You’re Fired!
Week Seven: Send In the Clowns

Inspiring quotes and heated debate focus on the role of the teacher. What about the role of the student? What responsibility does the student have for their education? That was the question presented in three acts during this week’s episode of The Apprentice where the teams were asked to design and run a miniature golf course.

Act 1: In Which Audrey Offers Her Beautiful Mind

Attempting to prove she’s more than a pretty face, Audrey volunteers to serve as team leader. After some controversy, Net Worth appears to agree that Audrey has what it takes. She vows to bring out the best in each person and begins to delegate responsibility to each team member based on their skills. Craig would take the lead in marketing, Chris would design the course and John would be in charge of promotions.

So far, so good. CEO ‘s know that leadership begins by clearly defining goals, roles and objectives. If everyone cooperates, Net Worth’s only competition should be Magna. However, Classroom CEO’s will tell you that those who are led, will not always follow. Craig, Chris and John exhibited classic passive/aggressive behavior when they called to ask if they should hand out flyers or build the course. This is where Audrey stumbled; she chose to respond to the question presented rather than follow the plan she proposed. She found herself in the same position as many teachers – trying to force the team to do what’s best for them.

The most potent strategy for leaders — whether in the classroom or the boardroom — is to take the time to plan for the unexpected. We call this planning the “invisible guard rails.” The “invisible guard rails” allow leaders to effectively delegate responsibility using a variety of techniques. Using traditional classroom strategies, Audrey might have responded by suggesting Craig, Chris and John review their assignments. Had they done so, they would have seen they were asked to market, design AND promote.

The same information could have been discerned using project-based learning strategies. Audrey could have answered their question with a question, asking each team member to explain their role as they understood it. This would have allowed her to maintain control while requiring the team members to shoulder their responsibility.

Act 2: In Which Magna Enrolls in the School of Rock

While Audrey was struggling to get her team to accept their individual responsibilities, Stephanie seemed to be playing the role of Jack Black in “The School of Rock.” Although he wasn’t a teacher, Jack Black took a group of students who had only experienced traditional education and helped them blossom into rock and roll stars using project-based learning. He made it look easy and so did Stephanie. Stephanie’s team took ownership of the task and crafted a cross-promotional strategy to shut out Net Worth.

Does this mean Stephanie’s a better leader than Audrey or that Black’s a better teacher than Ned Schneebly? No, not necessarily. Leadership and education depend upon several key ingredients including the acceptance of individual responsibility by each student/team member. It’s been said that you “Can’t nail Jell-O to the wall.” It’s equally true that you can’t make someone learn. There are, however, key techniques for motivating them to want to learn. They include making the task relevant, important and challenging; directing the activities so they require the use of a variety of learning strategies; and organizing the teams so they’re comprised of a combination of personality types. According to Marc Changnon, Education to Careers Coordinator for Champaign Unit 4 High Schools, “This is where project-based learning really brings it home to the students.”

Act 3: In Which the Clowns Take Over the Asylum

It was a beautiful day for Magna. Their “Safari Sunday” miniature golf course was open, the team was working together to attract customers and their cross promotion with area vendors was resulting in increased traffic. Across the way, the cloud of disharmony continued to follow Audrey and Net Worth. The male team members were complaining about putting on the clown outfits to promote the circus theme. When they finally donned the colorful garb, Chris added his own touch – a pinch of tobacco between the cheek and gums. Needless to say, Net Worth lost and had to go to the boardroom.

The Donald, a traditionally educated guy, followed his tendency to focus all the blame on the team leader. This has resulted in several situations where the other contestants are safe to coast and/or sabotage the team. The same is true of society in general when it comes to education. If a student gets poor grades, we wonder about the teachers. If a group of students regularly find themselves facing disciplinary action, we wonder about the teachers. If a school is placed on academic probation as a result of poor achievement test scores, we wonder about the teachers.

While “The Apprentice” is a game and we expect to have only one winner, education is reality. If we want to leave no child behind and win as a society, we have to help the entire team accept its responsibilities for winning.

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