Prime Time Leadership
By Robert F. DeFinis, Ed.D.
Any sports fan of the 90s is at least vaguely familiar with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders (aka Prime Time)! He was a two-sport all-star in professional football and baseball. He is known for his charismatic personality, braggadocious opinions of himself, and a flair for the dramatic! However, he is considered a pop culture icon and had the respect of athletes and sports writers to land him a spot among the greats in Canton. In recent years, he has found a new calling…coaching. He is currently the Head Football Coach for the University of Colorado. A program that has not seen success in quite some time. That all changed this past weekend! Sanders brought his leadership brand to the struggling Buffalo team this past offseason; it was fireworks from the start! After their massive upset in the season opener over nationally ranked TCU, it had me thinking…what unique characteristics does Coach Prime Time possess?
It is evident that Deion is authentic, sets clear expectations, fosters a winning mindset, and unconditionally loves his players. He demands much but is willing to celebrate achievement and doesn’t hesitate to call it like it is.
Clear Vision and Purpose
From the moment Deion stepped onto the University of Colorado Campus, he communicated a clear vision for the program's future. He set the stage for what it takes to be a winning team and how they would get there. He took it a step further by being transparent that not everyone will make it and that it might no longer be the best place for those team members who do not believe in his approach or philosophies. Essentially, he established that there was indeed a new sheriff in town and tough decisions needed to be made.
Confidence and Self-belief
Again, Deion exudes confidence. Some might falsely identify this as arrogance, but the difference is that he can back it up. He has produced on and off the field time and time again. He comes with more than words and a plan. He executes his vision while moving his followers in the right direction by strategically preparing them better than his opponents. Interestingly, this aspect is done in the shadows while his flamboyant comments are done to distract and bring attention. I equate this to almost like Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactics in boxing. Fooling his opponent to miscalculate and then be taken out.
Due to his background and accomplishments, he speaks from experience, and those impressionable young athletes drink it up! Many leaders have cut their teeth in the trenches. However, Deion has done it at the highest of levels. He comes with war stories that very few have and are willing to share. I can only imagine the lessons and personal experiences he uses to teach and mentor these men.
Work hard and play hard! From his press conferences and pre/post-game speeches, Deion understands the importance of celebrating achievement and being in the moment. It is understood that at the DI college football level, the amount of preparation and commitment is off the charts, but I don’t think he ever loses sight that these are student-athletes. They, too, require a space to express excitement and joy when they achieve great things that need tremendous dedication. Sometimes, leaders can be so focused on “what's next” that they forget the great things that just occurred.
Lead with Love and Compassion
Deion is a hugger! Every opportunity he gets to talk about or embrace one of his student-athletes, he doesn’t hesitate. Watching his face light up when they excel shows you that he is committed to their success. It goes beyond winning a football game. It goes beyond them graduating from the university. He is responsible for their mental well-being, personal growth, and becoming exceptional humans – something he takes seriously.
There are many theories and approaches to leadership. Often, the situation dictates what type of leadership we need to engage in. Deion is showing a hyper-focused style on confidence, outcomes, and love. It is gaining much attention and looks pretty receptive to the college student-athlete. I would not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, but much of what Deion does is basic and rooted in good motivational practices. The difference…his execution of it! At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coach Prime Time with 1 or 2 National Championships under his belt when it's all said and done.
Making Sure the "Newbie" is Okay!
By: Robert F. DeFinis, Ed.D.
In the United States, we know that summer is ending when we start to see the “back to school” supplies stockpiled at the local Walmart. Parents and educators are in a frenzy with all the preparation needed to get the academic year off to a great start, and all of this is occurring before one single leaf drops on the East Coast! During this time, I also like to remind administrators and seasoned educators to keep a protective eye on one group of teachers – the NEWBIE! Sure, there is a sense of excitement with obtaining your first teaching assignment and finally putting all that hard work into practice. However, there is a harsh reality as to why many studies suggest that north of 30% of new teachers leave the field in the first five years. This is why it is mission-critical to ensure that your school/institution has adopted best practices to support their needs, specifically their mental health.
As a new teacher, it is crucial to prioritize your mental health and well-being. You can utilize resources like teacher wellness programs, psychological well-being management, stress relief techniques, self-care habits, and professional support networks. These resources can help you maintain a healthy work-life.
Understanding the Challenges
Mental health and wellness are imperative for novice educators, as they can demonstrate a challenging progression from a student (or subject practitioner) to an instructor. As a new teacher, one faces numerous classroom difficulties, such as conduct management, student appraisal/evaluation, and curriculum alignment and delivery (just a few examples). These tasks require noteworthy intellectual exertion and energy that can affect one's mental prosperity.
As a new teacher, taking care of oneself should be a top priority. Establishing healthy self-care routines is essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being, mainly when dealing with the challenges of beginner teaching. Making self-care a regular practice can help manage stress, increase resilience, and prevent burnout. A few simple methods to get started include:
New teachers must create an effective support system to preserve their mental health. Finding the time, energy, and resources to establish relationships with colleagues and mentors can be challenging. Possessing a substantial support system plays a crucial role in dealing with the strains of teaching. One recommendation is to pair your NEWBIE with a mentor teacher early on. Whether there is a formal or informal process to your school’s mentorship approach, a new teacher should be paired with someone who can coach, support, and guide this new colleague in a professional and nurturing way. There are dozens of online resources to establish this process.
Effective Time Management
As a novice educator, it is essential to possess strong time management capabilities to remain on top. Effective time management can help teachers balance their personal and professional lives, reducing stress and burnout. A consistent schedule can reduce stress and improve productivity, allowing educators to perform more effectively.
Here's a helpful suggestion for new teachers who want to enhance their time management skills. Consider making a daily to-do list, allocating fixed times for planning and grading, taking regular breaks, and delegating tasks whenever feasible. Try to group similar tasks instead of multitasking to maximize productivity. I cannot stress enough that time management is a constant moving target. All professionals need to reexamine periodically their commitments and time allocation. It is easy to develop or fall back into bad habits.
Seeking Professional Development
For a new teacher, it's essential to consider the benefits of professional development for your overall well-being and mental health. Participating in professional development opportunities can keep you up-to-date with the latest teaching trends and provide valuable guidance on creating an effective learning environment for your students. It provides access to resources to help you manage stress and work-related pressures more efficiently. Attending conferences, workshops, or seminars is an excellent way for teachers to learn from one another and expand their knowledge base. While many new teachers come right out of college or from a teacher preparation program, there are teachers at the postsecondary level who come directly from industry. Getting these educators started on the right path with support and development in the art and practice of teaching is good.
As a new teacher, it can be challenging to find time for self-care. The demands of lesson planning, grading, and keeping order in the classroom can leave little room to prioritize personal needs and leisure activities. Practicing self-compassion can help you extend kindness and understanding to yourself and others. It's important to remember that everyone experiences hardships occasionally, and embracing imperfections without judgment or shame is okay. Self-compassion can also help you focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses, which can help you develop resilience when facing difficult situations like criticism or struggling with schoolwork. Engaging in self-care activities like meditation, yoga, journaling, or walking can help you develop self-compassion and take a break from work.
Recognizing Signs of Burnout
It's not uncommon for new teachers to experience burnout due to stress, anxiety, and the demands of teaching. Signs of burnout can include feeling overwhelmed and struggling to concentrate on tasks, emotional exhaustion, disconnection from colleagues or students, and a lack of motivation to do activities that used to be enjoyable. If physical signs such as headaches or insomnia arise, it's essential to immediately prevent them from worsening. I strongly recommend speaking with your mentor teacher (or administrator) to determine what internal services are available first. I have seen that a regular meeting cadence between new teachers and their support people/team can resolve many problems early on. It also establishes trust that the school and administrators are here for them and care.
While teacher well-being and mental health are essential for all instructional staff, we must be mindful that, like the new faces in front of them, new teachers are juggling many things with little reference and experience to help them navigate. This is why more seasoned educators and administrators can be of great value to the onboarding and overall retention of those we call the NEWBIE!