As I travel and meet thousands of teachers, coaches, parents and youth workers each year, I find they usually fit into one of two camps:
- The Owl
- The Ostrich
These two birds have become symbols of two different approaches to life. The ostrich has come to represent folly. Even in the scriptures (Job 29:17), it is said of the ostrich that God “has deprived her of wisdom.” Over the years, people have believed that the ostrich buries its head in the sand when it’s afraid or wants to hide. While this is actually a myth, we’ve come to compare it to this tendency in humans. Woodrow Wilson compared American foreign policy to the bird: “America cannot be an ostrich with its head in the sand.” H. G. Wells wrote, “Every time Europe looks across the Atlantic to see the American eagle, it observes the rear end of an ostrich.”
In contrast, the owl symbolizes a completely different approach to life. The owl is most alert at night, when danger lurks. It can rotate its head 360 degrees to see any and all movement occurring. Because it’s always on watch, it has developed acute hearing and keen eyesight, even in the dark. Perhaps, especially in the dark. Owls are nocturnal and are known for their distinct calls to other birds and species. Most of all, owls have become symbols of wisdom and nobility.
Today—I’m merely posing a question. Which are you, an owl or ostrich?
Do you have a tendency to hide from bad news or dangerous trends, not wanting to face reality? Do you “bury your head in the sand,” wanting to escape the necessary changes we must make to prepare students for the future? Do you hide behind noise and clutter? Do you get lost in routines, hoping to merely survive each school year?
Or—do you do your best work in the dark? Can you observe what’s happening all around you in culture and among students today, and do you possess the wisdom to address dangerous patterns in kids, helping them to rise above addictive behavior, risk aversion, self-absorption and entitlement?
Do you run to the roar…or from the roar?
I’ve found, as leaders, we’re either an ostrich or an owl. We play defense or offense when it comes to preparing students for the world that awaits them. I am not a pessimist, but I do believe our culture has done a number on students today. We do live in dark times, where they finish school unprepared for life afterward.
As cliché as this may sound, we must be owls, standing watch on our campus:
- Stay alert in dark and dangerous times. Keep current on cultural stats.
- Observe patterns and diagnose trends in your students’ behavior.
- Respond wisely as you address negative patterns or shortcomings.
- Signal your colleagues, communicating what needs to be done.
Owls are widely believed to have the best night vision in the animal kingdom. May this be said of us as we lead our students into adulthood.