and spirits.”

Yes. Spirits must rise, I thought. Before we can raise the level of writing, before we can raise the students at all,  we must first raise each others’ spirits. 

The truth is that professional development is so seldom inspirational. For the last year, when I planned professional development in writing for teachers, my driving question was, How can I inspire them? How can they tap into the wellspring of their own power, their own voices, all that matters to them?

When I spoke on this at the meeting, a colleague chimed in: “We have to be the rising tide. If we rise, we’ll raise others with us.”

“Yes – a rising tide lifts all boats,” I responded, recalling those words associated with John F. Kennedy.

I grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia. I have been on the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel when the tide was high, in a storm; as I descended into the tunnel, waves crashed above the entrance and spilled over the car. A layer of salt remained on the windshield when it dried. I’ve seen boats grounded when the tide was low, making the would-be sailors push and pull that much harder to get them afloat. I’ve walked floating docks of marinas on sunny days, feeling the sway of the boards under my feet as boats rocked with the incoming tide, the metal of their moorings and buoys clanking softly, rhythmically, as if coming to life with with the rising flow.

When the tide rises, it lifts everything with it – everything rises.

When our spirits rise, we lift others around us – everyone rises.

That’s so needed in education today.

It’s so needed everywhere.

The power lies within you. Tap into that inner wellspring; let it flow.

And rise.

Note: The one word I chose for for myself at the beginning of this year is Rise. If you’re interested, here’s my little poem: Rise.


18 thoughts on “A rising tide lifts all boats

  1. You took an old familiar saying and really brought it to life. I love the middle section with descriptions of literal rising water examples (and examples of being stuck.) Thanks for an inspirational post. It applies to teacher PD but everything else as well. Let us help others rise in all our endeavors.


  2. This is lovely. I too enjoyed how you gave us several literal examples that strengthened the metaphor. In the past five years of teaching, I’ve gone through some downs and ups, and it’s amazing how much happier and more effective I am now that I’m in a position that lifts my spirits!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been out of the classroom for the last ten years. My current role is instructional technology and part of that is creating PD for teachers.

    I agree 110%, we need to life the spirits. We need to inspire the teachers to believe in themselves. Not an easy task at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad that this connected with you, especially in your role. I know that methods and practices are crucial, but I also believe that we need to start with lifting spirits. Everyone will be more energized for the rest of it. I thank you for your reply!


  4. This is a piece that will absolutely stick with me over the coming months as there are a lot of changes going on in my school right now. Keeping a positive and enthusiastic mindset is often contagious–we just have to create opportunities for it to spread. I love your OLW! (P.S. My first reaction upon reading the beginning of this is to thank you for teaching me to read my summer issues of the RT more carefully–I missed that article, but I’m absolutely going back and finding it now!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so believe in those words about lifting spirits – I see it as the beginning place for everything else, whether it’s in the classroom, the school, the district, or a company outside of the educational field. I actually went back to check the reference for that issue of the RT – it’s July/August of last summer, not June, so I corrected my post. There’s much to take away from it – you will enjoy!
      Thank you as always for your thoughts. Mine are with you during your transition.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this! Especially, “When our spirits rise, we lift others around us – everyone rises.” It is so easy to fall with the negative but if one person can remember this, it can change the entire environment!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Powerful writing for a critical topic. I think once beliefs are identified then practices follow. If there is consensus, or at least strong buy-in, then spirits soar and the work follows. The same is true for the opposite, and the tipping point can turn quickly. Your metaphor of the tide is beautifully stated. These two lines are my favorites, “When the tide rises, it lifts everything with it – everything rises. When our spirits rise, we lift others around us – everyone rises”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like-mindedness would certainly invite more opportunity for inspiration and growth. I agree that it’s important for people to know what they believe and why, and to recognize their own barriers to moving forward. This applies to educators and the whole working world – in fact, to human beings in general. The lifting of spirits comes with a spark of hope that it can be done, carrying with it a surge of strength and desire to move “onward and upward,” as C.S. Lewis often wrote. Passion is contagious; hope can be, too. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I am happy to know those lines spoke to you!


    • Thank you so much for reading and responding. I hoped this would inspire others – I was inspired by the idea of lifting others’ spirits. Thanks also for telling me you found the tide metaphor beautiful!


  7. You make me want to go through my stack of READING TEACHER magazines and find this article. We are giving PARCC right now and people’s spirits are heavy. I’m thinking, then, about what I can do to bring more joy now, this last week before spring break, and what I can do to bring joy and energy to writing in the future. Hmmm…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yea! I am excited to know where your thinking leads! Sometimes the littlest thing can lift spirits and bring strength for the harder tasks that we all must do. Joy to you. 🙂


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