As good as we are, what would It take to make us better? I heard this tenet years ago and it struck me in many different ways. I saw it as motivation to improve…to “get better” even though one may already be “good”. I also saw it as a shield to complacency for those who are reluctant to change in a world that is transforming right before our eyes. In the years since hearing this phrase, I have found even more meaning in this tenant as it aligns with my belief that the best teachers are the best learners. Simply put, I believe that we must strive to improve…every chance we get.
When Pablo Casals, Spanish born cellist, was asked at age 90 why he continued to practice, he replied: “Because I think I’m getting better.” Why did he feel he needed to get better at age 90? He was already extremely well accomplished. I contend that his mindset, his belief, didn’t allow him to be “good enough”. I like to think that he knew of no other way to live his vision of music performance excellence, other than to continually strive to improve his art.
I’ve had the pleasure to work with many Pablo’s in my career. Ironically, I have seen those who jump first at voluntary training are already the higher functioning professionals. Why is that? Well, the best teachers are the best (and most motivated) learners. Hmmm…does that mean that the best teachers need the least support? No! I believe that those with the largest appetite for knowledge need the most attention as they have more power to pull their colleagues “up” as they learn.
About the same time in my life that I heard the tenet mentioned in the first paragraph, I met someone who would become a strong mentor for me. In a session of the Indiana Principal Leadership Academy many years ago, I remember hearing Todd Whitaker’s principle that when you work with your superstar teachers, your ability to positively impact the entire staff could be much greater.
Dr. Whitaker will tell you that the “mediocres” best chance of improving is through their witnessing of trusted and respected colleagues catching on and adopting change. Ron Clark refers to those who are reluctant to change as “sitters” on the bus.
We are in the change business! We don’t have to stop the train to get everyone on board first, but we must remember that once we have a critical mass willing to move forward, it’s time to get the wheels spinning! With support and strong focus of keeping the train on the track, most of the others will catch up.