Phil, Please, Not Donald

“I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business”
– Donald Trump

In most sport, winning requires outer aggression and inner calm, unlikely companions. And not just from the competitors. The winning coach embodies a ferocious equanimity.

The iconic, retired NBA coach Phil Jackson understands this.

And, for a team to achieve a successful common goal, Jackson understands that the leader must optimize the skills of every team member. “After placing individuals in positions that fully realize their potential, he secures harmony among them by giving them all credit for their distinctive achievements,” Jackson quotes from a Chinese fable in his Sacred Hoops. No coach does it alone; the strengths of every player combine to achieve the victory.

Within the concept of a team — not of a corporation — leadership of a school’s learning processes will find its most apt guide. Team as school leaders lead teachers. Team as teachers teach learners.

The best leaders and teachers, like the best coaches, seek to educate a wider, deeper sense of the human than simply the skill set necessary to the task. In a successful school, richer human development and defined skill set development require one another.

Improving at rebounding a basketball, the skills of how to position one’s feet, arms, and center of gravity as one prepares to leap for the ball, is important to the player’s development; learning a ferocious equanimity while others elbow, swat, and push you for the ball is as necessary. For a student in an American History class, for example, learning the people, places, and events, much less the notable causes and effects behind the facts, may require greater note-taking and organizational skill strategies, as well as a huge growth in human perseverance; for the American History teacher, learning why students struggle may require a wider array of teaching strategies, but also a nuanced understanding of why some students may feel culturally disinvested.

In the profound struggle that is the act of learning, successful schools position the whole human child as the center through a humanist forest-creates-context-for-the-leaves; in understandable contrast, humanism is not the first obligation of successful corporations — profit is. Profit is measured in numbers; the cognitive, social, and emotional development of humans cannot possibly be reduced to numbers, no matter how tempting or how long our society has been trying to do so.

And we’ve been trying for quite a while now. For at least two decades, our society has been centering its educational policy around those elusive numbers. Intensely, we intensify and intensify our attempts to pursue those numbers, all the while moving further and further away from a positive valuing of the humans, child and adult, who populate our public schools.

In an iconic attempt to intensely invigorate the capaciities of its schools, Chicago recently overlooked “the teachings” of its most successful coach, Phil Jackson, for those in the world of Donald Trump. Last fall, principals of Chicago Public Schools were offered $5,000 to $10,000 incentives to improve the numbers at their schools. Not to improve the human development of the humans, just the numbers. Not incentives for the teams, just the CEOs.

Today, using discrete skill numbers, our society largely views its educators as deficits in the learning process, not “individuals [put] in positions that fully realize their potential.” Our society’s key strategy to propagate its knowledge and values into the future, public education, cannot possibly succeed while viewing its educators as deficits. Educators must be understood as valued players on the team.

In successful schools, leadership coaches teachers toward common, humanist, and measurable goals; leadership does not act as CEO of discrete numbers. In successful schools, leadership develops teachers’ (once they have been selected for the team) individual and combined aptitudes toward the common goal; leadership does not marginalize its team from the rewards due to the team. In successful schools, leadership shares responsibility for success and failure; leadership cannot climb imagined corporate ladders of bonuses and incentives.

And, perhaps most emblematic, in successful schools, child and adult humans are not motivated by the equivalent of Donald’s “You’re fired.” They are motivated by team glory, like seeing an entire high school class enroll in 9th grade, realize their potentials while graduating honorably, and attend worthy colleges.

Wisely, after the bonus shot went up, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, with a ferocious equanimity, grabbed the rebound, telling their bosses No, thank you, “raising student achievement is a team effort.”