Sunday, December 7, 2014

What School Leaders Can Learn from Baylor Coach Art Briles' Rants Against the CFP and the Big 12

If, at any point in the last 24 hours, you've been paying the slightest bit of attention to the world of NCAA football, or even browsing social media, you probably know that today the NCAA unveiled the teams who will compete in the first-ever College Football Playoff system (a four-team, two-round playoff to determine an undisputed NCAA national champion). The first three teams announced (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State) would have been on most everyone's list of teams who deserved to be in the CFP. The fourth pick... not so easy. While the selection committee landed on Ohio State as the fourth and final participant in the CFP, two schools from Texas had legitimate arguments as to why they should have been considered for the final spot: TCU and Baylor.

If you aren't a sports fan, Bear with me... This is not a post about sports or football.

On Saturday, December 6, the Baylor Bears took care of business against 9th-ranked Kansas State. After the game, Baylor's fiery coach, Art Briles, made a pretty passionate argument for why Baylor should be in the CFP. You can watch that on-field, post-game interview below.

As if he couldn't get more fired up, Briles confronted the Big 12 commissioner and blasted the Big 12 Conference about how a conference whose slogan this year was "One True Champion," could declare TCU and Baylor co-champions. Briles said, You know, if you're going to slogan around and say there's 'One True Champion,' all the sudden you're gonna go out the back door instead of going out the front? Don't say one thing and do another." Briles went on to say later, "I'm not obligated to [Big 12 Commissioner Bowlsby]. I'm obligated to Baylor University and our football team." Briles appeared Sunday morning on ESPN and further made his case for being in the CFP and further knocked the scenario created by the Big 12.

Looking through the lens of football only, Briles' rants may seem like the bitterness of a coach on the outside looking in at a football party to which he was not invited. With no lens at all, perhaps Briles' words seem to come from a place of anger or even insubordination. However, looking at Briles' behavior through a leadership lens creates an entirely different perspective. 

image from
Art Briles has taken Baylor Football from the doormat of the Big 12 to the doorstep of the NCAA national championship hunt. Certainly he's done this with brilliant execution of his X's and O's game plans, but we can't discount the role his leadership ability has played in Baylor's ascension to the top of the Big 12. Anyone who knows what's been happening with Baylor University and Baylor Football knows that coaches, players, students, donors and football fans are devoted to Briles. His coaches and his players would run through walls for the former high school football coach who charms with his Texas drawl. Why does everyone adore Art Briles? Consider one of the statements quoted above: "I'm not obligated to [Big 12 Commissioner Bowlsby]. I'm obligated to Baylor University and our football team." Briles has earned undying devotion because he is willing to stand up for his team, willing to take heat for his team, and, if necessary, willing to go to the mat for his team and the university they represent.

A school leader often find himself in situations where he must quietly take bullets from many directions, including from above. A school leader often must enforce directives, instructions, policies or procedures he dislikes, and often must abide by philosophies and ideas of which he does not approve. However, there are times when a school leader must tip-toe (or, as Art Briles has done, dash full-speed) out to the edge of the dangerzone and speak up on behalf of those he serves and leads. When a school leader can do this passionately and authentically, even if it means drawing the ire of those above him, his team will rally. His team will go to the mat for him just as he went to the mat for them. 

What Art Briles said about the CFP and the Big 12 had absolutely no bearing on the selection committee's final decision. Briles probably knew that ahead of time. However, Briles publicly and passionately challenged the system on behalf of his school and his team. By standing in the gap for his school and his team, he furthered cemented his position as a leader who has the undying support of those who coach and play for him. A school leader would do well to follow Art Briles' example and take a stand for those he leads. In return he will earn the trust and devotion of his own team. When a school leader has that kind of devotion from his team, he can take them from being doormats to being on the doorstep of greatness and beyond.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How Important Is Trust to Those You Lead?

I came across the following thought from Warren Buffett when I was reading through The Coach Approach by John Brubaker. How important is trust to those you lead? I think Warren Buffett answers that question better than I ever could.

Trust is like the air we breathe.
When it's present, nobody really notices.
But when it's absent, everybody notices.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Awesome Way to Open the Conversation About Grit at Your School

Grit and resilience. We talk frequently at my school, to both kids and parents, about these two characteristics. People often ask for specific examples of how we address grit with our kids, so I decided to post one awesome example here. This exercise generated so much conversation, I decided I should share the entire process with you here.

We began the school year with a two-part series in chapel on the importance of struggle and challenges, and the importance of grit and resilience. In the second chapel, our entire student body watched the video of Admiral McRaven addressing the 2014 University of Texas at Austin graduating class. Yes, the entire student body watched the video and the kids sat absolutely mesmerized through his entire 20-minute speech. They even applauded after the video! 

After the chapel in which the student body watched the video, I sent the email below to each student and parent. The email outlines what we told our kids, includes a link to the video of the commencement address,  and provides a bullet list of the Admiral's main points. I have altered the link on this page to direct you to a source that has both the video and the transcript. Please feel free to use this idea and even this communication to students and parents to generate conversation at your school about grit. Even though Admiral McRaven does not mention the word grit, you will see how easy it is to transition to grit.

Even if you do not plan to try this at your school, please watch the video. I was blown away, and I believe you will be, too. I'm not easily inspired. However, this inspired me.

Families of the Class of ...,

I am pleased to report that the 2014-2015 school year is off to an excellent start. During our first two chapels of the year, I spoke about my desire for our kids to experience challenges and struggles in life. In our first chapel together, I challenged our student body with the idea that the things we will encounter during our years at _____ – in the classroom, on the stage, in the studio, on the field, outside of school – may be tough. I explained, though, that if being an Eagle were easy, everyone would do it. If achieving all the great things that Eagles achieve were easy, everyone would, and the achievements no longer would be special. I explained that the lessons we learn in our time here can and will prepare us to do things that, quite frankly, other students in other places will not be able to do, thus setting our Eagles apart. The challenges we will encounter together serve to build and strengthen us. I reminded them that often God equips those he has called and does not always call those who are equipped. So, how can we be equipped for success when faced with struggles and challenges?

In our second chapel, I presented a rather brilliant and inspiring plan for meeting challenges and struggles head on. The plan is not my plan. Rather, the plan comes from Admiral William H. McRaven who spoke at the 2014 University of Texas commencement. The entire student body watched the video together as the Admiral spelled out his plan. He framed the commencement address in terms of lessons he learned in SEAL training that would be valuable for the UT grads as they head out from Austin to change the world. I think his words are so powerful that I decided I should share them with you. I have included for you below both a link to the video and an outline of Admiral McRaven’s main points. I hope that each of you have the opportunity to watch and rewatch the video, and to discuss his plan as a family. I believe you will find Admiral McRaven an excellent communicator with a unique and memorable message.

May each of you have a transformational school year,


10 Lessons Admiral William H. McRaven Learned from Basic SEAL Training that Will Be of Value as You Move Forward in Life

If you want to change the world, 

  • start off by making your bed.
  • find someone to help you paddle.
  • measure a person by the size of their heart, not by the size of their flippers.
  • get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
  • don’t be afraid of the circuses.
  • sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.
  • don’t back down from the sharks.
  • you must be your very best in the darkest moments.
  • start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
  • don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reading: Paper vs Digital - an archive of resources

I recently entered into a Facebook conversation with a parent who had concerns about how reading comprehension may vary when readers read books and printed materials vs when readers read digital and online materials. I've done quite a bit of reading over the last three years on this subject, and I know what the vast majority of the research says: books beat digital. (Why "the last three years" you ask? The Shallows debuted in 2011. See below.) I have compiled a brief list of some the things that have been written on this topic over the years. To be fair, there is some research (but just a fraction of what exists to the contrary) that indicates books don't necessarily beat digital, but I have not included it here. Enjoy this list of sources supporting books and print over digital sources. If you read all of this and still remain unconvinced about the merits of print, well... perhaps it is because you have neither remembered nor comprehended what you read.

Reading: Paper vs Digital

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why School Leadership is Like Mountain Biking: Climbing Hills

I love being a high school principal. I also love mountain biking. Both challenge me and push me to my limit with surprising regularity. I've been involved in school leadership a few years longer than I've been mountain biking, but I've discovered a number of parallels that I believe shed light on how to handle the challenges of educational leadership. Navigating trails on my bike, especially trails I've never ridden, challenges me physically and mentally every time I go out. Keeping my bike on the narrow paths I ride also pushes me to my limits each and every time I ride. The biggest challenge for me right now, however, lies neither with twists and turns nor narrow paths. The biggest challenge for me lies with big, steep, and often-intimidating hills.

As a relative newcomer to the world of mountain biking, I initially attacked hills in entirely the wrong way. Actually, attacked isn't quite right. Let me paint the scene for you. I would ride to the base of the hill, slow to a virtual stop, pick my line or path up the incline, and then pedal upward. After a few feet, I'd realize I was ascending in the wrong gear, so I'd try to shift gears mid-climb. Eventually, I would stall, the bike would draw to a standstill (which, on a hill, is a bad thing), and I would be forced to leap off my bike to avoid tumbling backward. Not a pretty scene.

After stubbornly trying various iterations of the same approach, I realized I had no idea how to climb hills. I needed a plan. I needed help from people who had been there before and who successfully climb hills all the time. I scoured the Internet for videos and articles about climbing hills on a mountain bike. I went to a local bike shop and asked for advice. I watched (in awe, I might add) other cyclists climb hills that had made me look like the rookie that I was.

After plenty of research, I realized the error of my ways. First, I needed to build speed and momentum as I approached a hill. Slowing down to ponder couldn't have been more wrong. I needed the speed and momentum to launch me upward and aid in my ascent. Second, I needed pick my line before I reached the base of the hill. Choosing my path as I started my ascent proved just as disastrous as climbing from a standstill. Third, I needed to select a gear suited for the hill ahead of time. Shifting gears mid-climb led only to bent sprockets and bailouts. Fourth, I needed to power up the hill using a completely different posture. I had been distributing my weight in the worst possible way. Finally, I needed more time and practice on hills. The only way I would get better was by trying to climb more hills.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I headed back to the hills to try again. Imagine my euphoria when I climbed a hill that had bested me on each and every previous attempt. I tried a different hill with my new approach and I made it! I wasn't always graceful, but I made it to the top more and more frequently.

As a school leader, I climb school-related hills frequently. These hills range from interactions with upset parents to handling losses or disappointments to PR issues to dealing with deaths in the school community. Interestingly, climbing hills as a school leader mirrors climbing dirt hills on a mountain pretty well. One of the first things I realize as a school leader is that I should seek out wiser and more experienced leaders who have experience from which I can glean wisdom and knowledge. As a school leader, I have to find momentum and ride that momentum as much as possible. Riding the momentum of great test scores, a great Open House or Convocation, a state championship or some other great moment helps when tough times arise. As a school leader, I have to choose a path and commit. Mid-climb is neither the time nor place to start thinking about how to navigate a challenge or to shift gears. As a school leader, posture carries great significance. A confident, strong posture can mean the difference between success and failure when climbing hills as a school leader. A weak or defensive posture can spell disaster. Finally, the more hills I climb, the more savvy and able I become.

To be fair, I can't climb every hill I encounter on my bike. Just last week, I cautiously stopped at the bottom of a rather large and scary hill to watch and learn from the riders coming along behind me (who, by the way, climbed the hill like mountain goats!). I'm reasonably sure that one day, with more strength and experience, I will climb that very hill. Likewise, there may be a school-related hill that will prove too high or steep for me right now. In both cases, I'm going to keep working hard to put myself in a better position to be successful in my ascent.