Byron's Babbles

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.

The Education Catapult

Last evening I had the opportunity to do some of what I call #LearningTogetherApart. Yesterday was Day 245 of the Global Pandemic and the webinar was entitled “Post-Election 2020: Charting a Path Forward in Education.” The webinar was put on by The Hunt Institute and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), which I am chair of the board for, was one of the partner organizations involved in making this conversation possible. Other partners were The School Superintendents Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National School Boards Association. And, what a great conversation it was. The panel included The Honorable Margaret Spellings, Former U.S. Secretary of Education (2005-2009), President & CEO Texas 2036; The Honorable Arne Duncan, Former U.S. Secretary of Education (2009-2015), Managing Partner, The Emerson Collection; Chancellor Richard A. Carranza, New York City Department of Education (2018-Present); and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (2008-Present). As you can see this was quite the lineup of experience and expertise in the room.

Another highlight yesterday was receiving the new book Beyond The COVID – 19 Pandemic from authors Pradeep K. Kapur and Joseph M. Chalil. I am so glad that I started reading it in the space between the end of the work day and the webinar. In the preface of the book there are six questions posed for the global community to contemplate (p. xxi-xxii):

  • What sort of changes are required at the policy level to cope with such pandemics in the future?
  • How do we better equip global organizations to evolve for dealing with the challenges ahead?
  • Do we need to think of setting up new organizations to replace the WHO and the UN?
  • Can we have new paradigms for healthcare?
  • How do we create reserves and stockpiles of essential healthcare supplies? Where will the money come from when the budgets are already under great stress?
  • How do we get the global economy back on its feet?

As you can see, these are pretty good guiding questions and even though these are not education specific questions they could be great guiding questions for any conversation. Really, the answers to these questions need to involve education in every answer. The authors point out that the pandemic is the biggest disruption to our county in 100 years. In having studied the 1918-1920 pandemic, I am amazed that we are experiencing and struggling with many of the same issues we had then. I can’t wait to immerse myself into the book as these authors dream big and have offered solutions that are possible if we just reach political consensus and carry through to implementation (a core value of how I try to serve as a policymaker on the Indiana State Board of Education).

The panelists last night were also using their experience to dream big. I want to touch on a few thoughts they had by referring back to tweets I made during the conversation. Allow me to pick a highlight or two (or three) from each of the participants using tweets. You can check out all the tweets at @byronernest or by going to #ElectionEd2020. Here we go!

Secretary Margaret Spellings reminded us that education must be a major component of any pandemic recovery plan. As she said, “Education must be on the first train out of Washington.” And, she also reminded us that in order for there to be economic recovery, education must be involved. As a person who believes so much in the involvement of business/industry in education it gave me hope when she suggested that “Alignments between our schools and workforce are going to be critical right now.” This also includes continued alignments with higher education for all of dual credit, dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, internships, and work-based learning opportunities. We cannot let the pandemic take these away from our students. These opportunities provide for some of the greatest outcomes being afforded our students. I loved that Abigail Potts, NASBE’s Director of College, Career, and Civic Readiness, retweeted my tweet on this with comments that added the importance of our high school pathways, broadband access, and state and local investment. And, Abby pointed out in that tweet that education is not partisan but a place to come together to support our students. Thanks for the tweetversation (yes, I just made up a word), Abby!

Additionally, I have to add in one more insight from Secretary Spellings. She reminded us that “We cannot just go back to normal; we must catapult to the new way ahead.” I love the way she put that. I have continued to say over and over we have to take what we have learned and apply it and never look back. “Catapult” was the best term that could have been used for this. Go back to the questions posed in Beyond The COVID – 19 Pandemic and put them into the context of education and that is exactly where Secretary Spellings is suggesting we need to go.

I got to know Secretary Arne Duncan during my service as 2010 Indiana Teacher of the Year. He is so passionate about doing what is right for ALL children. In fact he made this clear when he said, “We need to be fighting for our most vulnerable.” I’ve also been impressed with the non-partisan way in which he views education. He also reminded us that “Education is our best way to bring the country together.” He firmly gave us a call to action for stitching our democracy back together. He posed the question, “What if we committed to go find every lost child?” Wouldn’t it be great if we could reach some consensus on a vital few things we could all work on and begin our evolution dealing with educational challenges? Secretary Duncan finally reminded us that, “We need need a healthy debate/conversation, putting aside political ideologies, based on data. We need the courage to do some things differently.” Well said!

Superindent Carvalho and Chancellor Carranza brought great perspective to the conversation from street level at the school. Superintendent Carvalho taught us that “The rules of the past stop applying. We need to start using what we have learned from the last nine months.” Providing education to ALL children has been a continuing challenge for families, schools, local, state, and federal governments, and leaders around the world. To answer the challenge we have tried and need to continue to try different paradigms to equity in learning for all. In my opinion we must develop a system by which we are developing the whole child in every child. Also, we must develop an ethos that sees the potential in every student. As a policymaker I use the test question of “Will this policy reduce inequity, maintain inequity, or increase inequity?” to inform my decisions. As I listened to these two school leaders I thought about how, after 245 days, we really need to assess what to de-prioritize and what needs to be prioritized.

Chancellor Carranza warned us to not “let our foot off the gas.” Some might argue that in some areas we need to put our foot on the gas, but those are the areas that Secretary Duncan told us we need to all get around and start working together on. When speaking of early childhood education and education funding in general, Chancellor Carranza gave a very real example by asking and answering his own question: “Do we invest early in education? Yes! It takes $20,000/year to educate a NYC student. It takes $275,000/year to incarcerate someone in New York State.” This was a reminder to us all how important an investment education is. And, let’s not forget the economic impact of having students prepared for our ever changing workplaces. Additionally, I think a lot about how we need to identify all the reasons for our students’ learning struggles. This goes beyond having devices and internet access. It takes us into the support structures in place or not in place for the student. We must have the whole portrait of student if we are create the ideal environment for learning.

As you can see, this was quite the discussion and I’ve only scratched the surface. This truly was a conversation, not an interrogation around defining the challenges and how to best disrupt education with the exponential learning we have done during the pandemic.

An Invitation

Posted in Communal, Community, Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Invitation, Invite, Leadership, NASBE by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 29, 2020

“It is such an honor to be part of a community of citizen leaders who seek conversations by showing up through invitation rather than mandate, and the diverse gifts of each person are acknowledged and valued. Together we will answer the question, ‘What can we create together?’ so students of all backgrounds and circumstances are prepared to succeed in school, work, and life.”

~ My remarks on October 22, 2020 when accepting the gavel as Chair of the National Association State Boards of Education Board (NASBE) of Directors

The remarks above come from the personal core values I have developed from being a student of Peter Block. Peter Block’s name is synonymous with “Community” and he literally wrote the book on it: Community: The Structure of Belonging. I first became acquainted with Peter through my great friend Mike Fleisch. Mike kept telling me that everything I believed in was aligned with Block’s values as well. Mike told me I just had to read the book, Community, and that I would learn so much from Peter Block. So, I began reading and studying, and have since had the chance to visit with Peter Block a couple of times. The bottom line is that everything we do is as part of a community whether it is an organization, neighborhood, city, country, or world that works for all. We need to take our membership in these organization, truly belong, and then be accountable for the leadership of making communities great to be part of.

So, my post here deals with an organization, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) – let’s call the organization a community. A week ago I took the helm as Chair of the Board of Directors and I reflected back on how I really came to be so involved and belong in this organization. It all happened because of one of the most powerful tools that Peter Block says we have in a community in the power of the invitation. The question becomes “Whom do we choose to invite into the room?” In our case as an organization made of state boards of education and their members, that’s who we want to invite, right?

“If the artist is one who captures the nuance of experience, then this is whom each of us must become.” ~ Peter Block

(Block, 2008, p. 9)

That is where my story begins. Shortly after being appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education back in 2015, fellow board member, Gordon Hendry, personally invited me to attend the NASBE New Member Institute. Peter Block would remind us how powerful the invite is “because at the moment of inviting, hospitality is created in the world” (Block, 2008, p. 117). Gordon told me about NASBE and how valuable the organization would be to my development as a board member and how awesome the New Member Institute is. Here’s the deal: any new state member can go to New Member Institute. But, here’s the big deal: Gordon Hendry had asked me to attend and raved about how great it was. How could I refuse? I couldn’t abdicate my responsibility to the communal structure. I registered and I attended. I didn’t just attend, however, I became a part of the fabric of NASBE and was woven into the fabric of a collective community of great citizen leaders from all over the United States, including Guam.

This transformation from thread to fabric happened because another group from Delaware (without consulting me, I might add) nominated me during the Institute to serve as the New Member Representative to the Board of Directors. First of all, how cool is that? Quite an honor coming from my new east coast friends. Secondly, how cool is it that an organization has a new member sit on their board? What a way to truly get to know customer needs, right? Anyway, the members from Delaware nominated me and a day later somehow I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors (and there were even three other candidates). The rest is history or history that is still being written. I served two years as New Member Representative, then two years as Secretary-Treasurer, then a year as Chair-Elect, will serve this year as Chair, and then next year my final year on the Board will be as Past-Chair.

Again, what a ride that is still running. Here’s my point in all this: none of this would have happened without the invitation from Gordon Hendry to be at the “table” and then the Delaware delegation further weaving me into the social fabric by nominating (a form of invitation) me as a New Member Representative on the Board. Peter Block taught us that, “To build community, we seek conversations where people show up by invitation rather that mandate, and experience an intimate and authentic relatedness” (Block, 2008, p. 93). We need to have diversity of thinking, dissent encouraged and valued, and the gifts of everyone valued.

Our NASBE community is an asset-based community that is continually evolving because of the tremendous aptitude of our members. Together we continue to advance education equity and excellence for students of all races, genders, and circumstances by answering the question, “What can we create together?”

What do you have going on, and who do you need to invite? Go ahead and bring some more hospitality to the world!

Don’t Overlook The Brilliance Of Our Students

I’m still getting caught up on my reflection of the lessons from Kevin Eikenberry’s Virtual LeaderCon last week. This post is about Chip Bell’s response to my question about where education and the students we serve fall into the realm of the work he has put together in his latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets For Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions. The first thing he said was, “We must treat students like customers, not consumers.” There is brilliance in our students that so many times gets overlooked.

I asked Chip to go into a little more detail about treating students like customers and not consumers. To this he stated that we have board meetings and where are the students (I’m excited that many states have put students on their state boards of education – I’m still working on Indiana)? But, local school boards should think about student members in some capacity, too. He also asked us to think about where the student was when we were having planning meetings. Chip explained that everything we do should “have our customer’s fingerprints all over it.” He used the example of when we coach little league baseball we tell the kids to “be the ball.” We need to be telling our students to “be the customer.” And, then letting them be the customer. Chip believes our students should be partners along with our students’ families. He promotes student-staff partnership initiatives.

Chip Bell reminds us that customers can give us our best next idea. We should be asking the question, “What is something no-one else has ever thought of?” This discussion reminded me that the words “customer” and “consumers” are often interchangeably used and are easily confused with one another. While students are consumers and the ultimate user of the product, we need to treat them like customers – the person buying the product. We need to think of our students as a final customer– these are the customers who buy the product for their own need or desire. This kind of thinking will help us to better individualize education for every student.

We must innovate. Listening to our students will help us to do this. We can’t keep offering the same thing over and over and over again. We owe it to our students to be authentic. As Chip told us during Virtual LeaderCon, “Authenticity wins every time.”

Precisely What Students Need

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the morning at Heartland Career Center with the Mark Hobbs, Director; Lori Dubois, Precision Agriculture Specialist; and, most importantly, students of the new Precision Agriculture Program at Heartland Career Center. I say I was at Heartland Career Center, but actually the bulk of our time was spent 15 minutes from the school in the field.

We were out on McKillip AgVenture land learning about seed genetics and the start to finish process of their seed corn operation. Last week the students had sorted seed corn as it was being harvested. This is just one of many partnerships that has been formed so that students can get real world and relevant content for learning.

This all took me back to my days as an Agriculture Science Teacher and our partnerships with AgReliant Genetics and our students doing real research for the company in our school greenhouse alongside geneticists. As I always say, “School work must look like real work.” I talk about that a lot in my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room.

I am passionate about this program and have had the opportunity to be part of many of the planning meetings, served as a champion, have helped remove obstacles along the way, and helped make connections where I could. One of the many things I love most about this program is that it was developed shoulder to shoulder with business and industry. The very businesses that will be hiring students from this program, helped design the program. Novel idea I know, but you’d be surprised how often this does not happen. Students are able to leave this two year program with an Unmanned Part 107 Drone Certification, Chemical Applicator License, and a Class A Commercial Drivers License (CDL).

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience drone flying first hand. In fact this was the very first time I had ever flown a drone. We’re not talking some toy drone, but a commercial drone like would be used in precision agriculture businesses. I was shocked at how quickly I was able to learn to fly the drone. The students did an incredible job of teaching me. Here are two videos of me piloting the drone:

This two year program of study prepares students for careers that bridge the gaps between agronomy, agriculture, machinery management, and data analytic sciences caused by the rapid evolution of high-speed sensor agricultural technology. This is all stuff that fascinated me. We even got into a discussion about artificial intelligence, which is an area I have been exploring with some of the work I have been doing with SMART Factory League, globally.

This program is truly making school work look like real work! Well done!