Byron's Babbles

Smiles For All Your Miles

As a friend, student, and fan of Dr. Joseph Michelli and all his books, I understand the importance of the customer experience. I was reminded of this when I stopped at Buc-ee’s yesterday. For those not familiar, it is a humongous gas station/convenience store/outlet mall (with Buc-ee’s brands) all rolled into one. It is an experience! Founded in 1982, the mission is pretty simple: to provide a clean and friendly in-store experience. In fact, if you haven’t been, you need to go, just to experience the award winning bathrooms. Yes, you read that right – award winning. In 2012, Cintas, a corporate supplier to the service industry, named the New Braunfels, Texas Buc-ee’s location the winner of a nationwide restroom contest. You can read about it here.

In Exactly What We Aim For I quoted Michelli stating, “…I believe that even greater customer value comes from moving from services to experiences (rather than from products to services).” Buc-ee’s understands that the experience is everything. The co-founders Arch (“Beaver”) Aplin and Don Wasek set out to make these extravaganzas the very best in the world. They had a pretty simple strategy statement: “To have the cleanest restrooms.” Think about it, isn’t that all we really want when traveling? When exiting for a pit stop, I have heard my family more than once say, “Pick the place that looks like it will have the cleanest restrooms.” With the Buc-ee’s experience, we know it will be them.

They have even made the billboards along the interstate part of the experience. When 212 miles away you are seeing a billboard telling you that you can stop at Buc-ee’s in, well, 212 miles. Then, when you leave and get back on the interstate, the first billboard you see says, “Until We Meet Again – 165 miles” (see photo). Again, part of the experience. The other thing is, you won’t have to deal with 18 wheelers – not allowed. Every fuel pump, of which there are over 100, has both diesel and regular. The Buc-ee’s I was at even featured ethanol-free fuel and DEF. And, if you need it, they’ve got it! They have (and most of it, their own brand) souvenirs, food, snacks, clothing, hunting gear, college wear (although they were missing the Purdue stuff!), and my favorite – a jerky wall.

When you go on Buc-ee’s website and look under employment, they say, “We believe our store should be clean. We believe our staff should be friendly. We believe our prices should be low. If you believe what we believe, come join the Buc-ee’s team!” Then they ask, “Do you believe what we believe?” If that is not customer experience driven, I am not sure what is. As a person whose life-work is supporting education, I wish every young person could have the experience of learning from this business. Check out the photo of the careers available and salaries. Students would certainly be learning leadership and the customer experience. Maybe the Buc-ee’s folks and I should talk! Next time you are on the interstate and see the Buc-ee’s billboards, start planning your incredible travel-stop experience.

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Learning Vs Being Right

We live, work, and play in such complex institutional and cultural environments today. Therefore, we must be adaptive individual learners, as well as, learning organizations. Mary Catherine Bateson taught us that openness to learning and changing is more important than what one knows at any given point. Openness to learning and willingness to adjust are important qualities. Learning is more important and being right. Learning is a perspective as much as it is a practice. We need to be nurture and encourage an attitude of learning. We must seek out ideas, information, and approaches so we can learn from others, including those whose views diverge from ours.

There are really three pieces to great leadership:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Growth Mindset
  3. Openness

If we go back to the teaching of Bateson, we find openness as an essential trait. If we have an appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to try new things, we can better navigate daily challenges and discover novel solutions. Openness allows ideas to merge and develop by valuing diversity of thinking. Unfortunately, school taught us (and is still doing this) that we need to always be right. But, that binary way of thinking keeps us from considering that there might be a right answer, especially when we are on uncharted ground.

Christmas Playfulness

How are you doing with your playfulness? On this Christmas morning I am thinking about how we learn through our bodies. The somatic side of learning if you will. Watching kids play with toys on Christmas is amazing. Wait a minute; watching adults play with their kid’s toys on Christmas is amazing. With play we get participation and full engagement. Play inspires curiosity. Curiosity in turn opens the door for exploration, experimentation, and more learning. What if we intentionally focused on learning, leading, and living through play? For adults and children alike, play makes use of all our different senses – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Our bodies store so much of our information and when we become active, our learning becomes sticky.

I love to use playing as a part of the leadership development work I do. Play fosters our curiosity and strengthens our childlike spirit to transform the way we show up as a conscious leader. Play reduces resistance and pushback because people are relaxed. When we let our guard down, all learning happens more easily. Playing also brings low-stress social interaction. Playing is how we connect. Play stimulates our imagination, helping us adapt and solve problems. Play gives us an opportunity to refresh, rejuvenate, and revitalize. When was the last time you played?

Leading With Impact

In his great book, This Is Day One: A Practical Guide To Leadership That Matters, Drew Dudley told us to create a pledge to create experiences that make others feel good about engaging with you. To do this he explained we need to pick a value. An example would be “impact.” You can define impact as “a commitment to creating experiences that make others feel better after interacting with me.” I love this value you and try really hard to practice it daily by asking myself a question like, “What have I done today to recognize someone else’s leadership?” Sometimes our light shines better by reflecting the light of others.

Last night I experienced this first hand by someone else’s living being impactful. Jason Ferreira sat down beside me last night at a dinner we were having for National FFA Teacher Ambassadors and said, “I have something I want to tell you. Not a day goes by that I do not use what I have learned about facilitating in my own classroom, facilitating for teachers, or helping others improve their facilitation.” He went on to say that he keeps many of the objects I use for facilitating on hand, like toys and Big Feelings Pineapples. Then, Jason said, “I wanted to tell you that I’m person because it makes me better to reflect on this and tell you thank you and how much you impact me every day.” I’ve got to tell you that this recognition of my leadership felt really good.

This wasn’t an ego thing. Quite the opposite. It was an affirmation that the teaching I am doing for National FFA Teacher Ambassadors is having a impact. It motivated and inspired me to want to work even harder serving the Ambassadors I love so much. Jason showed me a living example of having a daily “impact” – he made me a better person by his interaction with me and he recognized my leadership. I am grateful for Jason being an example and what he does to impact students lives and the lives of others every day.

Love Is A Practice

I talk a lot about needing to love those we serve. Love is a practice, it is not something you find or don’t find. You can practice love for the rest of your life. We need to take this very seriously. On this Thanksgiving Day 2022 I am reflecting on how we need to love. I know what your thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “Byron, love is something you should write about on Valentine’s Day.” No. That’s about romantic love. I’m talking about real love. The kind of love that emerges from a shared appreciation. This shared appreciation is why I write about this on Thanksgiving morning. If we truly appreciate those we serve, we need to love them.

So, what does that mean, you ask. It means both parties are made better by the relationship. This kind of love takes into consideration the passions, goals, core values, strengths, and weaknesses of one another and use those to set a direction of how to help each other be made better. I seem to interrogate the thought of love a lot. Love is the desire to improve the beloved’s life. When we love our students, we do everything in our power to improve their lives. When we love our teachers, we do everything we can to improve their lives. I love my wife and son, so I do everything I can to improve their lives. I’m sure you get my point by now.

Love is a very profound type of recognition. The best leaders I have know and respected have a keen ability to really see into another person’s normally hidden depths, and to realise how profound and important they are. Those great leaders understand that everyone, yes everyone, has potential. The great leaders will love you enough to pull, mold, develop, and help us hone that potential. Loving others is not something to be taken lightly. It’s about being thankful for those that cross our path and recognizing their greatness and what you can offer to bring about their full potential. Let’s hone our own practice of loving.

How Did You Learn Today?

What gets learned is very different than
“how” the learning happens. If we only focus
on the “what” we miss tremendous
opportunities for learning to occur. Think about when you were a kid or when you ask your own kids today, “What did you learn at school today?” Answer: “Nothing.”

But how about those days when some activity, project, or lab really tripped your trigger? Were you learning? Yes. What made it impactful was how you learned. We all learn differently whether we are adults or kids and there must be a variety of engagement strategies used. Even better is to give the student choice and agency in deciding the “how.”

Our scholars learn in a complex social environment and we have rapidly changing contexts. When teaching with relevance and how students learn, four important learning criteria are enhanced: core academics, stretch learning, learner engagement, and personal skill development. Students need to develop skills in information searching and researching, critical analysis, summarizing and synthesizing, inquiry, questioning and exploratory investigations, and design and problem solving.

While facilitating some student focus groups recently, the students pointed out that some teachers fail to provide a context through observations, inferences, and actions appropriate for students to make the connection to the real world. These connections help the students to understand higher-level science concepts. Students, now more than ever, want to understand how they will use what they are learning today in life or in a career. We adults are the same way, we want to learn things we can use immediately in what we do.

We need to remember to frame learning as a process rather than merely an outcome. Additionally, meaning making, is at the core of how we learn. Finally, how we learn includes the role of prior experience and interpretation of that experience. This is where we must help in providing experiences to give real world context. Thus, why I am such a proponent of work-based learning, apprenticeships, and internships. How we learn matters!

The Real-World Inspires

Hadi Partovi & I at National Summit on Education 2022

Don’t you just love it when something you advocate a lot is affirmed by someone else? Well, I do! Anyway, yesterday during the keynote lunch panel discussion at the Excelin Ed National Summit on Education 2022 entitled “A 21st-Century Education: Critical Skills for Every Student’s Success” the rest of the attendees at Table 18 kept looking over at me and kept saying things like, “you say that all the time.” And, yes, that was true! I have known one of the keynote panelists, Hadi Partovi, for a long time. Hadi is CEO of the education nonprofit Code.org. I have always known Hadi to be very insightful as what our scholars need to know when continuing the learning journey after high school. Notice I call it a “learning journey” because no matter whether a scholar chooses enrollment, employment, or enlistment, they will be continuing on a learning journey. I am approaching the six decade mark and I am still on an incredible learning journey. In fact, I am not so sure I haven’t learned more in the last year than at any point in my life. How cool is that?

Back to Hadi because some of his comments are the focus here. He said:

  • “If kids are excited to learn something, they will go learn it.” – I am thinking TikTok here. I am pretty sure none of our students took a TikTok course in their school.
  • “Don’t worry about the order in which we schedule scholars to learn things; more importantly, we need to be inspiring students to go learn.” – Personally, I always advocate that how students are learning is at least as important, if not more important than what they are learning. Learning howto learn is the most important thing we can do in the world today.
  • “Relevance and inspiration go together!” – Who knew? Every scholar in every school in the world! They might not say it, although they do, when they say things like, “Why do I need to know this?” If that Hand in the Back of The Room can’t be answered there will be NO inspiration to learn. Trust me, I know because I was that student with his hand up in the back of the room almost six decades ago now.

Bottom-line: we must remember that the real-world inspires. Our students are the expert in their own life in context, no one else is. Our kids are learning in a complex social environment. Our students will inherit the future and we need to do everything we can to have them ready to learn and have the creative designs to solve the future issues.

A Culture Of Uncertainty

Randy Conley told us that “Control is the opposite of trust” in Simple Truth #45, “The Opposite Of Trust Is Not Distrust – It’s Control” in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice, Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. This simple truth really resonated with me. I have experienced leaders who are control freaks and keep those they serve in the dark. I always have considered this a lack of self-esteem thing and desire to make sure all credit was able to be attributed to them. All this really serves to do is cause distrust and cause team members to shut down. This then brings about great uncertainty for everyone involved.

The control freak leader I described above is the most frustrating, smothering and energy sapping leader to work for. But, leading is not about controlling; it is about guiding, coaching and empowering others to reach a destination. Great leaders know how to manage systems, not control people. This goes back to making sure we have developed the technical skills necessary for those we serve to successfully carry out the mission of the organization. Trust is a verb, not a noun.

If Everything Repeats

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 5, 2022

The phrase “It’s easy to be right when everything repeats” in the great band Trivium’s song The Heart From Your Hate has caused me to do some deep thinking. If you get to reflecting on it, that line alone in the song is really deep. We can look at this two ways:

  1. If we keep everything the same it is easy to repeat success every time – status quo.
  2. The same things will just keep happening, and usually get more difficult, until you recognize and eliminate the behavior that needs to change.

Why do people resist change? One reason is the fact that it may mean having to make some changes to processes that are already in place that have become easy to just keep doing. This is why it is so hard to change the status quo. The problem with this is that while the status quo might be creating so called “success,” or being “right,” that might not be the right success any more. I remember when I was leading the process in Indiana to go away from students passing a single exam to graduate to students having multiple pathways to graduate, there was tremendous resistance from those who had figured out the “system” to get kids to pass the exam. Some after multiple tries and being put through what I called the remediation factory. Those resisters could be right because everything was just repeating, but that was not the right thing to do for our scholars.

We can also view the easiness of being right when everything repeats itself from our own lens of recognition. Why do our experiences keep repeating? Think about this formula Event + Reaction =Outcome. You may be saying, “Everyone knows that, Byron. That’s really easy!” Is it, though? It sounds basic and very simple and yes it is basic and very simple but it has a lot of meaning. Think about this; what if the ‘R’ (reaction) is kept constant in the formula? Won’t your experiences keep repeating themselves? We need to change the ‘R’ (reaction) in our personal lives and organizations into a variable. Only then can we change the ‘O’ (outcome).

Yes, it is easy to be right when everything repeats or stays status quo, but that sometimes limits us from great relationships or doing great things. Thanks, Trivium, for making me reflect on this!

What Happens When You Are Gone?

Intent-based leadership relies on all team members being able to recognize what needs to be done and having the technical expertise to be able to do it. In my work with leadership development I have found that one of the toughest things for many up and coming leaders is stepping back and letting others take the lead or complete a task on their own. The best leaders do not focus on ensuring compliance with outside decisions. Instead, great leaders facilitate the team’s decisions about how they will carry out their shared purpose–mission, vision, values, and goals. In the case of education, when teachers are both responsible and accountable for making the decisions influencing school success, they also own the outcomes. Teacher teams do not have a problem with being accountable for results when they have the autonomy and authority to determine how best to achieve them. They take pride in what works well and refine what doesn’t.

In Simple Truth #44, “The Most Important Part Of Leadership Is What Happens When You’re Not There” in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice, Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley, we were reminded that, “Servant leaders develop and empower their people so that they will perform just as well, if not better, on their own as they do when the leader is present” (p. 115). The key here is to have those we serve developed in the technical and leadership skills necessary to make decisions from wherever they are. If we position everyone to lead from where they presently are, we have decisions being made where the data is created.