Byron's Babbles

View From 30,000 Feet

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on June 8, 2013


As I write this post I am on a flight from Boston to Philadelphia heading home from Harvard University. It always amazes me how the view changes at 30,000 feet. The weather was terrible in Boston and there was flooding because of the storms coming in the aftermath of hurricane Andrea. But when you you get up to 30,000 feet you are above all that and the view below changes.

I was so proud to be a part of the School Turnaround Leadership Program this past week. One of the leadership lessons of the week was how we need to step into the balcony as school leaders, and watch the dance above all the chaos and noise. This analogy was driven home to me this morning as I looked out the plane window and saw the sunshine with the storms going on below.

As transformational turnaround school leaders it is important for us to get above the clouds and take stock of where we are. This clear “awareness,” as Marzano calls it gives us the opportunity to sort through the clutter and stay focused on the important work at had of putting students first.

So, next time you find yourself getting caught up in all the noise of being a leader sit back and let your mind travel to 30,000 feet where you can watch the dance in the positive cognitive glow of sunshine!

Diagnosis, To Strategy, To Implementation

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on June 6, 2013


I spent this week in the classroom at Harvard University learning to be a more effective turnaround school leader in the Harvard Graduate School of Education program for School Turnaround Leaders. This was a program made up of an outstanding curriculum with the learning being facilitated by incredible Harvard faculty and other expert facilitators. Part of my homework for this evening is to do a Learning Synthesis of the week. Then I will be doing an elevator speech to my classmates.

As I reflected I was reminded of a post to this blog I made last August on the eave of the first day of school in my turnaround journey. I called it ‘Twas The Night Before. In the post I had a letter I had written to the students, parents, and community. Here it is again:

“Make It Happen”

Well here we are the Saturday before school starts at Emmerich Manual High School. As the new principal of one of the state’s turnaround academies I am so excited to finally have students here on Monday morning. I am so excited about our ADVANTAGE: Putting Students First!

For this week’s post I would like to share with you the letter I put in our first newsletter that will be given to the students on Monday. Here it is:

Hello Emmerich Manual High School students, parents, and community stakeholders,

It is with great excitement and anticipation that I write this first entry in our school newsletter! On Monday, August 6, we officially begin our partnership for the critically important task of providing highly effective learning for the students of Emmerich Manual High School. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to serve as your Principal. I want you to know I am excited to be taking this journey with you.

As a teacher my mission statement was always “to be a steward of high student achievement and performance through rigor, relevance, and relationships.” These will continue to be cornerstones that I believe are very important to highly effective teaching for our students. I would also add the fourth “R” of “Results Driven.” If we truly put our students first we will be victorious in this endeavor together and our students will win the results of high student achievement and performance and being college and career ready.

In my office I have a picture titled “Make It Happen.” The inscription reads: “Greatness is not where we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – But sail we must, and not drift, nor lie at anchor,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes. This picture has a brass plate with the inscription: Emmerich Manual High School Advantage: Putting Students First, additionally, the picture is matted in such a way to have signatures put on it. I am having all staff sign this picture as a reminder that everything we do will be driven by putting our students first.

This is going to be a very exciting year. We have an incredible staff and enthusiastic and well-prepared teachers that will be facilitating engaging learning for our students. Also, I cannot wait for our athletic seasons to start, especially with the return of football.

Please know I am proud to be serving as your principal; this will be an exciting journey as we sail toward putting the students of Emmerich Manual High School first!


Byron L. Ernest, Principal

As I read that letter I reflected on what we accomplished this past year. We certainly changed the culture and the instructional core. Are we where we need to be? – absolutely not. This week I have learned, however that we must continue to be tight on expectations.

Here are 71 quick points of reflection on my learning:

1. We must develop results oriented systems
2. When schools fail it is systemic
3. Never blame people, make it a systems problem
4. Be a thoughtful leader and step into the balcony and watch the dance going on
5. SOB – Safety, order, and basics
6. In turnaround schools, the focus is on the improvement of student and teacher learning
7. The three important parts are: teacher, content, and student – fuss with any one of those and it effects the others
8. Provide a common language
9. Connect the action to the result
10. Make the implicit explicit
11. Diagnose critical or weak links in your improvement
12. Cut out the clutter
13. Make sense of current initiatives
14. Many times turnaround schools have the problem of having too many resources
15. There is a ceiling on what people can do and learn
16. Strategy must be developed in partnership
17. Bunches of resources do not give you more capacity
18. Take the emphasis off compliance and put it on results
19. Know when things don’t feel right and know when to quit, turnaround, and the costs of keeping going
20. Prepare your teams for the appropriate “summits” and milestones
21. What makes a great leader – restraint
22. If you are going to build a great team, don’t you want their ideas?
23. You have to remember, you are not a leader of a project, but of people
24. Social and emotional learning skills are learned and developed over time
25. As the people who know the students best and are most accountable for their success or failure – teachers are the best suited to identify and assist them
26. Every child has an “emotional bank.” We must make more deposits than withdrawals.
27. Most schools are structured around the school savvy student, but most of our students are not school savvy
28. It’s an access gap, not an achievement gap
29. What is our mindset? What do we really think about our students?
30. We need to be CLEAR about what we want to build in our students – CONFIDENCE, LEADERSHIP, EFFORT, ACADEMICS, RESILIENCE -CLEAR
31. College must be a dual education process – PARENTS & STUDENTS
32. We have to learn to deal with students who come to us with luggage that we did not necessarily help pack
33. Culture is a pattern of basic assumptions
34. “Treaty of Mediocrity” – If I don’t give you much effort, then how can I expect much back in return?
35. Every organization has a power structure – either implicit or explicit
36. We’ve never tried to educate as many students at as high of a level as we are now
37. Does “belief” or “practice” need to be changed first?
38. New learning is based on prior learning…Prior learning is based on experience
39. The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of your teachers
40. The main influence on student achievement is the teacher
41. The most powerful place to learn teaching is when you are teaching
42. Teachers teach the way they were taught
43. The task predicts the performance
44. Students learn to do the tasks we ask of them
45. Elmore’s four questions on educational core when observing a classroom: What is the teacher saying and doing? What are the students saying and doing? What is the task the teacher has set for the students? If the student did everything the teacher asked them to do, what would the student leave the classroom knowing how to do?
46. Think about the conditions school leaders need to put in place to make teachers more effective
47. If it doesn’t hit the classroom, it doesn’t matter
48. If you don’t read fluently, you lose comprehension
49. Every teacher in the building must become a reading teacher
50. I don’t care how you read Shakespeare (print, electronic, audio, et cetera)… All I care is that you read Shakespeare!
51. To turnaround a school you must make true structural change
52. Teachers must be watching each other
53. Schools need to be teaching students how to ask the right questions
54. Kids might be “digital natives,” but they are not “digital citizens.”
55. Every school should be using Skype
56. We must harness technology for our students
57. Do not have an “anti” campaign without having a “pro” campaign
58. We are what we repeatedly do. So… Excellence is a habit
59. We need to measure what we value
60. Most people are concerned about their position, not the impact of their position
61. Teams need an effective model of communication, a collaborative conflict resolution model (there will be conflict), and a jointly agreed upon work models to be effective
62. A group of smart people does not make a team
63. Many times people we work with come to us with a limited set of perceptions and a limited set of skills
64. The elephant rule: Old history that is still causing bad feelings
65. CBD: Consult before you decide
66. GBD: Give the other person the Benefit of the Doubt
67. Always give the other person/group a way to save face
68. Most people are concerned about their position, not the impact of their position
69. We must negotiate change, not impose it
70. Communication, relationship, interests, options, legitimacy, alternatives (BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), and commitments
71. Negotiate interests, not positions

As I continue the important work of a Turnaround Principal I am reminded of something Albert Einstein said: “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.” This week has enabled me to continue to formulate the problems and frame them in a way that our school can collaboratively devise solutions!