According to Webster's Umpteenth International Dictionary, "pilgrimage" is defined as... no, no, just kidding. But I've thought a lot about this word over the past few days, mainly because of the new Annie Leibovitz exhibit of the same name, and the fascinating story of what compelled her to make her own pilgrimage around this great country and beyond.
As I stood in the gallery and viewed the provocative images of both American landscapes and iconic authors', entertainers', and intellectuals' treasured belongings, I couldn't help but compare the photographer's journey to the ones we make as educators, as learners, and even as former students ourselves. Why are we drawn to drive by, and sometimes to visit, our old schools: high schools, junior highs, elementary schools, often pointing out to our companions "that's my old school" or recounting our favorite or painful or humorous memories made there? Why do we often return to the places where we learned about our professional lives: where we student taught, where we studied, where we attended a great weekend conference? And why do we labor to make our classrooms the valued places that our students need (whether they know it now or not) and come back to, day after day (and sometimes even after they leave us, and the next year, and the next, and ten years later)?
Because we believe in the sacred. We believe that what molds us, makes us, are those moments of value and deep meaning that happen in the educational process. We hold tight to this belief, and infuse our work with it. We invite our students on the journey, both physical and metaphorical, to the places that we share so willingly, to the places to which we wish to return, to the places of wonder and learning and growth.
We make our pilgrimages so that our students can embark on theirs.