Well, this is now my 159thposting on this blog and there have been more than 72,000 page views over the past three years. I very much appreciate everyone who helps to spread the word by mentioning the blog to someone else. The goal never changes – to get people talking about their teaching. Education is serious business. It is not a job to be taken lightly. Every day seems to be full of both heartache and excitement. Over the years, teaching has made me ecstatic many times but it has also made me miserable. The actress Bette Davis had a famous quote: “Old age is no place for sissies.” Well, as far as I’m concerned, teaching is no place for sissies.
I never fail to remind myself of one of my favorite quotes – one that comes from the movie A League of Their Own. Tom Hanks is talking about baseball but he could have been talking about teaching. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
In case you are interested, here are the posts that have gained the most readership over the years:
(1) – What Do We Add? – July 22, 2010(2) – Introduction – Teaching (Financial Accounting) – January 7, 2010
(3) – What the Catcher Tells the Pitcher – August 21, 2011
(4) – The Future Is Now? – August 13, 2012
(5) – What Is the Purpose of a Final Exam – May 12, 2010
(6) – What Is the Best Book You Ever Read – June 23, 2012
(7) – A Note to My Students – January 15, 2012
(8) – We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us – May 22, 2012
(9) – Now, That Is a Very Good Question – May 14, 2012
(10) – Big Mistakes – March 26, 2011
**The Super Bowl is being played this Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers. What do the players want? My guess is that they each want to do very well individually. No matter what position they play – from quarterback to strong safety - they want to excel. But, I doubt that is good enough for any of them. Their team did not get this far because a few of the players were great at doing their jobs. The players have to want the entire team to excel. They must have a burning hope that they will be able to work together as a group to accomplish great things and be victorious.
In other words, each player has an individual ambition. Those players want to play great. But, more importantly, they also have a team ambition. They must be deeply devoted to the possibility of the whole team doing well. Very little good would happen without that team ambition.
Individual ambition is pretty common. Team ambition is a lot trickier. In sports, one of the things that helps create team ambition is that they keep score. Ultimately, one team wins and one team loses. That provides a common goal – every person works to achieve the ultimate objective: victory. No one ever argues about the mission or its importance.
You occasionally see the same thing in some businesses. At most companies, everyone has his or her own turf and each person wants to be good (or, at least, good enough) within that personal territory. However, at the best run operations, there also appears to be a team ambition. In those cases, employees are willing to do the work necessary to push together toward a common goal to make the entire organization great. This is found for a number of reasons but one is that people actually keep score in business. What is the amount of revenue we earned this period? Are operating cash flows going up or down? How did reported net income look for this quarter? People want to do well personally but they want their organization to do well also.
My guess is that if you are able to take a lot of individual ambition and use it to create team ambition then you are potentially the next Steve Jobs or Jack Welch.
College education is under attack these days. According to many critics, college costs too much and accomplishes too little. In fact, it is a challenge to find anyone who sings the praises of a college education in 2013.
Why is that?
I think one of the reasons the college experience is being questioned is that most of us in the teaching business have a lot of individual ambition. In our own teaching and research, we really hope and work to do well. We like being successful on our own turf. However, I am not certain there is enough team ambition in college education today. Most of the readers of this blog belong to a department, a school, a university. What is the goal of that team? Is it a goal that can be easily measured? Is it a goal that will stretch the members of the team beyond their comfort zones? How hard are you willing to work to achieve that team goal?
I am not talking here about a mission statement. A mission statement says “we want to have a good football team.” I want something more concrete – “we want to win the Super Bowl on February 3, 2013.” At the end of the time, you know whether you have been successful. When you eventually make the tally, you know whether your team was victorious. With that goal, you have something for the group to work toward.
Let me make a suggestion. We are still near the beginning of 2013. Call a department meeting or a school meeting or a university meeting. Ask everyone to suggest “New Year’s Resolutions” for the team as a whole. Pick the ones that seem most intriguing. Then tell the group that you are going to reconvene in 365 days to measure the team’s success. What specific goals do they want to have achieved (not individually but as a group) by this time next year?
Those goals have to be something that can be measured (you have to keep score). They should stretch the group. Then you also need to decide on a legitimate reward – a nice dinner for the team, perhaps, or a bottle of wine for everyone, or a trip to a local theatre.
I believe college education will begin to improve when we start thinking about producing more team ambition. We already have role models: the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Set some legitimate goals that will push the group over the next year beyond their individual comfort zones. Measure the results. Provide a nice reward. This is not rocket science.
In your dreams, what can your team accomplish over the next 12 months? Don’t always set individual goals. Set some team goals. Then make them happen. Measure the results. Celebrate the victories.