Jeff Baines’ career in education has spanned nearly 30 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and now he is entering his 1st year as principal of Burlington-Edison High School. Jeff has also served as a high school coach for football, baseball, fastpitch, softball, and track & field. He was named the Unsung Hero for the Sumner community in 2017 and the WA state AD of the Year in 2018. With the love and support from Neil, Aaron, Sadie and especially his wife Marguerite Jeff is excited to serve the Burlington-Edison community.
We talk with Jeff about the important role that athletics can play in the lives of students and he shares some unique things that he has done to help teachers and staff engage with students through athletics.
"I think one of the most powerful tools a teacher can have in what their students are doing outside of the classroom is I really think that that's a big part of developing that relationship at the next level. You can really see that, man, they're gonna commit to coming to my game, my play, my concert. One of my most fond memories was my Kindergarten teacher coming to my football game when I was in high school, Mrs. Giles. So I'll always remember that."
— Jeff Baines
- John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we are talking with Jeff Baines, Jeff's career in education has spanned nearly 30 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and now he is entering his 1st year as principal of Burlington-Edison High School. Jeff has also served as a high school coach for football, baseball, fastpitch, softball, and track & field. He was named the Unsung Hero for the Sumner community in 2017 and the WA state AD of the Year in 2018. With the love and support from Neil, Aaron, Sadie and especially his wife Marguerite Jeff is excited to serve the Burlington-Edison community. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Jeff Baines.
- John: All right. It is so great having you on the CharacterStrong Podcast, Jeff Baines, one of the hardest working people I have ever met in my entire life. What a joy. It's awesome to have you, man.
- Jeff: Well, thanks. I appreciate it. It's a great opportunity. Thanks.
- John: Well first of all, I have a fun question to start, and that is this. What time on average, you gotta be honest with me, do you show up to the school every single day?
- Jeff: I'm here around 3:45 AM.
- John: Okay. Folks, 3:45 AM, and your routine is what? You usually are what, working out for a little bit?
- Jeff: The morning is my workout time and I try to get some stuff done for myself, and then I try to get at least 20 minutes of listening to whether it's a podcast, YouTube videos, maybe getting some reading done, jump into the day.
- John: Yeah. That was gonna be my question is, that level of commitment and sticking with it, 'cause that is not like a, "Oh, I've been doing it since the beginning of the year because it's a New Years resolution." This is all the years that I've known you, which is many years now. Would you say that that is one of your secrets to staying so closely connected to that motivation and purpose is that time for yourself? What would you say? What is your secret, if there is one?
- Jeff: I don't know. I'm crazy? I don't know. No. To me, it's just a habit that I formed a long time ago. Actually, when my daughter was born, I just had kind of let myself go and I promised myself that I was gonna get back into shape, and then as that grew, I promised Sadie that when she was up and it was her time, so I would get up early to get my workout in and I would grade papers when I was teaching, do things like that, grade papers, do lesson plans. It just evolved into once I became an administrator, just became a habit of it just was a great way for me to start my day. It energized me and it just got me really focused and going in the right direction.
- John: That's awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that. That was all just selfish. I just wanted to see if I could figure out the secret as we dig in.
- John: Well, here's the thing that I really wanted to bring you on for. There's many things that I could talk with you about. You are an awesome leader with a great vision, but I know that working with a lot of schools around the country, that there's lots of different things that you see as a consistent theme of either pain points or issues, things that schools face when it comes to their work around climate and culture.
- John: I know one of those things is we have our teachers working with our students every single day. They work so hard, and there's that extracurricular side, which I know that you're connected to as also an athletic director, and not only an athletic director, but Washington State Athletic Director of the Year.
- John: But, when you think about that, that connection, though, when you think about creating community connected to climate and culture, you have athletics that happen, and how do we get more staff involved outside of the classroom hours knowing that they also have families, they got other things that are going on, but it's still something that I think schools desire, how do we connect staff on an outside of the classroom level with students, right, even parents.
- John: And so I know that you've done intentional work there, and so tell me a little bit about this Baines Land thing that came about, 'cause I know that you didn't name it Baines Land after yourself, but it is because of your influence. So tell me a little bit about that and the intentionality behind it.
- Jeff: Well, and you nailed it on the head in terms of that whole piece of the community and bringing staff together with students. Staff does a great job within the classroom of developing those relationships and getting to know their kids. For me, I see great power in extracurricular activities and athletics itself, and the extracurricular has always been an important part of my life.
- Jeff: When I first got to Sumner and as the years went on, I noticed that the staff is almost like a nine to five. We're gonna do our work and then we're gonna go home, and you're absolutely right. There's other aspects of their life. There's families. There's things like that. So, looking for a way to tie that up, let it piece in with the staff, because I think one of the most powerful tools a teacher can have in what their students are doing outside of the classroom is I really think that that's a big part of developing that relationship at the next level. You can really see that, man, they're gonna commit to coming to my game, my play, my concert. One of my most fond memories was my Kindergarten teacher coming to my football game when I was in high school, Mrs. Giles. So I'll always remember that.
- Jeff: I was at home one time. It was during the summer, and I was talking with my wife, Margarite, concept of getting the teachers there. She looked at me kind of funny and gave me the, "Well, duh. They all have young families. Your staff is getting younger, and so they have younger families, so you've gotta get them to the games and you gotta find a way to get them to the games."
- Jeff: So I was thinking, and we continued to talk. I came up with this idea of buying some pizzas, filling up a tent, a 10 by 10 tent to stay dry if it's raining, and grabbing a couple days so kids could stay occupied. Margarite and I went to a few garage sales and bought a few toys. That first year, we had a tent, had about half a dozen pizzas and some water there just to see what happened, and a few staff came. What I noticed was they're there, but they're dialoguing with each other. They're getting to know each other, so it kind of worked on two levels. There's one at the games. They're supporting the kids, but yet they're also developing those relationships with their peers. So, it took a life of its own and it continued to grow.
“That first year, we had a tent, had about half a dozen pizzas and some water there just to see what happened, and a few staff came. What I noticed was they're there, but they're dialoguing with each other. They're getting to know each other, so it kind of worked on two levels. There's one at the games. They're supporting the kids, but yet they're also developing those relationships with their peers. So, it took a life of its own and it continued to grow.”
— Jeff Baines
- Jeff: Margarite and I, we continued to buy toys. At the end of that first year, I think I've gotten a couple tents and had a few more toys, and we were still buying like six pizzas. It didn't have a title yet, and so the second year, a little ballistic in the summer. We bought a lot more toys, put out a couple tents, continued to buy some food. Then, I went and bought some coffee for them.
- Jeff: So we kind of added and that increased, but then what I noticed was there started to be a stir. People were starting to talk about it a little bit like, "Have you guys heard about the football games?" For me, that gave me that motivation, like, "Okay, we're gonna really start ramping this up." So it went on. I made some connections. We worked with some different places. Jimmy John's has been really helpful in terms of their support and bringing in the sandwiches. Subway's helped a little bit. We continue to get pizzas here and there. Starbucks will help out a little bit. So then, I noticed more and more people were coming.
- Jeff: Then, I noticed district people were starting to come and ask, "Hey, can we go down in the end zone?" I can't remember if it was at the end of the second year or the end of the third year, but one of the people that came, she was our bookkeeper at the time, Deb Davidson, right before the game started, and she said, "You and Margarite need to come and see this." Then all of a sudden, we see these people walking on the backside of the track and then they unveil this big sign that says Baines Land. By that time, I think we were up to four or five tents and toys everywhere.
- John: Just toys.
- Jeff: Yeah. It's crazy. So now it's like on game nights, I get out at 2:45. I get out there. I get folks come and help me set up. We can push upwards of 200 people in there at a time, and it's just an awesome environment. Come from all parts of the district now to be a part of that, and our kids love it. It's a big draw.
- Jeff: I think more than anything else is players when they're scoring are now acknowledging those little kids. They're all sitting there and seeing their heroes, and it's really cool to see that and how that's evolved over the time, and then just the camaraderie that the staff is having with each other. They look forward to coming. I have our counselor's dad who is retired. He's there 5:00 every game night and he's there to help me set up.
- John: Wow.
- Jeff: He's there to get his prime spot with the chair.
- John: Yep.
- Jeff: It's a cool opportunity for people to get to know each other. One thing I noticed this year more than any other year, their fans are starting to watch. I had one gentleman come up and he says, "Hey, I'm from the other team."
- John: "Can I come?"
- Jeff: Yeah, "Can I come? Can my girlfriend's daughter come in and play?" I said, "Oh my gosh, yeah. Get in here and get some food and enjoy yourself." The best line ever. He grabbed me at the end of the night, shook my hand, thanked me, and he says, "You don't know how many boyfriend points I just scored tonight."
- John: Look at you, helping from all different angles.
- Jeff: That's right, yeah.
- John: There's things that I think, just pausing right there at that moment, I mean, here's some of the things that stand out. One, an overarching word in listening to you articulate how Baines Land has come about, a word that stands out to me is community.
- John: Things that stand out in your description of how that played out to me are this. As a leader, you identified a problem, and I want to give a nod 'cause you gave a nod to her, and that is your wife, who looked at you and said, "Well, that's on you." Because I think in leadership, it's easy to think, in this situation, "Well, staff's not showing up." It would be very easy to fall into a trap of in a sense, "Staff's the problem. They're not involved," or, "They only look at their job as nine to five," or whatever it might be. In reality, how many times is that, one, not the case, not the reality? But two, what is needed to make that change is for me to change, me to change as the leader, what am I doing to go to them.
- John: And so then that next step that I heard from you is in identifying that problem, what you did is you started to solve, almost pre-correct those issues. So, if one of the issues is, and I've seen games at Sumner before for many years, and there's literally no room to sit because it fills so fast. Well, what staff member at the end of a long week potentially who doesn't necessarily have their own kids playing, but obviously their kids and their students, but wants to try to fight through and find a seat in the bleachers? So you solved that problem. There's gonna be a spot just for staff to go.
- John: Another problem is, well, what if they have young families? Okay. Well, if they have young families, are there things for kids to do? So all of a sudden, you're getting toys and giving them things that they can do. It's like, well, it's a Friday evening around dinnertime. Well, we'll solve that by bringing food. Well, it's like, we live in western Washington and there's lots of rain. Well, we could solve that by bringing some tents.
- John: All of a sudden when you start solving those problems, more people start showing up because all of those things are there for them, and you're removing those pieces, and then all of a sudden that investment, and that's the other piece that I heard when it comes to thinking through a leadership lens, is there's sacrifice in your description from you. My guess is time, resources, energy, but it also came through in your description that from that investment has come huge rewards, rewards in what you're seeing from your staff, rewards in what you're seeing in their camaraderie building together in them being able to support their students and the students seeing that.
- John: You have empathy in your own experience of remembering when your Kindergarten teacher ... I mean, I remember when my fifth grade PE teacher showed up to the first hockey game that I was ever in, and I literally remember right now as if it was yesterday where he was standing. I think I was watching him more than the puck during the game because of how influential he was.
- Jeff: It's a huge impact. It's just something that it was fortunate that I've had the opportunity to be a part of, and thankful that I was able to do it. It's been great in terms of the influence it's had on the community here in Sumner.
- John: I love it. I think to maybe even close down today's podcast with my thanks to you, 'cause I love that vision. I think that so much is involved in that and what could come across as a simple idea, but in no way is it easy, but in all ways impactful.
- John: I think the thought that I want to leave with myself today and that I'd want listeners to leave with is going back to what you said about those young kids that are watching, "their heroes", and it's like when you think about that legacy, really, you will be seeing the impact. The community that you're serving right now will be seeing that impact when those young people are in high school, which is what, in many cases, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 years and beyond because they will remember that moment, and when they're there are far more likely to do likewise for other young people in their community. So, thank you so much for sharing that with us, for your vision, your leadership, and your work ethic.
- Jeff: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to share it.
- John: Right on. Well, let's do another one at some point on another topic. In the next one, I'd love to talk a little bit about character in athletics, 'cause I know that that is a big piece for you. We will find the time to do another one together. Thanks, Jeff.
- Jeff: Thanks. I appreciate it.
- John: All right. Take care.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.