Painting Ladders

It was 2011 and the Xavier Men’s Basketball team was about to win the A-10 conference. In keeping with tradition, at the end of that last home game, the team and coaching staff would take turns climbing a ladder to cut off a piece of the basketball net.

You may notice in this picture of Tu Holloway cutting down the basetkball net that the ladder matches the team colors. It’s a rich navy hue with the Xavier name running down the side. Well, the night before the game, that ladder was a dingy yellow. No Xavier name on it. Nothing special. It was a regular, old yellow ladder. Someone had to think through the details. Someone had to think about how to make a moment special, put-together, and photo-ready. And that person I’m proud to say, was my husband, Mario Mercurio, who serves as Associate Athletic Director.

Painting ladders is not written in my husband’s job description. No one asked him to paint that ladder. He saw a need, and he filled it. This yellow ladder issue occured to him the night before the game. I can distinctly remember Mario coming home to gather old “painting clothes” and heading out to buy the paint. He returned home hours later, almost midnight, without complaint.

To me, that’s real leadership. The people who do not see work as beneath them. The people who are willing to hustle after the little details in support of a greater mission. The people who care so deeply about creating magical experiences for others, they are willing to paint the ladders.

Many of us are in the weeds at epic levels. We are so deep into tech problems, online curriculum, workbook distribution – you name it, we are IN. IT. We are painting ladders. We are taking care of the details. I don’t want us to lose sight of what painting ladders means. This is not small work. This IS the work. Success requires getting dirty. It’s showing up for the hard stuff. Often, there is no glory in grind, but when we look back, wow, it’s amazing what we accomplish. In schools, children learn to read. Children learn to believe in themselves. School districts make such a profound difference in the lives of children and in their communities.

I’m reminded of this story about the brick layers. The particular source that I’m quoting can be found here. There are also many similar examples in other sources:

“After the great fire of 1666 that leveled London, the world’s most famous architect, Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral.

One day in 1671, Christopher Wren observed three bricklayers on a scaffold, one crouched, one half-standing and one standing tall, working very hard and fast. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked the question, ‘What are you doing’ to which the bricklayer replied, ‘I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.’ The second bricklayer, responded, ‘I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.’ But the third brick layer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group, when asked the question, ‘What are you doing?’ replied with a gleam in his eye, ‘I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral to The Almighty.”’

School districts that change lives are built with great vision. They are built on the shoulders of professionals who believe deeply in the vision and hustle for it. People who keep showing up. Especially for the hard stuff. People who stay close to their greater purpose.

So, let’s keep painting ladders. Because there is no greater purpose than growing the hearts and minds of children.

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