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Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #15: Most Likely to Succeed

thought-leaders“The school system has a quarterback problem.” And so Malcolm Gladwell draws us into a conundrum that haunts the various interest groups and stakeholders fighting over education in America.

The perennial fight over scarce resources, institutional power, and job security—all in the name of putting children “first,” of course—overlooks a very interesting problem. We don’t use what we know about what makes a good teacher in our training and choosing of teachers.


As being a good quarterback in college football is not, interestingly enough, a good indicator of how well one will play in the pros, so for teachers having the education, credentials and years of experience are not necessarily indicators of being a good teacher.

And even though we know better, we still base teacher selection, pay and retention on anachronistic metrics such as college degrees received before ever teaching and seniority unrelated to the quality or effectiveness of teaching.

Fascinating to me is the ability and willingness of the various stakeholders, from unions to school administrators to parents to politicians, to permit their interests to supersede all that is known about what makes a good teacher, what motivates a good teacher and what rewards good teaching.

Gladwell has several ideas for attracting, training and culling those best suited to teaching children, which you’ll see as you read this chapter. But for my reflection, I’m stuck on the damage we are willing to inflict on those we purport to serve—especially when they are those who cannot defend their own interests—in order to defend our own interests.

There isn’t really a quarterback problem in teaching. There’s an initial intake and on-going culling problem in teaching. The system is too entrenched to experiment with change, or even to adjust toward what would not be an experiment at all!

What do you think? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

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