Do We Build For The Now Or For the Future?

The Baseball Winter Meetings just ended in Nashville. Which means absolutely nothing….unless you are a baseball diehard like myself…then it means everything.

Today while listening to Eric Wedge, the Mariners manager, give a press conference, he spoke about building a team.

He basically says there are two ways to build a baseball team…you either build for the short-term or the long-term.

Building for the short-term you focus on this year, you make a run for the World Series and hope you reach the playoffs.

If you build for the long term, you develop your players in the minors. In the long term, you stick with your players, you develop your young talent, you stay the course and you improve.

Now in baseball we know this approach works. The Texas Rangers changed to a long-term approach after they found out buying expensive players for the short-term just doesn’t work in the long term. (See: Alex Rodriguez).

Since they changed their approach here are their win – loss stats:

They steadily improved as they rebuilt their minor leagues and focused on good draft picks. Five years later they make the playoffs including a World Series appearance….and they are picked to be the top of their division again this year.

Since new management and Eric Wedge took over, the Seattle Mariners have been rebuilding the club for the long term. Here are their stats over the past few rebuidling years.

Eric Wedge took over as manager in 2011 and we have seen steady improvement. So his comments today that the team is building for the long term makes me happy. Makes me really happy. We are going to be good again someday soon…but we need to be patient, develop our players, watch them grow, learn, and blossom into some awesome baseball players. Would I love to see a winning season this year? Absolutely! But I would take 5 winning seasons in a row over 1 any day.

 

So what does this have to do with Education?

 

I started thinking about this today and then started thinking about where we are with technology in education:

Do we build for the short-term or long-term results?

Here’s what I have heard from teachers:

“I would love them to create movies, but iMoive takes too long to learn.”

“I would love for them to create a game using Scratch, but it takes too long to learn.”

“I would love for them to create a podcast, but it takes too long to learn the software.”

“I would love to have them blog, but it takes too long to show them how to do it, keep them updated, and monitor them.”

 

All of these above statements are focused on short-term results. You never hear a Kindergarten or 1st grade teacher say:

“I would love to teach them their numbers, but it takes too much time.”

“I would love to teach them to add, but it takes too much time.”

“Yes…I do think they should be able to write, but we just don’t have the time to teach that.”

 

You will never hear a Kindergarten or 1st Grade teacher say that. Why? Because it’s not about the short term. It’s about giving them skills that they can build upon. It’s about understanding learning is a process and every teacher at every grade level does their part to bring students along in a long-term approach to learning. The major leagues for us in K-12 education is graduation. We should all be focused on giving students the skills they need to be successful at the next level and in life.

 

Yes…it takes time to learn iMovie, to blog, to create a podcast. But they need to learn the skills at some point and at some point someone needs to step up and say I’ll get the skill building started.

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When I was at ISB, the 5th grade team stepped up and said they would teach students to blog. Yes, it took away from other curriculum “must-dos”, yes it was hard, yes it was time consuming. But somebody had to do it. Each year each grade builds on it and now there is a school of bloggers. Every teacher above 5th grade should be thanking those teachers for taking the time to teach the kids how to blog. Just like every teacher above Kindergarten should be thanking the teacher before for teaching writing, their numbers and their letters.

How do we change our view of technology in education of one from being a short-term: this assignment, this unit, this school year; to a long-term, “I’m going to teach them something they can use and build on year after year?”

How do we change our direction, our outlook on technology?

How do we build for a long term future that will see us year after year make improvements instead of build for June when the kids will move on to the next grade?

How do we make sure every year our students have skills that will help them improve next year?

How do we develop these technology skills that most people agree students need, but very few are willing to make room for to teach?

The first step might be understanding that technology is more than a tool…it’s a skill set that needs to be developed year after year just like the skill of reading, writing, and math problem solving. Technology is a skill, a skill you are going to need if you want to make it to the major leagues and be successful.

10 Comments

  1. Sticking to baseball, because that’s something I know quite a bit about…

    The Rangers aren’t going to repeat this year. They’ve lost too much of their top talent to teams who – like California – are building for the short term (and who can afford, like the Yankees, to build for the short term year after year after year).

    I watched the Montreal Expos for 35 years develop their farm system and produce quality player after quality player – and still fall short as these players were plucked away by the wealthier club just as they matured.

    The only way to respond is a bit of both. You have to have a decent farm system – otherwise, you never develop the leverage you need. Young new talent is also exciting, and puts fans into the seats, and you need fan support if you’re going to make a decent run (Tampa Bay Rays notwithstanding). Because you also need to be able to spend the month you need at the right time to make the push.

    The Blue Jays may not win it all this year, but they’re going to have a winning record. They have some terrific home-grown talent, players who filled the seats last year (they were a great team to watch), and they’ve added the impact players they need to fill the gaps.

    To learning, then. Yes, you need to make the investment and spend the time you need to master the difficult stuff that gives you a solid foundation. But you also need access to short term impact tools that get the job done when your in a position to succeed. Spending the time to learn iMovie makes sense if i want to develop long-term video and presentation skills – but if I just want to show my new recipe to a prospective restaurant, I want something that will get the job done without any fuss.

    Oh, and about Seattle…? I’m really, really sorry. So sorry. If I weren’t ever an Expos fan, I would feel pity. 😉

    • An Expos fan….I’m really sorry. :)

      I appreciate your comment. I’m looking at what the Angles are doing spending over 100 million on 3 plays for the next 5 years all of which are over 30 years old…which in baseball years is old. Short-term they’ll be tough for the next two or three years but long-term they’ll be tied up in money. We’ll see how it works for them.

      I agree with your learning analogy….we should be finding ways to teach these skills for the long term and not the short term projects. I get we need short term impact tools….but those can still lead to long-term skills that we can build on year after year. Presentation skills are a perfect example.

      Good luck to your Blue Jays. We’ll see how this next season goes….and I think my Mariners will have a winning season as well.

  2. Great analogy. Patrick Donovan, a first grade teacher here, came in every day to give me the winter meeting update.
    I agree that at some point someone needs to step up and say “I’ll do that part.” It takes an understanding admin that will allow a teacher to put aside a “must-do” or two in order to start the building for the future. This year at ACST, despite our “slight setback” as seen the grade 2s do some amazing things on a iPad. They are going to show me how to do it. I have enjoyed trying out a few new things and am hoping my course 5 final will reflect my learning, and how I hope to start the ball rolling here.
    Back to baseball…if we could see our way clear to pay our superstar ball players less (are they really worth 35 million), then the teams that nurture young talent would be able to keep them, instead of them being whisked away by big pocket teams – or short sighted ones.

  3. Love the analogy, Jeff. SF Giant fan, here! A team that tends to do a lot of long term thinking with some strategic short term pick ups.

    I think your analogy to educational technology and education in general is spot on. So much of our planning is related to immediate goals, concrete standards, and finite tests. We need a philosophy that embraces a focus on depth of understanding that can only be achieved through an investment of time. The student who masters iMovie or gains an in depth understanding of a historical period or piece of literature will be able to transfer those skills to the next learning goal. Well done!

    btw How’s that short term plan working for those Angel and Yankee fans? It seems the long term planners still tend to win out more than the short termers.

  4. Jeff,
    I can see first hand the long-term results of your 5th grade blogging efforts. Landing in the 5th grade at ISB as a teacher when the blogging was in it 3rd year or so, I could see the culture being created, along with the skills and benefits. It took commitment, consistent effort, and outside support. Now in 6th grade, I see students who blog with confidence….though they still need support, especially in the area of copyright and plagiarism.
    I think that short and long-term goals are interdependent. The long-term goals identify with the vision, have greater impact, and might just grow and morph into something better than you initially thought possible. But how can you reach those long-term goals without the baby-step short-term goals? The short-term is of course largely pointless without the long-term.
    Here is my non-tech (non-baseball) analogy: When I lived in Washington, I got involved with a Farm to School committee. It was headed by an amazing woman with vision and a long-term goal: Get the food from our own farming community into the schools’ cafeterias. Our first month or two of meetings was all about securing apples to pass out for an after school snack. We worked hard for that short-term goal. (At many points, I lost sight of the long-term, unable to see how this snack was going to impact school lunches). After apples, there was local cheese, then pretzels, then strawberries…..Now, I have just read that each month there is a local fruit or vegetable on the lunch menu IN the cafeteria. That long-term goal is being reached and good things are happening with each short-term step. (And it is morphing into something a little different than that initial goal.)
    I keep this experience in mind as I work to transform my teaching…and it highlights for me the importance of VISION.

    whatcomfarmtoschool.org

  5. I think that is any scenario, taking a truly long term view means asking stakeholders to take a leap of faith. There is a level of trust involved. A trust that must perhaps survive for a little while with no return. That is why politics is rooted in the short term, because we are a society that will not take any sort of leap of faith, or extent any trust to anyone else for long enough for any long term change to happen.

    Education, which is a notably slow adopter of any kind of change, is also mired in this cycle. Less so in international schools, but within the United States, where scores and testing are so politicized, schools are focusing on the immediate future. Any funding, etc depends on how they perform today, not in five years.

    Thankfully, schools do take that leap of faith, and we can see that if you start blogging with second graders, even if the first months are pretty labor intensive, and the resulting posts slightly stilted, there is a payoff. The payoff is that they begin to find a voice, maybe in third grade, but the students begin to reflect, collaborate, and express ideas in new ways. With every teacher (or administration) that takes this leap of faith, the leap becomes smaller and less daunting for the next person looking at it.

  6. Excellent post, Jeff. I have watched the M’s play at the Kingdome and at their new Safeco field. On my first night in Asia I spent two hours riding two buses to get downtown to watch a Chinese Professional Baseball League game in Taipei. One of my retirement goals is to see a game in every major league and Triple-A ballpark in the country!

    Now in the midst of teacher recruiting, I can definitely say it is my goal to build teams for both the short term and long term. As described above in the comment about adding locally grown items to the school lunch menu, short term wins build the success needed for the longer term. It’s hard to attract the teachers I want for achieving our long term goals, if we don’t have some short term success to point to. Short term successes? Adding a 1-to-1 learning program for our middle/high school. Improving our PD support. Happy students, teachers and parents, spreading the good word about our school. Long term goals? Excellent learning results in a clearly articulated 21st century learning environment (yes, in Africa!). Increased enrollment on an expanded campus with the facilities we need and want.

    Each grade level or department is at a different place with different needs. Two strong IB teachers with experience at other schools in one department? Then I can hire an enthusiastic intern or young teacher there. No one returning in one grade level for next year? Then I need to hire maturity and experience with the programs we are using. Ultimately though, I want to be hiring people who can help us build that 21st century learning environment that we all want our kids to be successful in.

    I also like the team metaphor for hiring much better than Jim Collins’ metaphor of getting the right people on the bus, from his book “Good to Great.” That seems so passive, and always smacks of “one bus, one driver” to me. Maybe I did set things in motion toward that 21st century learning environment here at ICS, but we ain’t gonna get there with just me at the wheel. All of us need to be playing our part on the team.

  7. This was an excellent article and I wholeheartedly agree. The baseball analogy you used drove home the point that we must always be planning for the long-term investment. Going to tweet and pin this article for our audiences! Keep writing!

  8. Your baseball analogy really hit home with me. I’m a high school basketball coach, and when you compare planning for the long-term in sports and in education it made sense. We do need to put the time in to give kids the necessary tools needed to be successful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts- it is very inspirational.

  9. I love your analogy and can definitely relate to struggling between focusing on the short-term or long-term. In my standardized test-driven school, sometimes we teachers put on blinders to everything besides teaching them the hundreds of concepts and vocabulary words that they will be tested on. However, I have been trying to take more time out to work on the long-term development of my students. In our school, grades 6-8 have laptop carts in their classroom and the students use them almost daily. The past few years, I have done all that I can to prepare my 4th graders for this and giving them the skills that they’ll need to create Powerpoints, blog, make iMovies, and other time-consuming tasks. I just started blogging with my class last year, and it has been fabulous. Admittedly, I often do these things that “take so long” at the end of the year AFTER the standardized tests :)

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