Sunday, November 2, 2014

Managing a Baseball Team is Alot like Managing a Classroom

1954 World Series
Those that know me best know that I am a huge baseball fan.  I don’t follow it day to day like I used to, but after years of playing it as a kid, I have always been fascinated by the game.   I actually credit baseball for my love of reading.  I can still remember reading “The Baseball Life of Willie Mays” over and over when I was in third grade.  I remain convinced he was and is the best baseball player that ever lived and the main reason I was rooting for the Giants in World Series this year.  Once in college, I was fortunate enough to take a class called, “Baseball as a Metaphor for Life”.  It didn’t matter that it was an 8:00 AM class, I never missed it. It is with this theme that I will share my view of baseball with my passion for education.

Besides being fun to play and great to watch, real fans know there are two distinct philosophies  that separate baseball from other sports.  The first is “the book”.  You can’t really define “the book” but in your gut, you know what is right and what is wrong.  If you are around the game for any length of time you will hear someone talk about “playing by the book” and what they really mean is they are doing things that have been commonly accepted and therefore their decisions would not be questioned by others even if they don’t work.  Many teams and managers have been quite successful over time, by playing by the book.  Their decisions are sound because they are based on their own experiences and those around them.  They make decisions with their gut.  Many of our schools function in the same exact way….we do things because we have, over time, been successful and gained experience that allows us to make decisions because “we know best.”  However, there are times when our gut feeling or doing something the way it has always been done does not produce the best results.  For baseball traditionalists, this can be hard to swallow…it can be hard for educators to swallow too.

A second way of looking at the game, some call it “moneyball”, is to strictly look at the game through a numbers lens. Advocates of “moneyball” constantly look at data to make decisions. They do not base their decisions on their own experiences or gut feelings, but instead use numerical data trends to determine which players to use and when.  True disciples of this philosophy trust statistics rather than instincts to make decisions.  Sometimes these decisions go against traditional baseball moves (“the book”) and therefore many hardcore baseball people find them difficult to depend on.  Many would argue this approach has depersonalized the game and taken away the human side of decision making. Schools face the same dilemma. Teachers and Administrators are faced with an enormous amount of data and are asked/forced to make decisions in their classrooms and schools based on numbers rather than relationships. Sometimes the data forces us to admit that decisions and beliefs we have appear to be less effective than we would like to admit.

Thus a struggle between the two philosophies exists. In fact, it has torn apart organizations that trust one version over another and can’t seem to find a way to reconcile the two.  The truth is, the most successful baseball teams and the most successful classrooms must use both!!  We can’t forget about “playing by the book” because we are teaching kids, not robots. People bring variables that numbers just can’t predict.  However, gone are the days when numbers don’t matter.  It would be foolish for a baseball manager or an educator to not access the data that is available to them to help them make the  best decisions for their students.  The best and most successful baseball managers and teachers are the ones that can balance the humans as well as the numbers. 

I encourage educators everywhere….use your instincts and experience to make great teaching decisions, but don’t ignore the trends and results in your data.  We all owe ALL our students that….