Lessons from the Red Sox

It’s hard not to focus on the Boston Red Sox when they are one win away from winning the World Series. It’s frankly heartwarming to see such intellectuals I respect such as A.J. Dionne and Atul Gawande exclaim their love of the Sox on Twitter:

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So, as long as we are losing sleep and concentration in staying up late to watch the Sox, what are some lessons we can gain from this unusual team and how does it relate to the world of education?

1. Change usually comes slowly, but don’t underestimate the possibility of unexpected success when culture can be changed. 

The Sox went from last place in the American League East to 97 wins, the American League Championship and one win away (at press time) from winning it all. It’s rare that schools can improve this quickly, but if a school administrator seeks quick change, the “low hanging fruit” of school culture is likely the quickest route to success. Sox General Manager Ben Cherrington knew that he had to rid the Sox clubhouse of the “chicken and beer” problem from two years ago and the Bobby Valentine collapse as well. Do you want quick change in a school? Work on the school culture. Equip teachers with classroom management strategies, work on school-wide approaches and worry about academics  bit later. 

2. Leadership is crucial

The change in Red Sox management from Bobby Valentine to John Farrell was easily the most obvious improvement and likely the greatest reason for success. Farrell respects his players, holds them accountable in a caring way, and heeds the famous line “praise in public and criticize in private”. Valentine did none of those things. Likewise, the power of leadership in a school, both from the building administrator and teacher leaders, cannot be underestimated. 

3. In the end, it’s about the players.

The most important component of my job is hiring the very best educators to be part of our school family. Frankly, new programs and initiatives mean little if the “line up” is not solid. I am thankful every day for the 50 members of the Harold Martin staff…twice as many as the 25 members of the Red Sox. 

Time to hit “send” on this blog post and watch game 6 of the World Series. 

It’s Still a Wonderful World

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It’s no secret to the students and staff of my school that I am a Boston sports fan. When I moved to New England from the midwest as a Junior in High School, I segued from being a St. Louis Cardinals devotee to a rabid Sox fan in the span of about two months. The passion of Boston sports drew me in as a teenager.

The fast pace of life kept me partially away from the sports world throughout college and in the early years of my marriage, but as soon as my three kids were sucked into the Boston sports scene, I was drawn back in as well. In this millennium so far there have been three New England Patriots Super Bowl wins, two Red Sox World Series Championships, a Bruins Stanley Cup, and a Celtic NBA Championship. It has been a great source of fun for my family as well as my school community.

I have been Principal at Harold Martin School for every one of these sports events and students and staff have celebrated these great accomplishments together. I have discussions with students about players and the games from the night before. We wear shirts with athlete’s names emblazoned on our backs and my office is strewn with Boston sports memorabilia. Students truly look up to these athletes as we pretend that sports megastars have meritorious qualities beyond their gross motor skills.

This week we discovered that one of our Patriot football heroes has been accused of unspeakable crimes with evidence that appears irrefutable. The accused, Aaron Hernandez, is a supremely talented tight end – I’ve even had him on my Fantasy Football team – but it is likely that he is a murderer. It was known that he had a troubled past, but after recently signing a $50 million contract, it appeared that the impeccable decision-making that the Patriots are known for would ensure good behavior. Now it seems that owner Robert Kraft and Coach/GM Bill Belichick displayed questionable judgment in signing Hernendez to his blockbuster deal.

I asked one of my teachers today if her nine-year old son had heard the news. Fortunately, the family had been out of town so he was not aware. I’m concerned about this little guy and the thousands of other New England boys and girls who put their faith in these sports role models. As I wrote about, we need more Jeremy Lins (NBA star) who show persistence and flexibility and display humbleness.

As I mentioned in that Lin post, the great NBA star Charles Barkley once stated that athletes should never be true role models for kids. Instead, children should look up to their parents. This is hard to argue but with modern media, a story like the Hernendez account is bound to have some impact. How can parents deal with this?

Be clear and honest with kids without revealing the darkest details. It’s also important to note that one is innocent until proven guilty but if indeed, events occurred the way it appears, Hernendez deserves to be punished for his crimes and that the victim and his family are entitled to justice. Most importantly, remind children of the great role models in their life including family, close friends, and their teachers.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently stated on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes that “there are some people who are evil and perhaps can’t be redeemed”. This realization came after spending years as a prosecutor and resulted in some disillusionment in her view of the human spirit.

There’s plenty of time for kids to realize the darker side of life. In light of the Hernandez revelations, I hope parents emphasize to their children that the majority of adults are caring, loving, and work to protect the weak. It’s still a wonderful world.

Lessons from Jeremy Lin

Courtesy of si.com

I have to admit it. I am still reeling from the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss. But there is a sports story rising up very quickly from the same city that spawned the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, fortunately distracting me from that fateful game. If you haven’t heard, Jeremy Lin is a 23 year basketball phenom for the New York Knicks who recently rose to prominence after living a brief NBA life in obscurity. Lin is unusual stock for the NBA as he is one of the league’s very few Chinese-Americans players and a rare NBA-playing graduate of an Ivy League School. This 6 foot 3 Harvard grad has been sleeping on his brother’s couch in the Big Apple but his digs are bound to be improving soon as he has now set a record for the most points scored by an NBA player in his first five starts.

What I find encouraging is how many lessons can be gleaned from the rise of Mr. Lin:

1. Persistence often pays off.

While there are no guarantees that hard work will always result in great success, a lack of effort ensures a lack of success. There are numerous examples in history of great stars who succeeded after failure…Lincoln’s ascension to the Presidency after so many losses, Einstein’s many debacles before his theory of relativity, even the enigmatic Richard Nixon who lost the California gubernatorial race before being elected to two terms as President.

We may never know how the world could have changed if particular men and women remained steadfast to their dreams and fought through failure. Lin could have easily given up after being cut by two NBA teams.

2. Know your strengths and be ready for the opportunity to implement them.

Success often occurs when there is a good match between our personal skills and our opportunities. In my field, educators have to find the right community match in order to find success. Jeremy Lin fell into a perfect situation with the Knicks. He was needed because of numerous injuries and he was ready to step right in. Good fortune is often a match between opportunity and preparation.

3. Be flexible

While setting goals and vision is imperative for success, successful people must be ready to take on different roles if necessary. Lin began his unbelievable entry with the Knicks as a scorer, shooting three pointers, making jump shots, and driving to the basket. As players come back from injuries and the rest of the NBA learns about Lin a bit, he is having to retreat to more of a traditional point guard, distributing the ball to others. His stats will shift from points to assists but in the long run, this will help his basketball team to win. I don’t think statistics are important to him whatsoever.

4. Be humble.

Lin is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, he is the darling of social media, television, and radio, and he is about to move from his brother’s apartment to earning the NBA league minimum of around $700,000 a year. It’s important that one’s personal values remain constant no matter the consequences swirling through our lives, positive or negative. Jeremy knows who he is and understands that fame and fortune is potentially fleeting.

Years ago basketball great Charles Barkley proclaimed that he should never be a role model and that mothers and fathers should take on that role. Obviously that would be ideal, but with the power of the media, I am happy when our celebrities espouse positive values. We could use more role models like Jeremy Lin.