Saturday, December 27, 2014

A New Trend that Affects Our Students’ Future (Part 1)

I am going back to Tim Elmore for this entry.  I actually saw the report from The NDP Group, business consultants that provide market information and advisory services to help clients make better business decision, that he references in another publication and found it very interesting.  Reflecting on what I see among teenagers today, I had no choice but to concur with the data, and to me that is very scary!  In recent months I have started joking with folks about how it will not be long until people start telling us we need to add the “How To Talk Face-to-Face” class in high school because is seems that this is becoming a lost skill among young people.  Perhaps I am not too far off!  I really do not want to see the kind of future portrayed in Elmore’s article for our kids, and it would seem that we need to do something about it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Swing Your Sword

I finally grabbed the opportunity to get my hands on a book that I’ve wanted to read for quite some time.  Mike Leach is one of my favorite people.  For those that have never heard of him, he is currently the head football coach at Washington State University.  You may recognize an incident that had him in the news a few years ago when he was at Texas Tech and he got cross-wise with the school’s president and AD because of the way he treated, or mistreated the son of a famous ESPN announcer that was on the Red Raider team.  A lot of allegations flew back and forth, and while I don’t condone what Coach Leach is accused of doing, from everything that I read, there is a great deal of question as to whether Craig James’s accusations were true.  It would seem that in the aftermath, Coach Leach has been exonerated to a large extent, and he has moved forward making a positive impression on the lives of young men. 
In the interim between coaching at Texas Tech and Washington State, he wrote Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and Life.  Leach is an eccentric, a character in a sport dominated by cliché spewing homogenized coaches that look and sound the same.  Most of them are afraid to say or do anything that may get them in trouble with their employers or fan base, or perhaps prevent them from getting that next big contract.  It is that way in professional sports as well.  Those colorful coaches that fans loved to follow because of the flair they brought to the game and the sport are few and far between.  Mike Leach is a throwback, and is one of my absolute favorites because there is a lot more than football to this guy.  His fascination with pirates and Geronimo, the great Apache warrior, is almost as famous as his high-speed offense.  He is one of those guys that actually gets away from the sport and has a life beyond X’s and O’s.  And, one of his first coaching experiences, after he earned a law degree, was in our state at Iowa Wesleyan in Mt. Pleasant.
When I finished the book I pulled five points that Coach Leach made and shared those with members of our coaching staff.  There are three of those that I want to share with you.  The first one is:  If they say “me, me, me” or “I, I, I” and complain a lot, then you need to get rid of them.  Okay, in my business I can’t just get rid of people because they are self-centered, but I work in the field of education and others like me need to understand this and do what we are hired to do: educate.  First of all, “me” people generally lack true confidence and have learned that it is okay to be selfish.  Many have been reinforced throughout their life that they are “better than others” and this attitude is okay.  They strive for individual glory at the expense of others, again because others have told them that this is okay and acceptable.  In our profession, we do employ folks like this, coaches who know their win-loss record but can’t tell you much about their players other than their jersey number, and teachers who talk about all they have done for kids rather than what the kids have accomplished in their class.  As a building leader, it is my job to confront people on this “me first” attitude and direct them to what is most important in our jobs – the students.  And, we have students that come to us with this attitude and must teach and coach them that selfishness leads to conflict and a breakdown in a community.  One only needs to go to a basketball game to see “me first” teenagers.  Coaches face challenges working with these kids.  Coach Leach gets rid of them, but at the high school level, we are charged with teaching them.  Benching the selfish player often sends the message, but it often takes time to develop humility and servitude in a teenager.  These are sometimes tough decisions, but to live and work in society successfully, one must develop those traits.
The second point is one that is not unique to Leach: You have to be a great listener to be a great communicator.  One of my former coaches that I hold in high esteem once said to us in a huddle between innings during a frustrating game, “God gave you two ears and one mouth.  Use them proportionally!”  I am a talker!  I know it because I am constantly reminded by my wife that I droll on and on and do not get to the point.  That said, one of the skills that I believe that I have really improved on is listening.  It has been a conscious effort and I have found that when I listen, and when I wait, people often share a lot more and thus I learn a lot more about them.  Listening helps build relationships for this very reason.  When discussing a problem someone is having, when I let him or her talk, they often solve it themselves.  Keeping my ears open and my mouth shut is difficult for me, but it has helped me grow as a leader, and is something that I have worked to teach students when the opportunity presents itself.

The third point is based on a statement directly from the book.  Leach wrote, “It really makes me ill whenever I hear a coach say, “To win, you gotta have great players.”  If you believe that, then why do you need a coach?  The team with the best players ought to be able to walk on the field and win in spite of the coach.  The best players give you an advantage just like the bright students have an advantage.  But they don’t automatically win, or perform the best in a class.  Every individual can improve, and the goal for each and every one of us should be continuous improvement.  Back on the field, nothing gives me greater joy than to see the team that plays smart and disciplined beat the team with the great athletes.  Too often people waste the advantage they have, and when we do have it, we need to do something productive with it.  In my opinion, those who have a leg up in life have an obligation to build on their strengths and give a hand up to others.  All of us educators are obligated to nurture and challenge every student, and celebrate the little victories that all of them experience.  We need to win with the players that walk into our classroom, regardless of their level of greatness.