You can lead a horse to water but….

As I begin my first full year as the Lead Learner at Durant Road Elementary School in Wake County (Raleigh), North Carolina I have decided to embark on a journey to write a blog about things that I am pondering.  These blog postings will come from  ideas and thoughts I experience as I go through my journey this school year.

How often have we heard and/or used the phrase “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” to reference our helplessness in a situation where you didn’t get the results you wanted or expected?  Earlier this week I had the opportunity to hear Manny Scott speak at the Wake County Public School System’s beginning of the year Leadership Conference.  Manny Scott’s background most closely resembled that of Marcus, one of the characters in the 2007 movie “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey. During Scott’s childhood in Los Angeles, he was a witness to the murder of his mother at the hand of his stepfather, and became a victim of brutal domestic violence. At the age of 11, he was using drugs, stealing cars, breaking into homes and getting tattoos. At 16 years old he was homeless in the city and sifting through dumpsters for food.  “I was the kid who took all those issues with me to school,” he said.

That all turned around on the day he sat on a park bench beside a man who was on a similar path as Scott. The man told Scott he was loved and that it wasn’t too late for him to turn his life around. The talk prompted Scott to take hold of his life and look to the future. He became one of Erin Gruwell’s English students at Woodrow Wilson High School, otherwise known as the Freedom Writers. He eventually befriended Gruwell, whom he affectionately called “Ms. G” throughout his lecture. He was the first person to graduate from high school in his family, and after much prodding from “Ms. G,” Scott applied to and was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley.

Manuel Scott

His story is one of survival and perseverance.  He has overcome so many obstacles, he is an inspiration to anyone who hears his story.  In the short amount of time I heard this amazing man speak, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions such as sadness, sympathy, happiness and anxiety.

I was both excited and exhausted when his presentation concluded.  As I listened to his life experiences, I could easily substitute numerous students names in the same scenarios.  I have been an educator for 20 years and I have had the privilege to work in many different types of schools with students who come from all kinds of backgrounds.  I have taught some little Manny’s who have gone on to be successful people and I know I have failed some little Manny’s as well.

You Can Lead A Horse To Water … And Other Water Proverbs

So, getting back to “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” reference.  He touched on this in his presentation and it was something that just stuck with me.  I can easily relate this to what we do everyday at school (of course).  We offer knowledge to students but there are some (like Manny) who just don’t want to drink.  I know that you can’t make/force anyone to drink (willingly accept the idea of learning) BUT we can get them to drink if they are thirsty!  In classrooms and schools everyday we must figure out a way to reach those students who just aren’t thirsty for what we have to offer.

Going back to the idea of the horse…..make them drink….. How do we make that happen? The way you make a horse thirsty is to give them a salt lick!    So, I have been thinking…….what can we use as salt licks to get all of our students to be thirsty enough to drink?







One thought on “You can lead a horse to water but….

  1. Poignant metaphor. Being new to my varied roles, I have taken a huge leap of faith and a deep drink. I can say it is challenging to get coworkers to take risks sometimes,with more and more demands placed upon them. Some may feel they are being waterboarded! Our salt lick is definitely not money, but the heart of even just one child that we reach.


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