Byron's Babbles

Leadership Paw Prints

Cam

For those that are regular readers of my blog, you know that I love cats. To be clear, however, we have no cats in the house and none that curl up in my lap to watch TV. Ours are farm/barn cats that play an important role in rodent control and are free to roam the entire farm. Nonetheless, I love them and they are very well taken care of. Ours are not typical barn cats in that these are all pets and are always sitting on bales of hay or up on posts waiting to be petted. And…always lined up ready for me to feed them morning and evening. For me, they are just fun to watch.

This morning it was raining and as I walked through the barn to start the morning feeding I looked down and saw the wet paw 🐾 prints, pictured here in this post, on the barn floor and I knew exactly which cat they were from – Cam. Cam is always the first cat to stir and I knew he would be up on his tower waiting for me to acknowledge him and pet him. Sure enough, there he was. This got me to thinking about what footprints we are leaving behind and what our predictability/dependability is.

As a fan of Winston Churchill, I am reminded of his saying, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” So what are our footprints doing to make a life? We could even divide this into some of the different roles we play in life.

Think about our role as a parent. Most children imitate their parents, copying mannerisms and ways of responding to situations.  As parents, we walk through life leaving footprints that express the qualities we value for our children to follow. We need to make sure we leave lasting imprints and not ones that quickly dry up and disappear like the wet cat paw 🐾 prints that inspired this post.

We all have mentors/coaches in our professional and personal lives. We need to make sure we are leaving lasting and life-giving footprints for our mentees. Also, we need to make sure to honor and follow in the footprints of our mentors/coaches. By doing so, we honor the people who invested their lives into us and our organizations. By following their footprints, we recognize that we have been given a “step up” by standing on what they have already accomplished.

Footprints clearly leave an impression. The way we lead, transact our personal business, and interact with others should leave an impression, too. We need to make sure the impression we leave has a lasting impression.

Our footprints show where we have been, what we have done, what direction we are headed, and what course corrections we have made along the way. Our footprints are the diary of what we have done. The pattern of your footprints is a testimony to the kind of person and leader we are.

Take a look over your shoulder at your footprints. Do they express the values and actions that you want others to associate with you? Have your footprints made a clear impression? Finally, are your footprints making a lasting impression?

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The Great & Humble Leadership Of Calvin Coolidge

This past July my family and I spent the day in the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont in Plymouth Notch. We went there to learn more about one of my favorite Presidents, Calvin Coolidge. I have read many books about our 30th President and studied many of the papers he wrote. I am fascinated with his leadership style, path to the Whitehouse, and his upbringing. In our quest to get my son to all 50 states before he graduates high school, we thought it fitting to spend time at the birthplace and childhood home of President Coolidge as our way of seeing Vermont.

Snow Roller

As soon as we walked up to the visitors center, we understood the draw of this place known as Plymouth Notch. It was beautiful! Then as we learned about President Coolidge’s grandparents and parents, it became very evident how he could grow up to be President of the United States. His father was born in Plymouth, Vermont. John C. Coolidge was truly a servant leader. As I see it, he was the guy who held the town together. He was a farmer, store owner, and worked at a variety of other occupations. He served as the postman, snow roller (there was no way to plow snow at that time so they rolled it – see picture), town police, cheese maker, and he even made carriages. In addition, he was a veteran of the Vermont militia, and was in charge of the area militia. As you can see, he was a prominent local leader, he served in numerous Plymouth town offices, and was elected and served in both the Vermont House of Representatives and Vermont State Senate. What a role model for our 30th President.

This was quite the example for the young Calvin Coolidge growing up. President Coolidge learned hard work on the farm and developed a love of agriculture and farming that never went away. I wonder if there will ever be another President of the United States who grew up on a farm or who was a farmer like Calvin Coolidge or Harry Truman? It was amazing to stand in the sitting room, known as the “Oath of Office Room.” Coolidge was back home when President Harding died, so was sworn in by his father, there in that room, to be President of the United States. The room displays the table, Bible, and kerosene lamp used in the swearing in and then his inauguration. President and Mrs. Coolidge occupied a second floor bedroom during their many visits. Here we were, standing where all this happened.

“…to walk humbly and discharge my obligations.” ~ Governor Calvin Coolidge when asked his goal as Governor Of Massachusetts

Calvin lived in Plymouth Notch until 1887, when he left for school.  In 1895, he graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts and moved to nearby Northampton to study law.  Northampton, Massachusetts would be home for him for the rest of his life. After admittance to the bar in 1897, he established his law practice and soon became involved in local politics. Here are some key milestones in Coolidge’s rise to the presidency:

• Began a steady rise in the State Republican Party in 1899

• City Councilman of Northampton, Massachusetts

• Mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts

• Served in both houses of the Massachusetts State Legislator

• Served as Massachusetts’ Lieutenant Governor and Governor

• Gained national attention during the Boston police strike of 1919

• Elected as Vice President to Warren G. Harding in 1920

• Became President in 1923 upon the death of Harding

• Elected President in 1924 after gaining the faith of the American people in only 15 months

President Coolidge was an outstanding example of a President who regarded his office, the most powerful in the world, as a stewardship–rather than as an opportunity to remake civilization. He proceeded from practical considerations of government, politics and popularity, applying his life-long experience as an elected office-holder. His decisions were usually compromises, made after long consideration of the conflicting interests involved. He announced them in as few words as possible and committed himself only so far ahead as might be necessary. During his administration the advance of the United States into the future was distinctly experimental–always in search of the sound course.

“They criticize me,” Coolidge said, “for harping on the obvious. Perhaps someday I’ll write On the Importance of the Obvious. If all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.” ~ President Calvin Coolidge

I am so glad we had the opportunity to walk among the houses of President Coolidge’s family and neighbors, the community church, taste cheese in the family’s cheese factory still in operation today, one-room schoolhouse, and general store which have all been carefully preserved. We also were able to pay our respects as the President is buried in the town cemetery. From walking where he walked we can understand why all during his life he would never waiver in his character or methods. He listened, he assimilated, and he waited until there appeared what seemed to be the soundest course. He did not try to make circumstances; but, when they appeared in the right configuration, he acted. By spending time there I learned where he had learned to be the principled and outstanding humble leader. I have been a student of Calvin Coolidge leadership for many years, and have now had the experience of seeing and understanding where his principled and conservative beliefs came from and were developed.

Leadership Traits Of A Farmer

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 8.39.13 PMLast week was one of my favorite times of the year. It was the week of our county fair, Besides loving helping my son prepare his dairy show cows for the 4H and open shows, I love visiting with community members. My favorite visits, though, are with former students. It is like a big reunion. All of my former students are special, but I have one former student that always schedules some time to sit and have a very quality visit. I end up blogging about our visit every year. I value this time because I learn so much. He always wants to know about what is going on in my life. This year, like every year, he had advice, words of wisdom, and encouragement that I will use in my professional life. Click here to read last year’s post entitled I Have Paid For An Education With My Mistakes about Andy Clark. Andy easily makes it to the top of my list of most respected students. He has truly become an outstanding agricultural leader.

IMG_3330During our visit this year I became even more proud of Andy than I already was. He has done an outstanding job of improving, expanding, and innovating his family farming operation. As we visited I realized what a great leader Andy had developed into. The impressive part to me is that he continues to develop himself and grow professionally. He does not settle for status quo. We had the chance to visit for about five hours sitting at our cattle stalls and I picked up on six leadership traits that Andy has really developed and honed that would make many CEOs jealous. I’d like to share these traits with you here:

  1. Innovating – Innovation is a very important leadership trait. Andy has created different paths for producing for markets with specific needs. These specific needs offer a better chance at evening out the peaks and valleys of commodity marketing. Amazingly, once he has innovated in one area, he is already looking for the next.
  2. Resourcefulness/Adaptation – Andy clearly has a handle on looking for ways to improve efficiency, make use of byproducts, and reformulating to keep the farming operation on a progressive track.
  3. Managing Time and Leading People – I was so impressed when Andy was describing his plans he had recently put in place to retain and develop his employees. His wage/compensation plan has made it possible for him to retain and attract employees and have them where they need to be, at the time they are needed. A large part of his operation is in forage making for dairies. Anyone who has ever made hay or chopped silage knows you must harvest when the crop is right. Andy has developed his leadership skills for maximum employee efficiency. He understands that the achievements of our workforce are crucial to the successful delivery of strategy.
  4. Financial Management – Every dollar saved in expenses is a dollar that directly benefits the bottom line. While expense control is time consuming and tedious, great farmers spend the time to reap the benefit. Living expenses, equipment and machinery purchases, decisions related to using contracted services (like custom chopping of silage), spending habits, areas where can you cut back, and investments that aren’t the best ideas today. These can be the differences between breaking even, losing money or just eking out a profit. Andy knows to the exact penny what it costs to produce a bushel of grain or ton of forage.
  5. Attention To Detail – During our visit, Andy pulled out his cell phone and began to give me a tutorial lesson on JDLink™. This allows Andy to see critical and timely information about his machines, online, and better yet, on his cell phone. By using the MyMaintenance™ app, he is able to move data to and from his machines – easily, securely, and wirelessly. This enables Andy to support his machines and employees, thus keeping the operation running smoothly and efficiently. We talk a lot about SMART Manufacturing and Industry 4.0, but this is truly Agriculture 4.0. Andy is on the pioneering side of using it.maxresdefault
  6. Growing Professionally – I don’t think I know anyone who is constantly learning to the extent that Andy Clark does. He was like that in high school – always studying something and thinking about the next thing he might want to do. He’s like the farmer version of Curious George®. Andy stays connected to knowledgeable sources of the latest information and innovations. He is very interested right now in robotics and wants to be a pioneer in the use of robotic equipment. The bottom line is that Andy is motivated to learn – a characteristic of a great leader.

As you can see, Andy Clark has developed into quite farmer and leader. Every year when I visit with him I become prouder of him and more impressed with him. We are planning to get together before another year passes and I hope we do because I learn and grow every time I have the opportunity and sit and visit with Andy. Do you have leadership traits that you need to develop and hone?

Meaningful Learning On A Lobster Boat

This week while spending time with the family on the coast of Maine I was reminded how important, meaningful and experiential learning experience are – for both adults and young scholars alike. I had the opportunity to get us aboard a commercial lobster boat in Rockland Harbor, Maine. Yes, this was no site-seeing cruise, it was an actual experience on the boat checking, emptying, and re-baiting lobster traps. Even though we were on vacation, I always want there to be some family learning experiences. That same morning we had stopped and spent time in Brunsick, Maine at Bowdoin College learning more about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. You can click here to read my blog post about that experience entitled, Independence Day Leadership Lessons From Maine & Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Hope, Heath, and I all love lobster, but knew nothing about how they were harvested or the industry of getting them from ocean to table. I knew a little bout their life cycle and had blogged about it in Leading Like A Lobster, but other than that I was ready to be a sponge for learning. We started off by learning that the different lobsterwomen and lobstermen have an area assigned with their special license for harvesting lobsters, and in our case, our lobsterman had the ability to put out 800 lobster traps; or lobster pots as they are often called. We also learned that each lobster boat has their own buoy colors, much like horse racing silks, to identify his or her lobster traps. We were looking for white buoys with a black stripe, and orange fin (see picture) attached to the lobster traps. We really didn’t have to look, though, the captain had the all entered in his GPS.

Lobster traps are interestingly designed tools of the trade. The first “room” the lobster enters is the “kitchen” where lobster-enticing bait is hung. Bait may be fresh or salted fish on a line or tied in a hanging bag. After the lobster enters the kitchen, it grabs a piece of bait with its claw and begins maneuvering towards an exit. It is difficult to go out the way it entered due to the design of the funnel. As the lobster continues seeking an exit, it passes through another funnel leading to the “parlor” or “bedroom” in the rear of the trap. Here, the larger lobsters become trapped.

Once a buoy is located, the trap is pulled up using a motorized pulley system. Click play and see my video I made of this process below this paragraph. If lobsters are in the trap they must be measured using a special tool. Lobsters must be 3 1/4″ from the head to the base of the body (where the tail starts). Lobsters that are big enough are thrown in the holding cooler and ones that are too small are thrown back. The lobster trap is then re-baited and sent back down to the bottom. In our case we were using Herring that our lobsterman gets from his wholesaler who buys his lobsters. These are fish that have died or do not meet the grade to make to retail. Nothing is wasted out there.

The keeper lobsters, which are usually anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds with some weighing up to 2 pounds, then have their claws bands so they do not harm the other lobsters, or us. To see the banding process, click play on the video I made of being taught how to band the claws below:

It was so awesome to be out on the water learning this business. At the time we were there the lobsters were going through ecdysis (molting). To learn about this read my post Leading Like A Lobster. We learned that those lobsters beginning the process of losing their shell to go through another growth spurt have soft shells. To see if they are hard or soft shelled you hold the lobster between your thumb and forefinger like I am doing in the picture. The hard shelled lobsters are hard as a rock. The soft shelled lobsters are soft and pliable. These soft shelled lobsters are desirable to many because the meat is much sweeter. In fact at the retail lobster places they will ask if you want soft or hard shelled lobsters. Note that the lobsters we brought home were all soft shelled. And…they were outstanding!

The lobsterman then brought his catch back to the dock after checking the traps. Our lobster tries to check about 1/3 to 1/2 of his traps every day. Many check all traps every day. The lobsters can then be sold directly to customers that come to the docks to by directly from the lobster boats (our lobsterman comes in at specific times each day, so regular customers can come and check his catch) or to wholesalers who then sell to restaurants, stores, or retail lobster outlets. Many of the wholesalers have retail outlets up and down the coast as well. The tricky part is that lobsters need to be kept alive till they are prepared. This is why lobster is expensive to buy in a restaurant or retail outlet. There is a considerable margin between buying live lobsters direct off the boat and from a retail outlet. For example, live lobsters off the boat were going for $6.00 per pound and lobster meat in the retail outlets was going for $39.99 per pound. Live lobsters at the Maine retail outlet are $15.00-25.00 per lobster. Most of the retail outlets here in Maine have live lobsters and lobster meat that has been already taken from the shell (pulled) available.

We were able to select three lobsters out of the holding cooler to bring home for our dinner. Hope steamed them perfectly, and boy were they awesome. We literally had the ocean to table experience – first hand!

As you can see, lobstering is quite the industry. We were so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend the day serving as apprentices to the business. We learned so much more by actually being immersed (no pun intended) in the business. It is so important that we find ways for our students to have these kinds of experiences. Whether through true apprenticeship programs, or through internships, or through one day field trip type experiences like we had. Experiential and hands-on learning is so much more meaningful than any other way we can learn.

Leading Like Yeast

During my personal growth time this morning I was reading more in the great book, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. In the passages I was reading this morning Kalungu-Banda used the metaphor of leaders being like yeast saying, “Inspirational leaders are like yeast that permeates ordinary flour and water, making them rise into a good dough. This is a lot of what leadership is about: imperceptibly raising others to realise their own greatness and the esteem they deserve. A lot of the effect is gained simply by listening to people with respect.” Is that not awesome and so true!

“Inspirational leaders are like yeast that permeates ordinary flour and water, making them rise into a good dough. This is a lot of what leadership is about: imperceptibly raising others to realise their own greatness and the esteem they deserve. A lot of the effect is gained simply by listening to people with respect.” ~ Martin Kalungu Banda

This got me to thinking about the yeast we feed in our dairy herd. Yeast is a simple single-cell fungus. That is why I love Kalungu-Banda’s metaphor. As leaders, we are all pretty simple human beings but by creating the right environment we can do great things. The yeast that we usually mean in the context of food and livestock feed is the species named Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been used by man for millennia to produce alcoholic beverages, including beer and most spirits, and to enable bread to rise during the baking process.

During the early 1980’s when I went to Purdue University and was getting my Animal Science Degree, we were just beginning to research the use of yeast in ruminant (cattle are a ruminant – meaning four compartment stomach) feeds. The research being done was on the effect of yeast culture on ruminant production and rumen microbial metabolism. Effects on production were always small, which led to many questioning their statistical validity. The reported effects on rumen metabolism often seemed unrelated: Stabling pH, improved fibre digestion, lower lactate concentrations, altered fermentation product proportions in favour of propionic acid, lower methane emission, increased concentrations of cellulolytic bacteria, increased concentrations of cellulolytic bacteria, lower soluble sugar concentrations, decreased ammonia concentrations, all by the supplementation of a few grams of yeast to a cow with a rumen volume of 100-150 liters. Thus, if yeast could maintain a more stable, neutral pH, ruminal micro-organisms would be healthier: healthier ruminal micro-organisms lead to a more productive animal. Remember, this is all with only a few grams of yeast.

Therefore, I would add to Kalungu-Banda’s use of yeast as a metaphor and say that by just doing the right small things can create an environment where people can grow and flourish. When studying the effectiveness of yeast culture we needed to understand yeast’s mode of action at the molecular and cellular level. Sound like leadership?

Leaders develop their team members. They serve as the yeast by helping the team members gain new skills to help the team increase its ability to reach the organization’s goals. One important skill the leader teaches the team is leadership. Just like yeast, we need to be doing the little things that might seem like much, but will have big effects on those we serve and our organization. Are you leading yeast?

Leading From The Tractor Seat

I like to tweet out pictures from when I am sitting in my favorite chair – the tractor seat. As a leader I sit in a lot of seats, but I have to say, as the eternal farm kid, the tractor seat is my favorite. On this beautiful Christmas morning, I tweeting a sunrise picture from the tractor cab and some pictures spreading manure. Yep, even on Christmas morning there was work to be done and I loved every minute of it.

It got me to thinking about the leadership lessons available in a tractor cab. So, as a New Holland tractor guy I am going to use the New Holland cab for the metaphor. Here is what New Holland says about my tractor cab: “Ultimate comfort with the VisionViewTM cab designed around the operator’s needs” (from http://agriculture1.newholland.com/eu/en-uk/about-us/whats-on/news-events/2017/new-holland-launches-new-t5-tractor-range ). Think about that statement to start with. Aren’t we as leaders supposed to provide those we serve comfort and provide for their needs?

So, the description on the web went on to say the following (I am going to add in my leadership thoughts): The spacious VisionView cab provides outstanding all-round visibility, – as leaders we need to see everything from 30,000 foot, 10,000 foot and from the balcony – which has been further improved by the new single wiper blade with 200-degree movement – we need obstructions removed and those we lead to tell everything, whether good or bad – and extra wide-angle mirrors. – it is important to take a look at what has been done (lagging indicators) and know we are getting the job done right. While we should all leverage our strengths and seek out others whose strengths complement ours, we also need to practice new behaviors where we have identified blind spots. – For loader operation, a roof hatch can be specified to provide unrestricted view on the raised arms. – all leaders need not assume that position equals influence but instead to enter a meeting with a clean slate and make your observations from an unobstructed view. Remember that nearly every great leader was once a typical employee sitting in meetings with bosses and coworkers.

All the controls in the cab are ergonomically laid out, while many elements are adjustable to create a comfortable work station tailored to the operator. – Leaders who get to know their employees are better able to tailor recognition efforts and personalize the experience to the individual.Leaders who get to know their employees personally can tailor the ways for personal professional growth. The instrument cluster moves in conjunction with the fully tiltable steering column, ensuring a permanently unobstructed view. – in terms of vision, it’s being able to sense what’s going on in the world, see the unexploited opportunities and lurking dangers, and use that to figure out what to focus on and what not to focus on. – The IntelliViewTM IV touch screen monitor puts the operator in control of all the main parametres. I always say that the most important decision I make as a leader is “what to have my hands on” or “what to have my hands in.”

A choice of seats is available, offering varying degrees of comfort all the way up to the deluxe air-suspension version, as well as a full-sized instructor seat. it is great to have someone sitting alongside us learning. My son learned to bale hay, use the monitor, and wrap bales while sitting in the cab next to me. We must be shoulder to shoulder with those we lead. – The efficient air conditioning system can deal with the hottest conditions as well as the coldest days. – as leaders we must learn to adjust our lives to not only survive but be fruitful.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed a view through my cab window into why I love spending time in the tractor seat.

Lifelong Learning: The Farm Way

IMG_1470Many times leaders wonder what they can do to become well-rounded and competitive while increasing both their success and significance. An often overlooked yet simple way to improve is to increase our knowledge by being a lifelong learner. Structured education and professional growth opportunities are very important, but much success is derived from highly motivated individuals that have dedicated their lives to the concept of lifelong learning. Many times this learning is unstructured and just involves us paying attention and recognizing opportunities to learn. We all need look for these opportunities and prioritize the creation of time in our busy lives each day to educate ourselves on new concepts and ideas.

IMG_1471Last week I had an opportunity to learn just by observing the technique of someone else. We had two of our show heifers dehorned and we always get pain medicine (comparable to Tylenol® or Ibuprofen) in the form of boluses (big pills) to give for seven days. These are given orally with a bolus gun (pictured here). Growing up as a farm kid I have done this hundreds of times. It always seems, however, I end up fighting with the animal before I get the pill given. This time, though, I watched as the veterinary technician gave the first round while still at the vet’s office. She had an interesting technique and I took note of the way she held the calf’s mouth open. The calf did not fight and the pill went right down. The next day I used her technique and voila′ it worked perfectly. Let me tell you, I gave the seventh and last bolus tonight and all went perfectly with no fights every night. I am very excited to have learned a new technique.

This experience reminded me just how important it is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn. I try to learn something in everything I do. In fact there is a direct correlation between individuals who strive for growth in their personal lives and those who thrive in their professional lives. I really believe that the learning I do in my farm life does help me grow as a leader in my professional life. In an ever-changing world, it is more important than ever to stay current, competitive, and up to date – both in our personal and professional lives. We must rid ourselves of assumptions and convictions so that we can be open and receptive to new information and learning. The uncomfortable part is that at times the things we are observing or learning may contradict what we believe to be true. If we truly open our minds to lifelong learning we will come across information that challenges your worldview. We need to strive to jump out of our comfort zone, use this time to stop, reflect and shed light on these ideas in a way that can develop and expand our knowledge and vision. Just like my learning a new way to give calf boluses by watching someone who does it many times per day.

Now, I realize that my story from the vet’s office is a simple one, but the concept is important. We need to always be on the lookout for ways to improve and learn. Again, these do not need to be structured, and I would argue many times the best learning comes from paying attention and observing. Think about it, I could have just said, “That’s not the way I do that.” All that would have got me is the same old inefficient way of giving boluses and continuing to wrestle with calves every time I do it. Amazing what an open mind can bring us.

Hopefully this reflection will give us all a renewed commitment to learn new ways to expand and to sharpen our personal and professional skills. Reading great books, consuming excellent electronic media, and participating in engaging continuing education programs, from varied sources, will keep us informed, in touch with, and energized by new ideas – but only if we commit to our own learning. And, pay attention to lessons happening around us. Will you commit with me to being a dedicated lifelong learner?

Racing Toward Success!

This weekend we went on what I am sure to be the first of many college visits with our son, Heath. We went to Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky home of the Racers 🏇. Picking a postsecondary path is not an easy thing to do. While chairing our state’s Graduation Pathways Panel over the past several months this has become glaringly obvious. Everyone, as you can imagine has their own idea of what success is. I still ascribe to the definition of Dr. Felice Kaufmann. She defines success as:

“SUCCESS: Knowing what one wants in the world and knowing how to get it.” ~ Dr. Felice Kaufmann 

Dr. Kaufmann was a teacher and counselor of gifted children, grades K-12, a professor at Auburn University and the Universities of New Orleans and Kentucky and served on the Boards of the National Association for Gifted Children and The Association for the Gifted. I believe that while her work was with gifted children, the principles apply to all. Furthermore, I believe all children are gifted in some way. This is why it is just as important for us to make education relevant and form relationships with our scholars as it is to make education rigorous. Success looks different for all of us and it is not something we can graph with a straight line.

“The best piece of wisdom I have learned from studying gifted adults for 30 years is that achievement for achievement’s sake does not necessarily provide a lasting and meaningful structure for living one’s life. While achievement is important, in the long run success means being able to identify and understand one’s real needs and finding ways to meet those needs in a constructive and personally meaningful way -whether it’s finding a cure for cancer or influencing and being deeply loved by family and friends. E.M. Forster said it best and most succinctly: Only connect.” ~ Dr. Felice Kaufmann 

As we were visiting Murray State University this past weekend I really began thinking about this. It is our job, as Heath’s parents, and his school’s job to help him identify and understand his real needs and support him in finding ways to meet those needs in a constructive and personally meaningful way. Not an easy task. In thinking about this I was reminded of thoughts from Howard Gardner at a recent Project Zero gathering at Harvard Iniversity: we need to move away from thinking “How smart are you?” To “How are you smart?” To me this means we need to take into account how our students learn and what he or she really wants to be learning about and doing. 

Heath With Racer 1


The mascot of Murray State University is the “Racers” – a thoroughbred race horse. Actually we had the chance to meet Racer 1, the current mascot this past weekend up close and personal. It is such an awesome mascot. Thoroughbreds are known for their agility, speed, and spirit. In fact Murray State’s motto refers to the thoroughbred: 

Having raised and raced thoroughbreds for a time in the past I can so relate to this. Every racer had a mind of it’s own and every one had different talents – distance, sprinter, likes mud, likes to be challenged, wants to come from behind, needs to take the lead, high spirited, easily distracted (needs blinders), et cetera. Sound familiar? Heath still likes playing in the mud! Our challenge as educators and parents is to, like the role of a jockey, rein and channel a constant flow of ideas. The art is to know how much rein to give and when to give it. 

I was so impressed with Murray State’s student centered focus. And, you guessed it, even ended up tweeting about it with Murray State University President, Dr. Bob Davies. We had a great Agriculture School Ambassador, MacKenzie Jones, from the Hutson School Of Agriculture who spent time with Heath and have him a personal tour of the university and university farms. He was so impressed with how personal the education was tailored and the close relationships between professors and students. MacKenzie drove home the fact that it is not just about getting a degree; it is about getting a true education through hands-on experiences and the faculty understanding the students’ needs and what makes him smart. She explained that a tudents in the Hutson School of Agriculture receive a “large university” education in a small school setting.

It was great to visit a university that is truly student focused, giving students the personal attention they need, but also providing them with current and breaking agricultural technology to take their education to a level that will make them highly competitive in the job market. 

And…by the way, we spent time with the football team. The racers defeated Tennessee Tech 31-21. Go racers! 🏇

I Have Paid For An Education With My Mistakes

This past week was one of my favorite weeks of the year. I spent the week at the Boone County Fair (Lebanon, Indiana) showing Jersey dairy cows with my son. This is incredible dad and lad time. The county fair is the time of year when I get to see friends and visit with former students. It is great to catch up. One visit I look forward to every year is with Andy Clark, a Lebanon graduate I had in many classes and one of my favorites and great ones. This year, like clock work, Andy showed up with his wife and kids and we sat at our dairy stalls and talked for a couple of hours. I blogged about last year’s visit in “Matching School Work To Real Work.” Click here to read that post. 

During our conversation this year I was struck by his comment of “I Have Paid For An Education With My Mistakes.” This is the true mindset of a lifelong learner and someone who has a growth mindset. Andy supplies chopped hay and straw to Fair Oaks Dairy in northern Indiana as part of his farming operation. We talked a lot about how he learns, researches, experiments, and iterates to make his operation successful, efficient, and profitable. I could not be prouder of what Andy has accomplished and the great leader he has become.

Andy really gets what it means to be continually learning and to work toward continual improvement. He is an example of what we must be making sure we prepare our students to be ready for. As we work in Indiana to create worthwhile graduation pathways we must make sure we are providing the correct avenues for students, like Andy, who are going straight into he workforce with careers. Research shows that students are nervous about making any mistakes — but with a little encouragement by teachers, they begin to take risks, and growth by leaps and bounds. On the other hand, other students who were so anxious about making mistakes they would not take any risks at all, and the research showed their anxiety slowed the process of their learning.

Mistakes play a powerful role in learning, as well as the huge influence that the teacher’s attitude and feedback play on a child’s perspective on mistakes. We need to help students become comfortable with mistakes and help them learn how to grow from them. This is difficult to do for some because despite the fact that making mistakes seems to be a part of who we are, mistakes are still not readily accepted. We act like they didn’t happen. We blame someone else. We feel embarrassed. But this isn’t how mistakes should be viewed — especially in schools. I would assert that Andy should be an example for adults, too.

I would argue whether you are a grown adult or are a school age child and you don’t make any mistakes, then you aren’t really learning anything new. School, especially, is the one place that’s all about learning. It’s the one place where mistakes should be not only accepted, but expected.

Why should mistakes be an expected part of learning? If students, who then become our workforce, entrepreneurs, and future leaders, don’t learn early on how to handle them on their own, if they are regularly rescued by well-meaning teachers and parents, then they won’t develop the skills needed to tackle difficult things or bounce back from setbacks. Skills like perseverance and gumption. 

Despite the rhetoric around mistakes being necessary for learning, I believe it is rare that you truly see mistakes embraced and celebrated as learning opportunities. We must learn from individuals like Andy that learning from mistakes is an important part of being successful. In most schools, “success” is defined as getting high marks on tests, with results (and minimal or no mistakes) mattering more than the process of learning or the process of getting to the answer. And when the results aren’t good? Students feel embarrassed or shamed. We need to change this. 

We must create environments in our schools, businesses, and organizations where everyone see mistakes not as impenetrable roadblocks, but rather as a natural part of the learning process. Have you received an education from your mistakes? 

Baling The Side Ditches

My family and I are on vacation this week in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As you can imagine I have been reading up on the Lolitas, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, General Custer, the US involvement with Native Americans, and of course, Mount Rushmore. Despite all this learning, there was another lesson staring us in the face as we travelled completely across (literally) the awesome state of South Dakota: almost every mile of Interstate 90 of side ditch (what we call the roadsides in Indiana) were either baled, being baled, or being mowed for hay. 

We were amazed by the quantity of grass hay being baled on these roadsides. For one stretch, my son Heath, counted 150 big 6’X6′ round bales on the north side (west bound) lanes of the interstate and got tired of counting. Heath really got me thinking when he said, “Dad, this is genius, why don’t we do this?” He went on to say, “Look at all the good hay they are getting and the state does not have to pay to mow roadsides.” I was pretty proud of his thinking – particularly cutting government costs!

Then I got to thinking that we need to find the roadsides to mow in all our organizations. What might be going to waste somewhere that our own business, organization, or school could be using? I am sure if we spent a little time brainstorming we could come up with some pretty amazing stuff. 

In my own case of leading a school, I talk a lot about existing infrastructure. In other words, what are others doing that the school could partner with and not have to use State dollars to provide? I think about this a lot around social services. To me it does not make sense for schools to spend a lot of money on services that are being provided in every county; and done very well, I might add. I continue to say we need to develop a “constellation of services” so we are not all trying to do the same thing.

Really, we need to be thinking like a farm kid. As a young boy I would go to the local elevators and other farms and clean up their grain screenings (broken corn kernels and chaff that is screened as corn goes up the elevator). Left in piles it would just get wet and gross as it rained in the fall. These screenings were dusty to pick up and no one really liked the job. For me, it was an opportunity. I could spend the fall feeding out some pigs on all the grain screenings I collected. In fact, it got to where people would call and tell me the pile was getting big. Also, I was always very busy collecting the screenings when the weather report was calling for rain. 

So, just as the farmers in South Dakota, and I’m sure other states, apply for permits to bale roadsides, we need to consider what our opportunities for baking side ditches are. I’m sure they are out there if we just take the time to look.