Byron's Babbles

The Right Concepts

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 27, 2014

“It is virtually impossible to make things relevant for, or expect personal excellence from, a student you don’t know.” ~Carol Ann Tomlinson

originalYou have probably seen this quote from Carol Ann Tomlinson before, but it is so true it bears repeating frequently. I was reminded of this again this morning during my morning personal study time (yes, even on Thanksgiving day) when I was reading an article in one of my favorite periodicals, The Chronicle of Higher Education. An article entitled, “Colleges’ Prestige Doesn’t Guarantee a Top-Flight Learning Experience.” The article was about the National Survey of Student Engagement, which was released last week. This survey is known as Nessie, and was done to to identify educational quality at the institutional level. The data was collected last spring from 355,000 freshmen from 622 institutions. The research used two indicators for quality: student-faculty interaction and effective teaching practices. This research really caught my eye because of my belief in the three Rs of education: rigor, relevance, and relationships. The most important of which I believe is relationships. In fact I have blogged about this in the past. Click here to read my post entitled, “You Want Me To Do What? Teach.” Needless to say, my long and storied career in education would never have happened without the great relationship forged by Dr. Hobe Jones and myself. Obviously, this relationship has affected my feelings, attitude, and allegiance to Purdue University. I have been very blessed to have been very involved with Purdue in many ways since graduating with three different degrees.

Interestingly, this research involved asking students questions that included how often they talked with faculty members outside class about career plans, course topics, or other ideas. Wow, that is exactly what Dr. Jones did! We talked daily. Yes, you heard that right even on a campus on a university the size of Purdue with over 34,000 students. The College of Agriculture has mastered the art of making a big university small. It is really about understanding emotional intelligence. The days are gone when the preeminence of IQ as the standard of excellence in life was unquestioned; a debate raged over whether it was set in our genes or due to experience. But here, suddenly, was a new way of thinking about the ingredients of life success. Emotional intelligenc involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention. Dr. Jones, through our relationship, was making sure I was paying attention to important decisions that would affect my life forever.

The other measure, which involved effective teaching practices, qualitatively analyzed the perceptions of how often their instructors clearly explained course goals and requirements, taught in an organized way, used examples to illustrate difficult points, and improve feedback. Amazingly, this list would be the same for what we would call highly effective teaching at the k-12 level. This is why the relevance part of the three Rs is so important. As we look at college and career readiness it is important we have our students ready for the teaching environment of post-secondary education. It was also no surprise that students perceived time spent improving teaching means less lecturing. Students participating in the study stated that instructors who were bettering their teaching used discussions, small group activities, student performances and presentations, and experiential-learning opportunities. It seems to me this research data allows for many partnerships between secondary and post-secondary education.

A Gallup-Purdue Index survey released earlier this year found that graduates were three times as likely to report thriving in their sense of well-being if they had connected with a professor during college. I am certainly proof of this. I believe this is true of k-12 students as well. Therefore, all of us in education have an obligation to be forming positive relationships and using effective teaching practice. After all, these are the right concepts!




Water The Bamboo

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 22, 2014

IMG_0573.JPG I had the incredible privilege of meeting Greg Bell, author of Water The Bamboo this morning at the NWEA Fusion East conference. He was the keynote speaker and having read his book I was very pumped to hear him speak. I use the principles in his book and was excited to have him autograph it for me. He and I have also had great fun tweeting back and forth.


IMG_0577.JPG Let me tell you his keynote was just as inspiring as his book! He is awesome. During his keynote he had us all take the Water the Bamboo Oath. Needless to say, I and everyone else in attendance was inspired. I would like to share some of the thoughts with you from his speech.

IMG_0575.JPG Here are the highlights:
– Sunrise or sunset…it’s all in your perspective
-Change your perspective; leave the either/or and reintroduce the “and”
-Instead of pushing, how can we stand side by side to address an issue?
-A person pushed against their will has the same opinion still
-Water the right intent
-How we talk to ourselves impacts our reality
-When you change the language you change everything
-Mindset of a Bamboo farmer: Patience, persistence, self-discipline, courage, and belief
-What are you holding on to? Bamboo sheds! Get rid of the things you no longer need. Focus on the right 20%
-Let go of your bad stories
-Don’t keep staring at the closed door. Turn around and look for the open one.
-Individuals and organizations who understand the relationship age will flourish
-Bamboo grows 90 feet in 60 days. Prior to that is shows no growth above ground for 220 days. Symbolic of many of our learners in our schools
-Start your day with this question: What’s going well?
-Don’t be a negaholic! Optimism always wins!
-We need to encourage our students to dream!
-Language matters in your organization’s culture
-Sweat the small stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself
-Catch reverse paranoia. Optimism always wins
-The word “student” in Latin means “eager to learn.” Are you cultivating this?
-Three things that will get you out of poverty: 1. education 2. education 3. education
-Are you a negaholic? Do you only see the negative? QUIT THAT! Instead, ask yourself what is going well.

IMG_0576.JPG As you can tell, there was a lot of great information packed into our time with Greg Bell. Can you imagine how awesome all of our lives would be if we followed every bullet point above. Remember, we have an obligation to those we lead, particularly in our schools to be doing this. Also remember, every day with your students could be THE day!

Driven By Data

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 21, 2014

IMG_0566.JPGThis morning I was so honored to have the opportunity to present at the Fusion East NWEA Education Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. The conference theme was “Tomorrow Starts Here” and my topic was How High-Performing Schools Develop a Culture Driven By Data. It was exciting to have a standing room only crowd and I hope I lived up to their expectations.

Here is the powerpoint I used for the presentation: Ernest_NWEA_FusionEast

Here are the handouts from the presentation: Ernest_NWEA_HOOSIER HYBRID 7-12 DATA MEETING PROTOCOL Ernest_NWEA_k-8_Data Meeting Protocol Ernest_NWEA_Data Meeting Rubric final

IMG_0568.JPG I learned a lot from this group and have shared a list of reasons why we need to create a culture driven by data as a picture in this post. This list was the guide for a very lively discussion. We also had some outstanding tweeting going on during the program using the hashtag #FusionDDI. I am proud to say that we had 66 tweets during the program from 34 different individuals. This was outstanding and further proof of the power of twitter as a professional development tool. In fact I awarded the top five tweeters during the session with copies of the two books I referenced during the session.

IMG_0567.PNG The books I referenced were Driven By Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Both of these books offer so much toward developing a culture driven by data.

Finally, I want to give you some bullets of top tweets from the program:
-“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over.” ~ John Wooten
-Data chats must be a regular part of your school culture.
-Data chats should be a safe place for teachers
-If your teachers change their teaching, can your students describe how it changed their learning?
-For a data driven culture to really work – there has to be coaching, observation, and feedback.
-Action plans developed after data analysis can be more effective if they are shared with your students.
-You have to describe the data without judgement
-If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
-Assessments are about growth, not gotcha!
-Effective analysis – dive deep! What happened and WHY?
-Effective interim assessments should revisit material from earlier in the year, not just graded unit tests.
-Assessments must be cumulative
-We tend to assess what we taught best
-Data driven instruction gives proof that what we are doing is working, or not.
-Just because you’re teaching…it does not mean they are learning
-I wanna be a Sherpa! Let’s get good at using data! Not just me…but the culture of our schools.

IMG_0569.PNG As you can see this was a pretty thoughtful group this morning. I hope I had a small part in helping them be Sherpas of their students’ learning.

“Deer In The Headlights”

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization, Strategic Planning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 20, 2014

IMG_0561.JPG I have been to several great conferences lately and I realized something about some of the so called “experts” that present at the conferences. Now I have to be careful here because I was a speaker at all of these conference. But, I realized that in some cases the person doing the presenting has not had the experience of being the “deer in the headlights.” Usually this term is associated with being a bad thing, but I have come to realize that it really is a great thing. To really become an expert or great at leading in a certain area or circumstance you really have had to be the “deer in the headlights.”

Having successfully served as a principal for a takeover/turnaround school that broke the failing school cycle and came off the “F” list; I can say I truly was that “deer in the headlights.” I still remember that first day of the students coming in, the looks on their faces and saying, “what have I got myself into?” Then a week later after our first round of NWEA testing and seeing that only 19% of our students were on grade level, I was not only the “deer in the headlights,” but the deer smashed in the front grill of your car. Then we began to navigate and I fell in love with our students, as did the whole staff, and we turned the school around. That experience is truly at the top of my list for my career.

My experience under fire really honed me as an educational leader. I learned so many things that I could have never learned had I been in an “A” school. There were so many issues to navigate: students not on grade level, behavioral issues, staffing issues, students’ personal and family issues, operations issues, facility issues, extracurricular issues, teacher coaching, and many, many more. Don’t think for a minute that I believe myself to be an expert leader in all of those areas, but let me tell you I did have to lead the charge on all of these areas and I did learn and grow from it.

IMG_0562-0.JPGSo, my point in this post to my blog is to not be afraid to be the “deer in the headlights.” Don’t be afraid to take on projects or career changes where you will be that “deer in the headlights.” I seem to have moments like that every day, but I am better and growing from it each and every day. I can think of many leaders who have become very status quo about their own professional growth and development. Really, those individuals are like old farm equipment sitting in the fence row rusting. Don’t let yourself become rusty.

I have been reading Water the Bamboo: Unleashing the Potential of Teams and Individuals by Greg Bell. I am so excited to be speaking at the same conference (NWEA Fusion East) this weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. I can’t wait to have him autograph my book. In his book he suggests developing a personal mission statement. I did. It is: In my professional life, my vision is to always be the “deer in the headlights.” As Bell says, “To accomplish a great vision you will need laser-like focus.” Just imagine the learning I will be doing!

Transformative Family Engagement

Posted in Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 17, 2014

IMG_0555.JPG On day two of the 2014 National Quality Education Conference I had the pleasure of hearing Tracy Hill speak on the Power of Family Engagement. I was excited about this because I got to be with her this past August at Harvard for the Family Engagement Program. Ms. Hill is the Executive Director of Family and Community Involvement for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. You can check out all of my tweets I made during the session using the hashtag #ASQEd.


Here are some major points from her presentation:

– School is the only safe place that students have
– The same issues that plague students of poverty in urban districts are the same problems that plague suburban and rural students.
-Many of the issues we deal with in public education have nothing to do with the students. The issues are about the adults. This is wrong.
-Every staff member in a school needs to serve as a family liaison
-When you become a leader in a new school district you must become culturally aware of those families you serve
-Never use the term “Those people” when referring to your families
-We must change the culture from one where parents are seen as problems to one where families are seen as partners
-Create a culture where parents are welcome
-No parents sets out to be a bad parent. We must find ways to support them
-All parents have the capacity to support student learning
-Parents and school staff should be equal partners in the education of children
-The primary responsibility for building partnerships between home and school rests mainly with school leaders and staff
-Parents top reason for leaving the district is that they or their students were treated poorly
– Parents are important partners in the education of their students
-Building strong relationships with parents is key to having them engage with schools to advance student achievement and reform failing schools
-Family engagement must involve partnering with community partners and agencies to strengthen schools
-We must engage families and neighborhoods in school reform
-We must invest in children and provide more wrap around resources to our schools and families.
-Family engagement must be woven into the very fabric of our schools

Much of Tracy’s work is based on the book Beyond the Bakesale

Setting The Dominos For School Success

Posted in Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 16, 2014

IMG_0548.PNG I had the opportunity to spend more time with Lee Jenkins during the second half of the first day of the 2014 National Quality Education Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During this time we looked at Guiding Systemic Action for System-Wide Improvement. It was an exciting time and I was able to get him to sign a couple of his books for me.


IMG_0546.JPG The theme was optimizing the systems of the school in three areas: 1. students; 2. curriculum; and, 3. employees. In other words optimizing the people and curriculum for student success. A great point he made is that we must collect the best ideas from teachers, and then systemize them.

Optimizing Process:
1. Define what perfect is?
2. Where are now?
3. What is our track record (what’s are data say)?
4. What are we testing/tracking?

What Areas Must Be Perfect be Defined for in Education
1. What does perfect instruction look like?
2. What is the perfect school finance situation look like?
3. What does perfect school operations look like?
4. What does the perfect personnel situation look like?

Every employee of the school must contribute to this process and the strategic planning process outlined below. If a person has responsibility, they should be writing countermeasures for improvement. A question I should be asking, as the school leader, of every employee is: “What hypothesis are you testing right now?” In other words, what are you tracking and how do you know if it is working and are you able to self correct the errors?

Outline For Strategic Planning
1. Identify the problem(s)
2. Identify the root cause(s)
3. Develop the counter measure(s)

Every person involved in the school must be a part of the strategic planning process. Also, everyone must understand what their role is in accomplishing the goals and key performance indicators (kpi) of the school.

Another key area for improvement is the way we write our performance standards. An example is how we look at attendance (I am guilty of this and am going to change). We report percent of daily attendance. You can’t come up with a root cause for that! We need to develop what the standard is. So, let’s say the performance standard is: “All students will have a 95% attendance rate.” Now, we can measure what percent of the students met the standard. We can ask the question five times, as W. Edwards Deming asserted, of what was the root cause for students who did not meet the standard. Again, we need to do a better job of writing acceptable performance standards so we can then get to the root cause and develop intervention hypotheses.

Eliminating Hoops & Hype in Education

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Learning Organization, Strategic Planning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 16, 2014

IMG_0544.GIFI have had an absolutely incredible first day at the 2014 National Quality Education Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin put on by the American Society for Quality and the ASQ Education Division. I was excited to speak on my research of connecting school work to real life, but was more excited to hear the other speakers. Additionally, as always, I learned a great deal from visiting with the other program participants. This post is a compilation of my learning from the first half of the day. You can also check out my tweets from the day by using the hashtag #ASQEd or following my tweets at @ByronErnest.

The day started with Lee Jenkins as the keynote speaker. Lee is education’s expert in continuous improvement. He started by talking about removing the hoops and hype from education. Hoops were described as waste in a school’s time, money, and enthusiasm (staff and students). Hype is a change with no way of know if we’ve improved. The secret to removing hype, according to Jenkins, is to have baseline data to know if an intervention is working or not. Much of Jenkins thoughts on this come from the book: The Toyota Way To Continuous Improvement by Jeffrey Liker.

It is very important that we take an attitude of wanting to be superior to our former selves. If you think about this from a school improvement standpoint it makes perfect sense. We have a starting point and just need to keep getting better from there. Our goal here needs to be to outperform the year before. The secret to this improvement is root cause analysis. When you dig into root causes you find things you never expected to find. When we know the root causes we are able to remove what Jenkins calls “Blamestorming.”

Think about that term “Blamestorming.” We have all done it. We can blame the legislature, political leaders, school leaders, lack of time, too many standards, standardized tests, lack of money, too much money, too many programs, et cetera. But, these are not really root causes. We must dig down deep and find the root causes. Think about this question: Was it the reading program we purchased that improved reading, or the fact that the program required that we triple the amount of time spent reading every day? Think about that. If the root cause was needing to triple the amount of time reading we could have done that without any new program cost, professional development cost, or all the other woes that come with implementing a new program. It is why programs and initiatives don’t work – teachers do! That’s me talking there; not Jenkins.

Remember, if we eliminate the hoops and hype we can optimize our systems for our students and employees and optimize the delivery of our curriculum.

Connecting School Work To Real Life: 2014 National Quality Education Conference

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 14, 2014

IMG_0542.JPG The challenge to all of us in education is to find ways to make learning visible by connecting school work and real life for the students we serve. One of the ways to do that is to call on “the hand in the back of the room” and answer “why” with real world relevancy. Students understanding, mastery of basic science curriculum, and ability to use science concepts have been shown to improve when the science concepts were taught in the relevant and real world context of agriculture. Teachers many times fail to provide a context through observations, inferences, and actions appropriate for students to make the connection to the real world. These connections help the students to understand higher-level science concepts.

Through my research I investigated low student achievement in science and the social change impact of real world application through a study of agricultural science. Other current research on teaching science in a relevant context and the opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration were also investigated. I will be presenting on how to use transformative educational strategies to help students move from memorizing facts and content to constructing knowledge in meaningful and useful ways.


I am very excited to be presenting at the 2014 National Quality Education Conference this Sunday, November 16th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I will be presenting my research on the effects of teaching science concepts in the real world and relevant context of agriculture. While at the conference I will be tweeting using the hashtag #ASQEd. I will be encouraging those attending my session to follow me on twitter @ByronErnest and also tweet using #ASQEd.

Here is the Powerpoint presentation I will using in my presentation: NQEC2014_Ernest

Here are PDFs of the handouts I will be referencing: Ernest_NQEC2014_Handouts_1 Ernest_NQEC2014_Handouts_2

Being an educator can bring an array of challenges. How can you continue following standards, make learning fun and innovative for your students, encourage creativity in the classroom, raise state testing scores, ensure students are college and career ready, and apply student learning in unexpected ways? Discover how continuous improvement strategies, tools, and support can be implemented in order to improve processes to help address some of these challenges and increase student achievement at the 2014 National Quality Education Conference.

Key Learning Outcomes for the 2014 National Quality Education Conference:
1. Discover innovative ways that processes have been made more efficient to allow resources to be applied in unexpected ways from pre-K–12 through higher education.
2. Learn how the Baldrige Criteria can be applied to improve learning, services, and fiscal health.
3. Understand measures that have been taken to narrow achievement gaps and ensure that all students are achieving their goals, regardless of baseline data, and socioeconomic background.
4. Learn advanced practices in continuous improvement as applied to classroom and broader institutional improvements.
5. Find out what tools, practices, and professional development programs designed to assist districts in implementing Common Core standards and in measuring achievement based on these standards.

As you can see it is going to be an exciting learning experience. Don’t forget to follow my tweets from the conference at the hashtag #ASQEd.

Different As Dilly Bars – 2nd Edition

Posted in Education, Education Reform by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 9, 2014

IMG_0537.JPGWith the end of October came the end of National Antibullying Month. In my opinion, however, every month should be antibullying month. What was fun for me was to bring an activity I had done in the past to my new school system, Hoosier Academies. A few years ago I did a project called Different As Dilly Bars. Click here to read the post I wrote then. Our theme this year was that we are all 99.9% the same. Genetically, we are all 99.9% the same and it is only the .10% that makes us different. Just like there are five different flavors of Dilly Bars: chocolate, butterscotch, Heath Bar, cherry, and mint; they are all vanilla on the inside and the only difference is the flavor they are dipped in. It was exciting to bring all the students together at our elementary school, middle school, and high school and talk to each group about how our differences are really our strengths. It is really asset based thinking – the fact that we all bring strengths to every situation we are in. Again, our strength lies in our differences not in our similarities.

I talked to the students about how there are five different flavors of Dilly Bars, but there is no, one best flavor. If I like Butterscotch and you like chocolate it doesn’t make one Dilly Bar better than the other. The strength is in the fact that we have both to choose from and you can have what you like best and I can have what I like best. The students were then able to pick a Dilly Bar flavor of their choice to eat!

People should be recognized and respected for who they are individually, who they are as defined by the characteristics they possess, and who they are as part of the groups to which they belong. At a minimum, when we think about diversity, we need to consider not only race but gender, religion, physical challenges, economic status, age, disability, sexual orientation, and learning differences. Indeed, some people define themselves not by their race but by one or more of these other descriptors. And, as I said earlier all of those differences become our strength when we all come together. Human diversity is what we espouse to embrace, but seldom do fully embrace. The 21st & 1/2 Century begs for an understanding among peoples and cultures. We have a mandate to teach our students the importance of attaining this understanding with an open mind and a willingness to challenge old beliefs.

Every student has unique cultural experiences, types and amounts of schooling, varied interests, and preferred ways of learning. As students learn, they approach each task with the beliefs, values, and information acquired through their respective backgrounds and knowledge of the world. It is exciting to me that they bring a wealth of experiences, knowledge of vocabulary and concepts, and hopes and dreams to the classroom. It is our job as educators to facilitate a way for our students to express this knowledge and their aspirations in a safe and nurturing environment. With asset based thinking teachers remove barriers to learning and replace them with sound pedagogical practices and culturally competent learning environment. Students’ differences are viewed as assets and respected when planning quality instruction and all students have opportunities to make connections between prior knowledge and new learning, build on existing schema, be active participants in a community of learners, and have numerous opportunities to converse and interact with peers and adults. Above all, in an asset driven classroom and school, all students are provided numerous opportunities to experience success.

Remember, we are different as Dilly Bars. But, it is in those differences we find our strengths.