Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

Here at KASB we have several former high school debaters, but only one state champion.  Some might think our staff person who talks longest is the natural guess at who has enjoyed the accolades of being the best in the state, but that would be a wrong guess.  Legal Staff member Lori Church brought home a state championship for Lyons High School. 

Mark Tallman, sadly, was only able to garner a second-place finish.  His debate colleague was none other than Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer and there are differing versions of who pulled that team down.  I tend to believe that it was probably Mr. Tallman who received the worst speaker points, only because of his inability to stay within the allotted 8- and 4-minute time constraints.

Other former debaters who now work at KASB had less storied careers, myself included.  High school debaters learn many skills, from research to speaking off the cuff. While I learned the value of those skills, I wasn’t very good at the implementation.  Even so, one Saturday in Stafford, KS my colleague and I advanced to the final round of the tournament. 

Maybe because the stakes were so high - bringing home the coveted Stafford High Debate Tournament Championship Trophy - I remember some specific feedback I received on our championship round ballot. The judge wrote, “Just because the other team makes silly arguments, doesn’t mean you should spend all of your time refuting them.” Coincidentally, I think what that judge was saying is a paraphrase of Lori Church’s father’s (ESU Professor Edwin Church) favorite leadership quote from Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Not to slight all of the great advice I got from my own parents, but if my dad Max had told me that, we could have won that round in Stafford.  In the nature vs. nurture debate, this is clear evidence that Lori had a nurture advantage that helped her win a state championship.

That same nurturing lesson is a good one to remember when considering any legislative session, but it appears especially true for this one.  The main thing, of course, is “Kansans Can.” That’s the vision for success established by the Kansas State Board of Education.  Unfortunately, educators are now spending the majority of our time doing exactly what cost Tom Taylor and I that debate championship - spending time refuting silly arguments.

We should be spending our time working together to solve problems that will advance the cause of student success in Kansas.  Instead, politicians are obsessing about efficiency instead of efficacy, pundits are nitpicking Kansas student success reports, and boards, administrators and teachers are reeling from insults about “immoral” decisions.

It is troubling that we have to spend time in defense mode instead of advancing the cause of student success.  Let’s remember what brings home the state championship: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

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