In Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” one of the keys of good-to-great companies is the ability to get the right people on the bus (read: hire the right people), the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.
This is a great strategy for corporate America and requires patience and diligence. In fact, even building principals could implement this strategy (at least to an extent… the school year will still start, ready or not). But what about classroom teachers? Especially in public schools (where I work), we don’t have a say in the matter. We have no way to implement getting the right students in our classes or the wrong ones out. So does that mean this idea is completely irrelevant to educators? Last summer, upon a first-read of the book, that’s what I thought. I figured we were just doomed to mediocrity or being a “good” class or school. It would be easy to point fingers and daydream about what it must be like to teach in “that school” where all the kids are hard workers and the school consistently produces positive results and there doesn’t appear to be anyone attending that school that needs to get off the proverbial bus.
But what if we acknowledged the potential of our students? What if we took our job as educators seriously and recognized that we are actually agents of change. This is not to say it won’t be difficult, but it will be worth it.
I am of the opinion that the difference between the right person and wrong person is not a question of intelligence, ability, or interest in the topic, but rather a question of character. If this is true, then the difference between a class of 25 “right” students and 5 “wrong” students is not about whether or not they are trouble-makers, learning disabled, or disinterested, but is about our ability to cultivate within them the character needed to make disciplined choices. As I told my students today, the difference between a good student and a great student is the willingness to choose to do what they know is right, even if they don’t want to do it.
Given this view, the teacher moves away from the role of “purveyor of knowledge” or even “instructor” and more into a role of “learning facilitator.” Collins describes the motivation of managers to focus on “first who, then what.” But when we are mandated to focus on the what (standardized testing, performance-based pay, pop quiz, etc), does this mean the “who” must take a backseat? Or does it mean that the imperative of focusing on the “who,” our students, has never been more important. If you get the right people on the bus, you can drive it anywhere and they will happily go there for you. If you begin working on changing students’ expectations of themselves and creating a learning environment where students can develop their character, I think you will be surprised by the results: students engaged and willing to go where other teachers struggle to take them.