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Wisdom From Wooden

via Wisdom From Wooden

When I first read John Wooden‘s book They Call Me Coach, I had coached hockey for several years. I was not a teacher yet. I liken his work to Robert Greenleaf‘s servant-leadership. It is about the quality of relationships, leadership, and how people (in)form their character, which are ineffable and indefinable.

Wooden wrote about character, leadership, and what success is and is not, and this influenced how I coached and taught. I shifted from a sage on the stage to a guide on the side more often, focusing on what it meant to be on a team and in a school setting as a teacher and student. I focused on a question: “What do we want to be remembered for as a group?”At the heart of teaching are the quality of relationships we have with our students and players.

Pedagogy and educate come from Greek and Latin words meaning to lead children and youth into adulthood. It is not about winning, losing, or win-win formulae that delude us into missing the qualities of various pedagogic roles.

Wooden’s former basketball players at UCLA, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Wooden called him Lew Alcindor even after his name change), and Gail Goodrich speak about how he coached around character and how one played, rather than winning and losing.

In the capitalist and materialistic society we live in, including schools where we compete for marks, not focusing on a win-lose mentality is challenging. Despite challenges, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment when I succeeded and told players and students how they improved as a person. When I meet former players and students, we often talk about the quality of relationships that emerged from those settings.

Tina provides three of Wooden’s quotes related to character and leadership. Regardless of the quote, I find there is what I like to call “uncommon common sense” embedded in the axioms. Wooden also provided what he called The Pyramid of Success, which is below copied from his official site.

Wooden-Pyramid-of-Success

Greenleaf’s best test for servant-leadership is equally as daunting to define and focuses about questions related to the quality of relationships and character formation.

“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

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Think Different

This poem, writen by Rob Siltanen, was part of an early Apple advertising campaign. He was a creative director for the company.

It stands out for me, because it echoed a phrase that emerged from my dissertation: “Differences make a difference.” It is in difference we discover what makes us each exceptional. Without the differences, we blend into an indistinguishable mass mere copies of one another. Worse yet, we might only copy the worst of the people we see succeeding.

The poem reminds of the Michelangelo quote: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

To be a teacher, is to inspire and allow each student to discover who they are. It is to be mindful and sensitive to what makes each of them different. It is to both serve and lead at the same time. It is to be different one’s self, as a teacher. How else could a teacher inspire?

The misfits.

The rebels.

The troublemakers.

The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules.

And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,

glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.

Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.

They explore. They create. They inspire.

They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?

Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?

Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

And while some may see them as the crazy ones,

While we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think

they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

 

Character of Teaching

While having tea in a small coffee shop I inhabit, I jotted down the beginnings of a poem.

A phrase that repeated itself in my dissertation and the interviews was “differences make a difference.” When I began teaching, people asked “what made me go into teaching, particularly at 32 years of age.” It was the sentiment that I might make a difference, maybe not for every student, but for some. It reminds me of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song: Teach Your Children Well, but it is more than teaching. It is serving them and whatever I do well.

Someday, whether we are teachers or not, we feel a desire to be lost. Responsibilities weigh on us whether we are parents, at our work, partners in a relationship, etc. In our relationships with the weight of responsibilities, something calls us each back. It is more of a whisper. It can only belong to each of us. Teaching was this way for me.

I experience a desire to be lost,

Weighing down on me,

Responsibilities cloak me like a vapour

Covering me with their many coats,

They arrive without being asked.

From the multitude, one desire arises;

A clarion call from the cosmos,

It carresses my soul;

It whispers “be useful and kind.”

A flower sharing its pollen,

Spread on the wings of others;

Teach what is possible–

What is possible of each of us?

Save them from glory seekers and profiteers;

Gently, send them away

Pollinating a new generation,

Flowering anew with compassion,

Rejoice as they float around the corner,

Knowing not what they will sow,

Trusting your character.

I took this picture on the upper reaches of the Fraser River. Around the corner from Kathy, the river narrows quickly and there is a waterfall.

Lie Down

Nancy Paddock wrote this wonderful poem about letting go and just being in the world and not separate from it. I loved her imagery created in getting me down to ground level where we can live differently.

When I am at ground level, I am in the world and not outside and over it. I spend time in sabbatical wandering uncharted territory. This theme is emerging in my dissertation where I compare teaching to a hermeneutic exploration of the classroom, it participants, and living topics like a rich, textured landscape we navigate relationally. At ground level, teachers encounter, interpret, and understand a particular world that is their teaching and no one else’s teaching.

Parker Palmer has a quote about teachers using technique until the real teacher shows up. It takes time and patience; togetherness and solitude to bring this about. As I write and read, I think about what that meant and means to me as a particular teacher who is still coming to be in new ways particular to me.

Lie down with your belly to the ground,
like an old dog in the sun. Smell
the greenness of the cloverleaf, feel the damp
earth through your clothes, let an ant
wander the uncharted territory
of your skin. Lie down
with your belly to the ground. Melt into
the earth’s contours like a harmless snake.
All else is mere bravado.
Let your mind resolve itself
in a tangle of grass.
Lie down with your belly
to the ground, flat out, on ground level.
Prostrate yourself before the soil
you will someday enter.
Stop doing.
Stop judging, fearing, trying.
This is not dying, but the way to live
in a world of change and gravity.
Let go. Let your burdens drop.
Let your grief-charge bleed off
into the ground.
Lie down with your belly to the ground
and then rise up
with the earth still in you.

Life’s Purpose

Professional development days at school leave me wanting so much more. It is a pretense of doing something, but is busyness personified. I am left tired, unsatisfied, and with a bit of headache. I just want a choice. What fuels my spirit?

Day’s end arrives,

Quiet seeks me out–

Busyness dissipates;

A frenetic pace abates–

No hurry,

No frantic pursuit of something;

Whatever that thing might be

Remains uncertain…

Unclear,

Lost in a mist

Focus a little off–

I remain unsatisfied

Until, I wonder aloud:

What is life’s purpose?

Or is life its own purpose.

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