Byron's Babbles

Leadership Algorithms

This past Tuesday I facilitated a gathering of our South Carolina 3D Leadership Program cohort. The through line was “Your Leadership Toy Box.” The idea was to use toys to discover ways to be focused leaders. At the beginning of the gathering I had each participant grab a toy and answer the question of how the toy they chose represented leadership. Participants were given 10 minutes to prepare a response in any format they chose. Needless to say, the responses were awesome, inspiring, and most importantly – FUN!

One of the toys chosen was a Rubik’s Cube. As was the plan, this toy caused a lot of reflection, and even more for me after the participant reported out. Click below to watch the video of her presentation: Leadership Algorithms. It’s awesome!

Her reflection really got me to thinking about leadership and education. I thought about how this game reveals lessons that we all face as educators and leaders. Every year, we encounter and solve challenges that must be addressed on several levels, just as the Rubik’s Cube must be solved side by side and layer by layer. Every day teachers make decisions before, during, and after classroom lessons to successfully engage students and lead the learning process, maneuvering through numerous machinations to address diverse learning styles and skills. This is what teacher leaders do. School leaders must search for ways to enable continual school improvement, which requires school leaders to study, plan, implement, analyze, react, and adjust throughout the decision-making and implementation processes. These are the same skills and actions necessary to conquer the Rubik’s Cube.

So what did we learn from the Rubik’s Cube algorithms? Leadership requires us to step back from time to time and re-assess the situation in order to move forward. Successful leaders are continually convening the team to assess and re-assess processes in order to improve. We also learned that making one twist of the cube leads to multiple changes on the cube. When we make changes as leaders, we have to understand there is a ripple effect that affects the team and the organization. Leadership is so much like the Rubik’s Cube because to be a successful leader, we must think several moves ahead of the one we are actually working on. In talking to those who have solved the Rubik’s Cube, they tell me you have to think ahead and there are algorithms. What is your leadership algorithm?


What Do You Think?


Governor Eric Holcomb

I had the opportunity to meet with an impressive group of community leaders this past Friday. As we continue to work through the guidance and implementation of our new Indiana Graduation Pathways, of which I chaired the panel that created this policy, we are working very hard to learn from the groups in the state that have been doing this work already and successfully. The Community Education Coalition and Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network in southeast Indiana is one such group that brings educators, manufacturing leaders, workforce, and community-based organizations together to coordinate and align educational program offerings for students to successfully connect with well-paying manufacturing occupations.

Last year, the Indiana State Board of Education was charged with establishing graduation pathways per HEA 1003. The goal was to create an educated and talented workforce able not just to meet the needs of business and higher education, but also have students able to succeed in all post-secondary endeavors. To account for the rapidly changing, global economy, every K-12 student needs to be given the tools to succeed in some form of quality post-secondary education and training, including an industry recognized certificate program, an associate’s degree program, or a bachelor’s degree program. Every student should graduate from high school with 1) a broad awareness of and engagement with individual career interests and associated career options, 2) a strong foundation of academic and technical skills, and 3) demonstrable employability skills that lead directly to meaningful opportunities for post-secondary education, training, and gainful employment. During the process of our panel convenings we did a lot of asking, “What do you think?” Now, thanks to the Community Education Coalition we are able to continue to ask “what do you think?” as we work through making sure schools are able to put the pathways in place for students. We are so grateful that they put the event together last week that included Governor Eric Holcomb, State Legislators and Policy Makers, business and industry leaders, higher education leaders, K-12 school leaders, and most importantly students. There was a lot of question asking and learning going on.

IMG_2035The partners and facilitators of the Community Education Coalition and EcO initiatives have learned to make inquiry a habit of mind, thereby initiating a long-term commitment to continual improvement and growth. This coalition has developed an outstanding process that uses the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” in order to identify key community issues. You can bet the four words of, “What do you think? are asked in this process. Essential to the success of this process was collaboration with colleagues across different disciplines for clarifying their questions and for understanding and analyzing the data they collected. For example, data like: high school graduation rate, education attainment growth, STEM enrollment growth rate, GDP per capita, employment growth, and average annual wages are used as outcomes to measure success.

IMG_2005This data is then able to be used by stakeholders to answer the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” and the question of: What do you think? We are reminded of how important these four words are in Gem #7 entitled “Four Magic Words: ‘What do you think’” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart reminds us that leaders often fall into the trap of assuming they have the right answer. I am also reminded of the teaching of one of my heroes in community work, Peter Block, who believes that effective leaders are not problem solvers, but conveners of communities of people to solve issues.

“Using these four inclusive words [What do you think?] is evidence of an effective and healthy leader who actively listens to the input of the members of the team.” ~ John Parker Stewart

All research is messy and recursive; and it has been my experience that collaborative inquiry is more so because no one knows the end. You are not starting with answers, but with questions. Throughout the process, partners reflect on what is being observed and found out. The stakeholders may change direction, ask new questions, challenge the inconsistencies they discover, seek new perspectives, and fill gaps in their information. During our gathering on Friday we were reminded over and over that the process of connecting the stakeholders is more important than looking at programs. It would be very hard to replicate programs in all parts of the state, but it would not be hard to replicate the process of deciding what programs are needed and developing programs specific to each area. It is all about bringing collaboration to scale.

To do this we must remember to ask the pertinent questions, listen, and ask “what do you think?”

Got Experience?

Here’s a question for you: Are skills directly proportional to years of experience?

While I agree that experience will give you more expertise in subject matter, people skills, and well-roundedness—I believe that all these are not necessarily causal of years of experience. Nor do I believe years of experience always correlate with exceptional performance. So what’s my idea of proper experience? It’s having had enough time in the field to see the results caused by your own decisions and workflow. Actually, that can be done in a short amount of time. Conversely, I have known individuals with a great many years experience who really hadn’t grown or improved much. In my field of education, I have known new teachers with little experience in terms of years that were much more effective facilitators of learning than some teachers with many years experience.

This was the topic of Gem #6 entitled “27 Years Of Genuine Growth Or 1 Year Repeated 27 Time” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart taught us that strong leaders seek new opportunities to continually develop and hone their skills. Weak leaders just keep doing the same things and embrace the status quo.

“Make each additional year in your work one of genuine learning and growth.” ~ John Parker Stewart

I view experience as the sum of a few factors: time working, experiences survived, the nature of the role and responsibilities, and potential lessons learned. Really, there is no magic number of years to this. It is about learning from your experience and the idea of continuing to practice and improve. It is not about the difference between experience and not enough experience, but about has it been the right experience. Then it really boils down to what have we been learning from the things we have been doing.

So, do you have x number of years experience, or x number of years doing the same thing over and over?

Failure To Communicate

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

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

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

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

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


Reluctant Leader

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Places of Innocence


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drumming Up Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships are the cornerstone for student learning.

Educator Reflections On This NCLB Anniversary Day

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

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

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

What Difference Has Been Made?

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

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

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

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

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

Learning By Serving & Making The World A Better Place

If we want our young scholars to be more successful in the classroom and ultimately in life, then we need to be deliberate in giving them civic experience and experience with community service. Let’s not just tell them to hit the books and study more. Don’t get me wrong; that’s important, too. Instead, let’s help them to head out into the community to help others. Let’s help them come up with projects and work along side them as coaches and mentors.

We need to facilitate our students volunteering their time to make the community and world a better place. I was reminded of this tonight when out shopping for four families in need for a project I am working on. At the completion of shopping I was beginning to stress over wrapping and organizing all the gifts in a presentable way for the school I am working with. Anyone who has ever seen my wrapping knows why I was stressed. Wrapping gifts is one of the many skills and talents I do not have!

Anyway, on my way out of the last store I was approached at the door by some enterprising Cub Scouts. The boys said, “Sir, we would like to wrap any gifts you have.” Well, my prayers were answered. I proceeded to their table and said, “Can you wrap all this, plus what’s in my truck?” The boys and their moms said, “Sure!” I was sold! Of course, as they got started, I went out and got all the other gifts.

They organized all the gifts by the initials of the students I was buying for and even wrapped each child’s gifts in different paper. They obviously could tell that being organized is something I need help with. I had so much fun visiting and working with them as the wrapping was being done. I even had the opportunity to discuss our project for helping families in need and the fact that there are children that do not have all the advantages that these young men have. The young men were very attentive and we had a great conversation about helping others.

As the job was being completed I asked J.P., the Scout who seemed to be leading the charge, “We have wrapped 11 boxes; what do you think that is worth for a donation?” He talked to the other boys and then thought for a minute and said, “$6.00 per box.” J.P.’s mom exclaimed, “Oh J.P.! That is way to much!” Well, I started them down this road so I said, “J.P., if that is where you value it at, that’s what I’ll do.” I Then gave him the $66.00. J.P. and the other Scouts proceeded to tell me all the projects they were doing and how the money would be used.

I have to tell you I was impressed with these young men. Here’s the deal. While completing community service projects, students develop real world 🌎 skills that will help them succeed in elementary school, middle school, high school and beyond. This gives our young scholars relevant practice in:

• Leadership

• Problem-solving

• Collaboration with others

• Time management

• Communication

Most importantly, students develop a richer perspective of the world they live in. Additionally, this experience helps young people develop a richer perspective of the world they live in. This is why I am so proud that the Graduation Pathways our Indiana State Board Of Education just passed has a community service component for students. We cannot just leave this to chance. All young scholars need the opportunity to learn the lessons these Cub Scouts were learning tonight.