Friday, May 22, 2015

Are You McFarland USA?

Last month, I saw McFarland USA. The movie is based on the true story of teacher-coach, Jim White, who took 7 impoverished teens from the migrant school of McFarland High School and turned them into cross-country champions for the state of California. What was interesting about White was his reputation as a teacher-coach that had overstayed his welcome at too many schools, and now, he was at his last stop in the teaching profession, McFarland, USA.

As the movie began, I thought to myself, "Oh great...  Is this another Freedom Writers or Stand by Me? Is this another Hollywood depiction of a heroic teacher who helps a few kids succeed in a hopeless American school?  Will I see the principal as another apathetic and overwhelmed leader?  Will I see another disconnected community with frustrated parents?"  After all, when was the last time, Hollywood actually portrayed a public school as something more than a death trap where only a few kids learned from the one and only teacher that could teach?  That is not the true story of American schools, so at the very least, I was skeptical.

Wow, was I surprised?

McFarland was nothing like any movie I had ever seen.  The students wanted a better life.  The principal was actively supportive of White and the team.  The parents and community rallied around the team and ultimately transformed McFarland as a whole because Coach White, the washed up coach, not only changed the lives of his students, but he was the catalyst that transformed a struggling school and community into a positive place that rallied around its periennial state champion.  In this case, it wasn't the campus or district leader that led the change.  It was the teacher who led, and the leaders who followed.  If White had waited for leadership to take the lead in building his team, he may have never had a championship team or even a team at all.  If he had waited for permission to create something new, he would have never changed the lives of his kids.  White didn't wait for a leader to lead his vision, because he was the leader.

So are you McFarland, USA?

If you're waiting on someone to create the conditions for you to make the ultimate impact on kids, please stop.  That someone is you.  If you are waiting on the community to rally around you, please stop.  Create a contagion that forces the community to follow you.  

Pride and success can only be built with a passion for excellence. With passion you can create something that has never been built before. You can change a culture that has been desperately yearning for it.  You can change lives.

Coach White built McFarland, USA for several reasons. Because he had no other career options, because his back was against the wall, and because he had unbelievable grit and determination, he was able to inspire an entire school community to believe in his commitment to one thing, excellence.   We must remember that we all have the ability to transform our schools and communities if we will believe in our passion and our abilities. 

There is a Coach White within each one of us, and it is our job to dig deep to find our inner leader and push ourselves to believe in the power of our position. No matter what role you play, you must always remember that you have the potential to transform an entire community if you will believe in your potential and passion.  The only question we have to answer is this. Will we wait for someone to give us permission to live our passion, or will we take full advantage of the opportunity that has been given us?


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