Adventures in cat herding


It is January and at our elementary school, time for Bitty Basketball.  These past two weeks I have been running an after school basketball camp for 90 1st-4th graders.  High school basketball players help coach our young players and then it culminates over the weekend with games Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.  Our PTC (Parent Teacher Club) raises money through the event and donates some of the profit as a thank you to our high school basketball players who coach.  It is a wonderful experience for our students who love a chance to hear the cheers of their parents and community and have fun playing basketball and interacting with the high school players (who in their minds aren’t far from NBA players).  For me, it is exhausting (I don’t know how coaches do it), but it is also a great opportunity to connect with students and community in a different way, have a lot of fun, as well as learn a lot.  As I reflect, here are my top leadership lessons from my adventure in “cat herding.”

  1. Differentiation is needed in leadership as badly as in the classroom.                           For some of our high school coaches, all that was needed was a loose structure and schedule and they could do the rest.  Others needed step by step instruction, modeling, and reinforcement.  Much is said (and rightly so) about differentiation in the classroom, but I believe we should be talking much more about differentiation in our leadership.  People come with a wide array of experiences and expertise.  Some may need to know the broader framework and have you get out of their way, while others may need support at each step before they are able to take off on their own.  Knowing the difference is key to being an effective leader.
  2. Leading doesn’t mean always being the smartest person in the room                                                                                                                                             I have never coached basketball before and what I know about it would fit in the first couple of sentences of this post.  Everyone has probably known someone who is an “expert” about everything (who they most likely avoided like the plague).  It can be difficult to admit ignorance at times with the expectations placed on principals, but learning and growth in the areas I need to grow can’t happen before I admit that I am not an expert in every area.  This simple starting point allowed me to receive good ideas from our high school coaches, other teachers and coaches who also helped out, and even the players.   I had a group of 4th graders in my office one day for lunch and asked them the simple question, “How can we make Bitty Basketball better?”  Although not all of their suggestions were plausible (no we will not scrimmage the entire time), I got ideas from that conversation we used to make practice better that night. Ask the kids in your building how things can be improved.  If you persist, I guarantee they will surprise you.
  3.     We don’t grow and learn without someone to challenge our thinking                  Having great discussions and professional disagreements is one of the most important signs of a healthy culture, but it is very difficult to build the trust needed for it to happen.  After I had a conversation with a teacher and coach in our building on ways to improve, she felt the need to apologize because she felt like she had crossed a line by disagreeing with me or been too frank and honest with her ideas.   In talking with her, there were several things that could be done more effectively in teaching proper basketball technique while still keeping it a fun introductory experience for the students and I was grateful to her for sharing them.  If you show me a leader who is surrounded by people telling them all their ideas are brilliant, I will show you a leader at risk for implementing a really dumb idea.  A trusted colleague who provides perspective and honesty is an invaluable treasure to a leader and I am blessed to have several.

 4.  Have fun today!  Your to do list will still be there tomorrow.                                               It doesn’t feel like I have gotten a lot done these past weeks, but the opportunity to connect with the students and community and build relationships is more important than anything that was postponed on my “to do” list.  Although balance is important in all things, it is easy to get caught up in the pressure of “getting things done” and neglect the relationships that are absolutely essential to being an effective leader.  Always remember People > Projects.

What are you learning this year?  I would love to hear from you!


3 thoughts on “Adventures in cat herding

  1. Tia Ziegler

    From a PE teacher who teaches anywhere from 20-80 kids in the gym at the same time multiple grade levels, I must tell you “Tis herding cats!” Very true! I commend you as an administrator for being willing to be in the “organized chaos” that I call my classroom! What a great way to connect with the older students and community! High Five to you Joey! I wish more principals thought like you and weren’t afraid to get in the game and simply enjoy kids! I look forward to hearing more.

    1. jsagel Post author

      Thanks a lot Tia! After these last weeks, I am very sure I don’t have a future as a P.E. teacher, but I think it always good to walk in someone else’s shoes and understand where they are coming from. I appreciate the kind words!

  2. Kristal Floyd

    Joey, the cat herding part made me laugh. I’ve often thought PE teachers may have one of the toughest jobs on our campuses.

    Differentiation in leadership would be important for all leaders to be successful, including Teacher Leaders. Thanks for your honesty regarding the comments about not knowing everything.

    Again…great post!


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