December 1, 2016
“I scream. You scream. We all scream for the Big Red team!”
Most people probably remember screaming for ice cream, but our Union High School cheerleading team incorporated our own version of the 1920s ditty into the cheer that helped us reach the top 10 at the State Finals about 70 years after the song was written. Investing our energy into creating and performing something together, and experiencing a positive outcome as a result of our shared work, generated an unmatched sense of satisfaction for our team. Making decisions that played off of each others’ strengths, reflecting on what was working and what needed to be revised, gave us all a sense of ownership and pride. We were focused on each other and what we could each do to continuously improve as a team.
Cheryl Hutchings, the coach who lead our team more than two decades ago, is pictured here cheering on one of her kindergarten students at Stoney Creek Elementary in Comstock Park this fall. As long as I’ve known her, Cheryl has been a positive force in shaping the lives of young people. She has six children of her own and hundreds more whom she has treated as her own throughout her years as a coach and a teacher.
How does she do it?
Focus. Cheryl invests her energy in building meaningful relationships and developing leadership capacity in each team member. She spends time nurturing mindfulness about who we are and how we each add value to the team. Each team member is accountable to the others, and we know that we achieve success when we work together toward a common goal. Collective success spills over into individual efficacy, which continuously feeds back into the success of the team. The shared leadership created by this positive interdependence is inclusive and sustainable. It’s a culture that is created intentionally with high expectations and accountability coupled with equally high levels of support and encouragement. Cheryl’s leadership is “a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a goal” (Kruse, 2013). To have a leader whose words and actions align with values and beliefs allows us to trust – and motivates us to give our best efforts. Cheryl inspires others because she looks for the awesome in everyone and infuses positivity into every interaction. She models what she expects; and she expects integrity.
Although my years of cheerleading have long been over, what I learned about myself and the value of shared leadership during that time has influenced decisions I’ve made throughout my career. In fact, I still come across items from my days with the squad that communicate messages that resonate all these years later. One item I found was a t-shirt Cheryl had made for our team with many of the quotes she shared and lived out with us each season. The t-shirt was to serve as a reminder of what she believed about us and our responsibility to strive for greatness.
And, greatness is a responsibility.
We might initially balk at this idea and believe our focus should be fixed on helping others achieve greatness. To this, I would say:
If we are not intentionally seeking continuous improvement, we not only hinder our own growth, we hinder the growth of others; because they are watching. All the time. Young people are entrusted to us each day, and they are looking for models of how to think and act. It is not enough to tell our students that they can be anything they want if they choose to work hard, and persevere, and have a growth mindset. How many times do we talk about showing vs. telling? If we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to serve as a model of how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, who’s showing them how to achieve greatness? Muhammad Ali said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, achieves nothing in life.”
By seeking out techniques that are proven to engage students in the work of learning and thinking together, and sharing our reflections on the learning experiences with one another, we establish norms about how to think and act like learners. When we attempt something new with our students for the sake of their learning, and we invite them to inform our practice based on their experience with us, we send a powerful message that we value their learning and thinking more than compliance and right answers. Sharing control with the learners we work with allows them to take ownership of their learning. They become self-directed, and they believe they have thinking that matters. Developing an identity about how to think and act like a lifelong learner and a change agent is what will help them pursue greatness.
In the pursuit of greatness, I think Cheryl would probably leave the quote, “I am the greatest,” to Mr. Ali; however, the power of his positive thinking when he said things like: “What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming,” or “Don’t count the days, make the days count,” would be something she, and I believe, we all could agree with.
Thank you, Cheryl, my coach, mentor and friend, for serving as model of what it means to be a Proud Michigan Educator. As our state now has sights set on achieving top 10 status for achievement, I know you will be leading your students with steadfast focus on how to “Be awesome … one day at a time.”
And, thank you, for another inspiring t-shirt to remind us of our responsibility to strive for greatness.