Byron's Babbles

Learning From Action Not Abstraction

As a person who has lived six decades now, the world feels like a more perilous place. I don’t really think the modern world is any more dangerous than it was fifty or sixty years ago. I do, however, believe we are in a much more risk averse world today. I think a lot about whether this risk aversion is inhibiting children’s development of autonomy, competence, confidence, and resilience. Growing up on a farm I had many opportunities to test observations, to experiment and tinker, to fail and bounce back. Nothing was treated like a major risk, and I was not prevented from learning how to judge the truly dangerous, from the simply unfamiliar. Please know I am not in any way suggesting putting our children in harms way. I just worry we we are ensconcing children in a life of abstraction rather than action. I guess the old agriculture teacher in me will always believe in “learning by doing.” “Doing” always comes with some inherent risk. Riding a bike carries the inherent risk of falling off. Thank goodness we have not made it illegal to ride a bike.

Case in point; yesterday my son was telling about things he had done as a kid growing up on our farm and his girlfriend was amazed. She asked if I knew he was doing all that. Well, yes and no. Was he doing anything bad? No! Case in point: having been in North Carolina during the recent gas shortage, I saw firsthand all the stupid ways some people were hoarding gas. I can guarantee you my son understands why you don’t put gas in a trash bag lined trash can with no lid. Enough said! And, yes I did see that done. Somehow, last evening, the subject of putting pennies on a railroad track came up. My son’s girlfriend had never heard of doing that. What? She then went on to talk about having some of those pennies you get flattened in a machine at vacation destinations. What? That’s no souvenir. I’m not going to say whether we did or did not smash pennies on a railroad track last night, but those would be a souvenir she would never forget making. Besides just plain being fun, we need to let children grapple with a little bit of healthy risk. Doing so can help teach motor skills, develop confidence, and get our young scholars acquainted with the use of tools and some of the basic principles of science. Let’s add some action to all the abstraction.

The Second Generation

Everyone should feel satisfied and proud of the career they want to pursue. Our goal has always been for our son to make peace with his post-secondary education and career goals and, first and foremost, make himself proud. There has been quite a lot of research done studying the impact parents have on their children’s educational and career goals. I am really glad and proud of the work I have done in the policy arena to have career exploration be something that happens much earlier than the end of high school. Our young scholars need to be preparing for the next chapter of life—whether that’s higher education, industry training, directly into the workforce or another path much earlier. I also believe that parents have an influence, either positive or negative, on this. I began reflecting on this yesterday when standing outside my son’s summer internship at Cal-Maine Foods. I could not go in for bio-security reasons, but I was so proud that there stood two generations of Animal Science majors at two different universities – Purdue University and Murray State University. Check out our picture and here is the tweet I did in the moment:

I asked Heath if he ever felt any pressure from me to be an animal science major. He answered an emphatic “no.” He did say that I had set an example because of how proud I was of having gone to Purdue and received degrees in both Animal Science and Agricultural Education. He also knows the story well of how I ended up being an agriculture science teacher and working in education my entire career. If you don’t know that story, click here. Heath also talked about all the experiences growing up on a working farm gave him. Home is where thinking ahead, dreaming big and setting goals can become normalized activities and allow all those skills to be available to our children when they come to the forks in the road. The earlier the conversations start, the better prepared they’ll be to make the best choice when that moment arrives. It’s not about applying pressure, but about being a model of making life choices that match passions and purpose.

Where Do We Put The First Brick?

During our final session of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) 2022 Legislative Conference, Scott Palmer of the Education Counsel, told the story that his grandfather said he could build a bridge if someone told him where to place the first brick. Then, he asked the panel he was moderating to tell where they would place the first brick as we continue recovery from COVID and redesign education. For me, this is about stopping the throwing of bricks at each other. Let’s have the difficult conversations and get it figured out for our scholars.

We all need to be rethinking what the opportunity to learn means. My first metaphorical brick, however, is that we need to find every child. Now, in our 514th day of the Global Pandemic, we have many students that have become anonymous. We need to find every child and make sure we are giving them the opportunity to learn. Then we need to take an integrated systems approach to:

  • integrate all outside experiences the scholars have.
  • we need to rethink the time and place of learning.
  • we need to consider the time and place of learning.
  • we need to consider the different paradigms for opportunities to learn.
  • we need to provide critical experiences for all our students.
  • we need to take into account the ecology of a young person’s experiences;
    • all the adults that students experience and interact with.
    • the other students in their lives.
    • the extracurricular and other activities outside the traditional school day.

I continue to say that school is no longer just a place. We need to shift the system to meet the needs of every kid, not have the kids shift to meet the needs of the system.

I’ll leave you with this thought: Whatever we want to be true for our students has to be true for their teachers, including experiencing safety, belonging, and purpose in the community of school.

Always In A State Of Becoming

My vantage point for EPCOT’s new nightly fireworks display: Harmonious

This week I had the opportunity to go to Disney’s EPCOT. I’ve always been inspired by the creative and imaginative of Walt Disney. I was here for ExcelinEd’s 2021 National Summit On Education. As you can imagine, because of the inspiration of the location, there were lots of quotes and references from Walt Disney. One from EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was that Walt Disney wanted to build a community of tomorrow that “would never be completed.” His vision was to have a place for demonstrating and introduce new ideas and systems. What was really jumping out at me was this idea of “always in a state of becoming.” Just like Disney’s vision of EPCOT never being completed, we personally are always in a state of becoming as well as everything around us. This includes education. As the world, society, and what we know from science about how children develop and we learn, our work is never completed. Thus with every day comes the opportunity for becoming – becoming even more incredible than yesterday!

I love this idea of “becoming.” It is so much more liberating than “improving” or “changing.” Those two things signal there being a deficiency. “Becoming” signals growth, adaptation, and evolution. Think about it: every moment we are becoming something– something else. Our intellect is constantly evolving and changing because of the different impressions, and different visual/audio/spatial stimuli that we have each and every day.

While philosopher Parmenides spoke of “being” and Heraclitus’ philosophy was about “becoming,” we are not sure if Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, or Heraclitus to Parmenides. This rivalry had a profound influence on Plato. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” There is always a state of flux.

We’re never the same person. Every moment our molecules, atoms, and cells change in our body. Who we were yesterday isn’t the same person are today. Therefore we need to embrace that we and everything around us is always “becoming.”

Anything & Everything

Scratch Art By Laura Goynes

David Allen once said, “You can do anything, but you cannot do everything.” I was reminded of this quote while reading The Bookshop At Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry. The line in the book that inspired this post was, “There was no ‘either’ ‘or.’ There was ‘anything’ and ‘everything’.” This was in the context of the way two young girls were spending their summer vacation (you really need to read the book!). I loved this because it was not about choosing, it was about doing it all. I totally get where David Allen comes from in saying we cannot do it all, but for young people, especially, shouldn’t it be about experiencing it all. We actually spent time diving in on this in recent leadership development workshops I have been doing on core values by contemplating that a core value of “Every path matters” is much more livable than just saying “students first” as many do. As I teach, for core values to mean anything they must be livable. We must help students understand what possibilities are out there. And, give them a chance to realize those possibilities.

This line, “There was no ‘either’ ‘or.’ There was ‘anything’ and ‘everything'” in this novel reminded me we must be exposing our students to as many paths as possible. Nor, should we be excluding paths, but making sure our students understand where each path can or cannot take them. It must ultimately be their decision. We need to help them determine their interests and talents. We must also help and encourage our students to fall in love with learning. We need to be the people their lives that challenge them and hold them accountable. We need to be the ones who will offer questions and share their experiences. Let’s try to create the environments where our young people like Bonny and Lainey, who in the novel read, swam, and made wishes about their dream lives, don’t have to worry about doing “either” “or,” but can to “anything” and “everything.” Every path matters!

Imaginative Play Zones

Albert Einstein famously said, “To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” And even Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” If children are more creative than adults, it’s not because they have a superior imagination. They just don’t suffer from self-doubt and fear to the extent that adults do. In this respect, at least, we could all afford to be more like children. We don’t question kids being more creative than adults; we all intuitively just know it’s true and we view it as a natural state for children.

So why do kids have the aptitude for creativity? Play! And, remember they have not yet developed, or been taught the self doubt and fear part to the extent we adults have, either. In studying the work of Dr. Stephanie Carlson, an expert on childhood brain development at the University of Minnesota, she taught us that kids spend as much as 2/3 of their time in non-reality— in imaginative play. This is why when I am providing development for adults I always try to spend some time channeling their inner child. Adults want to, and effectively, learn like kids. We want the play, time for imagination, and a safe place for trying new things.

As I worked with teachers this past week we discussed creating psychologically safe places for our students to learn and try new things (the things we are teaching are new). But, we must also not forget our adults – we need a psychologically safe place as well. How about we create imaginative play zones?

I Was Needed!

I love that a lot of what I do is helping teachers get better at their craft. Teaching is such a beautiful cross of science and art. Leonardo da Vinci would be having great fun if he were around helping us improve our teaching for learning today. He believed science and art were very tightly connected. This week I have had the honor and pleasure of facilitating professional development for teachers at Nashville Collegiate Prep and Knowledge Academies in Nashville, Tennessee. I have truly been inspired by this group of professionals. Every day I am excited to get the day of learning with them started.

“Change the audience, change the meaning.”

Leonardo da Vinci

On Wednesday I did a session entitled “Engagement Strategies: Teachers As Facilitators, Knowledge Navigators, and Co-Learners. At the beginning of this session I do an activity that begins with the prompt question, “What do you want students to say at the
end of the week about your facilitation?” The groups got five minutes to write everything that came to mind on Post-it® notes. This is part of a larger activity and participants get to share out after each part. I love walking around and looking as they are writing. There were literally hundreds of sticky notes being made, and I was inspired by all of them. But, one caught my eye and required my attention (the featured photo of this post).

On one of the Post-it® notes of Jamie Martineau, Kindergarten teacher at Nashville Collegiate Prep she had written four bullet points:

  • I was part of something
  • I was important or needed
  • I am a part of this class
  • We did it

I was blown away by the thought of every student feeling this way. After getting to know Jamie this week, I have no doubt that her students will feel that way. Going through school is where many of students begin learning to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s during this time in our classes that we can help make our students feel valued as individuals. The developing personalities of our students need a strong and secure environment in order to flourish in academia. Let’s face it; our students learn more and behave better when they receive high levels of understanding, caring and genuineness.

We cannot underestimate the importance of cultivating a classroom culture in which students feel valued, respected, heard, and an important part of something. One way we can build this solid foundation for learning is to listen to our students. Fostering conversations about real world and relevant issues, topics, and problems ensures that our classrooms become places of academic inquiry and collaboration founded on a sense of fairness and mutual respect.

If a student considers their teacher to be caring and accepting, they’re more likely to adopt the academic and social values of their teacher. This, in turn, influences how students feel about their school work and how much (or how little) they value it. Here are some tips on how to make sure our students belong and are part of something:

  • prioritising high-quality teacher-student relationships
  • creating a supportive and caring learning environment
  • showing interest in students
  • trying to understand students’ point of view
  • respectful and fair treatment
  • fostering positive peer relationships and mutual respect among classmates to establish a sense of community
  • positive classroom management
  • Giving students a voice

We all want to belong. ALL of our students deserve to be an important and needed part of our school communities. We can do it!

Loving Teachers

As we close out Teacher Appreciation Week for 2021 I wanted to weigh in with my thanks and call for us all to love our teachers year round, not just a designated week. During a presentation I recorded for ASCD’s Annual Conference this week, I talked about how we needed to love our teachers if we wanted to stop losing great teachers and change the trajectory of teacher retention in a positive direction. I do not take the term “love” lightly and learned about this form of “love” from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, authors of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em. To love our teachers we must be providing opportunities to grow and develop and be the best at carrying out their purpose of serving students every day. I am a former teacher and school leader who has shifted to creating and developing meaningful learning environments and transformative professional learning opportunities for educators and leaders, both in my day to day professional life, and as a citizen leader and policy maker. As a believer that everyone is a leader, we need to make sure we are doing everything possible to love our teachers, listen to their needs and desires, and honor them every day.

We have learned much about leading through a crisis during the past year. The pandemic has challenged us to be more agile in educating our children. Our teachers have met the challenge. Responding to new conditions and new data prompted us all to see school as no longer a single place. My hope is that we will double down on rethinking what success looks like in education. I also want to acknowledge the adjustments that teachers have always made every day to increase equity, access, rigor, and engagement for all students. As I write this I am reminded of the great teachers I have had over the years and continue to have. I am very fortunate to work with teachers every day and must say that I still learn from them each and every day. I was blessed to have teachers who had amnesia for the mistakes and my sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) less than perfect actions. My teachers were pivotal figures in my life. They not only educated me, but set me up for a life of success.

Thank you teachers for inspiring our students to think outside the box, outside of the classroom, and into the future. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we now control. Therefore, I stand committed to showing you love by continuing to push for, advocate for, champion for, and be a cheerleader for creating space and flexibility for creativity, curiosity, and innovation you deserve.

Leapfrogging To New Paradigms In Education

I am going guess most of us played the game of ‘leapfrog’ at some point in our childhood. You know, the game where a number of children bend down and another child jumps over them one at a time, moving the line forward. If you are still playing this game – no judgement here. I refuse to grow up, too. This is, however, a great metaphor for where we are right now as a country. You all know how I love a good metaphor and Susan Patrick, President and CEO of Aurora Institute, knocked it out of the park (note the baseball metaphor) during her opening remarks and call to action at Aurora’s 2020 National Policy Forum saying, “We are at a ‘leapfrog’ moment in education.” This is so true!

Besides the definition of ‘leapfrog’ as a child’s game I did not really like the other definitions because phrases like “moving past others quickly” or “missing stages” were used. I did kind of like Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of “to improve your position by moving quickly past or over something that blocks your way.” To Susan’s point, we have an obligation in education right now to do this for ALL students.

I had the opportunity to speak on a global platform to over 40 countries back in the spring and I presented the following list of what I believe to be our Global Education Policy Considerations:

  • Connectivity and Technology Access
  • Remote Learning – I followed the first bullet with this because remote learning is so much bigger than just devices and broadband access. We also need to be thinking about the support students need in coaching, mentoring, tutoring, social emotional learning, nutrition, and basic care/safety needs
  • Personalized/Self Directed Learning/Mastery-Based Learning
  • Equity In Learning
  • Educating Students with Physical and Learning Disabilities
  • Mental Health Counseling / Physical Health Support
  • Flexibility
  • Support for Teachers

A pretty daunting list, I know, but we must get our focus just right on these issues and now is the time to ‘leapfrog’ to that focus. And, maybe, just maybe, the bullet point of ‘flexibility’ is one way to get us there. If we put on our equity lens and take all the points into consideration can we create space, remove obstacles (I like thinking obstacles better than barriers because obstacles can be ‘leapfrogged’ and removed; barriers not so much) so we can address all these issues. The COVID-19 Global Pandemic has also highlighted how in need of attention areas of our education system truly are, with concerns of equity and quality leading the lists.

I would like to submit the following question for us all to consider as we contemplate the future of education for ALL: Can we have new paradigms for education? I certainly believe we can.

We truly are at a ‘leapfrog’ moment in education. I believe the Aurora Institute has the Strategic Pillars in place to be a catalyst for bringing about this ‘leapfrog moment’ and bringing about new paradigms in education. Here they are:

Policy & Advocacy

Removing barriers and creating space for education innovations by advancing enabling policies and providing technical assistance, expertise, briefings, and support to policymakers at all levels.

Field-Building & Knowledge Creation

Building the field across networks, creating new knowledge, analyzing field data and sharing the latest research to produce and communicate insights to move the field forward.

Convening & Connecting

Providing unparalleled networking and learning to professionals designing new learning models, our events connect the field’s leading experts and practitioners with the trends, promising practices, and research to shape the future of education.

I so appreciate Susan Patrick inspiring us to leapfrog forward. As Abraham Lincoln taught us, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Let’s not forget that excellence is our best equity proposition. By leading collectively we can create an educational ecosystem that is best for all students.