Superintendent’s Corner: Either/Or Thinking

by | Feb 3, 2023

By Dr. Brian G. Ricca, Superintendent

I sometimes get stuck in either/or thinking. You know, the kind where you make snap judgments, categorize things based on that quick thinking, and never look back. It’s a part of the human experience. This kind of thinking is easy to fall into. 

I start a sentence with, “Broadly speaking…” and then make a generalization that seems appropriate given the circumstances or the person. It happens fast, and I’m guilty of categorizing someone or something incorrectly if I’m not careful. I can give you an example. 

As I looked at the teams and athletes remaining this weekend in the National Football League, I did not think about how much or how little relationships mattered to them. These men are fierce competitors, in peak physical condition, getting paid obnoxious amounts of money to play a game. Broadly speaking, they’re multi-millionaires, and they don’t care who they step on, on their way to the top. 

Then I listened to an episode of ESPN Daily this week, produced by one of my dear friends from college. It was an episode about Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, largely considered one of the best in the NFL. I learned that he almost chose another sport instead of football. I learned that he split plays as a high school quarterback with another player. I learned that this player, Ryan Cheatham, is still one of Mahomes’ best friends; to this day. Mahomes and Cheatham battled for the starting position on their high school football team until they were juniors when Mahomes was finally named the number one quarterback. 

Since I was not much of an athlete myself, one of the many reasons I love to officiate, I tend to think of professional athletes as having a “killer” instinct on the field. Things like “win at all costs” ring in my ears when I think of what it takes to make it to the elite levels of sports. That doesn’t match the reality that Patrick Mahomes remained such good friends with Ryan Cheatham that he was a groomsman at Mahomes’ wedding. Evidence of my either/or thinking. 

I’ve been the subject of that thinking as a superintendent. I regularly write about, emphasize, and put relationships first. I try in both my words and actions to humanize the people I serve with so that the people I serve with can humanize others, all in the name of excellence in education. In the course of my educational leadership career, showing empathy was judged as “soft.” Telling employees to put family first was deemed “naive.” And in one instance, when an employee was given a second chance, I was regarded as stooping to “low expectations.” Evidence of other people’s either/or thinking. 

We fail to honor the humanity of others when we fall into this pattern. We shortchange the possibilities, capabilities, and potential of others when we do this. We pigeonhole people unnecessarily and wait for them to surprise us. 

I do it. You do it.

We all do it. 

We can do better. 

We can do both. 

Dr. Brian G. Ricca

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EG Mom
EG Mom
February 6, 2023 3:20 pm

The superintendent should focus time and energy on school matters. Why does he have so much extra time to waste on these musings?


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