Matt Pearl

A few days ago, I paid a summer visit to my high school classroom, where I will again be teaching English this fall at Union Star R-II. The walls, which were a muddy gray color before, have been repainted to a brilliant white.

It really brightened up the place, let me tell you. It wasn’t bad before, but the dull, darker colors on the wall seem too conducive to students getting, well, tired. When you teach high school, you don’t need any classroom environmental factors working against you – the skipping, laughing demeanor that kids bring to school as Kindergarteners has essentially worn off completely by the time they get to me.

So, in the world of drowsy, sometimes-belligerent public-school kids, having bright classroom walls and a sense of levity can save a teacher’s day, week, and quarter.

In fact, one of the most powerful allies that a teacher has is the students’ attention. If you can keep that, then you can get your content taught. The same concept holds true in many other aspects of life: if people care, then they stay engaged and work toward the goal, but if they stop caring, there’s little you can do to make them want to lift a finger toward your cause.

It reminds me of that old saying about there being ‘too many cooks in the kitchen.’ The expression, of course, refers to there being too many people in the same spot who want things done their way. In my experience, though, I have witnessed more getting done when several people care – even if they have competing ideas – than when people are apathetic and lack vision toward the goal.

I’d rather have leaders with conflicting personalities and expectations than watch a room full of people shrugging their shoulders, deferring to the next person’s opinion with sleepy indifference.

People have to be first present on the scene to contribute; people must be interested in the mission to help the goal to be achieved. It all sounds easy to deconstruct, but just go and try building a winning team from scratch. Go ahead and try to start a new community event, or work to revitalize or renovate something that is of general public interest. Unless you get the right chemistry between motivated people from the get-go, you’ll fight an endless battle to make your vision understood to others; then, for your trouble, everyone who wasn’t interested in helping you in the first place will freely criticize your efforts.

No, it’s far better when you have folks around you who care about the mission, even when it means you don’t get your way on a few details. It’s pretty tough to lead when there’s no one following you, and it’s pretty tough to follow a cause without a leader (or two).

The more difficult issue: what if you can’t find folks who care as much about something as you do. I have a deep perspective on this matter, as I have a couple of degrees in English, tons of enthusiasm for Shakespeare and adverbs and sentence diagramming, and generally classrooms full of kids who just want to survive through basketball practice that afternoon. It’s tough to get everyone enthused about Hamlet – even the title character has an abundance of self-doubt.

But when it comes together, when people care about that common goal and begin to understand one another’s roles in the enterprise, it is then that all your work pays off. It reminds me of my coaching days: drawing the game plan on the whiteboard is great, running effective conditioning drills is beneficial and reinforcing the fundamentals is absolutely vital, but you can’t win without at least a few good players.

That goes for every team you ever assemble, join or lead. You can do everything right, but talented folks have to want to be there. That’s the big challenge, my friends.

Matt Pearl owns and operates newspapers in King City, Albany and Grant City.

 

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