Follow the Leaders

Jordan Spieth, a 20 year-old, made $3,879,820 playing golf this year. Two mil more than Rory Mcilroy. Spieth’s coach, Cameron McCormick, recently gave an interview that anyone that wants to get a job, or wants to get better at their job, should read.

McCormick says: A job came open at a private club, Dallas Country Club, one of the best clubs in town. I started teaching a lot at Dallas C.C. I’d do 40 hours a week in the shop and another 15 to 25 hours a week teaching. It was a quick trial by fire on what works and what doesn’t work and do I like to do this? And I did. I got some good word of mouth and some good results. I was there three and a half years. Brook Hollow, a similar club a few miles down the road, was hiring an assistant-in the fall of 2003, I became a full-time teaching pro. When I turned 30, I wrote renowned teachers in golf and asked, “Would you mind if I came and watched you work?” I wrote Butch Harmon and David Leadbetter and Randy Smith and others. Over the course of six months, I traveled around the country and observed these great coaches and gained an appreciation of what makes them great.

The “secrets” to McCormick’s considerable success: 1) When starting out, he worked 55-65 hours a week; 2) He actively sought out better opportunities; 3) He sought out respected people with much more extensive experience and spent six months traveling around the country studying the “secrets” to their success.

McCormick elaborates: I sent (letters) out to the top 75 coaches in the country and I got 25 or 30 responses. Out of those 25 or 30 responses, I got 10 or 15 affirmatives that you can come watch, with stipulations. Some of them respectfully declined, which I totally understood. The most surprising was Butch (Harmon). He said, “Absolutely, come on down, spend a couple of days,” and I did. He was fantastic.

This week I observed an excellent Spanish teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, WA. After describing her teaching repertoire to the The Good Wife over dinner, she decided to carve out a day and drive 60 miles roundtrip to watch her teach. The Good Wife is already a very good Spanish teacher, but she wants to get better.

What do you want to get better at? Being a school principal, a nurse, a social worker, a swim coach, a fourth grade teacher, a pastor, a web designer? Make a list of more experienced and accomplished people in your field of choice, contact them, and carve out time to visit those willing to lift the curtain on their day-to-day work. 

Gordo Byrn is a cerebral triathlon coach whose writing I often like because it’s more philosophical than normal. I like how Byrn seeks out mentors for his personal life. For example, a relatively new father, Byrn has been intentional about sitting down with more experienced parents whose examples he greatly respects. He doesn’t observe them as intensively as McCormick did other coaches, but he asks them questions and listens carefully as they share parenting insights.

Byrn has carved out a great approach to life-long learning. Granted, it’s one that requires humility because it rests on the admission that other people have greater experience and are more skilled and insightful about what excellence entails. Byrn has taken the same approach to learning more about how to be a better husband; how to manage money better; how in the end, to be a better human being.

Follow McCormick’s and Byrn’s lead. Seek out mentors willing to share the secrets of their “success” whether in your public or private lives.

     

Continuous Learning

In the United States, students attend school six hours a day, 180 days a year. At most schools many of those 1,080 hours are lost to assemblies, frazzled teachers trying to get students’ attention, and myriad other miscellaneous distractions. Some researchers suggest that at some schools as much as half of that time is lost.

Conventional thinking about student learning, that it takes place almost entirely in schools, is terribly limited because students spend the vast majority of their time outside of school. How can we promote informal, natural, day-to-day learning over the other 185 days?

Here are some suggestions:

1) Spend time together outside. And pose questions about the natural world. About plants, animals, insects, the weather, the natural world more generally. Watch Animal Planet. Plant a garden. Ride bikes. Continually ask questions that defy simple yes or no answers. Why do teens swear so much? What purpose does it serve? Why do people litter? What’s the best way to prevent people from littering? Why?

2) Go to the closest public library and check out whatever books strike your fancy. And then read. Tell others about the books you most enjoy. Right now I’m digging The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher. And I’m excited about what’s next in the queue, Nate in Venice by Richard Russo. My students often tell me they like to read, but not what’s assigned in school. Remind young people that the summer is a golden opportunity to decide for themselves what to read.

3) Encourage young people to write about what they’re doing or reading in a diary or in letters to extended family members. Or to write poems, stories, whatever’s most fun.

4) Plan a camping trip and thereby combine one and two—unplug and read in a natural setting.

5) Work some of what’s going on in the world into dinner conversations. Talk about Nelson Mandela’s fragile health, why young adults are cycling more and driving less, and the pros and cons of the evolving immigration bill.

6) Pose word problems in the car. The total distance of our trip is x, we’ve gone y, how much further do we have to go. If gas is $3.70 and we get 40 mpg, how much is this trip costing in gas? What if maintenance adds 10% more, then what’s the total? If I make $18/hour, how much time will it take me to pay for this car trip? Of course, adjust for age. The kitchen is a primo place for informal math learning too. Teach fractions while baking. Ask a young helper to write down what the recipe would look like if it was doubled. Or halved.

What other ideas do you have for promoting continuous learning that is a natural part of day-to-day life?

Of course the other option is to continue delegating teaching and learning to credentialed teachers. In which case you can just count down the days to the start of school in September.