As the students enter Bill Lively's AP Euro class at La Cañada High School, they take a moment to rub a sign hanging on the wall in room 305. “Play like a Champion Today,” it says. I wanted to understand the essence of a teacher who would have such a mantra.
Being asked to play like a champion challenges the students to expect more from themselves, thereby reaching higher levels of learning and character. It's instilling the quest for excellence, a virtue that transcends all endeavors. Greatness doesn't come from those content on just being, but from the conscious endeavor of reaching.
UCLA he double-majored in history and religion and received a master's degree in historical research from Oxford University. His credentials and intellect are impressive. However, who he is as a teacher and as an individual is far more critical than where his degrees were earned.
Great teachers inspire their students because someone initially inspired them. Lively was influenced by his high school English teacher, Randy Oudega. “He brought energy, passion and excitement to the classroom,” Lively said. “He ignited a spark within me and showed me the true potential of teaching. I wanted to be in a classroom telling stories and giving kids an overarching view of the world and of themselves.”
Jim Cartnal, LCHS' assistant principal, has been mentoring Lively. Cartnal was recently promoted from the classroom, leaving big shoes to fill in the history department.
“I want to be the best teacher for the kids and Mr. Cartnal gave me the blueprints of how to do that,” Lively said.
Lively's influence on his students is infinite. He touches their future by infusing his philosophies into their core. There's an extension of concentric circles emanating outward from his wisdom and passion. He believes in academic excellence and honors the intellect. He fills his students with hope and showers them with a thousand reasons to embrace life.
Lively was a Boy Scout. He earned the rank of Eagle and adheres to the moral standards demanded by that distinction. “Being an Eagle is becoming a new person, transforming to a higher set of ethical values,” he said. Those values earned as a young man evolved into a unique teaching philosophy. “My goal is to make every kid who walks into my class stronger, both intellectually and morally,” he said.
Everyone screams about test and AP scores but Lively gets it; he realizes that the future character of his students is omnipotent. When you get that, you'll get Lively.
I asked senior Alyssa Stolmack her take on Lively as the faculty adviser to the Associate Student Body. She paused and said, “I need to find the right words. He deserves it.” She continued, “He challenges and encourages us to be our best; he is always honest.”
“So Bill, what's in the future?” I asked. He was quick to respond, “This is my dream job; La Cañada is my family; these are my kids and I love them.”
I asked Alyssa, “What's the Zen of Mr. Lively?” She exclaimed, “He has a weird intangible effect on us; we're better people because of him.”
I needed a bit more than “weird and intangible,” so I dug deeper and found the answer to my inquiry in an old journal; It's a quote by writer Steve Maraboli. “When you are living the best version of yourself, you inspire others to live the best versions of themselves.” That's playing like a champion.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.