Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can you lead the way to achievement?


Here is an article from a blog by Seth Godin. In it he refers to three different management styles that are commonly used to get people to achieve. You can read the article in its entirety but I also would like to interject some personal experience as well.

In Method 1 he refers to the old school sports coaching model. The days when yelling and screaming were seen as the effective ways to motive a person to succeed. A great point that Godin brings up with this model is, that perhaps while a player is on a team with a coach who applies a Bob Knight or Vince Lombardi-like model, he might achieve but only in the short term. When a player no longer is playing, there has been no foundation set for that player to achieve after the season is over. Players are more likely to be motivated by fear which allows them do learn "just enough" not to get yelled at. So much more learning and understanding is left on the table.

In Method 2, the idea is to create competition amongst the group. I don't have a huge problem with this but I can see where this is not always the best way. Where I have a problem with this model is when it becomes result based only. Learning is a process and sometimes competition incidentally rewards shortcuts, i.e. cheating.
 Like the article also says, if a manager has one promotion to give between six people, five people will lose. One might say this is survival of the fittest. But what if there is not much difference that separates the first place winner and the second place winner? Do we really need to label one as a winner and one as a loser. Don't get me wrong, I am not an "everybody gets a trophy" person. If competition is done correctly it will have short term and long term incentives. This not only allows a person to improve and move up, but it also establishes personal measuring sticks for each one to be evaluated over the course of time.

Method 3 would seem like the model we all would want to strive for as a leader. To facilitate achievement and then let each one work it out for themselves at their own pace. The teacher sets the expectation but then steps back while the student works towards achieving.

From my experiences with participating in sports and coaching, I have seen all three models. Sports in many ways mirrors life. The competition can be fierce and many times yesterdays success is forgotten today. Coaches sometimes see players as pieces to be used to inflate their hopeful "hall of fame" careers.

The best leaders (coaches, teachers, supervisors) I have had in my life found a balance between methods two and three. My best teachers followed method three perfectly. Guidelines were set as to when comprehension needed to be achieved. How you solved that problem was up to you. There was no absolute wrong answer as long as you could give an adequate response to how you came to your conclusions. During this process the teacher was readily available to provide any support and guidance.

The best coaches I ever had were few and far between. The good ones, my 7th grade basketball coach, and my high school varsity basketball coach, each got involved in the process of achieving. I remember one coach saying to us all the time "If you get involved with the process of winning, the results will take care of themselves".
 When competition was applied to any situation, it was designed in a way to see how well each one has grasped concepts.

The worst coaches I had, 9th grade JV basketball, 11th grade varsity basketball, college golf, applied methods one and two religiously and probably to this day have never heard of method three. Here are some sayings from these bad coaches
- "some of you won't get to play much this year because you have to pay your dues"
- "I'm not going to be positive with you guys until you give me something to be positive about"
- " You guys are awful. This is one of the worst teams I have ever coached" (his face was beet red and screaming)
While I was on those teams with those coaches, we never had winning record coincidentally. That made me a firm believer in method three. If we were going to lose each game, at least teach how to play. We might win a game or two more if we know why we suck, rather than just telling us we suck! One common trait of these teams: every player was utterly confused for the entire season as to what to do next. We were all on edge of hoping not to be the next one to make a mistake and get chewed out. Try learning when you are scared. Its hard to do.

Sports are sometimes a different animal than the classroom or office simply because the timeline for achievement is much shorter. But I think regardless, method one and method two teachers, coaches or employers need to look at a bigger picture. The teacher who berates the kid will grow up and possibly have kids who hate school because the parent shares their negative experience. The athlete who played sports no longer plays and loses an outlet for enjoyment as an adult. The employer who yells and pits employees against each other could lose his/her best employees out to a competitor.

Leading is not easy. Trying to get everyone to achieve is difficult. But if you can create an environment where people believe they are going to achieve, they will push themselves as far as they can go. This is what I want for myself as a teacher and a high school coach.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A man before his time

Click on the link to visit an interview with Issac Asimov. He was a writer and publisher of science fiction and history, among other genres. As well as being an author, he was a professor and an academic. In this interview from 1988 he shares what his vision of education for the future could be. What is truly amazing is that his vision for the future twenty three years ago is becoming a reality. His perspective on life after one's school career is complete is spot on. Enjoy!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Are we as bad as we are told?

Check out this link to an article that explains why American schools, no matter how much a politician will try to convince you otherwise, are still pretty good.


We seem to have this need to want to be like China, Japan, Thailand when it comes to math scores and academic "progress." What is always left out of the discussion is the difference of culture. Asian countries are mostly hierarchical  societies where moving up the social ladder is mostly unheard of. A poor family will stay poor and a wealthy family will remain wealthy. A lower or middle class student who performs well in school will most likely continue their station in that society. A "B" student in America will have more opportunities available simply because of the social structure here.
As pointed out in the article, the countries we compete against only report test results of a small population within their country and do not take into consideration all scores from across all socioeconomic backgrounds. We count the lowest of the low and highest of the high.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Are you plugged in or logged off?

Technology is something for the  younger generation, right? With Xbox, Wii, iphones, social networking, smart cars, and the millions of other gadgets have some crowds feeling disconnected, out of touch and at times frustrated by the sense that life has changed faster than they can keep up. Frustration leads to cop outs such as "all this technology has ruined our society. Kids are lazy and they don't know how to interact with others because everything is digital and done for them."

Technology was destined to make all of us "lazy" in a way. That's why we invented it, to ease the stress and burden of everyday life and to enhance our living experiences.  But before we scold people for being interested in gadgets and gizmo's, make sure everyone looks at technology in their daily lives. You might find so much technology you never considered because of the routine and ubiquitous nature of it.

For as long as there have been people, there has been technology. It is not a new concept. So when I read about a  teacher posing a challenge to their students to go one week without technology, I was excited to hear about their experiences! Many of them equated it as to living an alien existence. A few quit before the week was up. Not having access to their iphone was just too much to bear!

My thought is, can you blame them? Has technology made us lazy? Perhaps -i no longer need to know how to spell anything anymore, thanks spell checker. Has technology increased our sedentary lifestyle which increases our overall health risks. Sure -but don't tell me that the mills, factories and coal mines of  early 20th century industrialism provided a healthier work environment than sitting in a cubical staring at a screen.

I won't defend being lazy and unhealthy. I will however say there is hardly anything in our daily lives that isn't touched by technology. For the critics of technology, see if you can eliminate these three staples from your day.

1. Eliminate electricity. By doing so you now no longer can use:
TV, radio, dvd,blueray, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer, hair dryer, curling iron, blender, mixer, ipod, camera, video camera, refrigerator, freezer, thermostat, hot water, lamps, lights, ceiling fans, toaster, waffle iron, panini press, vacuum, computer, alarm clock, microwave or anything else that runs on an alternating current. In your new world of no electricity, the term "plugged in" does not exist.

2. Eliminate the automobile. Hey at least this will save you gas and you will be doing your part to cut down on sprawl -if you live walking distance to work! If not, you might want to invest in a horse.

3. Eliminate the telephone. The original social networking device.

You might be able to do it for a day and might even find it to be a peaceful, but I would guess a day or two would be all you can do. There is no need to go backwards. There is technology for everyone. We don't have to embrace all of it. But to categorize it as wasted money, for kids, or detrimental to our health, is seeing the glass as half empty. Technology has also saved us money, provided adults to reconnect with childhood friends, and has saved lives.

Technology has been around forever, it will be around as long as there are people. As long as we continue to have imaginations we will have new creations. The cool thing is, if you have an idea for something - a project for work, a way to watch TV more clearly, finding a way to deliver a presentation- thanks to technology, there's an app for that!