Byron's Babbles

Failure To Communicate

IMG_1858We spent a lot of time today discussing communication in our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program kickoff for our South Carolina and North Carolina schools today. IMG_1857Then when I was reading Gem #4 entitled, “The Biggest Hurdle To Effective Communication Is The Assumption That It Has Taken Place” in, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. The main point of this gem was to not assume that everyone in the loop has received and understood the message. I really believe it even goes further than this. We also must make sure we understand the Vantage Point of the person we are communicating to.

“Leaders must accept as a constant that when two or more minds attempt to communicate, they are coming from at least two different perspectives.” ~ John Parker Stewart

One of the models I like to teach about to leaders is the Vantage Point Model developed by MG Taylor. Basically, the model looks like a topographical map that takes you from task to philosophy or philosophy to task depending on how you look at it. The lesson here is, though, that it depends on your role as to which Vantage Point you are working from. If we can find a way to communicate and look at all change from all seven Vantage Points we are in a better place to have communicated effectively to all. Here are the Vantage Points:

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In reality we can never understand the philosophy of an organization or school, in my case, until you are immersed in the tasks that comprise its daily functions. Moreover, our daily tasks can blind people to culture and philosophy, or cause them to accept it too casually. I have found that if organizations can find commonality by using the Vantage Points as a guide it can be become a powerful pathway to effective communication. This model also serves as a guide to answering the “why?”.

Think about all the Vantage Points of those you serve in your next communications.



Reluctant Leader

IMG_1855Today when doing one of our newly developed Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program trainings, I had a teacher say, “You know, I would call myself a reluctant leader.” This was in response to me saying that “Everyone is a leader.” And…I really believe it. Interestingly as I dug deeper into the teacher’s comment we realized it was not what you might think. It had nothing to do with being passionless or not wanting to step up to fully embrace his leadership role. Taking on a leadership role does not always come naturally. Lack of confidence, self-doubt, apprehension and fear of failure all hold many gifted people back. Or just simply having a leader who does not embrace developing others as leaders or empowering others in an intent-based leadership environment.

IMG_1857Many times individuals, maybe including this wonderful teacher, might have no pressing desire to be the one that directs and guides others (and would prefer to stay in the background) yet responsibility regularly falls in his lap. If so, he may be what is often called a reluctant leader. The reluctance does not reflect the individual’s desire or ability to be a leader. More than likely, this might be the very type of leader that would fit best into a situation because the reluctant leader is not seeking the opportunity for status or recognition.This type of leader simply wants to serve. I think this describes many teachers.

I really believe we often find this reluctance in teachers. I was that teacher for a long time, too. I just wanted to be a great teacher, period. Then I began to realize I could have a leadership influence in the school and had a principal at the time that embraced that. Out of this added responsibility came my passion as a teacher leader. We must leverage our teachers as leaders if we want to have our schools operating at maximum potential performance for our students. Teacher leaders assume a wide range of roles to support school and student success. Whether these roles are assigned formally or shared informally, they build the entire school’s capacity to improve. Because teachers can lead in a variety of ways, many teachers can serve as leaders among their peers. Teacher leaders are the most important untapped resource in many of our schools today.

Teachers have front-line knowledge of classroom issues and the culture of schools, and they understand the support needed to do their jobs well. Teachers’ contributions are critical to making education reform efforts succeed. When teachers participate in improving education, the changes are more likely to work. Without teacher leaders’ contributions, teachers often pretend to comply with the new expectations, but conduct business as usual once the classroom door is closed.

I loved the fact that at the end of our retreat today the same teacher that had called himself a reluctant leader was now saying, “I must embrace the role and opportunities that I have.” In fact, click here for this teacher’s reflection using his Mr. Potato Head model at the end of the day. It’s pretty powerful. If we can train and help all teachers to be all the teacher leader they can be, think of the great schools we will have.  It is our role, as leaders, in whatever the organization, to help our team members be ready to embrace their roles and responsibilities and give them the opportunities for professional and personal growth.

Creating Places of Innocence


My Son, Heath, And I On a Dad and Lad Adventure

Yesterday in a meeting of North & South Carolina principals, the comment was made that we need to create places where innocence is fostered for our children. This really got me thinking about how we do this both with our own children and the students we serve in our schools. The notion of innocence refers to children’s simplicity, their lack of knowledge, and their purity not yet spoiled by mundane affairs. Such innocence is taken as the promise of a renewal of the world by the children. One of the most delightful things about children is their sense of innocence and wonder, yet helping them maintain that sense of wonder can be challenging in our sophisticated, hurried society.

This rapid and early gain of knowledge by our children is quite the paradox. We all know that knowledge is powerful, but when children learn the wrong things too early it can really be detrimental. Vast amounts of knowledge and information is readily available to our children, and we, as parents, want our children to have this knowledge because we believe it will help them grow and compete. However, this same knowledge can ruin their innocence.

Here are a few things I believe can help us in the creation of places of innocence:

Have fun. Build time into your schedule to allow for silliness, downtime, and play.

Leverage nature and the scenery around us. Children are instinctively attuned to the wonders of nature. We do not have to prompt students to enjoy playing in the mud, seeing the beauty of flowers, watching kittens play. I love the idea I heard one time of planting a family tree and then having family time at each season change to note changes in the tree. My family has a Pin Oak tree that my son brought home from school when he was in the 4th grade that we use for this. In fact, I blogged about this tree in Lesson Of A Pin Oak.

Reading together. This is so important and can even be done with high-school age students. For example, I have chosen to read the same books my son has to read for school. For example, I just read Tough As They Come by Travis Mills because my son was reading it for a class. Wow, what great conversations this spurred for he and I. All I can say is, “try it.”

Use technology wisely and discreetly. Children should not be burdened with information that is too adult in nature. They have neither the cognitive nor social-emotional skills to process this information.

Family events. Or, family events where the children bring a friend. We do a lot of family activities and my son and I do Dad and Lad events/trips. The beauty of these is that we control our own content.

This is way too complex an issue to solve with a blog post, but I believe we all need to be reflecting on creating places of innocence. Most importantly we need to be mindful of what our children are being exposed to and give them more age appropriate choices. If you have thoughts on this important and complicated issue, please comment/respond to this post.

Action Instead of Intention

photoGem #3 was titled “We Judge Ourselves By Our Intentions. Others Judge Us By Our Actions” in the great book I’m reading this year, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. Interestingly, Harry S. Truman talked about this in his book, Where The Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings Of Harry S. Truman. He called some of our former Presidents “minor” because these Presidents had very good intentions, but no results. Amazingly, many of these Presidents would have considered their own legacy solid based on intentions. This really speaks to the idea of us, Ias leaders, judging ourselves on intentions and not actions. We all (or at least I do) judge our Presidents by what they did, not what they wanted to do.

Lets talk about this. Intentions are wishes or ideas that we mean to carry out. Conversely, an action is something that is done, completed, or performed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is a wide gap between thinking the thing and doing the thing. Commitment is what closes the gap between intention and action.

The challenge is that good intentions most generally get verbalized, or voiced publicly. Once intentions are voiced public, they become commitments. Then, if the intention does not turn into action/implementation, credibility is lost. Follow through must happen to increase leadership credibility. If we want to improve our leadership skills, we need to translate more intentions into actions. That’s why doing what we say we will do is especially critical for leaders.

Are your intentions outnumbering your actions?

The Tension Of Spinning The Plates

Gem #2 was titled “An Action Deferred Is A Tension Retained” in the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I loved the metaphor he used for this gem of the circus act of spinning plates. In fact I used this same metaphor in my blog post My New Leadership Talent: Spinning Plates! The question really becomes paradoxical as to whether we should be spinning plates, or at the very least how many we should be spinning. The point of Stewart’s gem was that all of the tasks we have cause anxiety (tension) and we need to make sure and prioritize and not procrastinate.

“You are the willing and unwilling recipient of countless actions from work, home, school, and community. It can be overwhelming to process and complete all of these tasks, especially when you procrastinate or don’t prioritize. ~ John Parker Stewart

We all know how the plate spinning act works, right? The performer starts with one plate and once she gets it spinning, adds another, then another. At some point the performer has to back to the first plate and give it a spin to keep it going. Doesn’t this sound familiar in our day to day lives as leaders? The performance typically ends when one of two things happens – the performer runs out of plates, or he takes too much time adding a new plate to the rotation, and another plate slows down enough to wobble out of control and fall off the rod, crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. Doesn’t this even sound more familiar?

A few things we need to remember. It’s much easier to start something than it is to keep it going. Therefore we need to think about what we start and can we and our team handle it. We have to achieve balance by spreading time across all the spinning plates. This means we need to think strategically about what we should be taking on. Then once started complete the task/project so that it does not become a wobbling plate and fall off the stick.

As a leader we must also keep our eye on all of the plates to avoid catastrophe. We don’t always need to be, and shouldn’t be, the one keeping all the plates spinning, but we do need to be watching to make sure the plates are still spinning. This is where I like to think about what do I have my hands “on” versus what do I have my hands “in”.

It’s a delicate balance, and I must tell you; I’m not very good at it at times. Each plate must spin fast enough but not too fast, and you have to pay enough attention to all but not too much to any particular one. So therefore we must continue to improve our ability to prioritize, enable others, and not procrastinate. How are you at spinning plates?

Share The Success

I hope we all realize the way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them. In fact, I recently blogged about this in Learning To Appreciate All Who Contribute To The Success while writing about one of my heroes, President Harry S. Truman. This again came up during a Principals training this past week and then again today when I started reading the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I love his books and love the fact it is written with 52 lessons. I am reading one per week and most times these will prompt blog posts like this one. Last year I read, 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader another great book by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

The first lesson in the book was entitled: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” In this chapter, Stewart talked about how the need for personal recognition can become a stumbling block for a team’s success. Let’s face it, we are most fulfilled when we forget ourselves and focus on others.

“Victory is much more meaningful when it comes not from one person, but from the joint achievements of many. The euphoria is lasting when all participants lead with their hearts, winning not just for themselves but for one another.” ~ Howard Schultz

Here are some steps to sharing success:

  1. Listen
  2. Establish a clear and shared vision
  3. Lose your ego
  4. Share the workload (who is doing what?)
  5. Show appreciation to your colleagues
  6. Trust your teammates
  7. Strategize together
  8. Mentor your team
  9. Nurture your team
  10. Champion and cheerlead your team

Great leaders are able to lead from the back, empowering and motivating their team, which in turn leads to outstanding individual performances, loyalty and hard work. Are you sharing the success?

Drumming Up Relationships

As a teacher my personal mission statement was, “I strive to use rigor, relevance and relationships to be a steward of high student achievement.” This past weekend I was reminded just how important this really is. My son, Heath, and I took a Dad & Lad trip to New Orleans to watch Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.

During our exploring in the French Quarter we came across some boys playing the drums (five gallon buckets) for tips. For those who know me, it won’t surprise you that I decided to ask them if I could sit down and play the drums with them and get to know them. During my reading of The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver To Congo Square by Ned Sublette I learned that drum playing is a major part of New Orleans history and culture. In fact a drum according to New Orleans culture is anything that can create sound that carries. Well, as a farm kid I have been using five gallon buckets all my life.

The boys and I negotiated an appropriate tip to let me join in for a few minutes. It was awesome! We had a great time and I learned a lot from visiting with them. Click here to watch a video of my experience:

I learned each one of the boys is his own independent contractor, so I needed to tip each one individually. They came together, however to make better music together as a trio than each could make alone. Additionally, I learned that part of the money earned was used for family needs (food, et cetera) and part for a savings account. Wow, I was impressed – these boys were contributing to caring for family and learning entrepreneurial skills.

“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a CREATIVE REWORKING of the impressions he has acquired.”~Vygotsky

We also talked about the fact that I had been a teacher. One of the boys said, “You’re pretty cool, I’ve never had a teacher like you that would come out and sit down and drum with me.” This statement really had a huge impact on me. In reflection, I thought about just how important it is that every student deserves having someone pull up a bucket and get shoulder to shoulder with him and learn about him. In fact, I tweeted the following: “Hey @drewbrees! I understand why you love @VisitNewOrleans! I love these kids. As a former principal of an urban turnaround school I understand you have to sit shoulder to shoulder w/the kids and love them and participate with them building relationships. Go @Saints #WhoDatNation.” Bottom line: We need to be right alongside children playing and reworking with them!

As we were walking away my son commented, “Dad, that is why your students love you, because you want to get to know them and know what makes them tick.” So glad I was able to model that for him. No matter what we do, teaching or leadership – Relationships Matter!

Truly pulling up next to students and building relationships posits that teachers who have knowledge about their students will be better able to teach them. Teaching through relationships is more than that, however. Ultimately, it describes the complex social environment in which students and teachers converse, share experiences, and participate in activities that, together, make for engaged learning. Relationship building means getting to know our students’ learning styles and each students’ knowledge, abilities, and potential. Most importantly, it also means getting to know their interests, personality, and background. For me, just like sitting shoulder to shoulder with the boys playing the drums, this body of knowledge opens up the possibilities of growth and dramatic learning opportunities.

The framework for the research that led to the writing of my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room came from Vygotski. Vygotsky’s theory promoted a learning environment consisting of contexts where the student plays an active role in the learning. Vygotsky believed there were cognitive connections between students and the sociocultural context in which they live through shared experiences. According to Vygotsky, there should be collaboration between the teacher and student, which in turn would facilitate the construction of meaning for the students. According to Vygotsky, the roles of teacher and student need to be shifted, as teacher collaborates more with his or her students, meaning construction is facilitated for the student. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.

Relationships are the cornerstone for student learning.

Educator Reflections On This NCLB Anniversary Day

It all started in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of The Great Society program, created The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA created a clear role for the federal government in K-12 policy, offering more than $1 billion a year in aid under its first statutory section, known as Title I, to districts to help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students. At the bill signing in Johnson City Texas, President Johnson said, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.” Then on January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This bill was born out of concern that the American education system was not competitive­­ in a global economy.

NCLB increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students. Even though over the years there has been controversy over the effects of NCLB, I believe it is important to note the desire of progress for all students. As a believer that all students can learn and all students deserve a great school regardless of zip code, I would argue that NCLB helped us make strides in the right direction. It put a special focus on ensuring that states and schools improved the performance of certain groups of students, such as English-language learners, students in special education, and poor and minority children, whose achievement, on average, trailed their peers. NCLB really creates the environment for focusing on eliminating the achievement gap. NCLB put us on the trajectory to begin to focus on student outcomes instead of inputs or outputs. These outcomes enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

As a teacher during the passage and majority of the tenure of NCLB I appreciated the critical view of teaching and requirement of “highly qualified” teachers. I believe this was a precursor to teaching being a more highly regarded profession and teachers being treated like professionals. We still have a long way to go, but with ESSA we now have the opportunity to further the development of teacher leaders to build more capacity for distributed leadership. On this anniversary of NCLB we need to celebrate advancement of disaggregating data and recognizing areas for improvement and our continued commitment, as a country, to address long-standing gaps and ensure students are well-prepared for their post-secondary endeavors.

Status Quo Does Not Need To Be Staffed

The other day in a meeting a discussion about staffing came up. Those who know me know that I am very much a believer in empowering leaders. Also, remember that I as a believer in David Marquet’s Intent-Based Leadership, I believe everyone is a leader. So, all staff are leaders in my mind and should be treated as such. This discussion revolves around a board I am on, not my day job.

The discussion revolved around just how empowered staff should be. Once again, as a believer in Intent-Based Leadership, I want all staff to be in a position of leadership and saying, “I intend to.” I have always loved saying “Make it so” to employees. The person I was talking to, who agrees with me, made the greatest comment. He said, “Remember, Byron, status quo does not need to be staffed.” This is so true.

The whole issue being discussed was around how much autonomy staff should have and their role in decision making. Needless to say, those wanting status quo do not want staff doing to much, if anything. How sad is that. Great employees with no empowerment. I can’t even get my mind wrapped around the concept. But the idea that “status quo does not need to be staffed” helps frame the situation and is enlightening.

Think about it, if the only goal is status quo, then what is the organization really doing? Not much! I guess if status quo is the objective, then the organization probably does not need any “rock star” employees. I continue to be amazed at the number of leaders who lead with a status quo mentality. That is certainly not me. In fact, you could probably fault me for wanting to be in a constant state of continual improvement and change.

Now, I am not saying we should be in a constant flux of change, but we should always be looking for at least subtle ways to continually improve, or what I call, iterating. We don’t necessarily need to always think disruptive change – even though disruptive change is necessary at times. We need to also think about what tweaks and improvements can be made. This is where having a great staff comes in and is very necessary.

While status quo needs no staff, leading great organizations and creating social change does. If we want to change the world we need great staffs who are prepared to say, “I intend to,” so you can say “Make it so!”

What Difference Has Been Made?

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to have a discussion during a meeting about outcomes versus outputs. I made the comment that I believed in accountability based on outcomes. The person I was meeting with said he was glad I said outcomes versus saying outputs. If we get stuck just evaluating and making decisions based on outputs we are bound for mediocrity. Great organizations, including schools, are managing to outcomes. In education, I believe we need to lead schools according to outcomes.

What do I mean by this? Let’s use the example of graduation rate. Make no mistake, this is an important output, but it is just that – an output. If we change our thinking to outcomes we look at what students are actually doing (or could be doing) after graduation. To me, this enables us to understand how our schools are serving students and how their lives and circumstances are being changed.

An outcome is the level of performance or achievement that occurred because of the activity or services an organization or school provided. Outcome measures are a more appropriate indicator of effectiveness. Outcomes quantify performance and assess the success of the organization and the processes used. In the high school graduation rate example, some outcomes would be is the student employed, is the student in the military, or is the student attending some post secondary education. Graduation rate, an output, alone does not demonstrate how the life of the student had been impacted. Basically, without outcomes, there is no need for outputs.

Furthermore, outputs are the what. Outcomes are the difference made. In other words, outcomes are the why. Sometimes I worry there is a perception that it is too hard or impossible to measure outcomes and that stops us, as leaders, from collecting key outcomes data. We need to work toward thinking more about outcomes. In the case of schools this will enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

Finally, if we study outcomes we can answer the question: What difference has been made?