The Quest For Continuous Improvement

From kcorum.blogspot.com

In my personal Education Hall of Fame, there is a gentleman by the name of Tom Keating.  Currently, he is the principal of Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, IA, but he was more widely known as the volleyball coach at Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque, IA.  His coaching resume is extensive, but just to give you an small idea about his impact:  his teams won 11 state championships in Iowa and they were rated in the national top ten continuously, he was named national high school coach of year twice, he is still an outstanding presenter and continues to speak at clinics nationwide and is an all around great guy.

I have heard his presentations, watched his instructional videotapes, emailed with him and had conversations with him over dinner.  Back in the day, as a volleyball coach at an opposing school in his conference, he even let me watch one of his practices once!  He definitely cared about winning, but he cared about growing the sport and growing leaders more.  You could say that I’m a solid, card-carrying member of the Tom Keating Fan Club.

The point of this blog entry is to highlight one of his favorite sayings that has become one of mine as well.  So much so, that I would say that if I had to base my entire educational philosophy around one statement, this saying of his would be it:  “Every day, you get better or you get worse–there’s no such thing as staying the same.”

To paraphrase, every time a student comes into the classroom or an athlete walks into practice, they are presented with a choice:  to improve or to regress.  Of course, there are many factors that contribute to that ultimate result, but if you go into that day with the idea that you will improve, chances are you will.   Also, since others are continually improving, that means even if you stay the same, you are actually getting behind when compared to the growth of others.

I have stressed that point to my students and athletes daily.  Even if they walk out of my classroom or gym a tiny bit better than when they walked in, over the course of a semester or a season, the difference  between start and finish will be significant.  It’s a philosophy that seems so simple, yet elusive for many students.

More importantly, though, do I practice what I preach?  In this new age of education where technology will be the mechanism for student engagement as well as professional development, I believe I have moved out of my comfort zone in an attempt to extend myself.  Every day, I connect with incredible educators nationwide on Twitter and other social media, as well as gaining knowledge and ideas on a continual basis from my new personal learning network.  So, while I don’t profess to getting better every single day, as Keating suggests, I can certainly say that my intentions every day are to do so.  It’s really an exhilarating feeling to be nearly 20 years into my educational career to say that I am still learning!

The other great thing about having this feeling is that it’s contagious.  I have been able to find like-minded educators in and out of my building that provide me with encouragement, ideas and feedback often as well.  I have now prodded other educators, and they now have caught the bug, just like I did, and now are finding their own ways to improve themselves every day.

With as much pressure and scrutiny that educators are faced with from all directions nowadays, this notion of continuous improvement might be the very thing that keeps frustration with the job at bay.  Being able to acquire to skills and to keep things fresh is at the core of all human desires.  It’s all right there for the educator who has the aforementioned proper attitude.

So, at my core, I believe that continuous improvement is a must if you want to succeed in this time (or any time for that matter) in education.  People who want to rely on what worked 20, 10 or even three years ago may have a point, but most everything has a shelf life and an expiration date, it seems.  If we’re not trying to getting better on a daily basis, not only do students suffer, but a small opportunity to advance the profession is lost.

This not only is true for teachers, but administrators as well.  I know Tom Keating, the coach, well.  However, I left Iowa for Kansas City before I knew Tom Keating, the principal.  But if I know Tom Keating, the human being, I can only imagine what life at Xavier High School is like.  I would think that he would be the one growing teacher-leaders and therefore, having students achieve at high levels. He would think that risk is a necessary part of that growth and wouldn’t admonish teachers for trying something new in the classroom and failing, as that is part of the learning process of human beings.  He would visit classrooms often and continue a working two-way dialogue with teachers in order to improve instructional strategies and methods and, in turn, student achievement.  And lastly, I bet that he would be the kind of administrator to learn side-by-side with his fellow educators.  He would be one to get right in the middle of a professional development session and discuss ideas with his teachers, not merely professing from higher ground.  Like I said, I don’t know these things for a fact, but knowing Tom Keating, I’d be willing to place a hefty bet that all of this is true.

Someday, when I will be able to fulfill an administrator’s shoes, I believe that this concept of continuous improvement will be at the top on my non-negotiables list.  To me, it’s the one thing that sustains us as educators.  If that is absent, then other aspects of the job begin to drop off as well.  Every day, we all have an opportunity to get better or get worse.  Thanks, Tom for reminding me of that.

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