Byron's Babbles

Indiana Assessment Vision

IMG_0553Yesterday, we had our third legislative panel meeting studying alternatives to the ISTEP Program Test. This is part of our working toward the assessment plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for Indiana. One of the things we worked on yesterday was the vision statement of the group. Using suggestions from panel members, the panel legislative staff came up with the following draft statement:

“Indiana looks to design an assessment system that is student-centered and provides meaningful and timely information to educators and parents on both a student’s on-grade proficiency level and growth toward Indiana’s College and Career Ready standards. The assessment needs to be viable, reliable, research-based, and meet the requirements of both state and federal law, while meeting the needs of all students across Indiana.”

Now, being the vision guru I am, I immediately realized it did not meet the 35 words or less rule of thumb. I did, however, quickly underline what I thought were the most important parts of the vision statement that our panel needed to do to meet the needs of our students, families, and schools (I have underlined above). Here are the points:

  • student-centered
  • meaningful
  • timely
  • information to educators and parents
  • on-grade proficiency level and growth

I suggested we eliminate the last sentence, “The assessment needs to be viable, reliable, research-based, and meet the requirements of both state and federal law, while meeting the needs of all students across Indiana.” because I do not believe it is at all visionary to be valid, reliable, researched based and meeting the letter of the law. We have that obligation to Indiana and the federal government through ESSA. We don’t need a vision for that.

So, my proposed vision statement would be:

“Indiana looks to design an assessment system that is student-centered* and provides meaningful and timely information to educators and parents on both a student’s on-grade proficiency level and growth toward Indiana’s College and Career Ready standards.”

You will notice the * with student-centered. I believe we should have a definition for student-centered following the vision statement. For me, that definition could be:

*A Student-centered assessment system, which includes student performance, academic growth, and multiple measures, sets challenging items and tasks that are intended to encourage deep learning and create a sense of high expectations and mutual accountability.

Then, I believe it is even more important to develop a set of belief statements associated to this process. I took pieces from what individuals submitted as vision statements to make a list of possible belief statements. I really believe that many of what panel members submitted were belief statements, not vision statements. This was a good things because we should have belief statements guiding our work.

Here is the list I came up with:

  • New assessment must be implemented with fidelity
  • Timely results
  • Empowers students, parents, educators, and administrators
  • Includes college and career readiness metric
  • Meets the needs of all students
  • Cost effective
  • Accurately assesses students’ learning and growth over time
  • Takes less time away from instruction and learning
  • Equity for all students in how they take the assessment (technology/modality)

So, put all together, here’s what my draft would look like:

“Indiana looks to design an assessment system that is student-centered* and provides meaningful and timely information to educators and parents on both a student’s on-grade proficiency level and growth toward Indiana’s College and Career Ready standards.”

*A Student-centered assessment system, which includes student performance, academic growth, and multiple measures, sets challenging items and tasks that are intended to encourage deep learning and create a sense of high expectations and mutual accountability.

Indiana’s new assessment system must:


  • be implemented with fidelity.
  • provide timely results.
  • empower students, parents, educators, and administrators.
  • include college and career readiness metric.
  • meets the needs of all students.
  • be cost effective.
  • accurately assesses students’ learning and growth over time.
  • take less time away from instruction and learning.
  • provide equity for all students in how they take the assessment (technology/modality).


Because ESSA requires us to have a summative assessment in grades 3-8 and a high school component our conversation must shift from all the chatter about whether wanting to test or not or whether it is right to test. Really, that is irrelevant. What is important is that we make sure all of our stakeholders understand “why” assessment is happening and exactly how the data will be used. I believe we are on the right track to developing a vision and belief statements that can drive this work. I would love to hear feedback on additional belief statements or edits to make the belief statement suggestions better.



Leaders As Non-Conformists

51qo9POttyL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This morning I just started reading the incredible book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. As a card carrying non-conformist I am really taking in all the stories and research in this book. It also goes right along Lesson #6 in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. This lesson titled “Hooks and Loops” was about George de Mestral. Ok… be honest, do you know who he is? Or, what he is famous for? I didn’t until I read this lesson.

George loved to hike, but hated coming back with burrs stuck all over his clothes. He decided one day to study the burrs under a microscope and discovered that they were made up of little hooks that would, well, hook the fabric of your clothes. He was struck by the idea that he could create a hook and loop fastener out of fabric. Long story short, everyone thought he was crazy and even ridiculed him about his idea. He finally found a French fabric maker to help him manufacture a prototype. His original prototype did not hold up to continual use, but then after more research and trial he learned he could treat nylon with infrared light and it would hold up under use. He then combined the words “velvet” and “crochet” to, yep you guessed it, name the product we all use today – Velcro®.img_2083

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

We are all faced with opportunities dressed up as problems or challenges. How we deal with those opportunities is up to us. I prefer to run toward those challenges and face them head on. Think about it – George de Mestral found a tremendous opportunity that literally changed the world in an annoyance during hiking.

“We are continuously faced with opportunities disguised as insolvable problems.”

~ John Parker Stewart

As an artistic leader, innovator, and creative thinker I strive  to bring out the creative impulses in others in education. I am always struck by all the conformity in and around the workplace in our culture. This comes from organizations developing a fear based culture. People are afraid to express opinions and ideas that may be ridiculed, outshine the boss or group, or lead into uncharted territory where there is no quantifiable immediate answer. I guess I really am a non-conformist because I want us going into uncharted territory – isn’t that where discoveries are made?
I want to continue to be what George Bernard Shaw called an “unreasonable” man and adapt the world to me. I also want to develop future leaders to be non-conformists and unreasonable as well. We need our future leaders ready to make progress. In order to do this, let’s keep asking ourselves:
  • What do our people need in order to resolve challenges?
  • Who is the best qualified to help those we lead?
  • What is our attitude toward new ideas that are non-conformist?
  • What is our attitude when faced with opposition to our own ideas?

Letting Go Leadership

CnX7LlsWIAAMsC4As an organization grows, evolves, and develops, it needs a leader who knows how to give autonomy to different stakeholders who can be leaders more effectively in all areas. In other words, it needs a leader who can let go of needing to push all decisions out and do it all. I believe most leaders have a hard time letting go is because they believe that they can do it better. I also believe that many leaders have a narcissistic fear that somehow they won’t get credit for the successes of the organization or it won’t be exactly like she envisioned it. Guess what? It probably won’t be. It will probably be better. If you want to read a little more about this fear thing, click here to take a look at a post entitled “The Fearless Leader” by a great teacher leader, Ann Semon.

The best leaders, however, learn how to do it – let go. In fact, they often learn to love doing it once they start bringing in people who are even better than they are in key areas–people who know more than they do, and from whom they can learn. When that happens, it can push organizations forward to a whole new level. This strategy in a sense “unlocks” the entire organization to continue evolving in a much faster and healthier way.img_0486-1


As part of letting-go, the best leaders learn to trust the people they’re bringing into the organization to become the future leaders. Leaders must be a part of building this trust by being actively involved in, and owning, the leadership development of those in the organization. Let me emphasize here – Development of the leadership pipeline is crucial here. This can only happen if you’re willing to give all in the organization ample control. Ask yourself these questions:

  1.  “Do I really trust them to the point that I’ll let them make tough decisions?”
  2.  “Do I trust them to learn?”
  3.  “Do I trust them to grow?”
  4.  “Do I trust them to experience their own failures?”

Can you answer yes to all these questions? If you can get to yes on all these it will be an incredibly powerful force for your organization. The culture you want to build is one that gives other leaders full autonomy without micromanagement. So let’s talk about this empowerment and autonomy…

Indy_Downtown-smlI was fortunate to take a group of teachers and new principal to Harry and Izzy’s last night as a planning and team building. So, you know me, we don’t just talk about empowerment and intent based leadership, we practiced it. I wrote about what I like to do already this week in “Imagine A Place Where Everyone Is A Leader!” Click here to read the post. I literally would not let our group even look at the menu and told them we were going to empower our amazing waitress, Jen Becknell, to pick our meals for us. We gave her any boundaries, such as being pregnant, food allergies, et cetera. We even gave her permission to pick our drinks for us. Then, off Jenn went to put together one of the most incredible meals ever. I would love for Jenn to post a comment to this post as to what she chose and how she chose the dishes for us. Having done this now multiple times I am struck that I have never had a bad meal. We asked Jenn how she became so knowledgeable and she explained all the professional development Harry and Izzy’s had given her. Even things like going to their meat supplier in Chicago to understand the different types of aging processes in beef. This is a great example of Harry and Izzy’s giving Jenn the technical skill necessary to be fully empowered to be a great ambassador for the organization.

If you develop your leaders properly you will be able to trust the people who you hired to do their jobs with full autonomy, you may be surprised by how well it works out. Letting Go Leadership is nothing more than empowering your employees and teams to make their own decisions. As long as everyone has a shared vision and is committed to doing what’s best for the organization and those you serve, it can lead to bigger and better things. This certainly the environment I strive to create for every staff member in our school.


Imagine A Place Where Everyone Is A Leader!


Greatest Waitress Ever Jenn Becknell With David Marquet and I!

Earlier in the week I had the incredible honor of having dinner with my friend and leadership “idol” David Marquet. David is the author of Turn The Ship Around and developer of Intent Based Leadership™. He is making a cross country bike ride with a group and had a rest layover in Indianapolis, so it enabled us to get together. In a later post I will probably talk more about our great conversation and all the insight I gained from this great man, but for now I want to tell you about our dinner and the insights we gained.

David has a great thing he likes to do when at a restaurant – let the waitress pick his entrée’s. I knew this so I suggested we do this for our meal. I was hoping he would agree even though we were at my very favorite restaurant and Indianapolis icon Harry and Izzy’s. David agreed immediately and gave our waitress, Jenn Becknell, his intro that he is a control freak and that part of his treatment is to let the waitress pick his meal. I have to set you straight though; David is not a control freak and is the inventor of Intent Based Leadership™. He is anything but a control freak. Anyway, he gave the waitress his one boundary and I told her that I really didn’t have any boundaries except maybe not being the fondest of chicken.


Harry & Izzy’s Shrimp Cocktail!

At first Jenn looked at us a little funny and was a little taken aback, but quickly warmed to the idea. We could then very quickly tell that she was going to have fun with this. I was so impressed with David because when asked about a drink he even told Jenn to pick his wine. Now that is Intent Based Leadership™ at its best. We had truly empowered Jenn to serve us and put the best foot forward for Harry and Izzy’s for my friend who was from Florida and eating there for the first time. Long story short, it was the best and most enjoyable meal I have ever had. We had no idea what Jenn would be bringing us and each time she came out with something different it was incredible. Keep in mind we didn’t even look at the menu. We started with the signature Shrimp Cocktail, of course. I am going to ask Jenn to add a comment to this blog and tell you what she brought us out to eat. The point is, however, that as David and I walked back to my truck we both commented that there was no way we would have picked as great a meal as Jenn did. Particularly, we would not have picked the bread pudding dessert that just put us in heaven to end the meal.

FullSizeRenderSo what does it mean to practice intent based leadership? I have included a slide here from David Marquet’s website that gives all the important points of intent based leadership, but I believe there are two that really apply here for both Jenn Becknell and Harry and Izzy’s. First of all it is obvious that Jenn has been empowered to: “Feel inspired, by pushing control and decision-making down the organization people take responsibility and have the authority to rise to the occasion, even during times of change.” Jenn certainly rose to the occasion and was a tremendous ambassador for Harry and Izzy’s. Thus providing David and I the time of our lives. This was such powerful evidence as to why intent based leadership works.Indy_Downtown-sml

Furthermore, Harry and Izzy’s are modeling that, “the organization’s success should be on the shoulders of all people and not simply the top “leaders” of the organization.” It is clear that this top Indianapolis restaurant has empowered their entire staff to “make it so” for customers. I can tell you a large portion of Harry and Izzy’s success is due to the great staff! Harry and Izzy’s is about great food, but is even more about the experience. Do your people feel valued and proud of the work they are doing for your organization?

Killer Whale Leadership

imagesI am so excited to be bringing you another post inspired by the great book 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. Lesson #5 was entitled “How To Train Your Killer Whale.” In this story, Stewart, told us how trainers of Killer Whales will spend up to three years training before even getting in the water with these incredible creatures weighing six tons and measuring in at 26 feet. The amazing part is, though, that once a trust is built the relationship between whale and trainer is a thing of beauty. Trainers get to know the whales and a relationship is built as they begin to work together. I believe this is a powerful metaphor to us as leaders. Trust is not something you can go to a workshop, learn, and suddenly have. In fact, I laugh when I see workshops advertising trust building and relationship building. You simply cannot do that in a workshop. Are you telling me that the person you really don’t know that well that catches you in the falling backward game that all of those workshops have you do will catch you when everything falls apart back at your organization? She may or may not, but I want the person I have formed the relationship with and built the trust to know she has my back. Additionally, I want her to know that I have her back.

“When there is mutual trust, there will be quality performance.” ~ John Parker Stewart


So, how do we build this trust with our people? I believe it is working shoulder to shoulder with those we lead. You can only build true trust in the context within which you work. Here is my list of how leaders build trust:

  • Being competent. It is very important for everyone to see that we know what we are doing.
  • Walking the Talk and Walking the Walk. Do we do what we say and say what we mean? Do we live our own and the organization’s core values?
  • Be passionate about what we do.
  • Be self aware and show behavioral integrity.
  • Care about those you lead.
  • Wanting the best for others, even to the point of recommending them for another job that might take them away from you.
  • We must have perspective and understand the context of our people and organization.
  • Manage direction and work, not people. Lead people.
  • Say thank you and give credit where credit is due.
  • See beyond self.

Effective leaders nurture and grow trust in many ways. How do you build trust with those you work with? Here’s what I’ve learned: leaders who build trust are magnets for the best talent, ideas, and contributions.

Leading in the Fog

I love my OnStar system in my truck. In addition to the visual and audio turn by turn, I like being told where I am in relation to reaching my destination. I was reminded how important this is in Lesson #4, Vision in the Fog, in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. The story of Florence Chadwick was told in this lesson. The basic gist of the story was that the first time she attempted the 26 mile crossing she failed because of a heavy fog. In 1952 she made her first attempt to swim across the saltwater channel from Catalina Island to the California Coast. She quit within a mile of completion because she did not know where she was. How many times this happened to us? On her second attempt, Chadwick was able to complete the swim successfully. Even though there was another heavy fog on her second attempt, Chadwick said she was successful because she focused on an image of the coastline in her mind. This image made it possible for her to keep her “mind’s eye” on the prize. So, how do we keep what happened on Florence Chadwick’s first attempt at swimming the channel from occurring in our own life or the lives of the organizations we lead? How do we keep from getting close to a goal and maybe quitting right before success can be realized?

“Do not let the fog of daily minutia obscure the grandeur of your goal.” ~ John Parker Stewart

Every person has reached a point in his life when he wanted something very badly, but he was discouraged and ready to quit. We’ve all had things we strongly desired, but we’ve all failed in reaching some of those goals. Some would call this being faced with the choice between continuing to fight a “hopeless” battle or allowing yourself the relief of giving up. I would argue that no battle is “hopeless.” I believe we get stronger each time we don’t quit. Each time we continue fighting, we get a little more assurance that we can hold out and achieve the things we want to achieve. Had Florence Chadwick just fought a little longer during her first attempt at the saltwater channel she would have made it. As leaders we must also provide assurance that we know where we are going. We must serve as a lighthouse in the fog.img_2083

Therefore, it is important for us to have a clearly defined target. We must also create benchmarks so, like OnStar giving destination updates, we will know where we are in relation to achieving our personal and organizational goals. Stewart told us in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader that we must visualize what victory looks like. This will keep us going when we meet any type of resistance. Plan and work toward your goal. Show persistence. Don’t recognize failure. Ignore failure. Keep fighting. Persist until you win. Prepare to win by mitigating risks and distractions.

What will you do the next time you meet an obstacle? What will you use as your OnStar for reaching your destination? As a leader, how can you be the OnStar turn by turn service for your organization?

Teacher Evaluation & Leading Learning

Evaluation of teacher performance plays a crucial role in educational personnel reform, student performance, and teacher leader development, so it has been an important yet difficult issue to tackle in educational reform. Before the reform efforts of 5-10 years ago, teacher performance evaluation was very teacher task oriented, neglecting contextual performance and student learning. I would call this managing teachers as opposed to leading learning. Previous evaluations of teachers failed to make strict distinction among the three dominant types of evaluation: capability, achievement, and effectiveness. I also believe these evaluations did not take into account the context of the school. These evaluations were a single action being done to teachers as opposed to a process or system created and carried out to support teachers in his or her role of carrying out the vision and mission of their school.

This post is not about how to create a teacher evaluation system, but about why it is so important that we have a great performance evaluation system to SUPPORT our teachers. I believe this is one of those areas where our teachers deserve to be made “first” so we can put our “students first.” Marzano tells us that great evaluation systems develop expertise with specificity. This is so important in enabling our teachers to carry out their role in providing highly effective student learning and growth as part of the learning profile of the school. Additionally, Danielson argues the full value of a high quality evaluation framework is not realized until it is used as the foundation for professional conversations among practitioners as they seek to enhance their skill in the complex task of teaching.

So, let’s talk about those conversations. We are completely overhauling our evaluation process/system for the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. Leave it to say, there were many gaps in the process (or lack there of) and rubric I inherited. Those that know me very well know that my first step was to form, yes, you guessed it, a “task force.” Let’s touch on that for a moment – I believe task forces are a great way to build leaders. Our teacher evaluation task force is made up 3:1 of teacher leaders. What better way to get leaders ready than actually “doing” the work of leading? This is teacher engagement at its best! We just started our journey this past week with two days of intense conversations, gap analysis, and action planning around the complex task of teaching in our very different and complex context. This was very important to our beginning to develop what Danielson calls, “Developing a common understanding is critical to accuracy, teaching advancement, and the Framework’s impact on students’ core learning.” In my opening statement to our task force I explained this is a very important journey – we must support our teachers so they can be the best they can be for our students.

We are very fortunate to have partners in this journey. To ensure we get this right, we have become a part of the Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System (INTASS) project. The INTASS project offers states, districts, and schools support in designing, implementing, and monitoring their teacher evaluation systems. More importantly, by being part of the project we receive training for our teacher evaluators and support for teachers to engage in evaluation and professional growth opportunities. Here’s what I love about this – note it’s all about the teacher. Another great benefit is we get get to take this journey with two great educational leaders who I greatly respect, Dr. Sandi Cole and Dr. Hardy Murphy. I believe one of the most important points, among many great points, Dr. Cole got our teachers to understand last week was making the mindset shift that teacher evaluation is not something done “to” teachers, but done with teachers to provide professional growth and support for all of our teachers. Dr. Murphy drove home the fact that our performance evaluation system must enable our teachers to effectively carry out the vision and mission of the school. 

The INTASS process rests on four basic elements of a quality evaluation plan: 

  1. Clear, frequent, and transparent communication among a wide base of stakeholders
  2. Professional practice measures that are mutually agreed upon by stakeholders 
  3. Multiple measures of student learning outcomes
  4. Fully aligned post-evaluation processes, including job-embedded professional growth and support for all educators.

My friend and author of Under New Management, Dr. David Burkus would argue that we need to change from the old systems of evaluation where there is one big formal annual evaluation to a more frequent, less formal process. Our friends at INTASS would agree and so do our teachers. Our teachers on the task force told us loud and clear that they wanted feedback often that was meaningful and actionable. Including teachers’ growth and development in more check-ins would allow administration and staff more time to talk about opportunities – novel idea! Teachers could also examine their current role and their desired career path and then receive advice on the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to improve in their current role and to move closer to the future they envision for themselves and how that personal vision aligns with the school’s vision and mission. This is a contrast to the rearview-mirror perspective provided by most annual reviews, including our own that I would give an “F,” but we are fixing. These more frequent discussions about the teacher’s growth and development allows all to brainstorm on staff goals and how they align with the school’s strategy. These more frequent observations and conversations help teachers own their career and development plan and feel more empowered to grow. This growth will, in turn, enable effective leading of learning for our students.