Phil Jackson is a winner. As a player, he won two NBA championships. As a coach he won eleven. He has coached Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal. He is now the General Manager of the New York Knicks.
Jackson has been nicknamed "The Zen Master" for infusing Eastern philosophy into his coaching. The Zen Master has been busy implementing this philosophy with an organization that has struggled to achieve consistency or a culture of success.
ESPN recently reported that the Knicks have hired a mindfulness instructor to provide training to the team. In the ESPN article, Jackson stated, "We're about action; we're about this intense activity that we've got to get after. And this mindfulness is about sitting still and being quiet and controlling your breath and allowing you to be in the moment and yet it's so vital for a team to have this skill or players to have this skill. To be able to divorce themselves from what just happened that's inherent to them -- a referee's bad call, or an issue that goes on individually or against your opponent. You've got to be able to come back to your center and center yourself again."
A little over a year ago I wrote about a similar story with an NFL team. That team, the Seattle Seahawks, went on to win their first Superbowl. We will soon see if the Knicks can improve upon a 37-45 record from a year ago.
As I read the quote from Jackson, it occurred to me that his remarks could just as easily apply to teachers. Teaching is about action. It is intense activity, and we must develop the ability to come back to our centers when the stresses of our profession begin weighing us down.
The data is overwhelming. Mindfulness is effective. It works in sports. It works in the military. It works in medicine. It works in business. It works in schools. Want to build a winning culture in your school? Let's steal a page from Phil Jackson. Start by introducing this tool to your administration and teachers. Then we can bring it to our students and watch our "teams" develop the skills needed to win.
Update on Jan. 20th, 2014 - The Seahawks are headed to the Superbowl for the second time in franchise history.
Update on Jan. 3rd, 2014 - The Seattle Seahawks wound up 13-3. Seattle and Denver ended the regular season with the nest record in the NFL. Seattle is the number one seed in the playoffs and are considered favorites to advance to this year's Superbowl.
Update on November 22nd- The Seattle Seahawks are currently 10-1, the best record in the NFC.
ESPN posted an article in August that has the potential to accelerate the spread of mindfulness. In the article, ESPN describes how Head Coach Pete Carroll and his staff have taken a completely new approach to coaching and managing players. A key component of their new system is to integrate meditation and yoga to prepare players for the chaos that inevitably comes on the field and in their lives. This approach contrasts greatly from traditional approaches that emphasize yelling, cussing, stern attitudes, and draconian training practices. Those traditional practices remain the standard for leading an NFL team.
The article gives a great example of how this traditional approach is utilized from the beginning of a player's career. To prepare NFL rookies, the league hosts the NFL Rookie Symposium. One of the most powerful parts of the article describes a speech made at this year's symposium .
"Chris Ballard, the director of player personnel for the Chiefs, has a harsh message for the recent draft picks. 'Most of you will not be in this league three years from now,' he begins. Later, he adds, 'Nobody cares about your problems. The fans don't care. The media doesn't care. And ownership doesn't care. They care about results.' These words are spoken seven months after a Kansas City player, Jovan Belcher, shot his girlfriend nine times, then drove to the team facility and killed himself in the parking lot. But in what remains a suck-it-up NFL culture, that speech could have been delivered by almost anybody in the league."
It then dawned on me that this speech, or at least its intent, is probably duplicated numerous times in school districts across our country. I will reword it to illustrate my point.
John Smith, the principal of John Doe Elementary School, has a harsh message for new teachers. "Half of you will not be in this profession five years from now." he begins. Later, he adds, "Nobody cares about your problems. The students don't care. The parents don't care. And the administration doesn't care. They care about results." But in what remains a suck-it-up education culture, that speech could have been delivered by almost anybody in the country."
While there are many caring and compassionate administrators in our country, the message that MANY teachers receive is essentially the same. RESULTS! We don't really care about you. Results are king. Don't like it? Can't hack it? Stressed out? Leave the profession! And so....they do.
Coach Carroll's new approach was born from his observations over years of coaching. He notes, "It hit me that in our days at USC, many of our players were drafted high, but a lot of them didn't do very well in the league. They would come back to visit campus and say: 'It's hard-core. You don't know anybody. You go home and you're by yourself. You don't feel connected at all.' We had reached guys at a different level that allowed them to perform at a high level. And when they left us, they didn't have the support to carry them through."
Does something similar happen to the young people who leave our colleges of education and enter the teaching profession?
Substitute teachers for players and school for league and you have a perfect description of why so many teachers are leaving the profession within their first five years.
So what does Carroll's new approach look like?
But aren't results important?
Last year, with a rookie quarterback, the Seahawks went 11-5 in the regular season, won a playoff game, and missed the NFC Championship game by 2 points.
Success on the field, or in the classroom, depends on a large number of factors. Even if Carroll's philosophy has a neutral impact on wins and losses, isn't it worth implementing a system that makes players/teachers happier? My guess, however, is that we will see the Seahawks experience high levels of success. What would happen if a superintendent of principal gave Carroll's ideas a shot?