Byron's Babbles

Leading Like Charlotte’s Web

You all know I love intersectional learning, where I, or I have others, take a random object and create meaning about a seemingly unrelated topic. I never thought that a spider web would lead to the unbelievably deep conversation it did with our Florida 3D Leadership participants last night. To get things started for the evening, I asked them to look at a picture of a spider web I had come across in my barn to the journey they are on right now. When our small groups came back from their discussions I could tell from the energy it was going to be an amazing evening. When the first group started to report out, the participant said, “I loved my group.” Those of you who have facilitated before know how good that sounds and feels.

The participant went on to say that Lauren Berry, Curriculum Resource Teacher at Collier Charter Academy in Naples, Florida, had thought of all the lessons from Charlotte’s Web. You know, the 1952 classic written by E.B. White and then turned into a great movie in 2006. The genius of White’s work was that he used a deceptively mundane and ordinary setting, set of characters, and plot to explain the profundity of life in ways that people of all ages can understand. The perfect definition of intersectional learning! Without knowing it I had spurred this deep discussion with something as mundane, but incredibly complex, as a spider web – in a barn of all places.

So, what did Lauren and her group teach us? First of all, to sum up a 184 page book in a couple of sentences, Wilbur, a pig given to a little girl, Fern, yearns for companionship but is snubbed by the other animals. When he finds out he is be raised for slaughter he is befriended by a barn spider named Charlotte, whose web sits in a doorway overlooking Wilbur’s enclosure. Here are the points that Lauren and her group made to us:

  • Friendship and relationships are at the core of everything. Charlotte said, “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” Life is precious, wonderful and beautiful, especially when it is well-lived.
  • Celebrate diversity. Wilbur and Charlotte are very different, but friendship makes it possible to transcend those differences. Even Templeton the Rat, the self-serving one even learns to be a team player (sorry, I couldn’t help but put the rat in the mix, too).
  • Wilbur was humble. “Why did you do all this for me?” Wilbur asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.” People respond well to humility because it shows that you place yourself at the same level as others, and not above them.

We were so blessed to be reminded of this story last night. My hope is that we will always keep in our hearts the lessons of friendship, life, and loss that will help us navigate through our lives to be better leaders, friends, and people in this diverse world.

A Scholar’s Book Of Life

Yesterday, we used pumpkins in our leadership development workshop in Georgia. Participants carved out an image of their leadership mantra on one side and their leadership legacy on the other. I always love seeing these and hearing the explanations. They were all very meaningful and inspiring, but one really caused me to pause as an educator and leader. The participant had carved a book into the pumpkin (the featured picture of this post).

The teacher leader then went on to explain that the book represented each students’ book of life and she wanted her legacy to be entered in the book as having taught the student something and having positively influenced her or his life in some way. I thought this book was a pretty great metaphor.

In some professional development at another school this week we discussed how every teacher needs to own every scholar in the school regardless if she or he is in your class or not. The pumpkin carving reminded us that we are impacting students even when we don’t know it. Here’s the best part: to make it in a student’s book of life, teachers don’t have to be perfect.

Students remember teachers for all kinds of reasons. Students might be inspired by teachers who were kind, funny, brilliant, or passionate. The kids we serve remember the teachers who really cared about them. Our scholars remember teachers who were supportive or encouraging or saw something in them no one else did and then challenged them and made them think. Finally, our students also remember teachers who were maybe just a little quirky. Thank goodness!

Every staff member in the school represents the next entry or chapter of our scholar’s stories. Let’s fill up the pages of those books!

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!

Being Intentional About Your Relationships

Posted in #NEI3DLeadership, Education, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 27, 2021

Last night during our 3D Leadership gathering of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina participants we were working through leadership effectiveness. I was using a triangular model with three keys to effectiveness: 1. Awareness; 2. Ability; and 3. Commitment (see featured photo of this post). Without any of the three it is unlikely we can be effective as a leader. We began discussing how relationships and relationship building were important to all three sides of the triangle. Right about then, one of our astute members from North Carolina, Hayley Messenger, posted the following in the chat:

“It’s a lack of awareness through not being intentional about your relationships with the people you are affecting.”

Hayley Messenger

When I saw this I wanted the group to know more. Hayley explained that many times leaders will only build relationships with certain people or end up getting to know some better than others. To truly function at a high level we must be intentional to know the strengths, weaknesses, future goals, et cetera of ALL those we serve. I loved that she used the word “intentional.” The dictionary defines intentional as “done on purpose; deliberate.” This meaning plays a role in what an intentional relationship is. It involves being active instead of passive and making things happen instead of waiting for them to happen to you.

For example, as a leader, if we want to be ready when we have a position open up, we need to have the relationships with all in the organization to know who would have with the ability for, or even have interest in that position. Intentional relationships are not convenient relationships or just building relationships with those we like best. When we enter into an intentional relationship we are proving that we’re in it for the long run. Having effective communities and organizations is about co-existing and becoming acutely aware and intentional about who we share space with.

Bottom line: By being intentional about creating flourishing relationships, we positively transform every social structure on the planet.

Playing Full Out

“If your life were a play, how would the audience react” (p. 348). DTK proposed this thought experiment in Chapter 51 entitled, “Strive for Excellence, of Mindset Mondays with DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK). I really like the way he set this up by saying that he wasn’t suggesting we live our lives by the way we appear to others, but understanding the impact we have on others. When I think about actors in a play, movie, or even television program, they can have an impact on us. The best do. This is no different for us as leaders.

I was reminded yesterday how important the way we act is to the impact we have on others. While working my way through classroom visits in a school I do teacher coaching for I ran into a teacher in the school and he said, “I am so glad you are here. You bring such a positive vibe when you are here to us all.” I gotta say that made my day. Because along with helping teachers be highly effective for the students we serve, I want there to be positivity for all. Therefore, we need to do as DTK suggests, “…play full-out in life” (p. 348). The goal is to go as far as you can with all that you’ve got, and when you fall down, you get back up and keep going.

Excellence to me means bringing out the best in others. When we play full-out we need to bring our A-game to whatever we are doing, it has a noticeable impact on others. It raises the bar for everyone. We also need to bring excellence to the thoughts that we think and the words that we use, making sure they’re positive, supportive, and appreciative (of ourselves and others). Play full out. Don’t hold back.

Seventh Graders Know!

I spent this past week coaching teachers during their first days of school. It was so great to be in classrooms all day and then spend time leading reflection discussions after school. It has always been interesting to me how I can walk into a class and immediately know whether the teacher has the entire class engaged and the overall culture of the classroom. I think it is because I always focus on what the students are doing. I walked into a seventh grade class this past Wednesday and saw a teacher and group of students knocking it out of the park. It was one of those moments where I wanted to be back in seventh grade and a part of her class.

At an appropriate transition I asked the teacher and class if I could interrupt with a question. They all said yes and I asked if they all thought their teacher was doing a great job. It was a loud and resounding “YES!” I then asked a followup, “Why?” I also asked the teacher to write down what the seventh graders told us. By the way, a student pointed out I had asked two questions and not just the one I had gotten permission for – gotta live seventh graders! The list is the featured pictured of this post. What they said was:

  • Our teacher inspired us.
  • She can relate to us.
  • She makes it exciting and engages us.
  • She had a lot of energy (literally, this teacher was running from student to student).
  • She helps them make everything shiny and pretty.
  • She talks to us really well.
  • She gives us actual attention.
  • She makes learning funner (I know funner is not a word, but it should be and I told the student I would allow it).

This teacher was clearly “withit” and was building relationships with her students. Our students deserve those eight items that these seventh graders outlined. It really doesn’t matter what age group a person is facilitating, all these items apply. Our seventh graders know!

Leading Like A Hinge

I spent this week coaching teachers as the school year got started for many of the schools I work with. One of the teachers I coach told his students that he loved it when I was in the school because I was like the hinges on a door. “Without hinges the door is useless. You can have fancy doorknobs and windows, but the hinges make the door functional. Hinges attach a door to its frame, and are the pivot point for opening and closing the door.” I do hope I am helping teachers connect with their students and am serving as a hinge for the door to open for them to become highly effective facilitators of learning for their students.

Upon further reflection I was reminded of something retired Admiral James Stavridis, author of Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, said: “Leadership is how we influence others. It is like a big door that swings. But that big door of leadership swings on the small hinge of character.” I hope that I bring a great degree of character to my leadership and that I inspire others to do the same.

I want to provide those I coach with the tools, guidance, support, and feedback they need to thrive in their teaching career. I want to be the hinge that opens the door to their success.

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!

Be An Explorer, Not An Expert

I am so glad I read the book, Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path To Breakthrough Ideas. This book helped me further hone the alien that has always been in me for wild and creative thinking and innovation. In the book, authors Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux, and Michael Wade presented an incredible framework using ALIEN as an acronym. I highlighted the framework in What Will You Regret When You Are 80 Years Old? Another comment the authors made in the book that caused me to do further thinking was that we need to “Approach things not as an expert, but as an explorer.” I’ve always been a critic of so called experts and this was a warning of the problem of acting like an expert.

The problem of overconfidence and closed-mindedness in areas we believe we have expertise is all the more troubling because we so generally tend to credit ourselves and many times others with having more expertise than we really do. In Alien Thinking we were taught that discoverers know what they are looking for and then go out and find it, but explorers take chances by creating new things, and looking for what they don’t even know is there. The expert status can serve as blinders keeping us from exploring for the next way of doing what we are doing well now better or differently.

Those that know me well know that I love intersectional learning and learning from outside my own industry. Bouquet et al. argued there is great value in this as well. They posited that “Leaders thus need to think like explorers, become more adventurous and steal the essence of ideas from outside their industries…” Taking an expert frame of reference keeps us from looking for what is next. We need to be looking at industries outside our own and “stealing” ideas. I believe this is an issue particularly in education. There is not enough exploration happening in other industries to learn how to best educate. We can rely on our “outsider status” and being “adjacent outsiders” to learn and discover from others.