Coaching Change

Champion in sports, fired in schools? Possibly

Coaching changes in basketball or football rarely result in quick turn arounds.  It is relatively rare to see a new coach come in and completely rescue a program.  Often, it takes years for them to recruit new players and implement their system.

The expectation is that there be positive movement, but often the coaches are given time to make this change. It is rare that a coach would only be given a season, or half a season to turn around a team. An owner, athletic director, or general manager would be strongly criticized for making such a quick change.  Quick changes would have cost jobs for people like Coach K, Bill Belichick, and Doc Rivers.  Perhaps it is a good thing that powerful people in sports take a bit longer to decide.

Yet, when new administration takes over a school or a new program is implemented, school systems expect instant results.  The turn around is expected in weeks and months, not in years.  If the system doesn’t produce results, it is quickly changed to the new flavor of the month.  The desire is to find the perfect technique, the perfect method to teach the children in that school.

Naturally, the education methods, at least the people that sell them, try their best to maintain their foothold.  Sometimes this means working with the teachers who use the method and adjusting as necessary.  Other times it means arguing that their method is not being properly implemented.  This is how teachers can be required to read word for word from a textbook.

It is clear why these sellers act this way.  They hope that their method will stay in place long enough to make a measurable difference.  If not, then, they can always blame the teachers to buy more time.

In truth, some of the programs could work, assuming that the kids are on grade level. Or that they have the proper background knowledge and understand the nomenclature of the system.  In reality, these systems are often put in places like my wife’s school. The kids are often far from grade level and have minimal background knowledge.  Perhaps most importantly, they have been exposed to so many different methods over the years, that there is no way they can grasp the new nomenclature. Why would they bother learning it anyway, its just going to change in next year, next month or next week?

In the same way, administrators are much like the education methods.  They are quickly tried, promise great change, and are quickly replaced.

At my wife’s school, the principal has been there less than a year.  But easing into the job is not an option.  The principal already is feeling the pressure from the higher ups.  Improving test scores is paramount.  To do this, the district expects complete and unwavering implementation of the policies it mandates.  What does this look like?

It means that the principal is constantly in meetings.  It means that numerous people come in to evaluate her and her staff.  They check records, they watch teaching (for five minutes), they make notes. Then, they have a meeting about it with the principal. They probably don’t prioritize what is most important, nor do they likely give positive feedback.  No, they probably focus on the laundry list of deficiencies the school has and how the principal is expected to fix it with the tools they require. If not, the district higher ups probably threaten her job.  Perhaps this is why one of the most common comments the principal makes is, “I’m just trying to keep my job.”

I said ‘probably’ or ‘likely’ in the last paragraph because I am not in the meetings with the principal. I can only predict that this is how her meetings go.  Why is that? Well, this models her meeting with her staff.

She goes on tirades about the deficiencies of her staff.  She expects her teachers to implement everything given to them ASAP.  There are no priorities, when everything is a priority.  If the teachers can’t handle it, they can be replaced, just like her.  Positive feedback, or encouragement,  not a chance; there are too many fires to put out. Yet, in her effort to put out these district fires, she just sets more for her teachers and staff.

But in her mind, she doesn’t have a choice. If she doesn’t make improvement, she’ll be fired.  Making the district happy seems the best way to achieve this goal, even if it means crushing your teachers.  No time to think about if it would work or if it is good for kids. Got to keep this job.

So the next time you watch your favorite football or basketball team, consider if the coach you have deserves more than a year to prove himself or herself.  Consider if you would immediately be better off if you made a change after a season or half a season.  Consider if you are willing to give him or her a few years to get it right and make improvements.  Consider what the impact of constantly changing coaches would be on the program.  Do you think instability would be helpful?

Now realize this is how most failing schools and districts operate.  If after a year or half a year, progress isn’t being made: out with the old, in with the new.  Evidently they believe that constant change is the best way to fix failing school districts.  Years and autonomy are two things the district doesn’t believe in.  Maybe next year they’ll get their Coach K, of course, knowing their track record, they’ll probably fire him before the season is over.

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