In case you haven’t heard (some people still live in caves, you know), the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James—a hometown boy with the potential to go down in history as one of the best players of all time—to the Miami Heat last week.

The media frenzy over LeBron’s decision has been pretty ridiculous, hasn’t it?

Even today—days after LeBron’s decision was announced to fanfare in Miami and fires in Cleveland—I can’t go more than a few minutes without seeing a bit on the telly or hearing a bit on the radio about the entire fiasco.

It’s frustrating for a guy like me who hasn’t watched an NBA game in 10 years, but it’s also instructive!

That’s right:  Educators and the policymakers working hard to find ways to recruit teachers to high needs schools can learn a TON from the LeBronathon if they’re willing to look carefully and listen.

Here are three lessons I think we can learn from LeBron:

Talented people want to work in circumstances where they know that they’ve got a chance to succeed:

One of the first lessons that policymakers working to staff high needs schools can learn from LeBron is that money is rarely the deciding factor when talented people are choosing where to work.

I mean, think about it:  LeBron—in an era when athletes are literally rolling in cash and trying to outdo every new contract signed by their peers—could’ve made anywhere from $10-30 MILLION dollars MORE had he stayed with the Cavaliers or gone to the New York Knicks.

But money wasn’t the key factor in LeBron’s decision.  Instead, he wanted the chance to win a title—many titles, actually—and that meant moving to a team where he knew that he’d be ‘working’ with other remarkably talented players.

That’s instructive, considering how often our efforts to recruit teachers to high needs schools are built on meager cash incentive plans.

Most teachers that I know laugh at the nickels used to entice us to high poverty buildings—not because we aren’t thankful that someone recognizes that teachers deserve to be paid more for working in challenging communities, but because cash is the least of our worries.

Instead, we want to work for accomplished principals and with accomplished teachers.  There’s a professional synergy in a building that’s stacked with Amar’e Stoudamires and Dwayne Wades

(Jennifer Anistons, Mariah Careys, Robert Oppenheimers, Albert Einsteins, Elmos and Big Birds, for those of you who don’t watch hoop).

We want to win, too—and we know that winning in a high needs building isn’t a solo act.  It’s dependent on the support of our peers—something that we’d happily trade bonuses for.

No one person is talented enough to turn around any enterprise

Can you name even ONE other player who has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the past 8 years?

Right.  Neither can I.  They’re LeBron’s team.  He’s the King and everyone else isn’t even worth remembering.

But here’s the problem:  Even though they’ve had the services of a seriously remarkable talent for 8 years, the Cavaliers STILL haven’t won anything worth winning.

Sure, they’ve had a few seasons of sold out games and made it into the paper a few times, but LeBron wasn’t enough to bring a title to a team and a city that has been pining for celebration for a really long time.

And now that he’s gone, that pining is going to get super painful!  After all, who is going to fill the hoop—and the seats—now that basketball’s Elvis has left the building?

The fact of the matter is that the Cavaliers put all of their hopes in one person.  That’s poor planning at best and downright lunacy at the worst.

But it’s exactly what we do when we try to staff high needs schools, isn’t it?  “If only we could get Ron Clark to come and teach here, we’d have a chance at reaching every child!” we think.  “Look at what Rafe Esquith did in tough circumstances.”

Our poorest communities don’t need Ron Clarks or Rafe Esquiths, y’all.  They need broad coalitions of likeminded individuals that are working towards a shared mission and vision of excellent teaching and learning.

That’s the only way to guarantee that a school continues to succeed even after their stars move on to other places and positions.

Belittling and berating are really poor recruiting strategies

My favorite person in the whole LeBronathon has been Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who blew a holy gasket after LeBron announced that he wasn’t coming back to his hometown team.

I mean, Gilbert’s rant is one for the ages:  He called LeBron a ‘former hero’ and his decision to move on a ‘heartless and callous action.’  He used the word ‘betrayal’ so many times in his email to fans that I’ll bet the Y-A-L keys are falling off of his computer today.

And in one of the best jabs at a former player ever, he reduced the price of LeBron James Fathead posters—a company that he owns—to $17.41.

Why such an odd number? 1741 is the year that notorious US Traitor Benedict Arnold was born.

Now, I’ve gotta admit that I love a history driven hater—come on, did you think about 1741 when you were last betrayed?—but commentators are now arguing that Gilbert’s rant has done more harm than good for the Cavaliers.

After all, what free agent is going to want to sign with a team where the owner has shown such open scorn towards talent?

If you were a basketball player with the ability to choose between several different teams that all wanted your services, would you head to Cleveland to play in a community where hate has been spewed toward others with ability and opinions?

So why do we expect teachers to ‘sign with’ schools that we heap with scorn?

Is it really a surprise that good people don’t want to work in places where they’re labeled failures by the community year-after-year?  Would you want to wake up every morning to stories in the paper about just how bad you really are and having your every intention and/or motivation questioned?

Didn’t think so.

And neither do many of our best teachers.  Instead, they’ll take their talents elsewhere because they can.

Altruism is a really poor recruiting strategy, too

I’ve heard LeBron completely castigated more times than I can count in the last few days because he’s chosen to move away from his hometown team.  “That’s selfish!” Cleveland fans are crying.  “How could he possibly turn his back on us, knowing just how badly we need him.”

Well guess what, folks:  We’re ALL selfish, aren’t we?  Don’t we all look carefully at what’s in our best interest when we’re making major life choices?

And if we weren’t, wouldn’t our wives and husbands be completely hacked off at us?!

Sure it would have been nice if LeBron had set aside his own interests to save the city of Cleveland—and sure it would be nice if our best teachers set aside their own interests to work in the most challenging buildings in our nation—but the last I checked, individuals still have the right to make their own choices in this here country.

If you really want to see high needs schools staffed by the best and the brightest, you’re going to have to rely on something more than altruism, hope and shame as your recruiting strategies.


What’s the moral of this story?

Talented teachers are really no different than the most talented members of any profession.  We want to work in places where we know that we can succeed, we’re not driven by cash, we can’t reform schools all on our own, and belittling ain’t going to encourage any of us to move to more difficult buildings.

These aren’t difficult concepts, y’all.

We just need to be as willing to apply them to our profession as we are to accept them when we see them demonstrated in other professions.

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