Are you cutting the right trees?  In my podcast interview (Episode #34 of “Catholic School Matters”) with Coach Jim McLaughlin, the highly-respected women’s volleyball coach at Notre Dame, he cited that analogy to discuss his use of data.  “Are we spending time in the right forest cutting down the right trees?” asks McLaughlin.  His use of data and feedback to guide coaching (i.e. instruction) is admirable.

The analogy of cutting down the right trees echoes the old adage of working smarter, not better.  How many teachers are busy working but spinning their wheels?  Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed with work but that work turns out to be pointless?

McLaughlin uses data to help drive his coaching to pursue the right goals.  His players get real-time feedback on their performance in drills at practice in order to keep pursuing the right goals.  In volleyball, the #1 predictor of success in a match is serving percentage.  In other words, the more serves you get in, the better your team will do.  This will lead to players trying hard to serve well.  But the second predictor is not missing your serve.  Those aren’t the same thing.  If all you try for is the perfect serve, you’ll probably miss at a higher rate.  McLaughlin’s players learn from the data which kinds of serves and in which locations lead to higher success by both success and failure rates.

These kinds of data pursuits are extremely relevant to educators.  What is the best use of our time?  What leads to the most success?  As he says, what is measured gets managed, what is managed gets done.

In order to get the most of his teams, McLaughlin also talks about “getting the vibe right.”  Essential to this pursuit is getting right kind of players to fit into the program.  Players who are competitive and nice to be around fit in with this program.  How deliberate are we in hiring to our school culture?

Finally, listen for McLaughlin’s satisfaction with coaching at Notre Dame.  He is happy to be at a Catholic university.  He has found his “fit” where he can be surrounded by like-minded people interested in coaching and teaching in the Catholic tradition.  He benefits by living and working in a well-designed culture.

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