Byron's Babbles

Putting Learning Organization Theory into Practice

Posted in Education, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 30, 2011

Even though there is still much work to be done in promoting, developing, and sustaining a learning organization process; I believe in my own school’s situation we have made much progress toward developing a culture and process of a learning organization. It is important to note that through my research of both educational resources and those outside the educational field it is clear that the learning organization cannot be viewed as a “thing” or “fix” and must be internalized as a “process,” “strategy,” or “behavior”. Even as early as 1996, Robert Evans realized this when he wrote the following in The Human Side of School Change:

Most see change largely as a rational redesign of the school’s

goals, roles, and rules. They treat it as a product and, concentrating

on its structural frame, overlook its human dimensions (Evans, 1996, p. xii).

As Department Head of our Agriculture Department and member our Tiger Leadership Team (TLT – a team put together to lead our school toward becoming a learning organization), I have seen first hand the benefits of this process.

How Educational and Business Models and Literature Complement Each Other

Realizing, that my research has landed on both business and education references and models, it must be noted that the work in both entities compliment each other. There are many parallels, most important of which are the collaborative efforts to devise innovative ways of doing things and best practices.  In Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work (2000), David Garvin describes how the process needs to happen both in education and business: “if an entity does not purposefully modify its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights, it does not qualify as a learning organization” (Garvin, 2000, p. 26).

Additionally, what might appear to be differences between the business and educational world turn out to be similarities.  For example, one of the industry worker’s resistances to the learning organization is that of the question of “Will it make us money”? This compares to educational opponents to the learning organization asking, “Will it improve test scores”?

This is discussed in Steady Work: Policy, Practice, and the Reform of American Education. In this work Elmore and McLaughlin discuss how teacher’s openness to changes in practice turns heavily on service to students or the transmission of knowledge within a discipline (Elmore and McLaughlin, 1988, p. 43).  Again, I go back to my earlier criticism of looking at “plans” or “things” for bringing about a true learning organization.  True student achievement does not happen because “the reform consists of pressuring teachers to change by modifying requirements or incentives” (Evans, 1996, p. 81).

Because of requirements and incentives, teachers tend not to look introspectively at themselves, but to “seek external changes (that is, changes external to themselves) that will help them to do better what they have traditionally been trying to do” (Evans, 1996, p. 81). Traditionally these external changes have included, but are certainly not limited to, things like smaller teacher/student ratios, bigger classroom budgets, more planning time, and more parental involvement. Then, because these external changes do not work; school administrators, state agencies, and even federal agencies come up with new “things” to “make” educators better. These “things” (requirements and incentives) have included recertification programs, certificate credits, standardized assessment testing, and the list goes on, and on.

Both education and business/industry have been run in a command and control environment for so long it is tough to switch to an environment of trust, openness, collaboration, inquiry, or dissent (learning organization). Lebanon High School has instilled learning organization behaviors to develop an environment of high student achievement.


Elmore, R.F., and McLaughlin, M. (1988) Steady Work: Policy, Practice, and the Reform of American Education. Santa Monica: RAND Corp.

Evans, R. (1996). The Human Side of School Change: Reform, Resistance, and the Real-Life Problems of Innovation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.


Impact of STEM and Academic Core Standards Integration in Career and Technical Education

Posted in Education, Education Reform by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 27, 2011

The achievement of U.S. students is becoming increasingly important for our nation’s ability to compete successfully in the world economy (Braun, Coley, Jia, & Trapani, 2009). As the Department Head of an Indiana Agriculture Science program who is successfully achieving academic integration I am continually investigating the problem of low student performance and achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and English and the impact of real-world and relevant application of Career and Technical Education courses on student achievement and performance in these core subjects.

Education has become competitive and my school is striving to meet this environment head on and with success. Simons (2010) wrote, “Today our economic well-being, not just military defense or advantage, is dependent on math and science. All of the world’s major countries are our competitors. So far we are not exactly winning” (p. G-1). The latest global rankings using high school test scores show China significantly beating us on science and math scores (USA Today, 2010). These rankings show the United States at number 15, and Shanghai at number one (USA Today, 2010). It is important for us to study those areas where the STEMs can be taught in a relevant context.

To that end it is very important that academics be fully integrated both vertically and horizontally into all course work. There is no research or evidence to support that non-core, non-academic elective courses, including Career and Technical Education courses, contribute to improve student achievement or performance. There is evidence (Reeves, 2008), however, that emphasis on the core academic subjects promotes student learning. Therefore integration of the STEMs and English is very important for Indiana students. Reeves (2008) said, “This does not make a brief for a curriculum based only on the ‘three R’s,’ but rather insists that every class, regardless of its label, owe a duty to the student and community to reinforce academic standards in math, language arts, social studies, and science” (p. 10-11). The consistent integration of the academic cores into Indiana’s Career and Technical Education disciplines is paramount to student learning. We cannot afford for these courses to be “soft” (Reeves, 2008, p. 11) in terms of including reinforcement of the academic cores.


 Braun, H., Coley, R., Jia, Y., Trapani, C. (2009). Exploring what works in science

      instruction: A look at the eighth-grade science classroom. Princeton, NJ:

Educational Testing Service.

Reeves, D. (2008). Making standards work: How to implement standards-based

      assessments in the classroom, school, and district. Englewood, CO: Lead + Learn


USA Today (2010). “Our view on education: ‘We’re no. 15!’ doesn’t cut it in today’s

global economy. Retrieved on February, 26, 2011 from:

Simons, J. (2010). “Education imbalance: U.S. needs top-notch math, science teachers

to compete in new economy. The Buffalo News (261) 35. Buffalo, NY: OBH, Inc.

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 24, 2011

Do you know what you don’t know? This week I had the opportunity to hear this statement made once as “these guys know what they don’t know and are looking for the people who do know,” and also I myself said this week, “Wow, he does not know what he does not know!” So which category would you want to have said about you? I would much rather have it said that I know what I don’t know as opposed to he does not know what he does not know.

So how do we get to a level of knowing what we don’t know? That is the focus of my post here – to talk about what my beliefs would be on how we get to a level of knowing what we don’t know and why that is important.

First of all I believe it takes studying – I think there are people who really don’t know what they don’t know because they really haven’t taken the time to really study and research the area, project, committee or task force they might be working on or leading. So first and foremost it becomes very important that we do our homework, so to speak, so we know those areas that we have expertise and experience and those areas that we don’t know and what it is about those areas we don’t know so that we can go out and find the people or organizations that do know the answers to make the right decisions.

Then, I think secondly it becomes very important that we throw hierarchies and ego to the wind. I believe there are people who just absolutely cannot handle the fact that they don’t know something and are not willing to do a project right or will even let a project fail because they are not willing to accept that they do not know something and need someone else for their expertise and tactical experience.

Finally, I would share a little of my own faith here and say it’s important to start new projects and even every new day with a short prayer saying, “Lord, help me to know what I don’t know and please put the right people in my life to help me understand those things that I don’t know.” You’ll be surprised at the results!

So these three things are very important to taking a reflective and introspective view of knowing what we don’t know. Do you know what you don’t know?

iPads for Everyone

Posted in Education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 22, 2011

This week my students and I had the opportunity to work with our school board on the use of iPads. I say work with the school board not speak to because it was not a presentation, but more of a workshop. I only spoke for about one minute and then let the students take over.

Here’s what I outlined:

1. iPads, or any other technology for that matter do not make a teacher effective. The teacher is still responsible for that regardless of the modality – even if on-line.

2. Technology, such as iPads, help enhance and facilitate effective student learning.

3. The technology must be in the hands of the students. I firmly believe we must go one-to-one with iPads or some other type of computer. This is the only way that we can truly facilitate 24/7 learning with our students to connect, extend and challenge them.

Setting the Stage

My students had the school board members do a lab that we did the previous week in our Advanced Life Science – Plant and Soils course. they used the iPad, Pasco PASPort sensor system, and the Sparkvue App to test the CO2 levels coming off of different soil samples. The students did this lab as a connection, extension, and challenge to the lab they had done the previous week of actually doing the chemistry to test for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in soil samples from our Outdoor Agronomy Lab.

What the Students Did

The students demonstrated a lesson using the iPad that would make a connection between soil testing by hand using chemicals and new technology. By using the Pasco PASPort sensor system, and the Sparkvue App the students extended the school board members’  knowledge by using relevant equipment used by industry to test the CO2 levels coming off of different soil samples. Then the students challenged the school board members to make predictions on carbon levels of the soil. They did a great job of using the idea of connecting, extending and challenging to model the of iPad and bluetooth technology in their ALS – Plant and Soils Course.

What I tweeted

During the school board lab one of my students told them and I tweeted, “Technology allows me to learn in a real and relevant context.” Pretty insightful from my student, don’t you think?

Vision for Technology

Students are always found coming to class enthusiastic and ready to connect to a global society brought together through technology. Technology allows for remote and self-guided learning to further differentiate learning and offer an even wider range learning opportunities. With technology it will even be possible to do distance learning with other schools and extend our learning to a 24/7 philosophy. I for one embrace the idea that one-size-fits-all schools do not work for all students. Because the same teaching techniques do not work equally for every student, technology can be matched with the appropriate pedagogy to meet the educational needs of all students.

Who is Our Chief State School Official?

Posted in Education, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 16, 2011

This past week there was an article in Education Week entitled, Who is Your Chief State School Officer? It was a great article and talked about how state departments of education are needing to become more resource and tool oriented. It went on to talk about some state’s view their department of education as too compliance-oriented. I firmly believe that the Indiana Department of Education is taking huge strides to become more of a resource to all school corporations in the state of Indiana.

For this post I want to share who I believe our chief state school official, or State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is. This past Tuesday I had the honor of introducing Dr. Tony Bennett, our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, for his State of Education Address. I believe my introduction speaks to who I believe our chief state school official is. Here it is:

I had the opportunity this summer to hear Condoleezza Rice speak. She said, “Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same.” As I listened, I thought about how true this is. Then my thoughts turned to the man I am introducing this evening. Dr. Bennett is a leader with real vision and who can transform that vision into meaningful strategies for students. 

History is beginning to record the success of education reform that first of all recognizes effective teachers and administrators. 2011 and beyond will be the greatest years ever to be a teacher leader in Indiana. The initiatives being implemented under Dr. Bennett’s leadership recognize me as the professional I am. I will be evaluated for my first priority of high student performance and achievement. Additionally, my role as a teacher leader creating a positive school environment that facilitates student learning will also become an important part of that evaluation. This truly will allow me to grow professionally by putting students first.

Furthermore, great school administrators like mine at Lebanon Community School Corporation now have the independence to make decisions that, as an effective teacher, will enable me to put students first. Good leadership includes teaching and building relationships. Under Dr. Bennett’s leadership, the Department of Education is building those relationships by taking a proactive role in being a key resource for school corporations in implementing Indiana’s education reforms.

Families now have options regardless of circumstance. Another part of Condoleezza Rice’s speech reminded me of Dr. Bennett’s vision. She said, “It doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you are going.” We cannot say this, however, if we can look at your zip code and know what kind of education you will receive. 

Years from now, I believe history will speak favorably of Indiana’s comprehensive education reform. The best leaders make their promises under the public scrutiny of their followers. Then they keep them. I for one am proud that Dr. Bennett has kept his promises and given all schools the freedom to innovate, respond to students’ needs, and put all students first.

The first time I heard Dr. Bennett speak, I said to myself, “This guy gets it!” In October of 2009, I was blessed to get to know him personally…Since then, the man I saw as a tremendous educational leader has become my mentor, my coach, and—most important—my friend in the best, the rarest, and highest sense.

Please stand and join me in welcoming to the podium our Superintendent of Public Instruction – Dr. Tony Bennett. 

Kids Don’t Have R’s & D’s Stamped on Their Heads

Posted in Education, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 9, 2011

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be part of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Welcome Back to School Education Bus Tour 2011. Probably the greatest part of the day was that I spent it traveling with Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Bennett and his Press Secretary, Alex Demron. Now, before you react because of politics notice I am being bipartisan here and including lessons learned from both political parties. In fact my favorite Dr. Bennett quote of the day was, “Kids don’t come to us with R’s and D’s stamped on their heads.” In fact let’s just call that Lesson #1. I would like to share four other lessons I learned from my day yesterday with these great leaders.

Lesson #2 – Consistency

First of all I have to start by telling you that traveling with an elected official might be one of the most rigorous and invigorating things you can do. We literally went from event to event to event to event, and on and on. I even ended up doing some interviews as well. Pretty cool stuff when I stopped and thought about all of the great things that were happening in education reform. The first observation I want to share is that I have never met a leader so consistent in what he believes and how he delivers that message as Dr. Bennett. This is a leadership characteristic that we all can learn from. He is so passionate and has researched the subjects of his vision and strategy so much that no matter what question is asked of him the message is always the same.

Lesson #3 – Pushing Boundaries

Effective leaders push the boundaries and transform vision into meaningful and hopeful strategy. One topic in Secretary Duncan’s speech really jumped out at me having spent time this past June in China. He talked about, with vivid examples, of how our students now complete globally for both jobs and college acceptance. This was obvious to me as one of the Tuesday’s that I was in China 10 million students were taking the university entrance exam. I was told that less that half would make the cut and less than 20% would be able to go to China’s universities because of space. If I do the math correctly that leaves about 4 million top Chinese students to compete with U.S. students for top spots in our colleges and universities. Secretary Duncan recognizes this disparity and is working hard to devise solutions.

Lesson #4 – Walk the Talk

“Putting Students First” is not just a catch phrase for Dr. Bennett, he has made the hard choices necessary to make 2011 the greatest year of educational reform in the history of both our state and nation. He and Secretary Duncan are unified in their stance that ALL children can learn. Yesterday during Secretary Duncan’s speech in Merrillville, IN I tweeted the following points that the Secretary made: “Poor kids can learn,” “education is the key to raising wages and lowering unemployment,” and one of my favorites “We must recognize that all students are our students.”

When these two leaders say they are “Putting Students First” it is not just “Talk,” they are “Walking the Talk” to do the necessary tough work of education reform. As Dr. Bennett said yesterday, “Good is not good enough and education reform is tough, tough work!”

Lesson #5 – We Must Have the Tough Conversations

I am a huge believer in all of the things that make for a functioning learning organization. David Garvin said that a learning organization was, “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring, and retaining knowledge, and at purposefully modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” In order for this to happen their must be inquiry and even discourse. These tough conversations are where lessons are learned. This includes being blunt and totally transparent. As Dr. Bennett said yesterday, “We may disagree on issues, but as we have the tough discussion we will come up with a great solution both can agree on.” It is evident that both Secretary Duncan and State Superintendent Bennett are willing to have the tough conversations.

I hope we all can learn from the examples set by these two great leaders. I believe history will speak favorably of the comprehensive education reform being implemented through the leadership they are exhibiting. Even though Dr. Bennett has an R stamped on him and Secretary Duncan has a D stamped on him they are working in bipartisan concert to “Put Students First.” Remember, as they do – Kid’s don’t have R’s and D’s Stamped on their heads!

You Want Me To Do What? Teach?

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 4, 2011

I try to read two books per week as part of my own personal professional development. One of the books I read this past week was The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work by Jon Gordon. This was an incredible book that I read in two sittings because once you start you can’t put it down. Then yesterday I had two individuals who regularly read my blog say that they really liked my book reviews. I promptly replied that I had not been doing any book reviews, and then I realized as they explained that generally my blogs revolve around something I have read. Amazingly, this made me realize just how powerful my two books a week are to my growth.

One statement that Gordon made in this book really jumped out at me and made me realize how important we all are in the roles we are meant to play. He said, “I’ve learned we are all teachers and students, and a life touches a life that touches a life.” So for this post I would like to share how it came to be that I would be a teacher. Some of you have heard me tell this story publicly many times, but it truly is a course of events that revolved around a teacher, Dr. Hobart Jones, and a student – me. Here’s the story.

My teaching career did not begin with the same story that many teachers share. I did not have an epiphany when I said to myself, “I want to be a teacher.” My journey as an educator began during my sophomore year at Purdue University when Professor Dr. Hobart Jones pulled me into his office and asked if I had ever considered teaching. When I said, “no,” he explained that he saw a talent in me for educating and wanted me to double major in Animal Science and Agricultural Education. It is amazing how someone like Dr. Jones can make a huge impact on someone’s life.  His inspiration and personal interest helped me to deal with the challenges of a double major, making my 27 year educational career possible. Without Dr. Jones’ personal interest in my abilities, I probably would have missed this opportunity. It is his example of true caring that I strive to emulate every day of my teaching career.

A narrative of my professional career would not be complete without mentioning my latest chapter, starting the Agriculture Department at Lebanon in 2004. As an optimistic risk taker, the opportunity to start a program where no program existed was just that – a tremendous opportunity. It has been exhilarating to start a program, establish the facilities, and lead the team in building a program that now has 584 students enrolled. It has also enabled me to teach rigorous Purdue University dual credit courses in Advanced Life Science. As the department head of three other young teachers, less than 20 years of combined experience, I have learned how to be a true servant leader. In other words, as Gordon suggested, a life touches a life (Dr. Jones to me), a life touching a life (me to the teachers I mentor), and a life touching another life (me to all the students I facilitate learning with every day).

Remember to take full advantage of all the opportunities to touch the lives you come in contact with!

As You Go, So Go Those You Lead

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 2, 2011

I was listening to WIBC radio on my way to school, as I always do, this week. One of the guest sports commentators made a comment that caused me to do some thinking. The comment was, “As Peyton Manning goes, so go the Colts.” In other words it was going to be a tough year for the Colts until Peyton returns. This got me thinking about my own role as a teacher leader and department head at my school. What would I want to happen if suddenly I was not around tomorrow?

Now, please don’t take this as me putting down the Colts for not having someone ready to just step into that role because that is not the point at all. The statement by the commentator made me think back to something that I learned from reading the work of John Maxwell. He talked about leading in a way you can be replaced. The idea is that you have been a servant leader in such a way that others have been lifted up to a level where they could actually replace you.

I realize this would be extremely tough to do in the case of Peyton Manning but we can learn from the fact that the other quarterbacks under Peyton are certainly learning from their experience. I am sure my fellow Boilermaker, Curtis Painter, has learned a great deal from working with Peyton Manning. Still, we can reflect on our own situations and think about the people we work with. Are we developing their talents in a way that they could replace us. If we are truly servant leaders, wouldn’t the goal be that if we were gone tomorrow everything would continue seamlessly?

In fact, as Max De Pree said in Leadership Jazz, “leaders have to be vulnerable, have to offer others the opportunity to do their best. Leaders become vulnerable by sharing with others the marvelous gift of being personally accountable.” De Pree also talked about how leaders work to bring the special and creative gifts out in others.

This has really caused me to reflect and determine what I would want said about me if I could not return to school on Monday. I would hate for someone to say “As Byron Ernest goes, so goes Lebanon Community School Corporation.” I would rather have those I have worked with, coached and mentored say, “Wow, because of my time spent with Byron, I am ready the the next big steps and responsibilities that come my way.”

Hopefully, this will cause you to think about becoming vulnerable to those you serve!