Good afternoon. My name is Megan Pittman, and I’d like to welcome everyone to the Councilman Memorial Lecture. One of the principal tenants of the Councilman Lecture series is Doc always encouraged us to look not just outside our sport, but outside sport generally in terms of reaching high levels of performance. And this year we have speaking for us Steven Farr and Andrea Stouder Pursley.
Steven just came out with a book called Teaching is Leadership, and they are both involved in Teach for America. Andrea was actually a swimmer back in the day, and her husband is a coach at ASU. So they both have a relationship to swimming—a background with swimming.
As you sit here and listen to what they have to offer today, if every time they say teaching, you hear coaching, I think you’re going to get a lot out of it. So, welcome and thanks for coming.
Thank you, Megan; and thank you everybody for having me. I have got to tell you, I, as someone who’s in the business of training teachers, I speak to a lot of groups, but I am… feel more intimidated in this room than a lot of places. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I think part of it is sort of the ‘why is this guy here,’ sort of thing. So, I spent a little time last night trying to justify that to myself. I thought I would share that with you just for a second.
First of all, in the spirit of why is it not absolutely nuts that I’m standing up here, I was a swimmer. Way back when… [laughter and applause] and what’s particularly funny is that [on screen] is my swimsuit. Like as the nerdiest, skinniest guy on there. I’m in the flannel. And uh, uh… I put some of the intimidation I’m feeling on the fact that, you know, I had a lot of swim coaches in my life early on.
The second thing, the second way I’m justifying this is: I’m actually a record holder, record-holding swimmer. I don’t imagine you all know this in here, but in the small town of San Marcos, Texas, to this day, I hold a record: there was a two-year span—this was, you know, early 80’s—two-year span where I was disqualified 8 times in the 200 individual medley. [laughter]
Wait, wait, wait. Wait! that’s not the record. The record was every time was for a different infraction. That has held, and I… so I’m proud of that. And, and so that, that fact highlights another reason that it makes sense for me to stand here which is I spent a fair amount of time standing in front of swim coaches who were thinking, ‘What the hell is this guy doing.’ and so, I’ve been sort of practicing for this moment my whole life. [laughter]
There is a substantive reason that I hope we can together find the relevance, and that is that I have this sort of absurd title of Chief Knowledge Officer at Teach for America. And the crux of my work is studying, not good but, great teachers in particularly challenging contexts and understanding what they are all doing similarly compared to each other so that the rest of us can become better. That’s the essence of the work that I’ve been doing for the last 10 years or so.
I come into this room to talk to you with a hypothesis based on that work and based in fact on a little bit of my experience with swimming; the fact that my sister’s a coach; the fact that we are all in the business, fundamentally, of shaping people. Based on that premise, I want to explore a hypothesis with you, and I hope we can sort of have a conversation around that. And the hypothesis is the following: Good teaching and good coaching are different from one another; but great teaching and great coaching are the same thing. They are both about shaping people, and they are both ultimately about leadership. I think that’s the headline after 10 years of studying highly-effective teachers. What we are finding distinguishes those that are not just good but those that are truly great—that are having a true trajectory-changing impact on children’s lives—is leadership. And I want to explore that a little bit with you now.
It is worth noting what that means, the distinguishing factors. What distinguishing factors are we leaving behind? And going into it, I’d love to ask you just to keep the following in mind: in my work with teachers—many of whom are struggling, many of whom are good, and a few of whom are great—as we’re trying to do something hard like shape people, there is a tendency to grab onto whatever the easy thing is that someone else is doing that is doing it well. Right? Like in teaching, here’s what I hear: “Oh, well this person’s getting great results, so, I want to use that person’s lesson plan.” Or, “I want to use that person’s content management system.” Or, “I want to use…” whatever the specific thing. In swimming, I don’t know. “Oh, that team had this kind of kickboards. So we better get ‘em.”
It sounds absurd, but we have a natural tendency to try to grab onto those easy, quick fixes, and, the fact is, there aren’t any. When we actually look at who’s great versus who’s good, we see distinguishing factors along the lines of leadership.
So what… I’d like to just preview what’s going to happen here, you know, for the next hour. I would like to tell you a little bit about where our research is coming from, so you can have some filters for interpreting it. And then I want to tell you about our studies and our findings. What are we finding are distinguishing teachers who are having life-changing impacts on kids.
And I’m going to ask you to do the mental work during that time. To be thinking: well, how does this resonate and not resonate with my experience as a coach. Then, I’m going to step back and, and Andrea Stouder Pursley, who has a lot of experience coaching and swimming, is going to come back with some of the same ideas and help follow out the idea of what are the implications in coaching. What does this tell us about great coaching and great teaching ?
And then, right at the end, just for five or ten minutes, I want to come back and close. Step back and, you know I hope, be a little bit provocative about.. if you all are like teachers, as I believe you are—I truly do believe this—what are some of the hard things that we need to be asking ourselves. So that’s, that’s the quick overview.
Let me start by just letting you know who I am and where this is coming from. Again, so that you can interpret it as you need to. I work for an organization called Teach for America. Teach for America exists to close the achievement gap in America. Um, I imagine many of you notice, but the fact is on the one hand we live in a nation with ideals of freedom and equality and the notion that everyone, if they work hard enough, can make it. And yet there is a disturbing, I think tragic and outrageous, reality in America; which is, if you tell me a ZIP code, I can tell you with about 95% confidence whether the kid living there is going to go to college.
In America, children living in the lowest quarter socio-economically, even by 5th grade, are already two and three years behind their colleagues in the suburbs. In America, if you are in the lowest quartile socio-economically, usually that means you’re Latino or African-American. When you graduate from high school, you’re reading like white 8th graders—this is a tragedy. And this is, I think—getting on a soap box here—but I think this is the greatest challenge, the biggest threat we have to our national health of anything.
I hear people talk about national security; I hear people talk about recessions—there is nothing like a recession. I’ve been to a high school, Locke High School in L.A., where there are 1,200 kids in the freshman class and 200 kids crossing the stage at graduation. Where are those 1,000 kids going and who’s paying for them and what are they doing? Um, by the way, of those 200 kids crossing graduation at Locke High School, only 31 had actually earned a diploma that let them even apply to a California college.
The achievement gap is what Teach for America exists to close. And I want to, just very briefly, tell you about how Teach for America is doing, so you know where this research comes from. Our theory of change—Teach for America’s theory of change—is we are out there recruiting college seniors who we believe in their first and second year as teachers, they give us a two year commitment to teach in one of these areas where the achievement gap is alive. We put them in classrooms and we charge them with closing the gap for their students. That’s the first half, because we’ve got to get teachers in their first and second years in these low income inner city urban areas and close the gap.
The second part of our theory of change is: anyone who does that successfully is going to be a lifelong leader against this cause. I feel like I’m a little bit of… I can testify to that personally: when I got into law school and Teach for America on the same day, I deferred law school. I taught in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, in one of the three poorest counties in the country. Most of my kids were migrant kids; virtually none of them had parents who’d been to college. And I have never been able to leave this issue.
All right, that’s the idea of Teach for America—um, this, this is going pretty well. We have… last year we had 46,000 kids [apply] somewhere on college campuses. I hope that you’ve heard of this, because we’ve been after your swimmers. What we are recruiting: people. We had 46,000 people apply to these positions; we accept fewer than 1 in 10. And, uh, we are, we are growing rapidly and, and I think, making some traction against this problem.
The point of all of that: There is nothing more important to our organization’s work than our teachers being effective, right. If we are sending teachers into the classroom, whose kids are just growing, what you would expect? A year academically in a calendar year: we’re perpetuating the gap that they came in with. We’ve got to have teachers that are getting two years of progress in a single year; three years of progress in a single year. And, if people aren’t successful, they’re not going to become lifelong leaders like we need them to. And it’s for that reason that we have been studying our most effective teachers.
These slides, I’m just going to have them up there in case you’re sort of a visual learner—but they’re actually not that important. What I want to point out is that, when I take a brutal look at our core of teachers, thousands of ‘em, we’ve got 20,000 teachers and we study how they’re doing. We see a pretty generic curve of effectiveness. We have some people really struggling. We have a lot of people in the middle. Here’s what’s exciting: there at the far end of that tail, on the right, we have a growing fraction of our teachers who are not making one, one and a half years of growth with their students in a single year; they’re getting two years, three years, four years of growth in a single year. They’ve got kids showing up at their door in 5th grade who are reading like 2nd graders, who by the end of the year are caught up.
Think about how that changes a child’s life. We’ve got kids coming in who are on their way to remedial math in high school. But when they leave this class, they’re on the way to AP math, right? Or kids who come in not thinking about college, but when they leave they’re’ headed to college. This is life changing. And when I talk about good teaching and good coaching being different, but great teaching and great coaching being very similar: I think coaches that are having life changing impact in their kids lives are probably—this is a hypothesis that I’d like to talk through—doing the same things as these leaders are doing; because it is all fundamental leadership.
So, what I’d like to do now is take 10 minutes just to take you behind the curtain on these studies. Um, as Megan was saying, I do hope you will when you hear me say teaching, at least ask yourself is this true in coaching too? And I hope that, that can push our thinking. Um, there are… let’s just jump into the finding. At this point, having done this 10 years, this is inductive research, right? We’re making best hypothesis and we keep going back in there.
If you tell me that I’m going to go visit a teacher’s classroom where the kids came in reading on 8th grade level in 11th grade US History but they left all going to college, this actually happened. I was in one of these classrooms just a couple of months ago. I will bet you the few dollars I have in my wallet that this is what we’re going to see.
The first thing we’re going to see is that these teachers are setting ambitious goals at the beginning of the year. What’s interesting, when we do a focus group with our moderately good teachers, our average teachers, here’s what we hear: “You know, I want my kids to learn as much as they can every day.” That seems like a very noble idea. “We want to work as hard as we can every day.” That seems like a great idea. The fact is the teachers that are getting the most out of their kids, that are having the most impact, at the beginning of the year are actually saying, “By the end of the year my children are going to be able to do this, know this, and perform in this way.” They’re creating a vision of what this will look like a 183 school days from now.
My suspicion is that this resonates for you all in coaching. I think it’s something we probably learn a lot from coaching. Where do you want someone to be at the end. And that is actually the fact that you’re creating those big goals, creates the success. And, you know, a few years ago as we were in these studies, we stared to realize, you know, this stuff, it’s really not what most people think of as teaching; this is leadership. This is what you hear from a good leader in any difficult context.
We landed on the moon as a nation because President Kennedy said, “Within 10 year we will land on the moon.” And when he said that, what happened? Everyone got inspired, fired up, there was an alignment of action; there was urgency built around this idea. And this is what these teachers do. Um, let me tell you about that, that classroom I was in, in Atlanta, just recently. The guy’s name was Maurice Thomas. This is one of these high schools… you know, I’d like to pretend they don’t happen, but it’s like a movie set. The lights are dim. There’s trash. Kids are where they’re not supposed to be. And yet, what I heard was kids in Maurice’s class are doing it. These kids, all growing up in poverty, are getting on a different track.
So I go to visit him. First thing I see: I walk in, there’s two posters on the wall. The first one said—it’s down there in the bottom corner, actually—“All of us will make 80% mastery on some assessments.” And the other poster said, “All of us will be accepted to a four-year college. The lucky ones to Wisconsin.” He was like this rabid Badger guy and he had stuff all over it. [laughter]
And I said to Maurice: “You know,”–I’m thinking in my head, you know this is a good sign, this is the first sign that we see we have a good teacher on our hands—said, “What does this mean?” He said:
Well, when I make that my big goal, that every one of these kids is going to college, it absolutely changed my job. I began to realize my kids, they’ve been doing all this fill-in-the-bubble, rote-memorization stuff, and that’s not what you do in college. So I teach this class with primary sources and writing. My kids are behind, so that’s what we have to do.
I realized that my kids didn’t know what the ACT or SAT was, so I’ve got ACT training before school and SAT training after school. I realize, like in a lot of these schools, my kids are automatically put into ROTC. No disrespect to ROTC, but in this school, all they did was play cards there. And when they would come back to my class, it would be another 10 or 15 minutes before I could get them back into the mode of investment and learning that I needed. So I convinced the principal we’re getting rid of this ROTC on their schedule and we’re doubling up on English and Math, because they’re going to go to college.
I realize that their parents, they didn’t know how to navigate all that financial aid.
These people hadn’t been to college themselves. So he has town meetings, he calls them on Friday mornings, where parents come and he tutors them in financial aid. He takes boys on college visits one month and girls the next month.
You see all of the ways flowing from his big goal that his conception of his role and what the kids were doing changed dramatically. And the best part is he pulled up this sort of folded-up sheet of paper from his pocket where he has his 55 U.S. History kids. Where they’re applying, 52 of them had gotten in. This was in March. 52 of these kids were… had acceptances to four-year colleges in a world where most would not have gone to college and those who had, would go to Metro Tech down the street. He changed their lives.
We do not see a teacher get dramatic results who is not, at the beginning of the year, setting ambitious goals about where they will be at the end of the year. And, frankly, some people around them tell them they’re crazy. But every time, that’s true.
The second pattern that we see, we call this investing students. I think the best way to get this is just one more story—I won’t tell a million stories, but this is, this is like the best day of my professional life, maybe. My wife’s not here, so this is the best day of my whole life. Right? [laughter]
This was… this was a good day. I was in Houston, in a poor neighborhood, to see a teacher named Sarah Kottner. Here’s what I knew about this classroom and these kids. I knew that most people, if you just told them about this classroom, would say: these kids are a lost cause. They’re 5th graders. They’re all reading at a 1st or 2nd grade level. They’re all on free and reduced lunch—which in our world means they’re all poor. They’re all learning English as a second language. They are all children of color, dealing with all kinds of challenges that that brings in our society. They’re so far behind. That was the first thing I knew. On the other hand, this was Texas and we’re getting pretty good data out of Texas in early 2000s.
What we saw on paper was that these kids were out-performing kids in really wealthy districts. I don’t know if there are any Texas people here. There’s, there’s a neighborhood, Spring Branch schools, pretty high-end schools. And these 5th graders were out-performing them on the assessments, so we got to go see what’s going on, right? I’m very excited to go.
I sit in the back of the room. Sarah’s teaching this class. The first thing I notice is the kids are just like they’re in a hurry. They’re hustling around, you know. And so, I’m a good scientist writing down, maybe you just have to hurry—turns out, that’s not exactly it.
Then, the principal came over the announcements and said, “Miss Kottner, would you, please send”—I don’t remember the kid’s name—“Johnny to the office?” And as I watched, the children around Johnny leaned-into him and said, “Oh, man, we’re so sorry; we’ll tell you what you missed.” I thought, wow, you know, most people out there would not want to believe that these kids are sort of feeling this way about the classroom.
And then, the best moment, they get to a part where they’re doing some independent work, you know, and I’m this odd stranger in the class. I didn’t want to freak her out, but I crouched down to this 5th grade girl and I say, “Could you tell me just a little bit, what are you learning in here? What’s it like to be in this class?” And she said, “Can you ask me later? I’m kind of busy.” [laughter]
Oh my God! So, poor Sara Kottner, the teacher, we grab her. I’m like, we want everything. I want your lesson plans. I want to know every professional development you’ve been to. I want your letters home to your mother. I want to know every single thing you’ve done, because there’s something happening in this classroom that most of the world wouldn’t believe is possible and it’s getting you these results. To Sarah’s credit, she said, “Well, I could give you all that stuff, or I could just tell you.” “Great. Just tell me!”
And here’s what she said. She… she took me to task. She said, “You Teach for America people, you keep telling me that classroom management is so key, and it’s so important. And you’re right. I’ve got to have my rules and consequences. You keep dealing me all these instructional strategies and instructional methods; and you’re right, that’s all important. But I’ve got to tell you something. My kids walk in my door having mis-learned the idea that there’s two kinds of kids in the world: there’s dumb kids and there’re smart kids, and that’s the way it is. Hard work, in their minds, has no correlation with success or intelligence, they believe those are two different ideas. So what you’re not seeing is I have spent so much time changing my children’s mindsets to believe that they can succeed and that they want to succeed. And now that we’ve done that, we are moving three times faster than we ever did before.”
So we started to study the way that Sarah was doing that. We used this as a hypothesis, looking at our best teachers. And it turns out we do not have a teacher having dramatic effects in kids lives, who is not treating motivational theory as as-big a project as the things most people think are at the heart of teaching: classroom management, instruction strategy. It is that big. K-12, I don’t care where you are, there, and there’s all kinds of diverse ways. We have this book which we use with core members that Megan mentioned. The reason Chapter 2 is so long, there’s a lot of ways that people do this. But they’re all doing the same way. Some of it’s sort of mapped there.
I won’t get into sort of that low altitude. But as an example, and I’m sure that this is a great example that can… comes from coaching. If a kid is learning to read, he may be working very hard and not feel any progress—and that is very difficult for any of us. So you go in these classrooms and have these charts where the kids are kind of mapping and seeing their dot or their bug or whatever the classroom is moving. That actually hap… makes a difference, right? I think we can all relate to that. And I… that’s one of many ways that these teachers are using strategies to invest their students, and get them to the point that they believe they can and want to succeed.
The third pattern we see—it’s just not going to surprise anyone in this room. We call this planning purposely. This is basically planning backwards. This is the idea that our most successful teachers always ask first: ‘Where do I want to be?’ ‘How am I going to know I got there?’ And then plan backwards from that. While our average teachers, they first ask: ‘Well, what are the kids really going to like?’ ‘What’s really going to be engaging?’ And they treat it that way.
If… if I could magically bring five of our most successful teachers and put ‘em right here, and five of our average teachers and put them over here; and with all of you watching, we said: would you all just plan your lessons for next week and we can watch. Drives me crazy, but it’s still true. Our average teachers start their lesson planning at the top of the piece of paper and our best teachers start their lesson planning at the bottom of the sheet of paper. I think there’s a lot in that. A lot behind that.
What is the perspective from… from the long-term plans to the smallest part. We’re thinking outcomes first and then planning backwards from it.
The fourth pattern that we see, we call it effective execution. These, our most effective teachers, think differently about implementation in the classroom. Imagine for a second that I’ve got those same groups. We’ve got five of our dramatically effective teachers over here, five of our good-but-not-great teachers over here; and we all ask them: could you all tell us just a little bit about what it means to execute effectively in the classroom?
Our average teachers usually say something like: “Well, it means we have a really good plan, and we’re following that plan.” While our most effective teachers start shaking their heads. There was a time when I said: ‘What do you mean, you’re shaking your head? Of course it means you have a good plan, you’re following the plan.’ What they tell us is: “Actually, the essence of effective execution are the adjustments I’m making to the plan because reality changes between the time I wrote it down and the time I’m on my feet teaching it. Kids are getting things faster than I thought, so I’m not going to waste time on something that I’ve planned for. Or they’re getting things slower than I thought, so I’ve got to put more time here. Or the class is longer than I thought….”
I can imagine, you know, all the things that’s true for in coaching. Sometimes kids progress more quickly/less quickly than you have. How are you on your feet adjusting the plan so you’re still getting to the adjustments and using time efficiently. We’ve been trying to uncover all the strategies teachers use in that realm.
The fifth pattern that we see is called… we call this continuously improving effectiveness. I just want to say one quick thing about this: There was a time when the hypothesis, we call this constant learning. If you think for a moment about the difference between constant learning and constant learners as teachers versus continually increasing effectiveness, that’s really the essence of this. It’s not that you’re always learning more techniques and methods; it’s that you’re trying them out and testing them in the classroom. Our average teachers have a real aversion to changing their systems: “I got a classroom management system, so, I’m going to leave that until the end of the year.” “I’m doing a certain kind of reading workshop, I’m going to leave that.”
Our best teachers are always tweaking. They… they treat the classroom like a laboratory, and try things out. That’s a pattern that we see, that we’re trying to nurture in our teachers.
The last one, again, won’t surprise anyone in this room, we call this working relentlessly. I have not interviewed one of these great teachers where they haven’t said, “If I’m taking my big goal seriously, I just realize there’s not enough time in the day and not enough resources to get it done, so I…” and they go on to tell me about how they have gotten more time out of it without any more resources. These are teachers who have kids coming before school, after school. Sometimes there are Saturday classes. They’re applying for grants. The best is they’re squeezing time out of the time they have.
These are the teachers where taking 21 kids to the bathroom and back is a learning experience because they know that every second is precious, if they’re taking these big goals seriously.
I’m going to stop there. Let me just encourage you, I’ll come back to this later, but what I just did was fly over, at a high altitude, of our findings. We have taken these to much lower altitudes for our teachers. There’s a website called teachingisleadership.org —not surprisingly—where we have annotated videos of teachers doing all of this at every level of proficiency. So we have, you know, from the exemplary, but also the people who’re just having, or teachers just having, a really bad day/not doing this well, and everywhere in between—so we can help people grow on these ideas. I encourage you to see if any of that could be helpful. It’s just, you know, it’s… there’s no password or anything; it’s just available there. teachingisleadership.org .
I’m going to stop here and ask Andrea to help bridge. We’re going to just take the bridge over to what are some of the implications of all of this. And actually, while she’s speaking, I’ll put up that website—I hope this isn’t distracting or anything. But just to give you a sense of what you see there, you see on the left those six principles? If you were to click onto those, you get into a world of specific actions and videos and all of that kind of stuff.
[Stouder Pursley]: Thanks Steven. So, it’s a real honor to be here. My name is Andrea Stouder Pursley. I’m about a half hour away from here: Greenfield, Indiana—I grew up there. I went to college at Southern Methodist University, where I swam and went to school. Then Steven hired me for my first job about 10 years ago; and I taught 6th grade in a low-income school in South Phoenix for three years and then served on Teach for America staff for six years. Both in Phoenix. And then on our national Teacher Support and Development Team. I just started a new job at Arizona State University. Actually working, uh, running a division within the teachers college, trying to implement these concepts within a college of education. So, that’s who I am, uh, before I get started.
For the last six years I’ve had the opportunity to manage large groups of very impressive people, mostly in their young 20s. As Steven was saying, Teach for America is very selective; more selective than Harvard Law School. And we select for things like perseverance, leadership ability. And yet, so many of these extraordinary individuals experience failure for the first time at 22, 23, 24 years-old as teachers, and they have absolutely no idea how to deal with it and how to get back up.
I sat in these conversations with the best college graduates in the country, counseling them on how to really persevere in the face of a challenge. I love it: I love coaching young adults to learn how to do this. But in the back of my mind, and I can’t help it, I’m thinking: I think you played baseball in the league where everyone got a trophy. [laughter] You have gotten so much positive affirmation your entire life that you don’t understand how to get back up and recover from a set-back. I wish you had been a swimmer, then you would know.
So, if I may be so bold, I’d like to suggest that I think I’m speaking in front of a very, very important group of people. Whether you’re coaching Olympic hopefuls or 10&Unders, I think that you are in a position to shape the future by developing the now very-rare capabilities of perseverance and the ability to recover from setbacks; leading a life of discipline, and making an explicit and incontrovertible connection between effort and outcomes. So, I hope you’re feeling important, because I really think that you are.
And with that, I’m going to actually dive in a little bit further onto the first principles that Steven talked about, which are setting big goals and investing students and their families. So, there are two main points to setting big goals, and I want to say what they are up front so you can follow the organization of this. So the first is that I think there is a perceived tension, both in teaching and coaching, between doing what it takes to win and doing what it takes to positively influence the lives of young people. We found that our best teachers do both simultaneously, and that by pairing quantitative and qualitative goals they actually get better results.
And then second, our best, the… the students of our best teachers can tell you exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, every moment of the day, in relation to their goal. So, you’ll know your goals are working when they are a litmus test for everything you do. Consider for a moment that setting goals for swimmers and measuring whether or not you achieve them was a complicated science. Imagine that at the end of a race, a group of coaches got together to determine through dialogue who the winner was instead of using a functioning timing system with touch pads. And the coaches disagreed and not even because they were backing their own swimmers. So let’s say this is a 50 freestyle. The first coach thinks that underwaters and breakouts are the most important thing; so whoever has the best underwaters is the winner. The second coach thinks that starts are most important, particularly in sprints, and whoever gets off the blocks first is the winner. The third coach thinks that effective body position and stroke rate makes a great swimmer, so whoever exhibits those skills during the race is the winner. And the last coach says whoever finishes first wins, and everyone else thinks he’s out of his mind.
So, you’ve just entered into the convoluted world of measuring outcomes in education: welcome. The reason that it is hard to set big goals quantitatively for student learning is because there are so many competing opinions, laws, structures, guidance about what and even whether learning can or should be measured, quantitatively. Our best teachers measure learning quantitatively. Teach for America has invested millions of dollars, and a lot of smart people’s time, in figuring out the nitty-gritty of what makes a good qualitative goal at every grade level, ever subject area, every state. So that we can declare at the end of the year, at the end of the lesson, at the end of the week, whether or not we were successful. So they put the touch pads in place, and they simultaneously build a vision and a measure for what hitting that touchpad first will mean in the life of a child.
For swim coaches and swimmers, this is far less complicated; and it is elegant in its simplicity. What was your best time last season? How much do you want to improve? How hard are you willing to train? And does that match the goal that you just said out loud to me in this conversation?
One thing that I really appreciated about my training at SMU was my annual pool meeting with my coach, Steve Collins. I’d go in the fist week of school and tell him what I wanted to accomplish. He’d respond and we’d make a training plan that aligned with the goals we had set. Because we were both clear on what my goals were for the season, I was confident that we were on the same page, and building a training plan and working hard at that training plan for the same purpose. I think that there is, however, a drawback to simplicity and purity of goal setting in swimming; and that is that it doesn’t necessitate the level of wrestling with what is meaningful for each kid—each young adult. The growth and development of reaching toward the human potential of every person for which you are responsible.
You look at the previous results, which are clear, to the hundredth of a second. You look at the cuts for the various meets, and you determine what’s ambitious and feasible. Done and done. So, what are qualitative goals, and what’s the point in this very refreshing world of black and white. Let me give you two examples of goals. One where the qualitative goal is good and the quantitative goal is bad; and then one where the quantitative goal is good and the qualitative goal is bad.
So, first, Antonio in Atlanta: a 7th-grade teacher who had a great vision but a bad goal. Antonio was an impressive, young core member from a low-income community who beat-the-odds of the education system he grew up in. As a result of his experience, he appropriately saw himself as an important example for his students, and particularly his African-American boys. So he spent a ton of time investing in them: he coached multiple sports—not swimming, sorry—sponsored multiple clubs and basically lived at school. His qualitative vision for his students was that they would be inspired by his example, understand his obvious commitment to them and be motivated to do something better in their lives. This is a good qualitative goal.
However, Antonio was so busy with this that he didn’t set a goal for what student learning would look like. There was no quantitative goal; no instructional plan. And when I met with him and said, “Antonio, what do you want these kids to know at the end of the year?” He couldn’t answer the question.
I admired his vision for inspiring, demonstrating commitment to and motivating his students. But the fact was that they were in 7th grade, and they were in a school where 3 out of 10 African-American boys were not going to graduate from high school and less than 1 in 20 was going to go to college. And I set down in front of him and I said: “Antonio, when these kids get to the point where they have a couple of options, hard labor or… or a life without a job, do you really think they’re going to look back and say, ‘Thank God I had an inspiring 7th grade teacher.’ They’re not. You’re setting them up to fail. It’s unfair. This doesn’t work. You can’t sit and lecture about being a good person, being motivated, without actually teaching kids how to achieve.”
So my counter example here is a 5th-grade team in Miami, where they had a great quantitative goal and a bad qualitative goal. A common goal among Teach for America core members is for students to master 80% of the grade-level content as demonstrated by rigorous content assessments. This is an ambitious goal, and a good goal. And for most of our teachers, it means that students are improving several grade-levels in one year. So, I saw the 80% goal on the wall. I saw the poster with a tracking system, and I thought, good, good: these teachers are on a mission, they’re in control. We know whether or not students are going to be successful at the end of the year.
So I met with the teachers over lunch, and I asked if they were confident that their students were on-track to meet their goals. They said yes. However, when I started asking questions about the meaning of their goal in their students’ lives, they became very uncomfortable. It turns out that these were remedial 5th-grade students, and they were on a path to be in a remedial 6th-grade class where a new remedial program started. Unless they scored a 90% on the state test, they were going to go into this remedial class.
I went and sat in the remedial 6th-grade class to figure out what it was all about and saw 12 year-olds chanting: c-at, cat; d-og, dog. This was an academic death sentence for these kids. They were absolutely not going to continue how to learn, how to read, how to grow; they were not going to be able to go anywhere from here. And because the goal was 80%, and the cut-off was 90%, this was an unfair goal: these teachers were setting these kids up to believe that they had succeeded and putting them in a system to fail. So, in both of these cases, the incomplete vision-setting of the teacher was profoundly unfair to children.
And the stakes of swimming may be different than they are in classrooms, but they are equally high. I think that it is equally important to get the vision-setting and the goal-setting correct in one aligned vision. So, what does that mean? What does that look like?
For me, as a college athlete, I didn’t set an explicit quanti-… qualitative goal for myself. I knew I wanted to go a 2:16.50 in the 200 breaststroke—which used to be fast, and no, it isn’t now. [laughter] That was my goal. So, certainly my quantitative goals were aligned with this value that I had. I didn’t say it out loud, but my value was that I wanted to be a valuable part of my team; I wanted to be a valuable part of a top Division I program. But if I’d been forced, I probably would have said: “Here… here’s how I’ll know whether or not I’ve met this vision. One, I want to get to a fitness level where warm-up and… recovery workouts are not an anaerobic and very difficult exercise for me. Um, two, I want to be the… unequal but believe the best person on the team for dryland. Three, I want to play a leadership role on the team in recruiting. And four, I want to contribute to a positive team culture based on every person improving. And while Steve and I didn’t write this down, he understood that this was very, very important to me.
So, when at the end of my sophomore year, I herniated two discs in the weight room, my swimming career changed. I continued swimming with lots of physical therapy for over a year, but I was eventually no longer medically allowed, uh, to train or compete as captain my senior year. So, because being a valuable part of the team and a good captain mattered to me, I did get satisfaction out of the opportunity to coach that year. And especially to coach Flavia Rigamonti for two workouts per week on my own. When she won the NCAA title in the mile, I believed that I had been a valuable contributor to a top Division I program.
I have to admit that I’ve absolutely never gotten over the fact that I didn’t make it to NCAAs or meet my quantitative goals as a swimmer. Actually that’s not true: I did go 2:16.50, but that year it took 2:16.49—so, I was a first alternate. Never… well, but I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute as a valuable member of a top Division I program.
So, if I didn’t have the quantitative goals, this would be a total cop-out. Like goals for someone who doesn’t want to be held accountable to a real goal. Like how I felt when I talked to Antonio in Atlanta. But I did have a quantitative goal, and I did take it seriously. This was about who I wanted to be as a swimmer and how I wanted to reach my goals, while also contributing to a team that arguably didn’t need a breaststroker who didn’t even make it to NCAAs. Wow, you may think, this is pretty subjective. I would say: it is; it’s subjective, it’s personal. And it was the source of my motivation to hit a quantitative goal as a swimmer.
So, what do your swimmers need? What are they interested in? How does that tie-to the goals that they set for themselves and in-concert with you? How can knowing these things, working toward leadership development with your swimmers, build toward a richer, more meaningful and clearer role as a mentor in the lives of the human beings who trust you to help them become better?
There’s not a toolkit for qualitative goal setting. It’s about what matters to you as a leader and what is relevant in the life and development of your swimmers. And it’s absolutely not about compromising your pursuit of a quantitative goal. So, do you believe that you are in a position to fundamentally challenge what swimmers and their families believe is possible for them? I think that you are.
I have one example in my… in my very-short career as a swimmer of the implicit qualitative goal of a coach. I don’t think I’ve ever had a swimming experience with a coach who had an explicit goal that was about the swimmers rather than the swimming; but I think that most coaches hold those ideals implicitly. My club coach my senior year in high school, Andy Peterson, seemed to operate with a goal that all of his swimmers would go to college. He spent enormous amounts of time and energy and money taking the senior team on college training trips over the summer. And many of the swimmers went to the colleges that we went to on the trips. In my own life, I’m really forever indebted to him for finding a way for me to go to a top program.
I imagine that most of you have aspirations for your swimmers as people and your teams as units. I encourage you to say them out loud, write them down, communicate what they are and measure your progress towards them. So, if this is still seeming subjective, I’ve made a couple of potential examples, and I’m sure that they’re flawed; but I wanted to share them just to see if this would be helpful in sort of thinking this through.
Example #1: This year our club team will rediscover their limits and discover that they are capable of a much higher level of intensity and training. We will measure this rediscovery through specific training goals for every swimmer that are each above and beyond what they have accomplished before. Long-term, this will translate for swimmers on our team into an ability to face challenges that at first seem beyond their capabilities.
Example #2: This year our senior club team will behave like elite athletes inside and outside of the pool. We will measure this through: setting clear goals for running, maintaining an effective training diet, maintaining effective sleep habits, and tracking improvement in their ability… in their training ability. Long-term, this will translate for swimmers into an ability to become elite athletes; time-management skills in pursuit of effective leader, sleep habits and lifelong healthy habits.
Final example: This year our college team is going to define excellence for athletic teams at our university. We will measure this through improving our GPA by 0.9 points, to have the highest GPA of any athletic team on our campus. We will maintain full eligibility of our team. We will decrease the incidence of swimmers getting in trouble for any reason to two or fewer. And we will maintain professional online networking habits. 97% of our team will graduate and either be gainfully employed, in graduate school or swimming professionally within five years. Long-term this will translate for swimmers into an ability to be successful in a professional setting and to meet their goals as young adults.
So, the second point of this is: how will you know that your goals are working? The quantitative big goal; the qualitative big goal, the whole vision: how do you know? I think there’s the obvious answer, that your swimmers met their goal, right? They go their best times; they go the times that you set at the beginning of the season. The other, I think, is that your goal is a litmus test for every single thing that your swimmers do, and they know why they’re doing every single thing that they do. So, two or three years ago, I had the privilege of serving as Teach for America’s Vice President of Teacher Support and Development, which meant that I was responsible for the quality and consistency in learning in 18 of our 28 cities. So, basically what this meant was that I flew from city-to-city, with a lot of data in-hand, and went into classrooms and made a judgment-call about whether or not I thought the class was on-track to meet their goals.
So if you try to translate this into swimming terms: your job is to fly around the country, go to a practice, and then decide whether-or-not you think that coach and his/her swimmers are going to meet their goal that year. Why and how you would intervene.
So, to be clear: I was not always right; I was often wrong. But I was right more often than you would think. And here’s what I did. I asked students what their goal was, where they were performing in relation to the goal, and why that was important to them. In case you think your swimmers are too young or too unsophisticated to do this, here’s a real example from my experience in a kindergarten classroom in 2008.
Jaemella, a kindergartner in Jacksonville, got up, walked away from the carpet as her classmates were sitting listening to the teacher read out-loud. She couldn’t contain her energy and she just couldn’t sit there any longer, and so she walked over to what seemed to be a learning station and started working with numbered blocks. I took the opportunity to go talk to her. “Hi! What are you doing over here?” “I’m practicing the ABC… ABC pattern with numbered blocks.” “Why?” “Because I haven’t mastered it yet, duh!” “Well, why are you trying to master it?” “Well, because we have a goal of mastering 7 major 1st-grade objectives this year, and I haven’t gotten this one mastered yet.” “How do you know?” “Well, let me show you. This chart on the wall, I’ve mastered 6. But I haven’t mastered this one, so I haven’t gotten a sticker yet, which means this is what I’m supposed to work on when I can’t sit still.” “Okay… well, why is that your goal?” “Well, the first graders in our school last year didn’t do very well in math. And so we want to do kindergarten and the major 1st-grade math standard this year, so that together… at the same time… so that next year when, um, I have to go to 1st grade, I already know most of the 1st-grade standards so when I go to 2nd grade, I’m on track.” “Oh, well, why do you want to be ready for 2nd grade?” “Uh, it’s important so that I’ll be ready for college on time. Do you want me to teach you how to do the ABC… ABC pattern? Or are you just going to keep talking to me all day?”
So… [laughter] clearly, the quantitative goal was to master all kindergarten and 7 of the 1st-grade standards. The quail-… qualitative goal was to be ready for 2nd grade and by extension to be ready for college. For context, this is not a community where college as an expectation, but it was for this group of kindergartners. They met their goal, and I thought Jaemella and her class would meet their goal because it was a litmus test for everything that they did. They understood everything that they did in relation to that goal. They weren’t learning, they weren’t doing work for their teacher; they did it to meet their goal and they understood why. Even Jaemella when she couldn’t sit any longer—which I think might have been a lot of the time—left the carpet and went to go work on the skill that she needed to master to meet her goal. She was 5 years-old. This is possible. Can your swimmers articulate as clearly as 5-year-old Jaemella why they are doing what they are doing at every moment, moment-by-moment-basis in-relation to their goals?
Okay. I’m going to skip a little bit—I think we’re going too long. So, I’m going to go to investing swimmers and their families. And this is the shorter section, and then I’ll turn it over to Steven.
I’m wondering if anyone out there has ever had the experience of noticing that your swimmers, parents or friends influencers—as we call them at Teach for America—aren’t as invested in the season’s goals as you are? Will you raise your hadn’t if you’ve ever had that experience. Great. I thought I might be in good company. So, I’m sure that there are a number of reasons why this might be true, but one thing that strikes me as a likely barrier is the fact that swimming is actually quite hard. Parents of serious swimmers start to wonder why their kid doesn’t pick a sport with three practices a week, four months out of the year, and learn the same life lessons. They see all of the things that their kid, or their friend, is giving up to be a swimmer and they might just bring those things up in a moment of commitment vulnerability after a bad race.
So, in a world where the 22, 23, 24 year-olds that I worked with were confronted very seriously with setbacks for the first times in their lives as professionals, the effort and clarity of results in swimming, I think, is counter-cultural. A set of numeric goals and your passion as a leader matter, but to really invest swimmers and their influencers today I think you need more. My experience investing 6th-grade students who read, wrote and did math on a 2nd-grade level to voluntarily extend their school day and attend school on Saturday was pretty tricky too. Especially because many of their parents—who deeply love their children and wanted the best for them—didn’t see an obvious connection between hard work and success.
My students matriculated into a high school that, at the time, had a 70% drop-out rate in the freshman year; the valedictorian didn’t graduate with the pre-requisites necessary to apply to a state college in Arizona. So, making a dramatic effort in school was also counter-cultural in a system where effort did not lead to success. Our best teachers make a value-added argument to their students and families, and then they collaborate with them to reach the goal. I made the argument that if my students could get to 6th-grade level by the end of that year, they’d have a shot at getting into a good high school and then later getting into college.
I researched high school and college scholarships for minority students, and organizations offering those scholarships came and spoke to my kids. And I found a few successful people from the community who had beat-the-odds themselves. The truth was that if my students didn’t improve between three and four grade levels in 6th grade, they just weren’t going to make it. 9-out-of-10 of them just were not going to make it. It’s an unfair pressure for an 11 year-old, but it was reality. It may be different, but there are clear and compelling value-added arguments for the very hard work of training to be good or elite swimmers too.
Once you have your quantitative and qualitative goal and your argument, the following three strategies to collaborate with families are what we found the most successful with our teachers—and they are very simple.
First, assume personal responsibility for family involvement. So, if you host an event and the family doesn’t come, determine why not. Pick a new strategy and keep going. Assume personal responsibility for getting the parents, the friends, the influencers of your swimmers involved and invested in the idea that it matters for them to achieve their goals.
Second, recognize the contributions of swimmers’ families. Whatever those contributions may be, if you recognize them publically, they’ll be more invested in helping you to reach your goals.
And then the third, is to communicate with students’ families and to communicate very clearly with regards to the goal, both quantitative and qualitatively, and the progress toward it.
So, to conclude, these thoughts on these couple of pieces that are easily applicable to coaching, I just want to acknowledge that most of you are probably doing these things to one extent or another already—you’re experts and you’re very good at your jobs. Many of our teachers exhibited some of these habits as well, and a few of them demonstrated many of them.
But it wasn’t until we codified them and trained them to plan to exhibit these habits, that the quality of instruction and the goal achievement went up across the board. It takes a significant level of discipline and intentionality to do this. And while the model seems pretty straight forward, really planning in this way is not simple.
So, with that, I’m going to turn it back over to Steven for some more high-level thoughts on how to apply this all to your work. [applause]
[SF]: Thanks Andrea. Uh, I do want to ask now, so that… you know, we sort of put stuff on the table and, um, I wish I could sort of be in people’s heads to understand where people are thinking this is relevant or not. But let me… let me step back sort-of, in conclusion, in a way.
One of the benefits of being in a room with people you probably aren’t going to see again is you can kind of be provocative. And I’m going to… I was trying to think about this: What are the ways… and I spent a lot of time thinking about myself in the classroom. I… I taught for a while and then studied effective teaching for years, and so every time I think of myself in the classroom, it’s kind of a cringe moment, right? And I don’t know where the people in this room are, but I’m willing to bet—given my experience studying people who are working hard to shape other people’s lives—that there are some patterns worth provoking here.
This all starts, as we began, with the word leadership. I want to go back to this idea that doing any effort at a good level means one thing. And I think, when I think about good coaches and good teaching, I think it’s easy to say: well, there’s not really a pattern there. But I do think when we think about great teaching and great coaching, there are patterns. And it comes down to these leadership principles. It is at a higher level than: which workout are you using? You know, Brian [Andrea’s husband] was helping me with this idea earlier. You can take—we do this with teachers—take two teachers or two coaches, give them the same plan, and if you could magically give them the same kids, you will get different results. Why is that? What happens? It is about whether these teachers are bringing the goals; they’re investing students, they’re planning backwards—all of the things we are talking about.
And, I want to share, for a moment, kind-of where the frontier of our knowledge development at Teach for America is. What are we studying right now? What are the hard questions? I think it’s a bunch of places. But one of them is: what are the underlying mindsets in a teacher or coach that facilitate leadership? What is it that they’re bringing? How are they seeing the world at a deeper level? And there’s two things I want to point out; three, actually.
First, again, they define leadership in a certain way. I’m a little self-conscious: I know, there’s a bunch of people in here who study leadership and talk about it a lot. I know there’s a lot of different ways to define it. First thing I want to say is: I believe we have to define leadership not as a role, not as a fact, that people will do what you tell them. Leadership is getting other people to achieve ambitious goals because they want to. The ‘because they want to’ makes ‘ambitious’ real. You get further when your team wants it in the same way you do, and that is really what leadership is.
So starting with that premise, what are these teachers doing? What are their mindsets that allow them to work on this. I want to talk about two things: One is called locus of control. The second is high expectations. ‘Locus of control’ is a phrase I’d never heard of until about a few years ago; this is a psychologist phrase. Having a strong internal locus of control means that when you run into challenges, your mind goes first to what you can do about them, instead of what are the reasons those challenges are holding you back. Some people argue that this is just innate: some people are born with a more internal locus of control and more external. I’m not sure I believe that. I believe that if we talk about this, then we can develop this. But here’s the provocative hypothesis: what we see in our best teachers is they have a strong internal locus of control.
When a lot of people would walk into that classroom where it’s… the air conditioner doesn’t work, it’s 90º, and the copier doesn’t work. And you’re thinking: there’s a lot of reasons for this teacher to tell me what he or she cannot do. I walk into that classroom and the teacher is telling the kids: the heat can’t keep us from thinking. And they’re going after it. They are thinking about what’s in their control, and they’re going after it. So, are you a coach who when things aren’t going well is first thinking: “Well, it’s because the kids… this.”; “It’s because the parents … this”. Or are you a coach, or are you a teacher, who’s thinking: here’s what I could have done differently to be sure it happened.
I believe deeply that that fork-in-the-road has a lot to do with the difference between our good and great teachers. And our… what we’re trying to understand is ‘how’: how do we develop that locus of control. But for this room, I think it’s a question worth reflecting on: how do you respond to challenges? Do you think about what you can do about them? Do you think about what is in your control? Or do you first think about what’s not in your control?
And the second one: high expectations. Um, I’m sure you all have heard the phrase: self-fulfilling prophesy of high expectations. There is some temptation to think of that as sort-of this weird, you know, ‘mystical’, astrology stuff. I got to tell you, this is… this is real—a real phenomenon. Let me tell you about a study—it’s a little bit complicated, but I’ll see if I can articulate it verbally.
There was a school, and a group of Harvard researchers showed up at the school. And they said to the teachers: “Hey teachers! We’ve come up with this test that predicts whether kids are going to be successful in college, and we want to give it to your kids.” The teachers said: “Great.” The Harvard researchers came in, took all the kids to the cafeteria, shut the door and supposedly gave them a test. But they didn’t. What they did is generate random lists of kids: kids that they were going to tell the teachers passed that test, and kids they were going to tell the teachers didn’t pass the test.
Then, all the kids come out. They tell the teachers, “Here on your roster: these are the kids that passed the high potential test and here are the kids that didn’t.” Keep in mind they didn’t take any test. This was truly random. Guess what IQ tests showed at the end of the year? The kids who were on the list of this fake test actually performed higher on IQ tests than the kids who weren’t on the list.
That blows my mind, the fact that whether-or-not the teachers believed, had that potential, had a real impact on, how much they learned, is absolutely crucial to what we’re doing. This is not because, oh, there was some kind of positive energy emanating from these teachers. It was because in their micro-interactions with those kids, day-in and day-out, they treated kids that they thought were going to be successful different from kids that they thought weren’t. I think that this is huge for the business that we’re all in.
How do you put your mind in a place of the teacher who believes that their kids have the potential without going through the silly research?. They’ve now done this in every area: nurses, doctors, coaches, teachers—it always plays out. If a… if the leader believes the people have the potential, then they succeed more. You know, this…
I’m going to close with sort-of a personal story; something of a mid-life crisis I’m in at the moment. You know, we know that high expectation is fundamental to our teachers success. This was, now, almost four years ago…. There was a, a group of teachers that took a group of kids on a college trip. Let me just tell you the story, and I’ll explain why this turns kind of personal.
There’s a little town in Texas—I doubt anyone in here has heard of it, much less been there—it’s called Roma, Texas. It is on the Rio Grande river, on the border with Mexico. It is not much bigger than this hotel. It is in one of the poorest counties in the country, and many of the families are migrant workers. Can you imagine? This is actually dirt roads; this is an area where many of the neighborhoods are called colonias. These are areas where unscrupulous landowners have a field of sugar cane and they say: “Okay, I’m going to mow down the sugar cane and anyone who wants to give me this amount of money can find a plot out there and build a house.”—there’s no drainage, there’s no electricity, there’s no water, there’s no infrastructure. There are families who are trying to make it in America; who are, when they come back from working in the fields, following the harvest with the attitude of, you know, down the United States. Some of these houses, they are actually brick, this high, and then there are 10 above that, because that’s how much the family’s been able to afford as they are building their houses.
These are the kids I taught. I wasn’t in Roma, but I know Roma is down the highway from where I was. Ten years ago, no kids went to college from Roma, virtually. We have been pouring teachers in there at a pretty good clip with the charge: we’ve got to be talking about college. It’s not that these kids are dumb; it’s… they have the potential. We’ve just got to have high expectations going in there.
And here’s how this story sort of came back to me. This is years after I had left the Rio Grande Valley. There were some teachers in Roma who were saying: “Well, you know what? If we’re going to go to college prep, we’re going to do it right. We’re going to take our kids to Harvard. They worked all-year raising money from friends. They sold a lot of nachos on Friday nights at football games, and they raised $20,000 to take these kids to Harvard.
Our Teach for America community kind-of rallied around this, and there’s a guy… we had a staff member at Harvard whose job was recruiting Harvard students to become teachers for us—his name is Josh Beiber. And he heard that these Roma kids were coming, and so he said: “I’ve got a great idea. I’m trying to recruit these college students to be teachers; you’re trying to get these high school students to want to go to college. We’re going to bring them together. We’re going to put the Roma students in front of the college students, and have the Roma students tell these college students what they want in a teacher. And I bet this is going to help get me some good recruits.”
So they’re in a room, not much different from this. The Roma students are up here, the Harvard students are here; and Josh says: “First Harvard students, would you please introduce yourselves. Just tell us your name, your major and when you’re going to graduate; and they go down the line. ‘I’m so and so, I’m studying romantic languages and I’m going to graduate from Harvard in 2010.’ ‘I’m so and so, I’m in organic chemistry and I’m going to graduate in whatever year.’ Gets to the end and the next kid there, it is a Roma student. And he stands up. And says, “I’m Humberto Anis, and I’m going to graduate from Harvard in 2014.” [laughter]
And the room, much like us, laughs and claps and cheers. And he says, “No, really. Mr. Blatner has me reading Kafka.” And he pulls out [The] Metamorphosis, and he’s like showing them that he’s doing this, and everyone is very excited. I remember thinking: that’s just, you know, that’s a fantastic story; it really is a fantastic story.
I was recently doing some research for a book, and I wrote Josh and said, “Remember when that kid stood up and did that?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And a couple… (and I know it’s rude to look at my Blackberry, but there’s something I want to show you.) A couple of weeks later I got an e-mail. This is (let me see, where do I have it printed to?) This is… this is from, um, June 16th—after I asked about that kid. Here’s the e-mail: “Hello Steven,”—this is from Humberto. “First of all, sorry it’s taken me a long time to respond. I’m currently taking two physics classes. I’ll be a junior at Harvard this coming academic year; I am concentrating in economics and fulfilling my pre-med requirements. With this I plan to graduate with an M.D., MBA in the future, and practice medicine for a while and then maybe go into health care or hospital management. Junior year should be a tough year since I’ll be taking the hardest economics requirements and organic chemistry during the Fall. I will just have to work extra hard!” (Exclamation point.) “Either way, I digress. Harvard has been amazing and I do not regret choosing Harvard and never will: it’s given me so much. Friends more like family, great opportunities, knowledge, et cetera. In fact, because of Harvard resources, I studied abroad in Venus… in Venice, Italy last summer, and will be implementing a water purification system in an indigenous village in Bolivia probably next summer.” I’m not making this up. “Well I hope all is well with you guys. I’d love to get together sometime. Best, Humberto. P.S.: I’m undecided on whether I should take time-off after graduating from Harvard before med school, but if I do, I’m considering joining Teach for America.”
I was knocked over when I got this e-mail, because I realized that when Humberto stood up at Harvard and said, “I will graduate in 2014”, I didn’t believe him for a second. I thought it was cute. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this because if there’s any prerequisite for my job, it is having high expectations of kids from poor communities. And here I was talking about that, day-in and day-out, and I didn’t believe it.
I recently had a chance—I was back in the Valley—chance to talk to Humberto. I’m sure he, uh—poor kid—has no idea he sort of triggered this midlife crisis in me. And, you know, I’m wanting to apologize to him. But it’s made me think a lot about the following: high expectations cannot be set and not nurtured. There are natural, over-time, degradations to those high expectations—externally and internally. And what it makes me think about, frankly, is that experience, for all of its value, has a negative side. Experience gives us judgment, but with experience comes complacency. And this… I carry this e-mail around from Humberto to remind myself that it is work to maintain high expectations of kids when you’re working with them day-in and day-out. But I think it’s incumbent on us to do so, because we know that’s what it takes.
I think that the implications of, well, the Humberto story in all this, for this room, are actually pretty clear. I think that you all as coaches have such an opportunity. As Andrea was talking about, the personal traits that the experts are telling us lead to successful and happy lives, you get to build in-spades with swimming. Like perseverance, and grit, and self confidence. These ideas more than any particular time, that’s the fodder of good coaching, of great coaching and of great teaching. And I guess I’d love for people to walk out of the room, asking yourselves whether you are living up to that with your swimmers. Who do you believe and want your swimmers to be five years and ten years from now.
Are you shouldering the heavy responsibility of that opportunity, fulfilling their potential? Who are the Humbertos on your team who your expectations have slid for? I really… I have two reasons that I think this is so hugely important. One is very selfish, and that is: I want to be recruiting your swimmers to Teach for America. And, you know, Andrea said that I selected her. This isn’t a joke: I want swimmers. Um, I know if someone is a successful swimmer they have self discipline. They have felt… they have been to the wall of failure and they have worked through it. And I think more than anything else, I can think about, having been a swimmer myself, I think that that is hugely important, for my little world of finding leaders who are going to help solve the problem we’re trying to solve. But more broadly than that, I think that those are the leaders we need in the world, given all the problems that we see.
Um, I—forgive me if that sounds a little bit cheesy—but I honestly believe the future is tough, and what we need are people who have built their perseverance, their grit, the resiliency, the self-discipline—all the things that come out of great coaching—so that they can help us solve all the problems we’re facing.
Thank you very, very much for having us here today; I really appreciate it. [applause]
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