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The Last Lesson I Learned from John Wooden

by Jose Vilson on June 8, 2010

in Jose

John Wooden

John Wooden

When John Wooden died, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I didn’t grow up in his era of dominance, never met him or watched him much in TV interviews, and didn’t go to school on the West coast. I assumed he was a great man by the way men like Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul Jabbar talked about him. When ESPN anchor Neil Everett talked about John Wooden’s interview with him where he said, “My peace assures that I’m not afraid of death,” I said, “Now, I gotta watch Sportscenter to find out more about the man.”

The general sports community knows the basics. 10 titles in 12 years. First person in basketball history to get into the Hall of Fame as a coach and a player. UCLA, the team he coached, holds the record for most consecutive games won in NCAA men’s basketball history, 88 games. The numbers are astounding, and nothing to blink at. Yet, the greatest lesson he taught the world weren’t numerical, per se. Rather, it was the 18 years he went without winning one title. He won conference titles with Indiana State and UCLA during those years, but he hadn’t even seen a title until that 18th year.

From there, he got hot.

Then again, I’ve grown up at a time where the longest any coach lasts these days is 3 years, even if they constantly increase their win totals, so a coach that keeps his job for longer than a presidential term is astonishing for me. Development doesn’t matter, and longevity has no place in a multi-million dollar industry concerned with change just for change. People switch coaches at the drop of a hat, and with few exceptions, this is warranted. But none of this can bode well for any coach wanting to stay in any major sport for a while. The owners don’t care to wait for you to develop or learn how to manage the assortment of players you have now. Just get it done, drive up the numbers or else.

Sound familiar?

And John Wooden is in many ways the godfather of a generation of coaches that not only cared about the player’s athletic gifts, but also their person. He cared whether they graduated from college as much as whether they could drop a few points in a hoop, and rebounds were from personal tragedies not from a ball off a backboard. Hate to say it, but coaches like Mike Krzyzewski matter because, along the lines of Wooden, he wins with quality people and players … and Duke’s administration has given him the key to their whole program in ways others can’t.

As a young teacher, I’ve noticed that the best teachers in my building have had a decade or more in the classroom to get their minds right. Even those who told me they didn’t like their jobs to begin their career said they had a chance to change their ways and took ample room (and reflection) to do so. Wooden got that chance, too, and gave UCLA many returns for their patience.

None of his success is magic. It’s experience. And an experience we’re left with long after he relieved us of his presence.

Jose, who finds lessons wherever he goes …

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We’re All We Have

by Jose Vilson on March 31, 2008

in Jose

What have I learned from being an “edublogger”:

1. Make sure you have a good schedule for everything.

2. Have a good stable of blogs to read about any and everything so you keep abreast of the latest and greatest.

3. Differentiate between the personal and the professional.

As far as what I believe, we need to have a stronger union on-line as well as off-line. People might find the idea ludicrous because of the impending pressure from higher officials to disband or dilute unions, but I’m being real. We fill our text boxes and comments with facts and praises (usually about ourselves, and how great we are in the classroom) along with derisions and insults (usually at everyone but ourselves), but when will we put our money where our mouth is? We can’t simply depend on massive rallies at our city halls to make our point. We need to strengthen the connections we already have.

Unlike any other niche in the blogosphere, edubloggers really only link themselves. I can’t speak much to that because I write about a diverse set of topics plus have carry-over from other blogging platforms, thus I’m a bit of an aberration. Nonetheless, the majority of us only have each other to turn to when we’re looking for inspiration, empathy, or that, yes, it’s going to be alright. We’ll range from very conservative to anarchist, but all in all, we seem to be the only ones that read each other’s materials, and that’s important to recognize since that sort of networking doesn’t usually take place outside of the Internets.

Edubloggers don’t have a national conference. None of us really get recognized on a national platform except within our own niche the way our political or gossip blogger counterparts do. Very few of us actually get deals to write books, even if we have a triple digit or in some instances quadruple digit following. So maybe our focus shouldn’t be on besting the next edublogger but on seeing where we can find the connections that make our web stronger.

I mean, look at the latest attack on teachers:

A picture I took of the Teachers Exposed ad in Times Square, NYC

So the Center for Union Facts decides to post this right in the heart of the city with the most powerful teachers’ union, and we would be none the wiser. No e-mail blast discussing how detrimental and nonfactual this ad is, and no wondering what ugliness could come next. What is our union going to prepare to handle this crap? As far as the tenure question is concerned, that question is answered. As far as us having special privileges over other professions, great, then why do so many of us leave? That question’s been answered, too.

But of course, it’s easy to try and pit teachers against the world. In a time when teachers get treated like heroes but paid like villians, told to act like professionals but talked down to like children, and overwhelmed with the many roles we take on but humiliated in the national media depending on how close contract negotiations are, we need to find a way to come together, really. I completely agree that we need to make certain tenets of our job more stringent, especially tenure, because a couple of bad apples here and they get away with doing nothing (which believe me, we want them out as badly as you do, because they’re ruining our swag). But to remove it completely would deplete an already exhausted teaching corp, most of whom in my experience are some of the hardest-working, honest, and eager people to walk this Earth.

If we see these efforts to turn everyone against teachers when so many of us agree that we wish we could see some of these benefits for the rest of the populace, then we need to be more effective in communicating those desires. We can worry less about who was included in a blogroll, who is the most technologically advanced, whose blog is the hottest, and maybe more on whether we’ll actually find a collective of folks that will help bring these inconsistencies to light.

jose, who is still taking questions. Shoot them over, please.

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