Byron's Babbles

Creating or Draining Energy?

LeadersReadyNow_cover_300pxThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to Leaders Ready Now: Accelerating Growth in a Faster World.

Instead of creating energy, your processes are draining it.

The fastest, most powerful learning experiences convert fear and uncertainty into pride and wisdom. Consider several examples:

  • A young, inexperienced leader takes on an assignment to lead a team of people older and more experienced than she.
  • An operations executive is suddenly given responsibility to run the IT function, which he knows nothing about.
  • A new CEO faces a sudden market crisis that requires a major strategic and cultural shift in direction.

Big first-time challenges like these administer a shock, instantly bringing the leader to attention. It’s a jolt of uncertainty that carries a current of doubt; but with effort, discipline, and support, that doubt transforms into action and movement. Ultimately, if and when the challenge is conquered, a backward glance leaves the leader with confidence and insight that can be applied to the next challenge. It is in conquering difficult assignments such as these that leaders become ready to take on bigger leadership roles.

The challenge is scaling this concept beyond isolated, reactive incidents and creating a repeatable dynamic that causes entire cadres of leaders to become ready. For most organizations, scale becomes structure, but structure without energy kills acceleration. It’s not uncommon for management to roll out learning initiatives to groups of anywhere from 10 to 10,000 people, after which those new processes become burdened with guidelines, meetings, documentation, mandatory events, and progress checks. Participants—often the company’s busiest people—work diligently to make time for a process that has many moving parts but little connection to what they view as mission critical. Soon, what was built to generate the energy of growth dissolves into apathy and annoyance at processes that seem (and may well be) devoid of business importance.

It is not the process itself that is failing—it is the absence of energy to fuel it. Without energy, any processes you put in place will be unsustainable. How to rally the initiatives? By reexamining the architecture of your acceleration efforts and rewriting the rules of the game so that more is at stake, more is to gain, and all the players have a clearer understanding of their roles and how they will have an impact on success. You must be far more aggressive in the use and application of your existing approaches, setting bigger development targets for more people earlier in their careers.

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Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is Vice President of Succession and C-Suite Services for Development Dimensions International (DDI). Matt’s work has centered on the application of succession, assessment, and development approaches as they apply to boards, CEOs, senior management teams, and leaders across the pipeline. He consults, coaches, speaks, and conducts research around all those topics and more.

Audrey B. Smith, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President for Global Talent Diagnostics at DDI. Audrey’s customer-driven innovation and global consulting insights have helped shape DDI’s succession, selection, and development offerings, from the C-suite to the front line. She has been a key strategist and solution architect, encompassing technology-enabled virtual assessments and development aligned to current business challenges.

William C. Byham, Ph.D., is Executive Chairman of DDI. He cofounded the company in 1970 and has worked with hundreds of the world’s largest organizations on executive assessment, executive development, and succession management. Bill authored Zapp!® The Lightning of Empowerment, a groundbreaking book that has sold more than 3 million copies. He has coauthored 23 other books, including seminal works on the assessment center method.

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The Leadership Journey


Unprecedented levels of complexity and unpredictability are part of our current world, particularly in education. If we are to continue to effectively lead organizations, transform schools, or assist others in creating positive change in their lives, or in the lives of others, we need adaptable and proven tools and practices to utilize now and well into the future. Leadership development, mentoring, and coaching provide the ability to be flexible and relevant no matter the situation and time – in other words adjusting to the current context in real-time. These leadership growth and development opportunities are valuable and effective methods for assisting others in discovering what they need to thrive to be happy, healthy and motivated.

img_0486-1Our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) at Hoosier Academies Network of Schools provides leadership skills the ability that are flexible and relevant no matter the situation and time. We want to inspire with valuable and effective methods for assisting our teacher leaders in discovering what they need to become focused and disciplined leaders. What we are attempting to do is enhance growth of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, thus increasing the teacher leaders resilience, creativity and belief in self. If we do it right our developing leaders experience making decisions that honor their own values and true potential ultimately living the life they have only imagined. In turn this puts him/her in a position to change the lives of the students we serve.

img_0488It was exciting to see a tweet from one our FLA participants, Ann Semon, after session yesterday. She said, “What an inspiring day with @ByronErnest today. Excited for the leadership journey. #HoosierFLA” I’m so glad Ann recognizes this is a journey. Then another tweet from Carlie Coblentz stated, “I’m excited to be going on this educational journey w/ these awesome teachers!” Again, I’m thrilled that Carlie recognizes this as a journey.

img_1643-2I’m pretty pumped we are using John Manning’s (2015) The Disciplined Leader as our book for leadership blogging and guide of our vital few again. As Manning (2015) stated, “Your leadership path is like a present. Whether you chose the path intentionally or ended up on this journey by accident, you are receiving an opportunity that not everyone gets in life. However, with this gift of Disciplined Leadership comes a unique responsibility. We believe that responsibility is to ‘pay it forward,’ helping others grow by sharing your knowledge and wisdom” (Kindle Location 2692). My most rewarding moments, and times when I’ve felt most significant, have been about helping people in a meaningful way, particularly helping grow those I’ve worked alongside. I appreciate John Manning’s partnership in making this journey of creating disciplined leaders possible.

img_0485Through our Focused Leader Academy, our teacher leaders are discover powerful leadership competencies, tools, and techniques to assist others in broadening their vision of self. They are learning methods for disbanding limiting beliefs, embracing expanding beliefs, recognizing barriers, stretching potential, shifting behavior, holding people accountable and much more. Our teacher leaders are experiencing rigorous training as well as energizing experiences that are broadening their perspectives and enhancing their creativity while working with fellow employees, peers, students, and families.

Leadership Farm Team Pipeline

Our Graphic by Mike Fleisch from the Leadership Pipeline Content

Could there be any more vital leadership task to a school, organization, or business’s long-term health than the choice and cultivation of its future leaders? I don’t think so! But, while organizations maintain meticulous lists of candidates and create spreadsheets of those who could at a moment’s notice step into the shoes of a key leadership position, an alarming number of newly minted leaders fail spectacularly, ill prepared to do the jobs for which they supposedly have been prepared. Developing a deep and enduring bench strength can only be accomplished by approaching succession planning as more than the mechanical process of updating a spreadsheet. I believe the organizations, including schools that do this best combine two practices: succession planning and leadership development. This creates a long-term process for developing the talent roster across their organizations. You could compare this to a minor league baseball team’s function, including the vital and fundamental goal: getting the right skills in the right place.

Let’s explore this minor league example for a minute, because it is a good one. The major league club’s player development goals must co-exist happily, and profitably I might add, with the local owners and operators of a minor league club. It is also important to note there are also some areas of shared responsibility between the major and minor league teams’ responsibility for player development. The major league team determines which 24 players will be on the minor league team. Again, the major league team makes all the decisions about who comes, goes and gets moved up through the system. Major league clubs keep close watch on their farm teams, sending scouts and front-office staff to watch games and keep stats on players; all of which contributes to the future progression of the players. A pretty intense development pipeline, don’t you think? Here’s the key though: players are developing while, well, playing the game. Novel and intuitive idea, but how many leadership development programs are done by watching PowerPoints? We must treat our leadership pipelines like a minor league baseball program.

Focused Leader Academy Team Illustration From Yesterday’s Discussion

Let’s dive just a little deeper into this minor league pipeline approach. Nearly every baseball player in the MLB started in the minors. Players start low and work their way up the ladder of minor league levels (sometimes skipping a level or two) until they get to the Major Leagues. The rate at which players advance can be vastly different in each case. Each team of the MLB has their own network of minor league teams (sometimes called “farm teams” or “farm leagues”) which are used for player development. Players start low and work their way up the ladder of minor league levels (sometimes skipping a level or two) until they get to the Major Leagues. The point is, these players have very individualized plans (what I call hyper-personalized) to get their skills developed to major league quality. Again, and remember, this is while actually playing the game in a highly competitive market. There have been a handful of players to skip the minors and go straight to the big leagues, but this is very, very rare. Only 2 players in the last 15 years have done it (Mike Leake in 2010 and Xavier Nady in 2000).

Focused Leader Academy Participants Designing & Building A Leadership Pipeline Model

Organizations, especially schools, need to learn from these minor league development “farms” and make sure they are growing their own in real time. We discussed this very point yesterday at our first session of our second cohort of our Focused Leader Academy. As you will recall, last year we started the Focused Leader Academy at the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. This is an employee development and engagement program. The idea is that great minds and great motives still matter. Teachers with school leadership aspirations have the opportunity to become part of a cohort which will take part in monthly leadership training and be part of supervised leadership projects of the school. Cohort size is at least 15% of teacher leaders per year. The Vision is: Leadership will be born out of those who are affected by it. The Mission is: Leadership will appear anywhere and anytime it is needed. Our Theory of Action is: If we empower our teachers through leadership skill development…Then we will have teacher leaders ready to contribute to the success of Hoosier Academies Network of Schools and be an important part of our talent/leadership pipeline.
We all know that leaders grow leaders. This why I have taken it as my personal charge to develop, grow, and improve our Focused Leader Academy. As Matthew Paese, Audrey Smith, and William Byham stated in their latest book that launches next week, Leaders Ready Now: Accelerating Growth in a Faster World, “Everything you need to accelerate the growth of leadership is already inside your organization(2016, p. v). I am such a believer in this statement. I always say that context matters – and it does. This is why I believe organization’s need to make this work their personal responsibilities, not hire someone else to do it. How in the world could someone else know what the needs are? To do this we must push less-experienced leaders into broader, more formidable assignments. The whole premise behind our Focused Leader Projects. Additionally, I love task forces because these can become, in my opinion, what Paese et al. call Acceleration Pools© (2016). These experiences enable us to get leaders ready with real time development and coaching in the same way the minor league baseball teams do it I described earlier. Task forces and projects also give us the ability to deploy future leaders to key assignments. In fact, we recently lost a person in a key role and instead of filling immediately we put four teacher leaders in the role as what have become affectionately known as BAs (Byron Appointees).

Appointing BAs really turned out to be an incredibly successful move. By conquering difficult assignments, these teacher leaders have become ready to take on bigger leadership roles. I now plan to make BAs a common part of what we do along with our task forces, Focused Leader Academy, and Focused Leader Projects. Paese et al. also taught us, “The challenge is scaling this concept beyond isolated, reactive incidents and creating a repeatable dynamic that causes entire cadres of leaders to become ready” (2016, p. vii). This is why I, as the leader of our network of schools must take responsibility for this.

Finally, for this accelerated growth (Paese, et al., 2016) we must create an environment where our developing leaders experience fear, excitement, anxiety, and experimentation. For rapid growth we must create real time, real work experiences of:

  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Worry
  • Anticipation
  • Terror
  • Thrill
  • Anxiety
  • Experimentation
  • Risk
  • Possibility

These feelings then generate energy and accelerated learning (2016). Are you taking responsibility for your leadership pipeline farm team or leaving it to some off the shelf product or leaving it to some paid organization to do for you? I would suggest to you to take responsibility yourself and get the thrill and inspiration of this important leadership responsibility.

ESSA Opportunity #10: New Community Support for School Successs Grants

IMG_0201ESSA establishes a new grant program that will enable community partners to play an important role in personalized learning environments.

The program supports the following goals:

  • Promise Neighborhoods – significantly improve the academic and developmental outcomes of children living in the most distressed communities of the United States by providing access to a community-based continuum of high-quality services. ESSA defines Promise Neighborhoods strategies as “pipeline services” and utilizes this term to refer to “a continuum of coordinated supports, services, and opportunities for children from birth through entry into and success in postsecondary education, and career attainment.” The goal of Promise Neighborhoods to to do the following:
    • 1) high quality early childhood education programs
    • 2) high quality school and out of school time programs and strategies
    • 3) transitions from elementary school to middle school, from middle school to high school, and from high school into and through postsecondary education and into the workforce
    • 4) family and community engagement and support
    • 5) postsecondary and workforce readiness
    • 6) community based support for students who are either living in the community or who have attended schools serviced by the pipeline
    • 7) social, health, nutrition, and mental health services and supports
    • 8) crime prevention and rehabilitation programs for youth.
  • Full Service Community Schools – provide support for schools that improve the coordination and integration, accessibility, and effectiveness of services for children and families, particularly for children attending high-poverty schools.

ESSA Opportunity #9: Modernized 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant

FullSizeRender-1 2The 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program supports academic enrichment activities in after school or extended day settings. This part provides opportunities for communities to establish or expand activities in community learning centers that provide opportunities for academic enrichment, offer students a broad array of additional services, programs and activities, and offers families of students served by community learning centers opportunities for active and meaningful engagement in their child’s education, including opportunities for literacy and related educational development.

Funding is made available for continuation of certain current grants; there are reservations for national activities, and for Bureau of Indian Education schools. There is a local competitive subgrant program. The program is authorized at $1,000,000,000 for FY 2017 and $1,100,000,000 for each of FYs 2018-2020. States should give priority to applicants that will provide high quality credit bearing opportunities outside of the traditional classroom environment. Priority should also go to applicants that will serve students attending schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement.

ESSA Opportunity #8: Title IV, Student Support & Academic Enrichment Grant

FullSizeRender-1The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidates a number of existing federal grant programs into a new Title IV state block grant that may fund district activities to:

  • provide all students with access to a well-rounded education.
  • improve school conditions for student learning.
  • improve the use of technology to improve academic achievement and digital literacy.

States could use this block grant to create an innovation fund for districts interested in scaling personalized learning strategies. ESSA would reconstitute Title IV, Part A into the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, and would authorize the new program at $1.6 billion annually through 2020. That authorized amount comes in addition to the authorized $1.1 billion in Title IV, Part B, which funds the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. Part A would then require states to spend 20 percent of those funds on “well-rounded educational opportunities,” 20 percent of those funds on “safe and healthy students,” and a portion of the funding on the “effective use of technology.” Part B authorizes $1.1 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers that offer after-school academic enrichment programs. Part C includes federal funding for charter schools, which would increase from $253 million in 2015 to $300 million by 2020. Funding is similarly increased for magnet schools, which Part D of Title IV would increase from $92 million in 2015 to nearly $109 million by 2020.

In addition, Part E of Title IV would allow for education innovation. These innovations could include programs like: Promise Neighborhoods, full-service community schools, arts education, Ready to Learn television, and gifted and talented education programs. As you can see there are some tremendous opportunities for our students with ESSA.

ESSA Opportunity #7: Reservation for School Leaders

IMG_0434This opportunity is one that is near and dear to me. I really believe in job embedded professional growth/development. Under ESSA, states may reserve up to 3% of their Title II, Part A funds to build a workforce of leaders with the skills to help schools transition to personalized learning environments. Priority funding should go to support leaders serving in schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement. As a school leader who has now taken on a high school and now a school system that fits this priority, I can attest to the need for this development of teacher leaders. ESSA also requires that professional development programs should be customized, embedded, and align to statewide professional competencies so leaders can advance along individualized career pathways.

I believe programs like what we have started at Hoosier Academies Network of Schools in our Focused Leader Academy really fit the bill. This is an employee development and engagement program. The idea is that great minds and great motives still matter. Teachers with school leadership aspirations have the opportunity to become part of a cohort which will take part in monthly leadership training and be part of supervised leadership projects of the school. Cohort size is at least 10-15% of teacher leaders per year. The Vision is: Leadership will be born out of those who are affected by it. The Mission is: Leadership will appear anywhere and anytime it is needed. Our Theory of Action is: If we empower our teachers through leadership skill development…Then we will have teacher leaders ready to contribute to the success of Hoosier Academies Network of Schools and be an important part of our talent pipeline. I believe states should endorse and help schools develop programs such as this in order to have approaches required by ESSA that build and strengthen professional learning systems aligned to teachers’ learning needs. This would allow schools to do what I call “hyper-personalizing professional growth.” Click here to see ESSA’s Definition of Professional Learning & Title ll Allowable Uses of Funds.

Also, Learning Forward and National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future have come up with an Agents for Learning competition related to state planning for Title II funds. These competitions are great ways to collaborate for best practices and to get a lot of ideas for how best to use the funding. Click here to get more information on the competition. I, for one, hope they get lots of applications. Teachers are in the best position to contribute recommendations for the best use of federal funding for professional learning, the successful implementation of ESSA, and the improvement of student learning.

Pulling Together

I’m so excited I just started reading 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. As you know, I love books that are broken into 52 lessons. These lessons allow me to reflect and the blog each week. This week’s lesson was entitled “Baboons and Impalas” and dealt with how our differences make us fit together better. Stewart taught us that the baboons are watchmen for the impala and the Impalas stir up insects for the baboons. This is a great relationship that benefits both. Now, let’s relate this to our context as leaders. Turning a group into a team is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. We find ourselves leading groups of very diverse individuals in complex projects and tasks. We don’t always get to hand pick our team, but rather we often inherit teams and all of their past baggage. Whatever the state of the group, we all need team skills. It seems easier and more comfortable to work with people of similar styles, thinking and background, but diversity brings a richness to a team. Leaders and team members should value, encourage and reward diversity. 


Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing.” Effective teams do not encourage heroes or superstars. They look for ways to maximize their resources and build on each other’s strengths and diversity. Therefore, we need to:

  • Develop a what’s the goal culture.
  • Stay the course.
  • Pick the right battles.
  • Know the gap – good ideas/execution.
  • Avoid the flavor of the month.

Effective leaders embrace differences, respect disagreement, honor those who question processes and direction, and doesn’t surround himself or herself with “yes” people. As Stewart taught us, “When selecting others to be on a team with you, choose unlike yourself.” Create a balanced team by thinking of the baboon and the impala.

Everyone Is A Leader

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Focused Leader Academy Cohort #1

I am finally in for the evening and sitting down for some reflection time with my computer blogging. What a day! This morning we graduated our first cohort of teacher leaders from our Focused Leader Academy. Then we had our commencement exercises for our Hoosier Academies Network of Schools 2016 graduates. This post is about our celebration breakfast for our Focused Leader Academy. IMG_0434

We had an incredible program recognizing our teacher leaders and an outstanding program by Andy Worshek of Turn the Ship Around! He is an expert on Intent-Based Leadership. Andy served in the navy for 24 years, and achieved the rank of Master Chief. Assigned to the nuclear powered submarine USS Santa Fe with Captain David Marquet and imagines a workplace where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity, a place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work—a place where everyone is a leader.

IMG_0430Great Leadership creates an organizational culture that spawns generations of additional leaders throughout the organization. Which is exactly what we are doing with our Focused Leader Academy. With this program we are embracing continual learning as the primary activity of the organization. Andy taught us today that most people don’t quit the job, they quit the people. This really hit home as a leader of leaders. Andy discussed that instead of thinking about leaders and followers we need to think about having leaders and leaders. In order to do this we must move authority to information instead of information to authority. In other words, in a highly functioning organization the authority to use information is kept at what I call street level so it can be used effectively. In a school that means with teachers. Make no mistake, however, when shifting this model, we have an obligation to make sure that those we are empowering have the technical knowledge and skill to handle this authority. Otherwise, Andy taught us this would lead to chaos. Furthermore, for intent based leadership to work there must be organizational clarity. This is clarity is one of the things I am very proud we spent a great deal of time working on this past year as a school and with our Focused Leader Academy.

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”
― L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

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Another eye opener for me was the idea of needing to change the environment, not the person. People’s behaviors depend on the environment. If you manipulate the environment, you manipulate behaviors. Since the earliest times, humans have needed to be sensitive to their surroundings to survive, which means that we have an innate awareness of our environment and seek out environments with certain qualities. The culture and environment of an organization can facilitate or discourage interactions among people. Additionally, the environment of an organization can influence peoples’ behavior and motivation to act.

“When a flower does not bloom in your garden, you fix the environment in which it is growing. You do not fix the flower.” ~ Alexander den Heijer

IMG_0431Too many organizations believe that “leadership” is a noun based on someone’s title. I believe, however, that leadership is a verb based on someone’s actions. By that definition, everyone is a leader. If we believe everyone is a leader then effective leadership helps to unify a culture, and a collaborative culture made up of leaders and leaders can solve just about anything. Now, that is an ideal environment where everyone is a leader. Organizations should realize that leaders permeate the organization. I believe the role of a leader is to find and develop other leaders – in essence, to multiply ourselves. We must intentionally look for people displaying leadership behaviors and create a process for developing the next generation of leaders. I believe that the Focused Leader Academy has done that for us.

Vital Leadership Learnings

IMG_0418A couple of weeks ago we had the honor of having Will Pemble from MAP Vital Factors Solutions work with our Focused Leader Academy on being disciplined leaders. This day was set up by John Manning, author of The Disciplined Leader (2015). As you know from previous posts, our Focused Leader Academy read the book, that is set up in 52 lessons, and blogged about each lesson. We then had a discussion about what we felt were the vital few leadership focuses we needed more work on for each section of the book and overall. Really, that pre-exercise  was an incredible discussion and experience. It was very interesting to hear the individual vital few from the FLA participants and then hear the discussion of narrowing down to the group’s vital few. This allowed for a rich discussion about how individual vital leadership skills affect the vital few of an organization.FullSizeRender img_0114-2

Here are our Focused Leader Academy Vital Few (I have included the lesson number from the book, in case you want to check it out and follow along):

Part 1:
Our top 2 were…. #4 Know Yourself and #13 See Mistakes as Opportunities.  Then we were torn between #14 Listen More, Talk Less and #11 Drop Defensiveness.

Part 2:
Our top two were…. #30 Empower Employees and #37 Advocate for Your Team.  Then we settled on #31 Give Effective Performance Feedback because we knew what we were getting ready to embark on with redesigning our entire performance evaluation system.  We also had #26 Honor Your Commitments high on our list.

Part 3:
Our top three were….#39 Develop a “What’s the Goal?” Culture, #43 Put More Weight on “Why?” and #46 Avoid the Dangerous Gap Between Good Ideas and Execution.  We also had a strong feeling for #51 Keep Ethics Strong.

So then we went back and voted to come up with our TOP THREE VITAL FEW…

Part 1: #13  See Mistakes as Opportunities
Part 2: #30 Empower Employees
Part 3: #39 Develop a “What’s the Goal?” Culture

IMG_0409Will Pemble started out our workshop by have us develop a list of all the qualities of a disciplined leader. Here’s our list:

  • Runs toward a challenge
  • Decisive
  • Listener
  • Reflective
  • Active participant
  • Clear values that the leader sticks to
  • Loves what he/she does
  • Commitment
  • Communicator
  • Risk-taker
  • Willing to be uncomfortable
  • Willing to suffer (What’s your suffer score? How much are you willing to suffer for something?)
  • Willing to fail… a lot
  • Learner
  • Accepting
  • Courageous
  • Focused
  • Empowering
  • Open to feedback
  • Passionate
  • Ethical
  • In the moment
  • Asks the tough questions

Pretty awesome list, huh? Of course, if we could all be great at all those, we would be the most incredible leaders ever. Well, I’ve got some work to do…I don’t know about you. I’m guessing we all have some work to do.

IMG_0428We had a cool sheet that we kept individually during the day that was titled: “Most Vital Learnings.” I really liked having this sheet that had spaces for 10 vital learnings (see photo). In keeping with the vital few mantra of The Disciplined LeaderI have selected my vital few most vital learnings. Here they are:

  1. “Important things can’t be discussed comfortably.” Instead of dancing around issues, we  need to decide to be uncomfortable and hit the issue head on and solve it.
  2. “Pareto Principle”… 80:20 – 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the system. We need to use this to our advantage. We must focus on the vital few and ignore the trivial many.
  3. Decide, repeat, execute. Need we say more? This is definitely a vital few.

As you can see, our experience with the book, The Disciplined Leader, and Will’s great facilitation of our workshop was incredible. It was also incredible to be back together with Sita Magnusun doing our graphic facilitation for this program. I first met Sita at my first Harvard University class and have been both blown away by her work and continue to believe in graphic facilitation as a component of effective facilitation of learning. Two of her graphics are posted here.