Growing up in Iowa, we adopted the nearby big city pro teams so I was a fan of the Chicago Bulls.  Primarily due to the proximity to Chicago but also because the great basketball player of all time played there, Michael Jordan.  His style and mastery of the game almost made you feel bad for the other teams that had to play him.  I will stop and get to my point before the Kobe emails begin. 

In 1993, Michael stunned all of us and retired.  He has acheived great success in basketball and felt the need to go conquer another mountain.  While that is a nice sentiment and great for a motivational poster, it left many fans depressed and sad, to say the very least.  Well, except for the non-Chicago Bulls fans, they were pretty giddy that Michael was hanging up his high tops. 

Several months later, Michael apparently running out of ways to spend all of his money, announced that he was returning to professional sports, this time as a baseball player. 

Huh? 

Yes, his greatness was stepping off the court and onto the diamond.  In an effort to fulfill the dream of his late father, Michael joined the Chicago White Sox farm team and was  batting .202 with three home runs, 51 runs batted in, 30 stolen bases, and 11 errors.  Not awful, but not nearly at the level of success that he enjoyed on the hardwood. 

A year later, Michael came to his senses and rejoined the Bulls and collected a bunch more Championships before finally calling it a career in 2003. 

Ok, so what can we all learn from Michael?  It wasn’t so much his style of play, rather, it was his willingness to do something different.  Stepping outside of our comfort zone is when we really learn and grow.  The sad truth is that we typically learn the most from our failures and where does that often happen?  Thats right kids, outside of that comfort zone.  See, while we can all try to emulate his awesome free throws or his mastery of the three point shot, its likely that we won’t come even close to being as good as he was.  So instead of focusing on his technique, take a look at his approach to challenges. 

Success isn’t always measured in the winnings, sometimes its the fact that we tried in the first place.

Let me start by saying that I get how difficult it is to get an education.  Taking the first step of calling a school to set up an appointment is not easy.  And there are a ton of things that have to happen between that first call to actually sitting in a seat.

But just as completing the work is your responsibility, the school that is all too happy to take your financial aid forms has some responsibility…alot of responsibility!

The government is planning to take a hard look at the regulation of student loans for some post secondary schools.  You can read about it here: http://www.usatoday.com/money/markets/2010-08-17-stocks17_ST_N.htm

I used to teach at a for profit school, two of them, as a matter of fact.  I also was a program director where I reviewed the applications of those wanting to get into the school.  So I have had an opportunity see the carnage first hand.  I saw kids that were not emotionally prepared to start school be enrolled despite the concerns of several people, simply because “we don’t have a crystal ball” and admissions needed to hit their numbers.  Sure, that happens all over at many schools.  But how many schools are charging $80K for a BA degree and will consider the student a success if they snag a job at a Kinko’s that can be verified?  How many of those kids can repay those student loans on $10 an hour?  Would those kids consider it a success?

While I get the dream of completing a degree and the pride of walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the president of the school and being handed the parchment that had been the bane of student’s existence for so long.  But the reality is that not every student is capable of getting a degree.  The administration has a responsibility to the student and their family to let them know that while they show promise, they aren’t ready.  But that would mean turning away enrollments and which means people won’t hit their numbers and missing bonuses.  And what a shame that would be.

See, it continues after they are enrolled and the administration leans on an instructor to “help” a student along.  “Helping a student” translates into keeping the retention numbers up, regardless of the quality of the student or education.  The student is no longer the problem of the admissions rep, they become the problem of the academic department.  And don’t forget that the longer a student stays in school, the more loans they will likely take out.  Once they take out the loan, the student is on the hook.  And what are the chances of they being able to pay it back if they are struggling and never should have been admitted in the first place?  Interesting article about repayment rates of for profit schools: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/college-inc/2010/08/feds_publish_loan_repayment_ra.html

Who is to blame?  Is it the fault of the admissions person?  Not entirely.  I worked with some really decent folks that were genuinely concerned about the quality of their prospects.  But they were getting beat up by the Director of Admissions that is getting beaten up by corporate that is so far removed from the process that they have no clue about the quality of the kids walking in the front door. Nor do they care until the numbers are met.  Because the small bonuses that are handed out to the people at the individual schools pale in comparison to the huge ones higher up the ladder.

Like any business, responsibility lays at the feet of the leadership.  They set the tone and the vision for the company.  But if they are more focused on meeting shareholder demands and Wall Street expectations, then quality of education is usually gonna end up farther down that list.

Now for the disclaimer:  I received my graduate degree from a for profit school and while it wasn’t as bad as the schools that I had worked at, there was clearly a disconnect between standards and class work.  And it goes back to the pressure that the faculty is under to maintain retention.  No one is making money by upholding academic standards.  Just like many of those that chose to complete their degree in a for profit institution, I went that route because it was easier for my schedule with a full time job and a family.  Traditional schools are often not as accommodating.

Which brings us to the advantages of these schools.  They try harder.  There is often an arrogance that resides at traditional schools that says, “if you want it bad enough, you will figure out a way”.  Well, that is a nice idea but it isnt realistic.  Life happens and responsibilities should sometimes have to take priority.  After all, kids like eating and having a place to sleep.  For profit schools do a good job of helping people attain their goals of an education and they are more accommodating to the needs of non traditional students.

But prior to the student signing on the dotted line for huge student loans that could take decades to pay back, I think the school has a responsibility to draw upon the professional expertise of its faculty and offer the student some input into the likelihood of the students’ success upon graduation, or even academic success.  After all, their expertise is often one of the major selling points of the school; that they have been out there working in the industry that they are teaching in.  Therefore, they are qualified to pull out their “crystal ball” and make a determination if this person can cut it out there.

Its admirable when someone takes the first major step towards achieving a degree.  It is scary enough taking that step, realizing that the sch0ol that you are entrusting with your dreams may not be working in your best interest can make it even scarier. Thank goodness someone is gonna force them to take a closer look at the loans the schools saddle the students with.

So about two years ago, I was riding my mountain bike, just minding my own business when the earth decided that it had enough of me and threw me off.  Well, as you might imagine, I came back to earth but I landed on my shoulder.  Like most guys, I brushed myself off, found that I could move everything and rode home, telling my wife that it really wasn’t all that big of a deal but how cool it was that I must have cleared 10 feet.

But it did turn into a big deal. I really screwed up my shoulder.  Never realized how important my shoulder was until I couldn’t lift my arm.

Now, I think its also important to point out that I wear the equivalent of adult “Huskies”.  For those of you that didn’t have to wear this “fine” brand of clothing as a child, lets just say its for the more portly fellow.  While I enjoy mountain biking, I really need to.  Otherwise I tend to gravitate towards looking like Jabba the Hut.  So rather than say no to that third slice of pizza, I justify it with a frequent ride in the dirt.

Ok, so now what do I do?  So no to that last piece of cheesecake?!  Parish the thought!

Well, after several shots of cortisone and months of physical therapy.  I had my shoulder opened up and fixed.  But hopping back on the bike wasn’t so easy.  It took awhile.  A looooong while.  Since my goal hadn’t changed of keeping my weight under control, I needed to change my approach.  So I started running.  

Those of you that are also new to this, know all too well of what I am about to say.  I found muscles in my legs and back that I didn’t know that I had.  I seriously walked like a duck for several days.  The pain in my shoulder didn’t seem all that bad after enduring the shin splints.  But I kept at it.  

Now, I am back in the saddle, literally, as well as continuing to run.  I have lost about 20 lbs and managed to keep it off.  Well, I did have to draw the line on the occasional cheesesteak that finds its way onto my plate.  But I am doing it.  

So what does this have to do with learning or training in the office or even management?  Sometimes, we encounter obstacles.  Someone doesn’t agree with us, someone is demanding something that is not possible, or someone that won’t listen.  We can either keep doing what we have been doing and should then expect the similar results.  

Or we can try something different and run.

I recently came across a blog with an argument that Gordon Ramsey was the ultimate educator.  You can read it here.  Interesting position, to say the least.  

I went to a Catholic grade school and was taught by alot of nuns.  One nun in particular seemed to have quite an axe to grind against a bunch of fourth graders.  She was nasty, bitter and not very supportive.  A real joy for a teacher to a 9 year old.  

But she taught me to write.  She taught me the basics of a sentence.  I even picked up a few things about our country and our government that would be built upon by later teachers.  But she was belittled alot of little kids along the way.  I can recall more than one kid in my class being reduced to tears for not being able to explain a verb quick enough.  So aside from the less than positive atmosphere, was it an acceptable learning experience?  I learned some stuff so isn’t that what matters?  

Educators have more responsibility to the learner than just delivering content.  They are responsible for creating an environment that is conducive to learning.  They are there to guide the learner, not just treat them like a horse being led to a trough and then yelling, “drink”.  

To ignore Ramsey’s behavior on the show as he fixes a mess is kind of like asking Mrs Lincoln how the play was.  I will fully admit that I also enjoy watching the shows and seeing him lay into some chef that is neglect in his duties in the kitchen.  But to forget that it is a piece of entertainment rather than him just shining his ever loving light on other chefs for the greater good is missing the point.  To accept the premise that he is the ultimate educator is to accept the idea that the ends justify the means.  

Now if he could only help me on my quest to create the perfect loaf of italian bread, but I am not sure that I am emotionally ready for that kind of training. 

 

Ever watch Tiger swing a golf club?  Its a beautiful sight.  Everything is in perfect and calculated motion.  And even though he strikes the ball with such intensity and velocity, it really doesn’t appear all that violent.  Why?  Because it is fluid.  

After the club strikes the ball, his head doesn’t jerk up to see where it lands.  His arms follow a fluid motion after the ball has left the tee on its long journey to a green far, far away.  Nothing jerky and sudden.  They follow the path that was begun when his arms were coiled up behind his shoulder.  

Now have you ever watched Michael Jordan hit a golf ball?  My neck hurts just watching it.  

Managers often tend to forget that people are watching them….very closely.  They say one thing and then do something else because something came up.  And lets face it, most managers do not own their day; their day owns them.  They spend the day putting out fires.  So it is understandable that they intend on doing one thing, but end up doing something else.  But it doesn’t make it ok.  

But wait a minute, HR called and they are wanted the DPS reports right away.  And then someone screwed up the numbers for the Pensky file.  And then there was the….well, I think you get the idea.  There is always something.  Know what?  Life sucks, get over it.  Being a manager is a thankless and tough job.  You have your superiors to keep happy as well as all of those that report to you.  There is never enough time and too much pressure to make it worthwhile.  But tough, its your job.  You accepted the job so suck it up and do it.  

But what about Tiger and his golf swing?  It is predictable.  It is practiced and it is fluid.  While many things will come up in your day that you cannot control, there are somethings that you can control.  Identify what you can and follow through.  When you say that you are going to do something, follow through like Tiger and complete what you begin.  And if something happens that is unavoidable, then make sure that you do not make excuses.  

Just do it.

Don’t you just love stupid people?

You know the ones, the type that are so arrogant and full of themselves that they must heap their stupidity on others.  I am not talking about uneducated people.  Because you can have a pile of letters after your name and still be stupid.   These are the people that cannot see shades of grey, everything is black and white.  It has nothing to do with a formal education, it has to do with an informal education.  It has to do with understanding people. 

I think we have all seen good teachers.  I bet you could name a few, some of which may take you back 30+ years.  Ok, so now name a crappy one.  Can you?  Ok, you may because of something memorable.  I will never forget Mr Weitz, the football coach who had to teach a math class in order to justify his paycheck, slapping a kid in class because he was reading his drivers’ ed book during class.  One of the worst teachers I ever had.  I doubt he even knew my name back then.  So what about the good ones?  Did they know your name?  Did they ask you questions?  Did they fall for your line of crap when you didn’t do your homework?  Probably not.  And did you feel bad because you knew that you didn’t pull one over on them?  I know I felt awful when Mrs Rolling was on to my line of BS because she knew I lied to her.  

So if teaching is so easy, why are there so many more Mr Weitz’s out there and fewer Mrs Rollings?  Because teaching is not easy.  Teaching is not just spouting off the curriculum out of the district or department approved textbook.  Teaching is figuring out how to get this stuff into the thick heads of the learners.  It isn’t about knowing all about geometry, its about knowing how to make geometry look somewhat appetizing.  

Seeing a classroom filled with learners about to learn something isn’t just about the topic of the class.  Its about the possibilities.  Its about the next step, what can they do with this knowledge.  Those are the people that we want as teachers.  Or trainers.  They see that the goal is not the final grade, its whats next. 

 Our ol’ friend Wikipedia says that stupidity is distinct from irrationality because stupidity denotes an incapability or unwillingness to properly consider the relevant information.  Love that last part.  An “unwillingness” which means that they are capable but they chose not to.  Teachers and trainers make a decision whenever they step in front of learners.    Will they get involved and hold each student accountable and themselves to make sure that they are delivering 100%?  Or will they coast?  When they choose to coast, they all then placing all of the responsibility on the learner so best of luck to them.  Stupidity is not lack of knowledge.  Its making a choice.  It is refusing to accept any responsibility and point the finger at someone else.  

Its having never stepped foot in front of learners and making a judgement about the profession. Now that is stupid.

I tell my 6 year old daughter to get in the car, what would you expect her reaction to be? 

She would get in the car. 

You tell a bunch of adults how to extract data from an existing database, what would you expect their reaction to be?

“Why are we extracting data from that database?” 

Often times, I find myself sitting in presentations wondering why am I listening to this? Usually I am asking myself that question because no one has bothered to tell me why I am there?  Is it going to help me do my job?  Is this a corporate policy?  Are all of the cool kids doing it? 

Adult learners are far more likely to engage in training if they know why this stuff applies to them.  Now, hopefully, the reason is more reaching than “its required”.  And sometimes it comes down to that.  But without understanding why this material is important, the message tends to get lost very quickly. 

Not only do we have a responsibility to deliver content, but we need to assume some responsibility for creating an environment for learning.  We know how to do this thing that we are talking about, otherwise we wouldn’t be the one talking.  But we also know why its good stuff, the learner doesnt know either. 

Without setting the stage and explaining why this stuff is important to them, we are asking the learner to get into the car and not telling them where they are going, and who wants to do that?  Well, unless you are six.

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