Tuesday, May 27, 2008
It's not that I want to impose some rigid schedule; I relished those long summer days growing up, playing and exploring and enjoying life. But we thought that this summer we might come up with a simple reminder to help our children set some priorities and learn the joy of accomplishing something each day.
Since the successful person "reaps" something out of each day, we'll use that as our acrostic:
We'll post this on the refrigerator, review it each day and let you know how it works as the summer progresses!
This is an "intercom insight" I added this morning to our resources at www.character-education.info.
Julia Cameron was married to filmmaker Martin Scorsese in his early years. In her book, Finding Water, she recalls that Scorsese's friends included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Coppola and Brian De Palma, all of whom would later become famous filmmakers. What's interesting concerning character and life skills is how they supported one another and sharpened one another's talents.
"They screened early cuts of their films for comments and input. I remember a sequence of New York, New York being reversed and revamped at George Lucas's suggestion."
As they became successful, they continued to help one another. Example: they would suggest actors for one-another's films - "Scorsese suggested De Niro to Coppola for The Godfather: Part II."
Today, these five filmmakers are numbered among the greatest ever. But you have to wonder if they could have ever become great in isolation. By sharing their ideas and lending helping hands, they paved one another's roads to success.
(Written by Steve Miller for www.character-education.info All Rights Reserved. Source: Julia Cameron, Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance (New York: The Penguin Group, 2006), p. 87.)
Here are some ways you could get interaction when following-up the story with a class, or your children:
1) What movies do you know of by these filmmakers? (Examples: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, The Aviator, The Rainmaker, etc.)
2) How did they help one another?
3) Why do you think we often resist getting and giving input to one another in our fields of interest?
4) How could each of us begin helping and encouraging one another in an area of interest this week?
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
1. I spoke recently at a conference for literature teachers. If it's not exactly what you're looking for, you might find several parts of it useful. It also comes with a handout and Power Point presentation.
2. Here is a list of motivational quotes concerning character which may be useful for your presentation.
3. Two suggestions people gave me after the presentation were that a) I use more visuals and b) that I actually give an example lesson plan. Teaching at the St. Louis Character conference, I gave a demonstration with the last point of my sample lesson at
I presented the last point about Tom Cruise (from the bold "Endurance" forward). While I was talking about his early life, I showed the video clip of Cruise free climbing the cliff toward the beginning of Mission Impossible II. The clip showed the cool, successful Cruise. My story showed the painful struggles he endured to get there.
Another possibility for a demonstration would be to hand out (or use as a PowerPoint or overhead) the "Success or Failure?" quiz in that same lesson, using the discussion following that quiz to make the impact.
4. I spoke in St. Louis on "The Power of People Stories." If you want to speak on that topic, here's my presentation:
Let me know how I can help you further!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Example Word Problem:
Problem: Henry was dating Sally. He was also cheating on Sally with Jane. How many girlfriends does Henry have now?
Answer: None. Sally and Jane found out about each other and talked.
Moral? Cheating gets you into trouble.
Hmmm...so maybe this relational triangle could somehow connect to
Rather, I think the best way I've seen to integrate character and math was
modeled for me by Dr. William Craig, one of my graduate school professors. In a "History of Philosophy" class, the brilliant professor (two earned Ph.D.'s) would devote 3 to 5 minutes at the beginning of class to a sort of real-life moment. One day, he started class with something like this:
"You know, you can make A's in my class, while flunking in real life. I
remember a time when I was struggling with balancing studies with my
marriage. I was working on my Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of
Munich, Germany. The academic load was overwhelming me. But my teacher pulled me aside and advised me, 'Look around you. People around here with Ph.D.'s are a dime a dozen. But how many people do you see who have a really great marriage? Whatever the cost, don't neglect your relationship with your wife.' It really put things in perspective for me."
Well, that was 25 years ago, and I'm not sure how much today I remember from the history of philosophy. But I'll never forget that simple life story from a teacher who cared as much about my life as about my passing his class.
My advice for leading a Math class? Introduce what you're doing by saying,
"Class, I've been thinking...if I teach so wonderfully that all of you pass
my class with A's and B's, but you flunk out in life, I've not done much to
help you. The infamous Unabomber, who killed people by sending them bombs in the mail, was gifted at Math, having taught Math at a respected university. He made "A's" in Math, but flunked out in life, ending up in prison.
For what it's worth, I'd like to devote a couple of minutes at the first
of class (or on Monday of each week) to discuss some life lessons I've
either learned or am in the process of learning. I'm not saying I'm the
perfect model of these things, but I've come to realize that often my
character has meant more to my success than whether I made an "A" or a "C" in a class."
Then, either tell a story from your life about how you learned the
importance of telling the truth, not cheating, caring about others,
diligence, etc.; or, tell the story of another person whom you respect.
(I've got over 100 of such stories, which I call "Intercom Insights,"
categorized by character trait, with discussion questions, in our members'
section.) Even if you use the story of another person, I'd try to tie it in
to your personal life as well. Students like to know where you stand on
Of course, much character develop comes from how teachers respect students in class, how they deal with discipline issues, and how they treat students fairly, creating a culture of caring in the class, no matter what subject is being taught. Welcoming student input into the teaching process ("Tell me personally when you think I'm either unfair or teaching poorly.") shows respect for students' opinions and helps prepare them to get customer feedback when they later run a business.
Alternate Introduction to Character
In introducing character to a Math class, here's another introduction
that a teacher could use:
"Mastering this class and making "A's" won't guarantee your success. Studies by the Carnegie Institute of Technology found that "even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one's financial success is due to one's technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering -to personality and the ability to lead people." (How to Win Friends and Influence People, p. xiv)
Discussion: Does this mean that Math isn't important? (No. You wouldn't get the engineering job without doing well at Math.) What does it mean? (You need to know more than Math to be successful.)
With this introduction, you understand why I'll occasionally share a life
story or lead a discussion on a character trait or relational issue. In
addition to becoming better students, I hope we become better people."
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility, by Thomas Lickona (Bantam Books, New York: 1991).
Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues, by Thomas Lickona (Simon & Schuster, New York: 2004).
Building Character in Schools: Practical Ways to Bring Instruction to Life, by Kevin Ryan & Karen E. Bohlin ( Jossey-Bass, San Francisco: 1999).
Also see our collection of articles at www.character-education.info and share your ideas and ask questions on our new forum.
The Character Education Partnership has a blog that many people contribute to. Join the discussion at www.character.org and click on “Join the Discussion on Performance Values” on the left column.
Everyone can be a life-changer. Here’s an example that I wrote for an inner city group:
(Or, Security Guards, Hippies, Lunch Room Ladies and Other Life-Changers)
Younger people may know his name from advertisements for the George FOREMAN Grill. Older folks remember him as one of the greatest boxers of all time. In his remarkable lifetime record, he fought 81 times, winning 76 times, 68 of them by a knock out. (1)
At age 19, he fought his way to an Olympic gold medal. In his early 20's, he defeated the seemingly invincible Joe Frazier, knocking him down six times in four rounds to become the heavyweight champion of the world. In his first fight to defend his title, he knocked out his opponent in under a minute, the fastest-ever knockout for a heavyweight championship bout.
Later in life, he needed to raise money for his youth center and decided to show everyone that middle-aged men weren't over the hill. Few believed that he could fight seriously against younger fighters, but he stunned the world by winning fight after fight and finally knocking out the reigning champ at age 45.
Yet, his incredible career may have never gotten off the ground had a few people not believed in him. You see, it wasn't easy to believe in George as a youth. He grew up in a poor home in a poor neighborhood and lived by the law of the jungle, constantly getting into fights to try to prove himself. To get money, he'd mug people on the streets. His friends were so bad that he thought of himself as one of the good boys. After all, he never knifed any of his victims. But anyone who looked at him wrong had better run away fast, or they'd get a taste of the FOREMAN fist. He was was a big bully with a terrible temper. (2)
Fortunately, George ran across people who cared. As a teenager, he moved from Texas to Oregon with the Job Corps, a government program to give young people a chance to work and learn a trade. While he was there, Doc Broadus, who worked with security, saw potential in him as a boxer and helped him to begin training. A fellow Job Corp worker, a hippie from Washington state, shared his Bob Dylan music with George, encouraging him to think about the lyrics, exercise his mind with reading, and to learn to engage people with his words rather than his fists. His teacher reinforced his new zest for learning. For the first time, George fell in love with reading, opening his mind to new worlds. (3)
Then there was Mrs. Moon, the lunchroom lady. You might think, "What kind of influence could a lunch-room lady have on a mean, tough bully? Surely only a tough coach could get through to a person like him." But you see, George had grown up hungry. His mother was so poor that she couldn't afford to give her children enough food. He was too embarrassed to tell anyone and ask for a handout. So back during his school days, he would often blow air into his brown paper sack so that other students would think he had something to eat. If the sack held anything, it might be a mayonnaise sandwich.
So you can see why food was important to George. And the lunch lady controlled the food. So when she told him to straighten up, he listened. She noticed what foods George liked and scooped out a bit extra into his plate. She smiled at him and talked to him. She even invited George home to eat with her family, once a month, every month for six months.
How did this make him feel? According to George,
"Mrs. Moon just made me feel that I was special. She liked me for me. ... Her words echoed in my ears: 'You watch that temper.' The way she said it, smiling and cheerful, I believed she knew something I didn't. And I wanted to do as she said. Most of all, I wanted to please her." (4)
In the final paragraphs of his autobiography, after his huge early success in boxing, establishing a youth center to help young people, and regaining his title late in life, he looked back to remember Mrs. Moon:
"As vividly as if it happened the day before, I remembered the look on Mrs. Moon's face that first time I passed through the lunch line at the Oregon Job Corps center. She smiled at me. That was the moment I decided I was special." (5)
So never say, "I’m just a lunch lady,” or “I’m just a literature teacher,” or “Nobody cares what I think around here.” You never know who's waiting for someone, anyone, to show that they care. A few caring students or staff are today smiling at someone who needs a smile, and in the process are inspiring the next George Foreman or Albert Einstein or Martin Luther King. Never underestimate the power of kindness.
1) Wikipedia on George Foreman.
2) George Foreman and Joel Engel, By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman (Villard Books, New York: 1995) pp. 3-24.
3) Ibid., pp. 25-41.
4) Ibid., pp. 27-29.
5) Ibid., p. 262.
Books That Build Character, by William Kilpatrick and Gregory and Suzanne M. Wolfe – Three hundred books, from elementary through the teen years, that are especially useful for instilling character.
Fifty Ways to Show Kids You Care
Article on improving the school climate:
Article on developing compassion in students:
A specific way to show caring is to avoid overtly or subtly putting up the “A” students and putting down the “D” students. Some studies show that if you believe your students are smart, they tend to make better grades. The key here is to realize that all kids are smart in their own ways. Some act disinterested and detached because they don’t learn well in an academic setting. Thus, being peer-driven, they’ve got to decide, “Do I continue acting like I’m trying, but keep making poor grades, thus proving that I’m dumb? Or, do I act disinterested so that I might be perceived as smart, but just unmotivated?”
In the final analysis, we don’t really know what those students will become, do we? Dr. Stanley found that most of his highly successful businessmen and accumulators of wealth had a “C” average.
- Perhaps they have a higher emotional IQ, which is an asset to any business venture. Thus, many of them major in extra-curricular activities.
- Perhaps they are more “outside of the box” thinkers, which is not generally rewarded in education.
- Perhaps they are more independent thinkers. They don’t try in a class just because a teacher said it’s important and their parents say it’s important. If they can’t see the benefit of understanding irony in classic literature, they might rather spend the time programming their I-Pods.
- Perhaps academics for academics sake is simply not their interest. In school, my son Benji was singularly unmotivated, constantly pleading sick, always late, etc. But once he began studying auto mechanics he made all A’s and upon graduation from tech school, went to work at Acworth Automotive promptly at 7:30 each morning, working 55+ hour weeks and then on his own car, making big investments with his paycheck. Just because he tended toward being a slacker in school said nothing about how he would perform once he found his niche.
- Perhaps they have styles of learning that don’t work as well in an academic setting. Here’s a scary thought. Dr. Keisha Hoerrner, a personal friend and a professor here at KSU, told me that in a graduate course for educators at UGA, they took a test to discover their learning styles. Interestingly, they discovered that they all shared the same style of learning. That’s more than interesting; it’s scary. It means that they’ll tend to have difficulty understanding people who learn differently.
So let’s rethink our use of the word “smart.” It seems to me that the language of smart hasn’t kept up with our understanding of smart. We now know that “emotional IQ” is very different from the IQ we typically measure, yet is perhaps more important for a successful life. We also know that some people can be great memorizers, and thus perform well on tests, but have little ability to apply those facts to real life.
Example: Paul Orfalea, the founder and driving force behind Kinkos is both dyslexic and hyperactive. Because of this, he never learned to read. Yet, he refuses to think of his learning style as a “deficit.” He sees it as an asset. His incredible appetite for getting ideas from his stores, his customers, the competition and wherever he could find them proved to be a successful learning style to run a successful business.
Here are some of the people I graduated from high school with:
- “George,” the biggest goof-off. He’d yell “Wake up!!!” in the hall during class. He seldom did homework and came to the school dance drunk. Now he can speak four languages and has been doing humanitarian work in sub-Sahara Africa for the past 25 years.
- Deborah, just another “flag” in the band. She went into broadcasting and has been host of the Today show and since 1995, Inside Edition. She’s a two-time Emmy award winner and has authored three books so far.
- “Bart,” the biggest hippie. Last I heard was designing helicopters with NASA.
- “Ted,” the biggest nerd. Today he’s with a big-time law firm in Atlanta.
Know the good
Desire the good
Do the good
Pointing out a trait like “kindness” in a character in literature helps students to identify or know kindness. Showing how its positively impacted your life and others helps them to desire the good. Giving specific action points and opportunities to live out kindness helps them to do kindness. Through repetition of these acts of kindness, it becomes a part of their lives.
After reading a novel that touches on integrity, you might ask students: “So you think that person’s integrity allowed him to come out on top in the end. Do you think that’s typical of real people?” Students may well respond, “No. It’s the businessmen who lie about their products and lie on their resumes and step all over the small people who get to the top.”
By bringing in outside stories or research, you might respond, “Well, I used to think that as well. But there’s strong evidence to the contrary. When professor Thomas Stanley studied people who were successful at their businesses and accumulating wealth, he asked them what characteristics they attributed their success to. Here’s what they put up at the top….”
In this way, you’ve reinforced integrity with another line of proof, hopefully moving students closer to “desiring the good.”
So where do you find information like this – stories and facts that motivate students to pursue various traits? I have a vast and growing collection at www.character-education.info . Sign in, choose an alternative payment (not credit card) and say that you were in my seminar. I’ll activate your account free of charge. Take it free for a year. Download what you want. We’re a not for profit. We’re just trying to get the information out there.
If you’re discussing a character trait, admit times you blew it that hurt you. Then tell times you did it right that helped you. Sometimes it won’t take but two minutes. But adding your personal stories can be powerful. (Just don’t share personal information that you wouldn’t mind your supervisors or the student’s parents hearing. If they story’s good, it’ll probably make its rounds!)
Two ways to use personal stories:
a. Tie them seamlessly into the literature.
Example: In today’s assignment, the protagonist was caught lying. Let me give an example of a predicament I faced in my own life….
b. Have a weekly “success moment.”
(Why speak of “success” rather than “character”? Because “success” is more of a felt need than “character. And if they’ve seen character education done poorly in the past, they might turn it off.)
One of my graduate school professors, Dr. William Craig, was a great model for me in this area. In a "History of Philosophy" class, the brilliant professor (two earned Ph.D.'s) would devote 5 minutes at the beginning of class to a sort of real-life moment. I don’t recall if it was every day or once a week or every now and then. But I’ll never forget one day, when he began class with this nugget:
"You know, you can make A's in my class, while flunking in real life. I remember a time when I was struggling with balancing studies with my marriage. I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Munich, Germany. The academic load was overwhelming. My main professor would keep pulling out books in French and German that he said were must-reads for my dissertation.
So I talked to a professor about my struggle with balance and he advised me, 'Look around you. People around here with Ph.D.'s are a dime a dozen. But how many people do you see who have a really great marriage? Whatever the cost, don't neglect your relationship with your wife.' It really put things in perspective for me."
Well, that was 25 years ago, and I'm not sure how much I remember today about Kant and Hegel. But I'll never forget that simple life story from a teacher who cared as much about my life as about my passing his class.
To avoid this with any given text, prep students with ideas like this:
“As you read this book, think about your own life and jot down ideas and questions.”
This takes students beyond “the intention of the author.” It forces us to think and transform knowledge into wisdom. Here are some sample questions that move into life-examination:
1. What were the names of the feuding families? (Montague and Capulet)
2. How might this story have ended differently had these families been tolerant and forgiving rather than feuding?
3. Although we don’t know from the story, how do you think that this feud might have begun?
4. Do you think the feuding would stop after the Romeo and Juliet’s death? Why or why not?
5. Imagine that you were a member of one of the families prior to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. What could you have done to stop the feuding?
6. What makes our prejudices so hard to overcome? (Pride, inability to forgive, repeated acts of unkindness by the other party)
7. Imagine that this story was retold about a girl and guy on our campus (or in our city). What two feuding groups might they belong to? (Hispanic versus White, White Versus Black, Band versus Jocks, Alternative versus Preppie, Rich versus Poor, etc.)
8. What kinds of consequences could take place down the road if these feuds aren’t put to rest?
9. What can we do personally to help bring peace among these groups?
(Two example lessons based on literature: www.character-education.info , members section, see Romeo and Juliet and Twelve Angry Men.)
Benefits of “life questions”:
1) It pulls in the practical students who are motivated by “why should I be studying this?”
As a professional researcher and writer, I’ve never fallen in love with words. Instead, I fell in love with wisdom and reading was simply one of the easiest ways to find it. Besides reading, I’m also liable to ask a good mechanic how he learned his skill or the radiologist, “what does that tube thingy do?”
Questions like these can pull in the practical students - those who aren’t into reading for reading’s sake, but will read to get information. That’s me. If you say, “Steve, you’ve just got to read this novel, it’s captivating!” I won’t read it. If you say, “Steve, this author uses the best analogies I’ve ever seen!” I’ll read the first five pages to observe and understand her technique. But if you say, “This book takes the latest scientific studies of learning and applies them practically to helping learning disabled and unmotived to achieve,” I’m all over it.
So for learners like me, you’ll inspire me by telling me, not that Jurassic Park had a cool story line, but that “it warned me very specifically about how things can get out of hand when I ignore wise counsel.”
2) It pulls in the creative, outside of the box thinkers.
Some of these students don’t “get” the grade thing. Perhaps these are the “C” students, identified by professor Stanley in his studies of successful entrepreneurs. This group of students might relish taking knowledge from one area and applying it to real life.
Hint: Have them write it out answers before discussing, or discuss it in a small group first, to get more class discussion. Many aren’t good at coming up with comments “off the top of their heads.” Others are scared that they’ve misunderstood the question and are afraid of looking stupid. So giving them some time to get their thoughts together makes it safer for them to discuss in front of the group.
- The list of character traits for Georgia. Valuable for comprehensiveness and grouping.
- Dr. Thomas Lickona’s list. Valuable for its universality.
- Benjamin Franklin’s list. Valuable for its practicality.
- Professor Stanley’s list. Valuable for its connection with success.
Caution: the over-achievers among us might try to hit all of these character traits in a semester. But if you try to cover everything, you can’t give serious attention to any one trait. A better approach might be to take these lists and circle the traits you’re most passionate about. Concentrate on them and the ones that come up most frequently in your choice of literature. Those will probably be the traits you’ll be most effective in passing on to your students.
Even when I do a one-time lecture on search engine positioning for Web sites in a New Media class at KSU, I’ll begin by asking the students what they aspire to do for a living. That way I can apply the material to their specific set of interests. One girl got so excited that after class she called her husband and said, “Today this guy told us how we can make our business successful!” Hmmm…excitement about a class on search engine positioning?!? But I got to know her goals enough to apply my lecture to her point of need.
How does that apply to your class? You might begin it like this:
For our first assignment, I’d like to learn something about you: your likes and dislikes, what excites and bores you. Why? Because knowing your interests and goals helps me to lead discussions that address these interests and goals. I’m grading this first assignment on completeness, not neatness or grammar. If you answer all the questions completely, you get your first “A”. Please write down these questions:
1 – Things I enjoy doing. (Please be specific: fishing, watching baseball, playing guitar, etc.)
2 – Style of music I enjoy and favorite musicians.
3 – Favorite celebrities.
4 – Things I’d like to be good at. (Weightlifting, school, baton, band, Halo, World of Warcraft, etc.)
5 – People I most admire and why.
6 – Some vocations that interest me.
What am I doing here? I’m taking an interest in my students. It’s not all about me increasing the test-taking ability of my students on standardized tests. It’s all about them and making them successful. And if I take an interest in their lives, maybe they’ll take an interest in my life and my subject.
Knowing my students gives me ammo I can use all semester. I can keep bringing up vocations and interests that are of interest to my students.
Dale Carnegies’ classic work, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has several principles of life influence that apply here. (I revised the wording to apply to students.)
- “Become Genuinely Interested in Your Students.”
- “Be a Good Listener. Encourage Your Students to Talk about Themselves.”
- “The Big Secret to Dealing with Students” = “Give Honest and Sincere Appreciation.”
You might ask, “But how can I show appreciation to students who aren’t even trying in class?” I think if we look carefully, there’s something in every student that we can legitimately appreciate. If your having trouble finding something, I’d suggest to go back to the last two Carnegie points and get to know your students.
One day I was visiting Frey Elementary, where my own children attended. At the entranceway, I met the exceptional principal, who was carrying a bouquet of flowers that he’d apparently just picked from the school grounds. He explained, “one of our students was in a community play this week. I wanted to congratulate her.” Now I have no idea what kind of student she was at Frey. But I’ll bet you anything that after the principal presented her with flowers, that she wanted to do even better.
- “Talk in Terms of Your Students’ Interests”
Your ideas for getting to know your students and appeal to their interests?
So I take Moby Dick and discuss diction, plot and structure. I note the creative use of analogy and description. That’s fine, and it’s all good to know, especially if your students aspire to teach literature and possibly if they want to become writers. But that’s a small percentage of our students.
When you think about this standard, doesn’t it sort of remind you of a dissection in Biology? You start with this beautiful lively frog. Then you put it to sleep and explore its wonderful structure until it’s dead. Isn’t it possible to do the same with Moby Dick?
Listen, the reason we’re into literature is that there’s life in great literature. Great teachers help students discover that life. Others kill it by over-analyzing it.
Now I don’t have a problem with what the state standard says. I do have a problem with what it doesn’t say. Standards don’t typically address the larger purposes of teaching literature.
It says nothing of developing a love for great literature. It says nothing about helping students achieve success in their lives.
I think the State would respond, “But that’s a 'duh.' Of course that’s what we’re up to here!” But I’d respond, “If so, let’s put that in our personal standards or goals for our class.”
Here's the practical outcome for this point. Someone who wants to simply “comply with state standards” may start the first day of class like this:
“This quarter we’ll read some great literature and learn to identify such fascinating bits of literary technique as symbolism, setting, mood and irony.”
And then we expect students to shoot up their hands saying, “Please, please! Do ‘irony’ first!” “No, no! I want ‘symbolism!’” until finally you intervene:
“Class, I know you’re all eager to understand the structure of literature, but you’ll have to wait patiently for the appropriate section.”
Why do we not see this response? We’ve done nothing to meet students at their point of need. They enter the class with no felt need to understand irony in literature. And they have no clue as to how putting effort into this class will possibly make them happier and more successful. As a result, students who aren’t motivated by grades will decide that this is a good class to catch up on the sleep they missed the night before playing Halo.
A person who understands our ultimate purposes in education might start the class this way:
“Students, my hope is that during this class you’ll discover some practical ways to live a more successful life. Right now you may see yourself as a little girl living at the end of a dead-end street, preparing to live a dead-end life. But you’ve got your entire life before you. And great literature reveals to us how people outside of your cul-de-sac lived their lives – some ending in great success, others in tragedy; some deliriously happy, others with huge regrets.
By reading great literature, you can find characters you identify with. You might find great ideas to live and die for, traits you’d like to adopt, places you’d like to live, something you’d like to accomplish, the type person you’d like to marry, the kind of friends you want to attract (and avoid).
You see, students, literature isn’t just about plot, structure and symbolism. It’s about life and how people live it. Sure, we’ll learn the elements of good literature. But more than that, I hope you’ll learn something specific that can change your life.”
Now isn’t that totally different than the first introduction? Don’t you think it will pull in more students than the former? You could continue this way:
“So, after you’ve read the first chapter of “Huckleberry Finn” for tomorrow’s class, don’t just think about structure and style. Think,
- “How do I identify with Huck?”
- “What do I like about his life that I could adopt?”
- “What disgusts me about his life that I should avoid?”
So there’s a radical difference between the “life-changing teacher” and the “merely complies with state’s standards” teacher. So as a teacher, when you’re preparing your lesson plan for tomorrow’s class, I challenge you to ask the question, “How can tomorrow’s class impact a life?”
Any ideas from you on how you motivate your class from the start?
Let’s start with the motivational question, since we’ve all got way too much on our plates already, without adding this “teach for life change” dimension.
Why shoot for life change in the classroom? (And when we speak of life change, aren’t we generally speaking of character change - from unmotivated learners to motivated learners, from slackers to sponges for wisdom, from self-absorbed to respectful and helpful?)
1. To help our students become more successful in school. It only stands to reason that if students feel safer in the classroom (that’s tolerance), feel like teachers and students care (that’s compassion), are improving at traits like diligence, promptness, love of learning, etc., they will tend to move from “D” students to “C”, “B” students to “A”, etc.
2. To help our students achieve a successful life. Isn’t that one of our ultimate goals in education? Professor Thomas Stanley studied successful business leaders, asking them to list, in order of importance, to what they attribute their success. (See his book, The Millionaire Mind.) Here are their top four responses:
Success Factors (Totals responding either "Important" or "Very Important")
#1 - Being well disciplined = 95%
#2 - Getting along with people = 94%
#3 - Being honest with all people = 90%
#4 - Working harder than most people = 88%
Having a high IQ/Superior Intellect: (Only 20% said “very important.” The typical millionaire interviewed had a “C” average.)
What do you notice about these factors? (They’re all character and life skills related.) And what does that tell us as educators? (If we want our students to be successful in life, we’d better try to instill or reinforce good character.)
Those findings were reinforced by Jim Collins’ study of successful companies in his book, Good to Great.
"The good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience."
At a recent tech conference I attended on social networking on the Web, the keynote speaker mentioned recently hearing a speech by Guy Kawasaki, the early marketer of Apple’s McIntosh Computer, who eventually left Apple and now spends his days matching start-up companies with funding.
Kawasaki said that he’s noticed a great differentiator between those who come to him for funding. The ones who say “I’ve got an idea that will make a ton of money” seldom do well. But if they say, “I’ve got an idea that will help a lot of people,” they’ve got his ear. From his experience, that company is likely to make it. What he’s saying is that people who exhibit a certain character trait, the passion to give, end up doing better than the self-absorbed money-mongers.
Warren Buffet, the world’s greatest investor, arguably knows how to spot great companies better than anyone, since makes his billions by investing in them. Buffett once said,
"Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you.'' (From Omaha World Herald, February 1, 1994)
So, to help students achieve success in life, we’d better help shape their character.
3. To help change society. Do you remember the infamous unabomber, who methodically killed three people and injured 23 by mailing explosives? When we discovered that he was a brilliant Mathematician, a Harvard grad and former professor at Berkeley, we realized that stellar grades in the three “R’s” don’t necessarily produce a good person. In fact, if we sow only academics we may reap smarter criminals, like the leaders at Enron, who were described as “The Smartest Guys in the Room.”
4. To produce motivated, lifelong learners. This is especially important in the information age.
“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” (Al Rogers, Global Schoolhouse Network)
This week, I’m learning Cascading Style Sheets for a redesign of the character site. Either I pay $200 for my designer to do it, and have to keep paying her in the future for that task, or I pay her a $100 one-time fee to teach me how to do it.
5. To produce thinkers and innovators rather than just memorizers. I recall speaking to a college professor who worked with graduate students from other countries. Some of these students were products of educational systems that we all admire for their stellar test scores. But they were taught primarily by rote memory. As a result, the professor said that he’d give the background of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ask, “Do you think this was the right thing to do?” The students seemed incapable of thinking through the issue, responding, “Tell us the answer and we’ll memorize it.”
6. To make teaching more fun and fulfilling. It’s one thing to come home from school saying, “Cool: Heather finally learned the Pythagorean Theorum!” It’s quite another to come home saying, “Today, I think I just might have changed Heather’s life.”
One day, my son came home after school and said, “a girl came up to me today and said, ‘Something your dad said today changed my life.’” How do you think I felt? Once I caught fire for changing lives, I could never again be content to merely pass on knowledge. I don’t want to just teach subjects; I want to leave a legacy.
I was speaking in Holland at a seminar on the arts. A British Playwright, a graduate of Oxford, spoke of the impact of a play he’d written about a man deserting his wife for another woman and the chaos it created. A fellow playwright told him, after seeing it performed, that he was inspired to go home and work on his relationship with his wife.
The playwright was thrilled! He didn’t just want to write a popular play. He wanted to change lives.
So let’s spend the rest of our time together sharing ways to make this happen.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Isn't this sort of like the misunderstandings encountered by typical dyslexics, who often must process (translate) letters and words differently from others? The effort it takes to read in their own language must be akin to that of a translator. No wonder the reading is often halting and seldom smooth. But the difficulty reading doesn't say anything about the power of the intellect that lies behind the "translation."
So let's remember that fluency in reading doesn't prove intelligence in other areas any more than difficulties in reading prove deficiencies in other areas of intellect. So rather than passing judgment by one indicator, let's look for strengths in each of our students that we can encourage.
Yet, reading's just one way to learn. Orfalea mastered the arts of thinking outside of the box, capturing ideas through observation, and disseminating ideas through voice-mail rather than e-mail.
What does this have to do with character? Everything. Many teachers, either subtly or overtly, perpetuate in the classroom the dated concepts that quick-learners of textbook and lecture material are "smart," while slow learners in the same arenas are "dumb." Some have actually separated the "smart" from the "slow" in seating, ostensibly to inspire the slow learners to catch up and be allowed to sit with the "smart" crowd.
Other teachers who wouldn't dream of such overt profiling nevertheless say in the hearing of others how "smart" one student is (who scored 100 with little effort), not realizing that in proclaiming this student smart, the other students may very well be categorizing themselves as "mildly dumb" (who scored 80-89), "dumber" (scores 70-79) and "dumberer" (under 70).
It would appear that the language of "smart" hasn't kept up with science of "smart." We now know that people learn in many different ways. So while Einstein may have been gifted in theoretical Physics, he struggled with languages and was labeled slow by many teachers. Some have a high emotional IQ, but struggle with academics. Author and professor C.S. Lewis struggled with Math, but excelled in literature.
Interestingly, some successful writers flunked English. Apparently, a prerequisite to writing a thrilling novel isn't the ability to label all the parts of speech in your sentences.
One professor told me of a graduate level class she took, in which all the students took a test to determine their learning style. All of the students were training to be teachers. The result of the test? Every one of them had the same learning style. And that makes sense. People who learn well in an academic setting would have fond memories of succeeding in that arena. No wonder they wanted to go to college and later teach. But it's as frightening as it is fascinating. Can the typical teacher truly understand students who learn differently?
The practical outcome? Our present school system tends to lead one category of learners to think they are smart, and all other learners to assume they're dumb. By keeping this fact in mind, perhaps we can avoid actions and words that put down those who learn differently, and help them to recognize their strengths.
Monday, March 3, 2008
I have way too much to accomplish in any given day. Today was no exception. After getting the children off to school, I needed to work on a presentation, then hit the bank and Circuit City to trade in a meg of ram for one that would actually work in my computer. I had exactly 45 minutes to accomplish the bank run and Circuit City before I'd need to be back home to get up my 102-year-old granny.
But on the way out of the neighborhood, I noticed a stalled pick-up truck in the exit lane with its hood up. Two Mexicans and an African-American - all construction workers - sat beside it. I mention their race and employment because to some people, that would be significant to the story. They might stop for someone they knew, or someone in a Ferrari, or a highly esteemed member of the community, or a "hot chick." But a few construction workers?
I didn't immediately stop, reciting convenient excuses such as
- "They didn't wave me down, so they've probably already called a friend or a wrecker."
- "Somebody else can stop who's not in such a hurry."
- "If they're still there when I return, maybe I can work them in later today."
- "Maybe it's a set-up to rob me."
The parallel hit too close to home. I turned around, got jumper cables from my house, jumped off their truck, and followed them to a safe place where they could get better help. I declined their offer for money.
Professionally, my day has been a loss. So I helped the three stranded workers, got granny up, took dad to a doctor's visit, and picked up a sick kid from school. I'm further behind on my writing, my Web work, etc., etc. My "to do" list grew instead of shrunk.
But my religion impacts not just my "to do" list, but also how I feel about a day and how I define success. From my religious perspective, the day was a huge success. According to my religion, when I serve "the least of these," those who may have nothing to give in return, I've actually served God. If I fail to provide for my own (sick children, granny and dad), I'm spiritually bankrupt.
If my life is all about loving God and loving people, then today goes down as a huge success. That's how religion can impact my practical, day to day choices.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Today I received a press release that one of our country's most successful, respected investment companies, The Vanguard Group, has just handed the reigns of their organization to a new leader. What kind of leader did they want? See how, in his first sentence, the former CEO describes the new one:
"Bill McNabb is a man of great integrity, values, character, talent, experience, and accomplishment."
Press releases by major companies are worded with great thought and precision. Note that the first three qualifications speak of character. If you were promoted on the basis of these traits, would you qualify for a promotion?
Friday, February 22, 2008
Example Word Problem:
Henry was dating Sally. He was also cheating on Sally with Jane. How many girlfriends does Henry have now?
Answer: None. Sally and Jane found out about each other and talked.
Moral: Cheating gets you into trouble.
Hmmm...so maybe this relational triangle could somehow connect to geometry!
Rather, I think the best way I've seen to integrate character and math was modeled for me by Dr. William Craig, one of my graduate school professors. In a "History of Philosophy" class, the brilliant professor (two earned Ph.D.'s) would devote 5 minutes at the beginning of class to a sort of real-life moment. One day, he started class with something like this:
"You know, you can make A's in my class, while flunking in real life. I remember a time when I was struggling with balancing studies with my marriage. I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Munich, Germany. The academic load was overwhelming. My main professor would keep pulling out books in French and German that he said were must reads for my dissertation. When I talked to a professor about my struggles, he advised me, 'Look around you. People around here with Ph.D.'s are a dime a dozen. But how many people do you see who have a really great marriage? Whatever the cost, don't neglect your relationship with your wife.' It really put things in perspective for me."
Well, that was 25 years ago, and I'm not sure how much I remember today about Kant and Hegel. But I'll never forget that simple life story from a teacher who cared as much about my life as about my passing his class.
My advice for leading a Math class? Introduce character by saying,
"Class, I've been thinking...if I teach so wonderfully that all of you pass my class with A's and B's, but you flunk out in life, I've not helped you very much. The infamous Unabomber, who killed people by sending them bombs in the mail, was gifted at Math, having taught Math at a respected university. He made "A's" in Math, but flunked out in life. Today he's in prison.
For what it's worth, I'd like to devote a couple of minutes at the first of class (or on Monday of each week) to discuss some life lessons I've either learned or am in the process of learning. I'm not saying I'm the perfect model of these things, but I've come to realize that often my
character has meant more to my success than whether I made an "A" or a "C" in a class."
Then, either tell a story from your life about how you learned the importance of telling the truth, not cheating, caring about others, diligence, etc.; or, tell the story of another person whom you respect. (I've got over 100 of such stories, which I call "Intercom Insights," categorized by character trait, with discussion questions, in the members' section of our character education site at www.character-education.info .) Even if you use the story of another person, I'd try to tie it in
to your personal life as well. Students like to know how your life experiences have impacted your life.
Of course, character is often better caught than taught (although a combination of both is ideal). Students will pick on on how you respect them in class, how you deal with discipline issues, how you try to treat students fairly, creating a culture of caring in the classroom. Welcoming student input into the teaching process ("Tell me personally when you think I'm either unfair or teaching poorly.") shows respect for students' opinions and helps prepare them to get customer feedback when they later run a business.
Another Possible Introduction
In introducing character to a Math class, here's another possible introduction:
"Mastering this class and making "A's" won't guarantee your success. Studies by the Carnegie Institute of Technology found that "even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one's financial success is due to one's technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering - to personality and the ability to lead people." (How to Win Friends and Influence People, p. xiv)
Discussion: Does this mean that Math isn't important? (No. You wouldn't get the engineering job without doing well at Math.) What does it mean? (You need to know more than Math to be successful.)
With that introduction, you understand why I'll occasionally share a life story or lead a discussion on a character trait or relational issue. This quarter, in addition to becoming better students, I hope we become better people."
Monday, February 11, 2008
When talking to my own children and classrooms about character, I find that real life stories of people they admire can really inspire. With the Patriot's extraordinary season (all wins and no losses in the regular season!), quarterback Tom Brady has been much in the news. Kids admire him and are naturally interested in how he became so successful in his field. So I read a biography on him and pulled from a few other resources to show how qualities such as commitment, initiative, endurance and proactive behavior contributed to his success. Hope it's useful to you!
Tom Brady: On Commitment and Initiative
Or, Playing Fourth String, Getting Third-Rate Treatment
But Going the Second Mile with First-Rate Effort
(Teacher Hint: Go to www.youtube.com and type in "Tom Brady" to find some cool clips of Brady in action. I really liked one with music in the background entitled "Tom Brady: My Hero". Play a bit before you speak to remind your students how awesome a player he is. Or, you might want to start with the first of a video, and show the rest after the story.)
Tom Brady makes it look so easy. Moments before lightning fast defensive tackles and 300 pound linemen close in to take his head off, Brady steps back to avoid one collision, to the side to avoid another, patiently waiting for his receivers to complete their patterns. Now. He throws. Completes. Touchdown, New England.
It happens so often that he's widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks ever. At age 30, he's led his team to three Super Bowls, received two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, been invited to four Pro Bowls, and holds the NFL record for the most regular season touchdown passes. No wonder he's been named "Sportsman of the Year" by both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. (1)
It may look easy and natural for him today, but those skills didn't come naturally. It took supreme commitment to growing and learning, often under difficult circumstances.
The High School Brady
Tommy entered high school built like a beanpole - a slow-footed beanpole. Not very impressive in a game that emphasizes size and speed. But he was super-competitive and wanted to excel.
So he did more than attend regular practices. He went the extra mile by attending quarterback camps in Arizona and the University of Southern California. He even spent personal time with a throwing guru who ran a school for quarterbacks. This guy had broken down the art of passing into the most minute detail to discover what works and what doesn't . Tommy took tons of notes, to which he still refers today. (2)
And the "extra mile" stuff continued. After school during the off season, many kids throw their backpacks onto the bedroom floor to watch TV, play games and goof off until bedtime. But Tommy completed his homework and met up with his friends at the Pacific Athletic Club to work out for three or four hours.
When his coach, Tom McKenzie, lamented to Tommy's dad that he had "a Division 1 arm, but a Division 5 lower body," Tommy took it as a challenge. Every morning before school, he'd practice a tedious footwork drill called "The Five Dots," which most players loathed. According to Brady, "I've never been real fleet of foot. I enjoyed the struggle of it. I gained a lot out of it, in terms of mental toughness."
According to his coach, "Tom Brady is the only student athlete I ever saw who took advantage of every opportunity that was provided to him." (3)
His high school team wasn't that great, but he made the best of it, winning about as many games as he lost.
The College Brady
By high school graduation, he was still a beanpole. But they put together a video-tape of Tom's games and sent it to fifty-five universities. Their diligence paid off and the University of Michigan, a football powerhouse, recruited him to play for their Wolverines. But then things got strange. Before he even made it to the campus, the two coaches who recruited him and believed in him left the school.
His first year, he kept the bench warm with the third string. The second year, he played a bit in only two games. His very first pass was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Not exactly a stellar debut. He'd throw five total passes that year. (4)
But he kept practicing, kept learning, and developed a great network of relationships with his people skills. Surely next year would be his year.
But before his third year, appendicitis robbed him of 30 pounds that he didn't need to lose. Now he was an even skinnier bean pole. Thoughts of quitting and giving up were getting the best of him. Instead of turning inward, he began to talk to the athletic department counselor, Greg Harden. From meetings with Harden, he developed a game plan for problem solving and becoming a better person. It helped.
At Spring camp, he found himself third in line behind the starting quarterback and another quarterback, Brian Griese, who's father had been a legendary quarterback. The latter won the starting position and Brady would get to play in only four games, throwing only twelve passes. Griese would graduate, leaving the slot for Brady to fill, but did Brady want it anymore? He'd been practicing his heart out for three long years to throw a total of 17 passes. In his mind, he wasn't given equal treatment. He considered changing schools. But outside of football, he loved his friends, his classes, and his volunteer work at a children's hospital. He decided to stick with it. (5)
His fourth year, he would clearly be the starting quarterback, but then things got strange again. Michigan recruited a phenomenal high school quarterback from a nearby town who had already been featured in Sports Illustrated. Being a local hero, there was pressure to move him quickly up to starting quarterback. So what did Brady think when his head coach referred to Henson, the new be, as "without question the most talented quarterback I've ever been around"? (6)
Brady started as quarterback the rest of the season, winning 10 games and losing three. But there would be a fifth year, allowable since he didn't play as a Freshman. Surely he'd established himself by now. But that would be too easy. Influential alumni were pressuring the coaches to play Henson, the new quarterback.
So here's how it played out. The coach announced that Brady would play the first quarter, Henson the second quarter, and whoever played the best would play the second half. It was a slam on Brady, the deserving fifth year senior. It would have been easy for Brady to take the low road, rallying his friends around his cause and dividing the team. Instead, he kept working and pursuing team unity. After the seventh game Brady established himself as the starter for the rest of the year.
After his final game as a Wolverine, Brady's quarterback coach told him that the circumstances he'd played under would have broken most athletes. But Brady endured. (7)
After college, he could have smugly assumed that he knew everything he needed to know about football. Instead, he attended a performance clinic to try to pick up foot speed. I mean, come on, after four years of coaching in high school and five years of coaching in college, don't you think he knew enough about how to run? Not Brady. There were still weaknesses to shore up and there was always more to learn, always an extra mile that he could go. (8)
The Pro Brady
His next stop was the NFL Scouting Combine, a place where coaches and scouts have the opportunity to watch their potential drafts in action. The gathering includes interviews, psychological testing, strength and agility tests, and the 40-yard dash.
Although the assessors noted some great traits in Brady, most saw him as a gamble. The most prominent of the evaluators concluded that he "didn't have the total package of skills." (9) One offensive coordinator assessed Brady as rather average, with his inability to establish himself at Michigan counting against him. To some, he was still a "skinny quarterback who didn't run well." (10)
Still, he hoped to be picked early in the draft. Sitting at home listening to the draft with his family, they saw one round after another passing him by. After the fifth round, the Brady bunch was depressed. According to his sister Nancy, "What with what happened at Michigan, and now having this infuriating and disappointing couple of days, he just wanted to take a walk...." While he was out walking, head coach Bill Belichick called from the Patriots, picking him on the sixth round, the 199th draft pick.
Dick Rehbein (the quarterback coach) and Belicheck saw something in Brady that others apparently didn't. During those college years, Brady was put in a bad position, but made the most out of it. They were impressed with "what he did with the opportunities he had." (11)
But at New England, he'd have to start out once again at the bottom. Now for anyone who's played second string, you know the demoralizing feeling of working hard all week to sit on the bench during the games, hoping that, just maybe, your team will get so far ahead that they call in the second string. But he wasn't on second string. He wasn't even on third string. Brady started fourth-string for the Patriots. (12)
Although he'd filled out a little by this time, the Patriot's owner still referred to Brady as, you guessed it, a "beanpole," after their first meeting. (13) But what he lacked in physical intimidation, he made up for with his work ethic, team spirit, and a rare ability to care for and energize those around him. Package all that together and it's called leadership. As one biographer put it, "Brady had that unique ability to make the person he is talking to feel as though the rest of the world has fallen away and there is only this one conversation happening anywhere." (14)
He'd spend extra time watching film of their opponents, although he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of playing in the game. The defensive coordinator noticed that Brady would work out harder than anyone else in the weight room. He threw himself into off-season workouts, whether or not he was required to attend. That helped add about 20 pounds of needed muscle. After a normal practice day, he'd lead a group of others at the bottom of the totem pole to run through the plays until they had them down. And they got better, and better. The coaches took notice and liked what they saw.
So Brady found himself the backup quarterback during his second year. And when the starting quarterback got injured, Brady took over. Because of his intense preparation during good times and bad, he was there to answer the door when opportunity knocked. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Brady once noted that the most difficult wins are the most memorable. I think you could say that about his life. As Brady said, "Who wants everything to come easy?" (15)
So do you consider yourself the "beanpole" of your team or organization - the one who doesn't look the part or make heads turn? Do you go to all the regular practices, but still find yourself benched? Do you do the assigned homework but don't get the grades you want?
If that sounds like you (and it often sounds like me!) remember how Brady defeated discouragement and went the extra mile by preparing a little harder, getting outside counsel and continuing to learn. If initiative and hard work make a top-rated professional football player out of a slow beanpole, maybe it can pay off for the rest of us.
Tom Brady on Standing Alone
Tom Brady, the super-successful quarterback for the New England Patriots, doesn't try to be "just another jock." Elwood Reid, one of his college professors, noted that Brady was his own person. The other jocks in his class were too cool to do homework or act interested in his class. Not Brady. He was polite, sincere, did his reading, brought his books to class. Reid expected the other athletes to treat him with contempt, making fun of the skinny athlete.
But to Reid's surprise, "the most disruptive guys in the class did more than leave the quarterback alone. They seemed to look up to him. In fact, they seemed to look up to him more because he wasn't following their lead." I suppose you can't very well lead the crowd if you're following it. (16)
Brady on Commitment to the Team
"All I ever wanted was the camaraderie, to share some memories with so many other guys." (17)
Brady On Not Talking Down to People
According to head coach Belichick, Brady "doesn't put himself above anybody, above the equipment manager, above the guy on the practice squad, or above a defensive player. He has respect for them doing their jobs." (18)
1. What are some obstacles that Brady had to overcome?
2. How did he show initiative and commitment to overcome them?
3. In what areas of life do you and those you know need extra initiative and commitment?
4. What can you do today and this week to overcome life's challenges?
1. Wikipedia on Tom Brady.
2. Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, by Charles P. Pierce (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 38-40.
3. Ibid., p. 41.
4. Ibid., pp. 59,60.
5. Ibid., pp. 61-65.
6. Ibid., pp. 67,68.
7. Ibid., p. 78.
8. Ibid., p. 89.
9. Ibid., pp. 89,90.
10. Ibid., pp. 90,91.
11. Ibid., p. 92.
12. Ibid., p. 94.
13. Ibid., p. 95.
14. Ibid., p. 8.
15. Ibid., p. 18; also The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam, (New York: Hyperion, 2005), pp. 214-221.
16. Ibid., Pierce, pp. 4,5.
17. Ibid., p. 27.
18. Ibid., p. 159.
(Copyright February, 2008, Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources, http://www.character-education.info , all rights reserved. For permission to reprint on another site or blog, e-mail steve miller at email@example.com )
Saturday, January 19, 2008
( www.character-education.info ) daily, there's a vast amount of wisdom we'd like to draw from. One conversation has already begun. Hopefully, we'll start hearing from others soon.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The New England Patriots won every regular season game this year. In a game as highly competitive as professional football, where you compete every week against the best of the best players, this is an almost unthinkable accomplishment. They're one of only two teams to have won three Super Bowls in four years and are in the playoffs as I type. Head coach Bill Belichick is considered one of the top coaches ever. What can we learn from him?
One of my top lessons from Belichick is perseverance. Many don't realize the hard times he had to endure to reach this pinnacle of success. Since pro football is so highly publicized and so widely followed, illustrations of character from this field can make their mark. Here's a story after reading his bio. Hope you can use it!
Bill the Failure
The Cleveland Browns' head coach was one unpopular guy. In five years he'd produced only one winning season. As if losing games wasn't bad enough, he fired Cleveland's favorite quarterback.
The press crucified him. At games, fans would chant, "Bill must go! Bill must go!" Bumper stickers called him an idiot. It got so bad that his children couldn't ride the bus to school because of other students' cruel comments. He received so many death threats that the police had to stake out near his home. He endured for four long years. But in the end, he probably did well to escape Cleveland with his life.
From One Failure to Another
After such a horror story in Cleveland, you might wonder why anyone would risk repeating it. But Bill loved football. At age nine he was scouting teams with his dad and studying film of teams. His dad didn't push him into coaching. In school and at home he incessantly talked football, studied football and dreamed up plays. And getting older didn't put out his fire for the game.
So when things got tough, he just worked harder.
But it takes more than football knowledge to be a head coach. Maybe Bill didn't have what it takes to motivate players, deal with the public, and chat with the press.
So everyone, including Bill, must have worried that his next head coaching job might be a repeat of the last. But he took the chance by accepting the invitation to lead the New England Patriots. The first year looked like another failure - a dismal 5 wins and 11 losses, the same record as his last season in Cleveland.
On Top of the World
But he didn't give up.
Rather than believe the crowds and the press in Cleveland, rather than listen to the detractors who doubted him in New England, he kept on working. He learned from his failures. And behind the scenes, he was building a coaching staff and a team for the future. Not a team built around a couple of flashy superstars, but a team of dedicated players who worked as a team, thought as a team and got credit as a team.
And it worked.
Today, Bill Belichick is universally acknowledged as a brilliant strategist - one of the top coaches to ever coach pro football. Two of his Super Bowl defensive game plans are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His Patriots dominate the world of professional football, having won five straight division titles (six overall). They are one of only two teams to have ever won three Super Bowls in four years .
But it could have never happen had he thrown in the towel after five humiliating years in Cleveland and a horrid first year in New England.
Have you ever failed? Do certain subjects or skills or sports elude your grasp? Don't give up!
When people put you down, remember how the newspapers, radio and TV commentators put down Belichick. When they laugh at you, remember the bumper stickers that read, "Belichick is an idiot!" When you go through weeks and months of failure, remember Belichick's years of failure.
I suppose you could say that the road to success is paved with failures.
1. In what ways did Bill Belichick fail?
2. In what ways did people reject him?
3. How would you have felt if you were rejected in the same way?
4. What do you think kept him going?
5. How have you faced rejection?
6. How do you know when to quit and when to keep going?
7. How can we overcome failure?
(Copyright December, 2007 by Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources ( www.character-education.info ). Facts from The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam (New York: Hyperion, 2005) and Wikipedia on Bill Bellichick.)