Sunday / July 21

The Novices Who Won the World Series

The Novices Who Won the World Series

It took novices to end 108 years of futility.

The Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series. Their talented young players did not know they weren’t supposed to win. Half of the Cubs starting position players are under the age of 25.

A group of veteran players alone could not have broken through the years of angst and pressure that every Cubs fan felt. Previous teams crumbled under the pressure.

The Novice Advantage

There is great freedom in beginning. I see this in the novice teachers with whom I work everyday. These novice teachers don’t realize all the obstacles they might face, so they don’t avoid taking risks because of fear of past failures or perceived obstacles.

Novices make mistakes—in the World Series and in the classroom. However, sometimes there is a resilience that comes from limited experience. It is easier to get up when you are not carrying around the baggage of having been knocked down hundreds of times. A novice might not feel the full weight of expectations or the oppressive memories of failure.

Novice teachers also learn quickly. They enlist the help of others because they quickly learn how much they don’t know. Throughout their playoff run, the Cubs’ young players made adjustments at the plate based on experience they were gaining. They were not paralyzed by expectations, but grew rapidly under challenging circumstances. Game 2 of the World Series increased their World Series experience by 100 percent. This is true for novice teachers as well. Their second “first day” that they experience at the beginning of their second year of teaching is markedly better than their first. Of course, they should continue to improve in subsequent years, but their growth trajectory will never be as steep as it is in year one from year two.

Just being a novice certainly does not ensure success. There are two other essential ingredients: talent and veteran leadership.


The Cubs novice players are extremely talented. If being a beginner was all that was needed, eight other Cubs fans and I could have walked on the field and ended the World Series drought a long time ago. Similarly, teachers need the necessary knowledge, skills, and talents to be effective educators. Teacher preparation providers and induction programs need to ensure that new teachers develop the skills they need for the classroom.

Veteran Leadership

Three people, all of whom are represented in schools, lead the Cubs:

Joe Maddon, Manager / Principal: This 62-year-old’s mantra is “Try not to suck.” He had three team meetings in a season that included 179 games. He brought in clowns, petting zoos, and has players dress up in costumes on road trips.

Are there principals out there like this? Ones who respect their teachers as professionals, try to take pressure off them, and make school fun? Just reducing needless meetings would go along way to improve morale in many schools.

Anthony Rizzo, five-year Cubs player / Early Career Veteran: Rizzo is the undisputed leader on the field. He is a three-time all-star who keeps everyone loose.

Some of the best leaders in schools are in their fifth through tenth years. These teachers know how to teach and have refined their practices. They know the school community and the culture of the school. They are the bridge between new teachers and more veteran teachers and oftentimes carry much of the leadership load.

David Ross, 39-year-old veteran catcher / Expert Teacher Leader: Ross is the respected leader in the clubhouse even though he is not one of the ten best players on the team. He has played on seven different teams. The other players affectionately call him “Grandpa Rossy.”

Every school needs leaders like Ross. These are veterans who have the wisdom that only comes with experience—a gritty optimism that is grounded in overcoming struggle. These are the teachers that are the glue that make a school a cohesive whole.

Maybe these are just the musings of an ecstatic Cubs fan basking in the afterglow of World Series success, but I think there are lessons to be learned from the 2016 Cubs and from many great schools around our country.

Jonathan Eckert is a proud Cubs fan and author of The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher

Written by

Jonathan Eckert was a public school teacher outside of Chicago and Nashville for 12 years. He earned his doctorate in education at Vanderbilt University and served as a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow in both the Bush and Obama administrations. Currently, he is an associate professor of education at Wheaton College where he prepares teachers and returns regularly to teach in the district where his career began. In addition to leading professional development across the country, he has published numerous peer-reviewed and practitioner articles on teaching effectiveness and education policy.

Jon is the author of The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher.

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