Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Teachers, Blueberries, and Developing Your People

By Justin Baeder — February 03, 2012 4 min read
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Guest Post By Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding

Bill Parcells, the Super-Bowl winning coach of the New York Giants, enjoyed much success during his seven years as head coach back in the 1980’s.

When he later took over as head coach of the New England patriots, though, he improved the organization, but left the Patriots after only three seasons. As a coach, he felt he needed more influence when it came to choosing the players that would be on his team. Parcells is famously noted for claiming that “They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

Teachers may be familiar with a similar statement as it regards their students - the blueberry story is a well-known and often referenced explanation of why their classroom test scores or student performance are lower than state or federal standards would prefer.

No doubt, there are many principals and administrators who lean upon the same analogy when considering the quality of some lower performing teachers as well. The problem with comparing students (or teachers) to the quality of blueberries used in ice cream is that blueberries do not improve or change over time, except to deteriorate and decay.

Blueberries are harvested at their peak of ripeness and beauty and are judged as good or bad once they have left the farm. They develop on the vine, and then are delivered to market to be enjoyed and eventually added to ice cream or muffin mix. Students, on the other hand, are not delivered to classrooms after being harvested.

The more appropriate analogy is that students are still on the vine and the job of the teacher is developing people. The influence we have on people around us, whether as teachers during the school day, or managers in an office setting, or coaches during a season, is determined by how you cultivate that vine to encourage their growth.

Developing your people, whether as students or even aspiring young teachers, is the process of encouraging them to mature and grow into far more plump and ripe and beautiful shape than when they first arrived.

Obviously, teachers and the school environment are not the sole providers of nourishment for that vine or the quality of fruit it will ultimately produce. The vine our people grow from will always produce better fruit if planted in good soil and given the right environment to thrive.

But a team of determined teachers, managers, or coaches - through a series of challenges and encouragement - can offer enough water and sunlight that even the unhealthiest vine is given the chance to produce greater fruit through the efforts of a concerned and capable gardener.

Developing people should be the objective of all great leaders, and one life’s most empowering and humbling realizations is that others are often profoundly influenced by our interest in their own personal development.

Just as the farmer is judged by the quality of his harvest, though, so are managers, coaches, and teachers often judged by the quality of the fruit their vine produces. Great leaders accept this as a challenge, and recognize the profound influence they can have on the vine when given the chance to cultivate it.

Great teachers can accept the challenge of developing people in their classroom and inspiring students’ desires to grow and learn and improve themselves by offering experiential activities and engaging lessons that are relevant to students’ lives.

Managers and coaches, similarly, find that their commitment to developing people into what they might become, instead of using them and judging them as they are, almost always results in improved loyalty, morale, and overall productivity. When the people you lead know you are interested in their personal development and growth, they are far more likely to invest in helping the organization succeed.

So, how do you create a culture where “developing people” is a priority?

Put simply, if you want teachers to focus on developing their students and peers, as a leader you must focus on developing your teachers. To help create an environment where students are developed and challenged with creative activities, teacher collaboration is essential.

The teacher teamwork you desire can be developed most effectively through collaborative activities and challenges that a day of teambuilding can provide!

If you want your organization to communicate better, to laugh together, to become more cohesive, and to share more information and ideas, a teambuilding event may be the single best thing you could offer them.

Culture will always trump strategy, and your organization can increase the positive impact it has on producing better people and products by building a culture of high expectations that emphasizes the importance of teamwork and developing people who are interested in contributing their best to a worthy cause.

Yes, you will be judged by the blueberries your organization produces. But you have a chance to significantly influence how quickly and fully they grow. As caretaker of your organizational vine, you determine whether the fruit will grow with attention or shrivel from starvation.

A leader’s job is developing people. Bill Parcells is an example of that. But the surprising truth is that he never had nearly as much success when HE CHOSE his players as when he was forced to accept the challenge of developing them. His only super bowl wins were with the Giants, not the teams that later allowed him personnel decisions.

Investing your time and resources in developing people professionally and personally will create a stronger and more cohesive school culture where individuals show appreciation for your investment in them by performing better and feeling more valued.

And when they become better blueberries, everyone benefits!

Sean Glaze is a speaker, author, and team-building coach. A former high school teacher, Sean now helps athletic teams, businesses, and teams of educators work together more effectively.

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