Byron's Babbles

Learning Together Apart

As I walked back to the house from the barn this morning I noticed the unmistakable sound of fresh snow squeaking and crunching under my boots with every step. For anyone who has ever lived in a climate with snow, this sound is immediately recognizable. These sounds reminded me that in the midst of a pandemic, we have watched the transformation from winter, to spring, to summer, to fall, and now, back to winter. But other transformations are upon us everywhere without such clear cut and defined definition. These other transformations are of a global perspective and are personal, health related, economic, political, and economic. When you add all this together it is very complex change.

All those areas listed above are constantly evolving, but as we know a single virus has taken over how the game is played right now. Think about it, change has come in much the same way you draw a card in a board game – “You are now in the middle of a pandemic; go back 10 spaces.” Or something like that. Change is here, and has been here. There are changes in my house, in my body, in my family, in my community, culture, economy, and in the whole wide world of ecological systems. In some ways things are falling apart, but maybe that has to happen to put things back together.

I guess it is only appropriate that one of my last posts of the year, on New Year’s Eve, would be entitled with the hashtag I coined back in March as we began our, now 294 day, journey together dealing with the global pandemic – #LearningTogetherApart. As a person who believes so deeply in the power of community, it is about “showing up.” Just like when Major League Baseball gave us the opportunity to show up, albeit in the form of cutouts. Nevertheless, in our case, my family was in attendance for every Cincinnati Reds game in Great American Ballpark in Section 136, Row P, Seats 6-8.

You might say this is a trivial example in the face of a pandemic, but I would argue it’s the perfect example of being invited to be a part of a community. Being invited is fundamental to showing up and be part of a community. By being invited by the Reds and the Reds Community Fund we were able to, as a family, show up to help the Reds Community Fund continue the creation of programming that connects underserved children with baseball and softball, and connecting baseball with the community.

So, in the case of my field of education where right now via Zoom we are expected to give our students a sense of “home” when some children have never experienced or have any perceived notion of what “home” is, I must continue to show up and support environments for learning together apart. The issue just described is very complex with no one direct solution as some might naïvely think. Education, religion, poverty, economics, technology, generational cultures, and community are all woven together as part of this issue. No single directive will solve this. I hope to take the opportunity each and every day to shift the tone.

Even though things are confusing, terrifying, infuriating, heartbreaking, and completely out of control right now, we all need to keep showing up. We must continue “learning together apart.” We still do not know what all will be required, but whatever it is we must, with all we can offer, be there, learning, in integrity and generosity.

Waves Of Change

“Sometimes in the waves of change, we find our true direction”

Unknown
🌊 Destin, Florida 🌊

As I read this quote I thought about how very relevant this is to us all in 2020. Changes from the global pandemic continue to hit us hard. Sometimes things are unexpected and we have to adjust on the fly to changing circumstances. As we ride the waves, the unrecognizable becomes clear, and finding new direction becomesJust as the tide changes, other things in our life can change too, and this can push us towards the path that we were destined to follow.

Change is something we cannot keep from experiencing, but the way we get over the hurdles is where the difference stands. We all have extra obstacles put in the way right now during the global pandemic. The question becomes what are you learning, what are you doing with that learning, and how are you sharing the learning? We must be a community. How are you breaking through and finding the right path?

The World At Our Fingertips

Posted in Community, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Global Leadership, Global Pandemic, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 27, 2020

Pierre Bourdieu posited that as human beings, we don’t just passively experience the social world around us. Instead, we actively construct that world ourselves through our actions and the ideas that guide them (Bourdieu, 1987). It is interesting to think about his views in today’s context where we literally have the world at our fingertips. In many ways our, now 261 day, journey of the global pandemic has allowed us to learn ways and become more proficient at connecting globally and becoming more geo-neutral.

Bourdieu believed society to be complex, multifaceted, and dynamic. In other words people are in a constant state of flux within the social classes. He argued there are four main classes: the working class, middle class, upper class, and cultural elite. I can’t help but wonder what effect the global pandemic will have on social structure. New ways of working, job loss, new business, education system in flux, and needed changes to the health care industry are all going to have an affect on society and our social structure.

People’s social trajectories under normal circumstances change, but now are really changing due to the pandemic. The social and economic forces are playing a big role right now in how we act. Bourdieu called this ‘habitus’ or socialized norms or tendencies that guide behavior and thinking. Habitus is neither a result of free will, nor determined by structures, but created by a kind of interplay between the two over time: dispositions that are both shaped by past events and structures, and that shape current practices and structures and also, importantly, that condition our very perceptions of these (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 170). Understanding the social structure helps us to consider the social setting and the differential access to various forms of capital that create and reinforce inequality.

Right now as the world continues to shrink we have much more pressing issues to worry about than who has the newest or latest model of the latest vanity vehicle. As Bourdieu taught us, we have some power in how we position ourselves in the social structure. Today we have the advantage of every country and every continent being connected constantly. This allows for collaboration among nations and countries around the world. We need to continue to work on being a community. It’s right at our fingertips.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1987). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Building A Community

As I reflected on the post I wrote yesterday, Imagining The Unimaginable, my mind went to just how powerful a community can be. In the case of an FFA Chapter, the students coming together to figure out how to hold events virtually during the pandemic; or in the case of agriculture teachers, coming together to discuss ideas for engaging students. It could also be a school community coming together to decide how to best educate children during a pandemic. It has been interesting to me to witness just how powerful a close knit community can be.

As I watch the classrooms that have continued to thrive during the fluid changes of going back and forth from virtual to in person to blended and then back to virtual, it has been the classrooms where the teacher had a clear community developed with her students. I have also witnessed a strong community of virtual students in a school come together to help each other learn how to become effective virtual teachers. Positive experiences with communities allow individuals to feel more connected to their environment and the people in it. Further, the connection that comes with being in a community can act as a support system for members when they require encouragement or help.

I have been fascinated with the power a community can bring for a long time. Check out what I wrote about community in Community: Aggregating for Innovation. Humans are made to live and work with others in a community where we can thrive. We are social beings that have evolved to exist within communities. In the great book Humanocracy, authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini told us that success depends on local improvisation. Try and tell me we are not seeing that during the pandemic. Hamel and Zanini said, “When interdependencies are varied, multidisciplinary, and difficult to specify in advance, you need a community” (p. 210). Is that a description of education, or what? A community gives us the opportunity for mining the wisdom of several people and helping each other out along the way.

“To solve unprecedented problems, individuals have to surmount unforeseen obstacles and extend the frontiers of human knowledge. That’s best accomplished by a community—a band of physically proximate compatriots who trust one another, are unmindful of rank and unencumbered by petty rules, and are mutually accountable and knit together by a common goal.”

Hamel & Zanini, 2020, Humanocracy, p. 210.

Organizations which emphasize community create a sense of belonging and foster transparency while reducing feelings of isolation. Having a strong community is so important right now as people and students alike are working and studying remotely. Hamel and Zanini also taught us that “At crunch times, silos and titles disappear” (p. 223). So, if we already have a strong community, void of bureaucracy, we are that much more prepared for a crisis. Overall, educational entities and workplaces who have a strong community have one major thing in common: they’re people centered. If the events of the last 255 days have shown us anything, it’s that the ever-changing work world and culture at large are ready for a more human-centered approach to the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

Imagining The Unimaginable

Last night I had the pleasure of recording a professional growth video focused on student engagement with five National FFA Teacher Ambassadors from Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The goal of our recording was to provide teachers from around the country with ideas on how to keep students engaged right now whether it be in the classroom or in FFA activities. The recording turned out awesome and I really got to thinking about how the teachers were excited about the fixes their FFA chapters had developed for keeping students/members engaged during the global pandemic. We are on day 254, by the way. And, I loved the fact that several times it was the students who came up with the solution or idea for engagement. Make no mistake, though, they are still looking for ideas for upping their engagement game.

We also discussed things that we want to continue post-pandemic, like having members who can’t attend an event in person, for whatever reason, be able to join virtually. We weren’t thinking in that mindset 254 days ago. Things like pandemics, wars, and other social crises often create new attitudes, needs, and behaviors, which need nurturing. I believe in the power of imagination and creativity. Right now there are very few things that are absolute and for sure. We live in a very complex and ever changing environment right now – the future never releases hard data.

What we were really saying in the video was that we must keep imagining every possible scenario. In other words, letting our imaginations go wild. We must be imagining the unimaginable. Think about it; what is happening right now during the pandemic to our society has no precedent, or data behind it. No matter what industry we are in right now we need to continue to be creative and use our imaginations to open the path forward.

There is a silver lining, however. As I pointed out, these five teachers gave us numerous ideas and opportunities the pandemic have made imaginable. All kinds of new ways of staying engaged and connected have been implemented that will continue after this pandemic has passed. Because we will probably never return to our familiar pre-pandemic realities, we need to keep imagining an even better future.

“Who Am I Not To Be?”

Posted in Coronavirus, COVID-19, Doomscrolling, DTK, Global Leadership, Growth Mindset, Leadership, Mindset Mondays by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 31, 2020

IMG_9431This morning, on day 170 of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, I am committing to a 52 week journey in a new book that gets released tomorrow, September 1st. I have been perusing my advanced copy of Mindset Mondays With DTK: 52 Ways to REWIRE Your Thinking and Transform Your Life for several days and really like what I have found in the book. As the author, David Taylor-Klaus, told us in the book, it is to be savored over time and used every week for a year. I love books that are organized in 52 lessons to use over a years time. This gives me a chance to also do a weekly reflection blog post, of which is this the first of at least 52 I am committing to do.

“The greatest weapon we have against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James, discussed on pages 39-41 in Mindset Mondays With DTK

The title of the first lesson was Choose Consciously. It was ironic that DTK called our ability to choose, a weapon. In a leadership gathering I facilitated over the weekend I used superheroes as a throughline and we talked about leadership weapons. The ability to make the right choices was a superpower weapon of choice for some. “Who am I not to be?” (DTK, 2020, p. 40) is a statement that DTK has made to himself. So, really, who are we to not be? Whatever we want to achieve starts, as DTK taught us, with examining our own ideas of what is and is not possible.

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 8.07.42 AMThe choices we make are even more important in this time of “doomscrolling.” I usually love the creation of new words, but I’m not real big on this one that means continuing to surf or scroll through bad news. The act of doomscrolling, then, is to roll toward annihilation. So, back to David’s question, “Who am I not to be?” The one thing we get to control is our mind; so, we need to quit things like doomscrolling and control our mindset and beliefs.

Social media has been a blessing staying connected. One of the other challenges, besides doomscrolling, however, that has been created because of our ability to easily connect is some continually comparing themselves to their peers. DTK addressed this in the first lesson saying, “So instead of comparing our beginning to somebody else’s middle, we actually, see their success as an inspiration instead of a threat” (DTK, 2020, p. 41). I have always believed that each of us has our own personalities and set of skills that make us very special. We just cannot let ourselves fall in a trap of comparing, because there just is no comparison to ourselves – we are a “one-of-a-kind”.  We cannot allow our internal expectations of what defines success keep changing depending on what others desire. Think about it: “Who am I not to be?”

 

Don’t Be Lazy!🧰Use The Right Tools!

I had the chance to do some work in the barn today. That brings the same joy to me that going to the beach might bring to many of you. My son and I have been doing some cleaning and reorganizing as part of a larger campaign we were calling our “Farm COVID-19 Cleansing.” Now that he is back at college, I am on my own. Today as I was working, I realized that I would get along much better if I would use a different pitchfork. I had the other style in another barn, not 50 yards away. Finally, I told myself, “Don’t be lazy; go over and get the right tool.” I did and finished up the task much quicker and effectively.

Then I began to ponder about all the things going on in education, business, industry, and all our lives due to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic (we are in Day 161, now). We must not get lazy. We need to deploy the right tools to get the right things done effectively. Go the extra yard (in my case it was 50), so to speak, to do things right. This post is not about what those specific tools are, but about, for instance, in education that our students deserve to have the right tools to fit whatever education modality he or she is in – online, blended, or in person.

161 days ago we all said, “Let’s just do the best we can.” That was appropriate 161 days ago. Not now, though. Now, we need to be doing all the right things and using the right tools no matter what industry we are in. Good enough isn’t good enough.

Messy Creativity

On Monday I was doing a professional development gathering for Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary, North Carolina entitled “Flat Stanley Goes Virtual: Let’s Be Engaging, Not Flat.” Of course, I used a through line: Flat Stanley’s and Flat Sarah’s. We were discussing achieving high student engagement. Participants made their very own Flat Stanley or Flat Sarah that represented their journey during the, then 156 day, journey they had spent during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.

The participants were super creative and it is always interesting to hear the share out stories. One really caught my attention (see picture in this post) when the participant pointed out she had put a paint splatter on Flat Stanley’s right knee to represent the messiness of our lives right now during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic – the mixing of colors without a set plan or vision of a final piece of art. While it is true, there seems to be a lot of messiness and paint slinging, it got me to thinking that we should try to treat our current situation more like an artist.

In education we have always relied on our function being to provide clear standards and the facilitation and tools needed for student success. This function has been, and continues for the most part, done in a very rigid and standardized way. While reform attempts have been made there is still much work to be done to disrupt the status quo.

All of our lives have become messy during the now 158 days of the pandemic. Additionally, the pandemic has exacerbated the messiness of leading learning in education right now. To address an issue standing between a problematic status quo and student success, we must travel into an uncomfortable unknown territory with no signposts pointing toward the destination. Right now, in these times, we are on a quest not knowing our destination before arriving. We must recognize and accept the scariness and messiness of the unknown.

We need to find ways to let loose and let the paint splatter, like on the knee of our participants Flat Stanley, into beautiful art. This makes me think of the paint splatter rooms that are popping up in many cities. Basically, you go, suit up in protective clothing, and sling paint (🎨 6+ colors) at each other and a canvas. What fun! Upon completion of your 30-45 minute “splattering” you have a beautiful piece of art. I really want to go do this! Leadership is so messy, and this splatter room concept makes such a great metaphor.

These splatter rooms have been used for therapy and team building because of the feeling of freedom achieved by just slinging the paint and the random mixing of colors. A messy process where the splatter artist doesn’t exactly know how the canvas will look in the end, but has created a beautiful product. There is so much we can’t predict, much less understand and control, especially right now. We need to keep leaping into an exploration of the possibilities with unscripted questions and activities – the splattering of paint.

We need to embrace the messiness and discover previously unimagined possibilities. Leadership is not about finding one’s courage. Rather, leadership is accepting the messiness and fear that goes with the new and unknown, and then finding the courage to surface its possibilities and beauty.

Boom! Hang On Tight! Oooooh So Close! Woohoo! Go Enjoy Your Time!

“Boom! Hang on tight! Oooooh so close! Woohoo! And… Go Enjoy your time!” were all descriptors I was receiving on my phone last night in Murray, Kentucky. We were at Mister B’s Pizza and Wings. Because of the need for physical distancing this great restaurant has an app that tells you where you are in the seating process. Once we gave them our number, a text was sent with a link to our personalized app. It gives you how many parties are ahead of you and an approximate time for seating. Genius, right? It also gave us the menu so we could be thinking about that.

I loved the descriptors along the way:

  • Boom! Let me know we were in the system and to click on the app
  • Hang On Tight! Meant we had one party ahead of us.
  • Ooh So Close! Meant we were next.
  • Woohoo! Was our text telling us they were ready for us.
  • Go Enjoy Your Time! The app’s message telling us they were ready to seat us.

Now, I know some of you are saying, “Big deal, Byron! Other restaurants do that too.” I get it. Others use QR codes to go to their menu, but I just thought the descriptors and the design of the app was cool. It may have also been the fact that we were eating at my son’s favorite go to place (data shows he can eat 15 Mister B’s famous buffalo wings in one minute – I guess there was a contest) in the home of Murray State University.

My point here really is just how far we’ve come during this, as of today, 155 day journey of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Business have adapted and created new ways, including our experience I described above, to enhance the customer experience; while at the same time doing their best to keep us safe. Those of us in the education world are constantly navigated the fluidity of school no longer being a place. And, individuals and families are making adjustments we never dreamed of.

I believe we need to take a moment and acknowledge and appreciate some of the great things that have been done during these 155 days, such as:

  • Telephone befriending services to keep communities together
  • Supermarkets, banks, and other businesses offering “elderly/senior only” times for shopping.
  • We’ve become comfortable having virtual gatherings where we can come together globally without the expense and fuss of travel (I had the opportunity to spend and hour and a half with neighbors from 42 different countries, recently). We wouldn’t have even thought of that a few years ago.
  • Finally, leaders are realizing working remotely can be effective. Let’s face it, big egos are the only reason for fancy buildings, offices, and “places” to work in many cases.
  • Our abilities to provide professional development have improved greatly – the way we time them out, delivery, access to more people, et cetera.
  • Creative money raising events
  • Creative virtual concerts with some of our favorite artists. Some great artists, like Mark Tremonti, send out regular clips of personal recorded music with a message. In some ways we can feel closer to these artists than ever before.
  • A chance to break routine and restructure our lives. We’ve gotten back to do some of the things we want to do, but never had the time to.
  • We have learned to access culture without having to travel.
  • Demand has made the internet providers make improvements; along with all technology providers.
  • Educators have been allowed to be, and have risen to the challenge I might add, creative.

I know we all want the Pandemic to be over, but I believe we need to take a moment and celebrate the accomplishments from around the world. This has given us a chance to grow and improve in so many ways as a global community. Let’s not ever fully go back to the way it was 155 days ago – let’s keep the improvement momentum going and strengthen our community. Let’s keep asking, “What can we create together?” Perhaps the biggest positive emerging from this crisis, though, is the realization that we humans are capable of global, collective action. If the stakes are high enough, we can take on these challenges together and, most importantly of all, rapidly abandon business as usual. I would love to hear about other positives you believe should be added to the list.

Adaptive Leadership – Great Blue Heron Style

It’s a great morning when I can enjoy wildlife on the way to the barn. There was a Great Blue Heron out in one of our freshly mowed hay fields this morning. The background for this tall, majestic, and shaggy feathered bird this morning was a corn field (see the photo I took, featured in this post). At first I thought, “Wow that corn is really tall for the 3rd of July.” The old saying “knee high by the Fourth of July” is very outdated. As you can see from the picture, we are way past that. Think about it; if Blue Herons are 53-55 inches tall, the corn in the background is well past that. Ok, back to the point; it’s just hard for the farm kid not to talk corn.

Anyway, I have always been fascinated with these great creatures. They are amazing to watch, particularly when they are hunting rodents in a hay field. These great birds with long yellow legs can stand like statues for what seems like forever while stalking prey by site. And, when prey comes by, they don’t miss. I have blogged about these beautiful birds that have wing spans of over seven feet. Click here to read “Blue Heron Leadership.”

Now, as we begin day 115 of the the COVID-19 Pandemic, I think about how we have had to really practice adaptive leadership. Great Blue Herons can occupy a variety of habitats in freshwater and marine coastal ecosystems: lakes, ponds, rivers, flooded farmlands and meadows, irrigation ditches, and wetlands. Think about all these different habitats and the adapting that must be done. These birds are able to forage successfully on a variety of aquatic and dry land environments. They also have a very diverse and extensive menu of prey. Actually, an adaptation of the sixth cervical vertebrae allows the bird to draw it’s neck into the characteristic “S” shape and then strike with lightning speed and killing force.

Each day presents new or recurring leadership challenges. Therefore, we must learn from and draw on the wisdom of prior experiences while learning, in real time, lessons from today. In order to adaptive with the agility necessary, we must be situationally aware and asking the right questions, not just devising answers. During times like these the process of sound adaptive leadership can get lost. A preoccupation with events may lead to a short-term focus and a reactive posture. To truly adapt, we must take the long-view and adopt a broader perspective incorporating data, information, and knowledge. This will allow for the cultivation of wisdom.

Wisdom can only be gained though experience. Wisdom is about understanding and being able to adapt. Understanding is fluid. Wisdom is knowledge that is not seen as being applied rigidly to one thing. By adapting, we understand knowledge’s essence and can see how it relates to everything else, with nuances and contradictions included. Wisdom inspires adaptable versatility and provides textured lenses for dealing with reality.