Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Battered B@$tard in the Classroom Part I (Dear Katie V2 #20)

We must be what we're going to be
And what we have to be is free

The Monkees For Pete's Sake

Dear Katie,

Last night I watched a Netflix documentary about the lone independent baseball team in Portland that was created by the actor Kurt Russell's father, Bing in the 1970's, called The Battered Bastards of Baseball.  At that time, Major League Baseball had created a farm system, where every minor league team had a contract with a major league club to help develop young talent.  The Portland Mavericks, who the show was about, was an independent team, that worked with no other major league team.  Since they had no access to the top prospects, the Mavericks were filled with guys who were passed over by the Major League scouts or others who just wanted to play baseball professionally, even if the pay wasn't that good.  And the Mavericks were successful both on the field, and in bringing the fans of Portland to the ballpark.

Due to this success, MLB wanted to re-establish a minor league team in Portland that was affiliated with a major league club, ending the life of the Portland Mavericks.  Of course, I watched it for the love of the game, but as with all things in baseball, it had something to teach you about life.  The Mavericks represented that people can be successful and have fun in the process.  They represented the idea that people with a common goal can achieve it by allowing each player to express their individuality.

Conformity, like cogs in the machine, will get the job done, but at what cost?  
Typically that cost is the loss of the love of the endeavor.  

The love of the game was something the Maverick players, owners, and fans did not lose.  The owner, Bing Russell, allowed his players to grow their hair long, keep facial hair, act goofy, basically have fun.  They all didn't have to have their stirrups showing, wear their hat in the same way, or be clean shaven.  He allowed them to be themselves because he knew they shared one common trait in common with him, they wanted to WIN.  The "corporate" look was universal among major league baseball clubs and they prepared their young players for the uniformity in the minor leagues.

An interesting fact is one of the most successful Major League teams of the era, 
the Oakland A's, operated under the same respect of the individuality of the player

When you get your first job, I hope that you will be led by administrators like I have had the pleasure to work with over the past 20+ years.  My biggest fear teaching at a Christian school (which was my first job) was a rigidity of what was expected in the classroom in terms of management, delivery of content, even decor.  Outside of a few things (like being asked to remove my Jolt Cola poster), I was given great freedom in the classroom, because it still produced the results that were expected.  At the last faculty meeting of the year, the principal typically would express thanks to the people who were leaving the school.  When I left, he began his goodbye with the line "The next faculty member we are saying goodbye to, well, let's just say he marches to the beat of his own drummer."

The reason I could march to my own tune is because he encouraged it.  

At my present position in a public school, my administration has the same attitude.  Even to the area of dress.  One day about 10 years ago, I needed to wear a windbreaker in the classroom because I hadn't noticed a moth had eaten through my sweater.  I went up to my assistant principal to explain what happened and apologize, after he was done laughing, he said (paraphrase), "What you wear is not a high priority for us (the principal and him).  What is more important is that your kids are learning.".

I don't have to wear a sports jacket or suit.  I typically wear jeans and sneakers to class.  The way I see it, I am not trying to gain the focus of a group of investors for a multi-million dollar deal, I am trying to gain the attention of 12 year olds, and to be honest, I never feel comfortable in a suit.  If dressing up is what you are comfortable doing, then by all means do it.  Dressing for success does not always mean dressing "Sunday Best".

When your administrators do not micromanage you on the little things, 
they display trust.  

And when you as a teacher know your administrators trust you, you will feel free to go beyond what is expected.  You begin to innovate and discover wonderful new techniques to draw your students into the world of higher level thinking.  And it doesn't just help your students grow intellectually, it heaps praise upon your administration for their leadership.  Sadly, administrators who micromanage every decision a teacher makes will get what they expect completed, but that is all, nothing more.

A poor leader believes that he/she has to instruct each person under their charge 
in every step of the process, because 
they falsely believe telling people what to do IS the mark of leadership.

A great leader articulates the big picture and then motivates & guides each individual, 
allowing them freedom and trusting they will use it wisely.

My hope for you is that you have the opportunity to work for the Bing Russell types, who unleashes your individuality because he knows you and he share a common goal,  like I have had the pleasure to work under and with.

Uncle Kevin

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