rainbow in clouds

As always, Maya Angelou inspired and moved the crowd to tears at ASCD 2013. Opening her presentation by singing a few bars of “When it Looked Like the Sun Wasn’t Going to Shine Anymore, God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds,” she set the stage for a recurring metaphor of educators as “rainbows in the clouds.” As educators we have the power to influence, uplift, and encourage others, particularly our students.

Angelou reminds us that in all positions in life, we have the power to impact others. Research shows us that the power of one adult caring about a child is key to a child’s success. In Angelou’s early life it was her Uncle Willy—to use Angelou’s own terms– “a man who was black, poor, and a cripple during the lynching times.” Later, it was her mother who continually told her that she was going to be a teacher, despite her muteness at the time. Angelou credits figures like these in her life, these “rainbows in the clouds,” for her many accomplishments. What’s important to remember is that one doesn’t have to be in a high position to serve this role for others.

When we experience those days when we’re overwhelmed, exhausted and feeling unsupported, Angelou’s words can remind us that we don’t always know the impact we have on others.  I still have students I taught over a decade ago approach me and tell me that I inspired them to become teachers or to advocate for social justice, some of whom I thought I hadn’t reached at all at the time.

At one point during her presentation Maya Angelou shared that she stopped speaking for six years when her rapist was beaten to death because she thought her voice had the power to kill. On a fundamental level, she recognized at this early age that her voice had significant power; how sad that her initial response to this recognition was to cease speaking.

How many of our students are also afraid of the power of their voice? Afraid what will happen when they share with the world what they really believe and think? Is the reverse also true—do we shut off the voices of some of our students until they completely shut down, stop believing in their own power, or explode in violence?

We have the power (with its accompanying responsibility) to change lives. Students live up to our expectations for them. We must genuinely believe that all, and I truly mean all, our students can achieve at a high level. We must live it and our students must feel it. If we achieve this, then we’ll be “rainbows in the clouds” for our students and colleagues.