Tuesday, June 24, 2014

World Cup 2014 and Cultural Change

     I don't recall when I first started playing soccer. Maybe around 1970 or so. I know that was the first World Cup I knew of. As I was growing up, we kept hearing two things about soccer: that it would be the next big sport in America, and that Americans never would embrace soccer. We just kept playing, half-delighted we played such a "minor" sport, half-frustrated by the lack of recognition. Of course, we really weren't very good on any sort of global, or even regional scale. Our national team would lose badly to third-rate European teams and sometimes hang tough against Central American teams. When we qualified for the 1990 World Cup--the first time ever, with previous appearances based on invitation--it was like the miracle on grass.
     Now here we are, just a generation later, and World Cup fever has struck America. People have the games on; the US-Portugal match was the most viewed ever in this nation. They are talking about the games, albeit with pretty limited understanding. But they are talking about them! They care! Sports websites have the cup as the lead story every day. Our team is very competitive in the Group of Death and should qualify for the next round. To someone with my historical perspective, it's quite remarkable and invigorating.
     Of course, the fervor will recede after the cup. But it's grown since 2010, which was bigger than 2006, which...Soccer now is in the nation's consciousness. Do I expect it to reach the levels of Brazil or Spain or Germany. Probably not. But I never believed I would see what's happening now either. I think we safely can say we're witnessing a true cultural change.*
     So what's the moral of the story? Many others share my soccer past, and many of us ended up coaching. We passed on our love of the sport to whomever we could. One player, one team at a time. With dedication, determination, and faith, true change can occur. In some ways it's frustratingly slow. But in others it's faster than imagined.**

*I also wonder if in this World Cup we are seeing another cultural change one tied to the era of globalization. While upsets often have occurred in the past, this time more of the minnows are doing quite well. The gap has closed as players have more exposure--whether actually playing experience or simple exposure--that has raised everyone's level. Now everyone can analyze and learn from the best.

**I'm seeing my dream come true when it comes to soocer.  That gives me hope because of all the positive developments I'm seeing in education.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Good Year?

Last week I was at meetings with my fellow Independent Schools Association of the Sothwest school heads for our annual meetings. It's always a wonderful time for us to gether and share stories of success and failure. This is invaluable because it's hard for anyone else to know just what running an independent school is like. I'm not talking about how difficult or complex it is; plenty of leadership jobs share that. I'm talking about the uniqueness of the role.

Of course, when we see each other, the conversation often begins with a single question: Did you have a good year? Natural way to begin. Similarly, my board begins my annual review with a similar one: How do you feel about the year? In the first case, it's really just a way to begin talking, to kick off a dialogue between peers who can provide mutual understanding. In the latter it's a bit more pointed becasue of the circumstances. Most years I just roll with that and don't really think too much about it. But I know that I have a tendency to become overly intellectual about certain things, particularly in certain circumstances. It's part of being introverted and deeply reflective. But this past year has been an unusual one, even downright "weird" in some ways. We faced some very sticky problems and we were launching a massive initiative with our Imagine 1:1 iPad program. And as I told my review panel, I'm not sure yet how I would describe my thoughts and feelings on the past year. To some degree, that really should be the answer each year, if for no other reason than one just doesn't really know until time has passed. The more time, the better you know.

Still, I have been pondering what I've decided should be an essential question for all schools and individual educators: What makes the year a good one?

In some ways the answer can be rather simple. Testing data, next-level placements, awards, fundraising--these are some of the tangible measures. Things become a bit murkier when one begins to consider the impact of initiatives on teaching and learning, remaking true to mission, assessing cultural shifts. In The Art of Possibility Ben Zander proffers shining eyes as the ultimate sign of success when working with kids. Often it simply comes down to a feeling of being good tired rather than bad tired.

I accept all these notions; we even use all of the and others. Still, I wish to put forth another measure, one which truly invokes the ethereal. In the best schools, a good year is one in which the school has managed to achieve an apparent paradox.

Kierkegaard wrote, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Thoughtful, purposeful, responsive schools manage to do both simultaneously. In other words, they reflect constantly on mission, philosophy, and values, keenly aware of who they are as institutions and their reason for being. This core does not change, yet the way in which it manifests should as a school evolves to meet what its students will need in their futures. For example, consider the rather timeless mission element of academic excellence. Critical thinking is a key facet of such. How that is taught, leanred, and expressed should change regularly. Bottom line is that you hold true to who you are while becoming what you need to be.

Of course, even beyond the paradox, operating In such fashion is fraught with various tensions, most borne of our human-ness. But it also points at what great schools ultimately are about: helping everyone there become better. When that happens, then one can confidently respond that it was indeed a very good year.