Byron's Babbles

Kaleidoscopic Adventure

Yesterday, we had our annual Focused Leader Academy (FLA) Summit where Cohort #2 graduated. Our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) at Hoosier Academies Network of Schools provides leadership skills the ability that are flexible and relevant no matter the situation and time. We want to inspire with valuable and effective methods for assisting our teacher leaders in discovering what they need to become focused and disciplined leaders. Over one hundred were in attendance because Cohort #1 and our newly selected Cohort #3 were there too. Additionally, we have each FLA member’s significant other in attendance as well. I dubbed the theme of the day to be: “Kaleidoscopic Adventure
.” We have used toys as through-lines all year and I thought it only too appropriate to use a kaleidoscope for the finale. Of course I gave everyone their very own kaleidoscope. We started with an activity of looking through the kaleidoscope and the thinking about what words they would use to compare the view through the kaleidoscope to their personal leadership journey. Ann Semon set up a text poll for us. Here are the results: 

Our adventure has been like that of a Kaleidoscope – colorful glass pieces or prisms in the end of a Kaleidoscope, the core characters don’t change, but can be moved around to fit the needs and personal development of team members in order to deliver great experience.
Additionally, we can use the same Kaleidoscopic through-line to describe the complexity of a school – enchantment, mercy, grace, trust, generosity, ease, truth, alliance, learning, and passion.
Our schools are like giant kaleidoscopes:

  • Schools are always moving, ever changing, and made up of simple parts that have highly complex results. 
  • They are beautiful because of the “dynamic complexity” that takes place every minute.
  • Even with the same common elements – hallways, desks, students, schedules – no two are exactly alike and they are beautiful because of their uniqueness.
  • When you look at them from the outside, they are relatively simple. When you view them on the inside, they are amazingly complicated.
  • Kaleidoscopes are fun and meant to be shared! 

Then sometimes I think we need an inside-out kaleidoscope—a de-fragmenter— this might be useful for looking at a fractured order through a lens of unity. 

For me personally, yesterday represented a spin of the Kaleidoscope. A new Cohort of beautiful pieces come into FLA, and the view gets even more complex and beautiful. Yesterday I tweeted that I was blessed to be able to form great relationships with our teachers. I mean that, and it is very important to me.

School leaders need personalized care. Remember, I believe everyone is a leader. Therefore, everyone in the school needs personalized care. When I personalize the care, I come away knowing my leaders better, sensing their concerns about the school, education, and about their own lives. I believe in the fundamental strategy of personally training individual leaders, particularly teacher leaders, to be the key for a strong, healthy school with effective leading of learning and family engagement. Many times we rationalize that the teacher leaders are too busy with their jobs and families to spend time with us. But the truth is, we are allowing ourselves to be swamped with the immediate and losing our priorities.

Adaptive Cultures

file-1 2I began a new journey of learning today and let me just say it was awesome. Today I became part of the Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have been watching and admiring the work of this group that is a consortium of leading researchers and practitioners in the field of organizational learning and change. To be asked to be part of such a distinguished group in very exciting. I certainly admire the mission of this project of: Bringing together the leaders of organizational learning to develop a greater understanding of the field’s current challenges. Today I attended my first session which was the 2017 LILA Summit. This event, which was held at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was the culmination of the work done this year around the topic of Adaptive Cultures. Next year’s topic that we will be studying was announced today and is: Emergence In Organizations: Shaping The Future As It Unfolds.

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Gert Jan Hofstede

I want to reflect here on a discussion we had as a small group at the end of the day today that was on the question: How do we get from cultural practices to cultural values? This question was posed by Gert Jan Hofstede. Gert is a Dutch population biologist and social scientist in information management and social simulation, interested in the interplay of the contrasting forces of cultural evolution, societal change, and cultural stability. Bottom-line, he is a genius and I was excited to be learning from him today.

 

I must admit, however, when I first heard his question I thought he had it backward. Don’t we need to get our cultural values straight first, then get the practices in place? But, as the discussion ensued I realized I was wrong. In most organizations and social structures there are already cultural practices in place. So, there must be a matching, shift, or discover of values in order to get practices in line with values. We used a small group sharing best practice of each telling a story from our own experience. I told the story of my own school network and how a new culture needed to be developed where basically a free for all of everyone doing their own thing with no real direction had existed.

Furthermore, I told how we used teacher leaders in concert with stakeholders to develop a guiding set of core values. I even mentioned how I believe the statement “students first” in many ways hurts education. I cannot count the times I have heard someone answer “students first” to the question of how to do something or how to develop a process. Let’s be clear here, “students first” is a core value, not a task or tactic. Just saying “students first” without a process does nothing. In fact, it probably does more harm. Now, please understand I do believe in the core value of “students first,” but we must have the cultural practices in place to do just that. That’s why I now have grown to like Gert’s original question of how to get from cultural practice to cultural values.

In this example, we really started over by developing the cultural values and then building the processes to be in line with the cultural values. A point made by Gert that really resonated with me was that we have to watch make our cultural values banners that we fly to answer everything, like my “students first” example with know real cultural practices to support the cultural values.

Another key point that came out of this discussion was that in an organization cultural practices are more important than values. As a believer in having core values and making decisions based on these values I had to get my mind wrapped around this. In the end, however, the group was right because without practices the values are just words spoken or written on a page. We need to look at cultural values as the drivers. These should drive our actions. Our values will also show our perceptions.

We then discussed others in the group’s stories. Some were more societal than organizational. Then the question of: Why do we bother? came up. It is tough because as Gert pointed out, “You can only surf on the waves of where society is going.” We discussed reframing the cultural values by looking at what the backdrop is. We also discussed this as a tactic when dealing with adaptive cultures. We discussed that there is a big difference between the cultural value of “saving the planet” and “preserving the natural landscape.” Sometimes we can, and do, have the same values, but are looking at them through different lenses.

We must recognize the fractal nature of culture – there are cultures within cultures within cultures within cultures. Additionally, creating a culture where we can interact a lot with a lot of different people is important. If we interact a lot, we influence each other. We have leverage with those we frequently interact with and they have leverage over us. The person(s) with the most diver set of connections will always make better decisions. Who talks to whom and who interacts with whom matters. For adaptive cultures we, as leaders, have to be around the edges nudging. We must also be humble and realize we do not know everything.

To summarize our small group discussion we did a cool activity and developed a tweet representative of our learning. Here is our tweet: “Values derived should drive cultural practices and then inform leadership.” #LILAculture17 What is driving your organization’s culture and informing you as a leader?

Great Leadership: Offering Up Something Better Than The Status Quo

file 3As a school leader it is my most important role to find the right solutions that are best for students. People will then buy into solutions that are developed collaboratively. I believe the staff will buy in if we offer up something that is better than the status quo.

In order to move the staff, a community of continual learning where everyone is a leader must be developed. The following are guidelines that need to be followed for effective adult learning and motivation to take place:

  • Learning needs to be frequent and sustained over time
  • There must be connected and coherent learning sessions
  • Opportunities for teachers and staff to practice and reflect on new learning must be afforded
  • Opportunities must be available to tap into expertise or prior knowledge
  • Clear and reasonable objectives must be provided
  • Adults need challenging tasks
  • Respect of the risks involved in new learning need to be recognized; in other words, it is o.k. to fail.
  • Choice and flexibility is important to adults
  • Collaboration
  • Regular coaching and feedback are provided
  • Focus everything on academic content
  • Letting staff problem solve will motivate them to learnfile 5

I believe two things will really help here:

  1. The notion of empathy  – of really listening to your staff and understanding their views and what they need.
  2. The idea that innovation lives as much within the way you define problems as the way you generate solutions

Additionally, I believe in an intent-based leadership style where everyone is considered a leader. With this style of leadership, authority is shifted to where the information/data is generated. In other words, teachers would be empowered to act on both data and new thinking. But… for this empowerment to work there must be the professional development necessary to make sure that teachers have the skills necessary to utilize this empowerment.

These skills are two-fold:

  1. Technical Competency
  2. Organizational Clarity

We must feed our leaders by:

  1. Committing to leadership development
  2. Making it a priority to give professional growth time to developing leaders

Finally, it is crucial to treat all teachers as leaders!

This all really will produce a happier, healthier, and more engaged staff.

Letting My Lite Shine

file1-2A couple of weeks ago at one of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) retreats I was asked by participants to do a session about how to balance the amount of personal information that should be mixed with our professional lives. This can be particularly tricky in education. Of course I said sure, but I had no idea how challenging of a topic I had taken on. As I began to study I realized that there was not much out there on the topic except for people who thought you should reveal everything and those who thought you should reveal nothing. I wasn’t sure I agreed with either of those theories.

file-1 2Therefore, me being me, I decided to develop my own program from scratch with all my own thoughts for getting the discussion started. I really like to use a through line and some type of building or creating to get the process started. After quite a bit of thinking I decided to use Lite Brite® as the through line and creation activity. I purchased one of the flat screen LED Lite Brites® for all the participants. Hopefully you can all remember the Lite Brite® toy and have had the opportunity to create a picture on one.file-2 2

Mavin Glass introduced Lite Brite® in 1967. It was an electric alternative to painting. To me this was a genius toy to use for this topic. The black paper acts as a filter. Just as we have to filter out what we message/reveal at times. The filter element makes the picture worth a thousand words. The black paper which blocks a portion of the light acts as Lite Brite’s® filter. Without the black paper, the pegs poked in would blend in, leaving and indistinct message. It is not about letting all light out, but what light is limited. This is like asking the question: What is relevant and what is unimportant?

As leaders we must choose delivery design and place our pegs in a way people will understand our message. We have to design how much light to let through and design the picture in such a way it tells our leadership story. Remember, simplicity is not stupidity; instead it causes a better understanding. Lite Brite® is such a simple toy, but gives us such a great example of developing a balance of how much light to shed and how much of our true colors to reveal. The Lite Brite® bulb symbolizes our message – our thoughts, words, beliefs and ideas that we want others to know. The pegs then symbolize our points. Just as the pegs are colorful and beautiful, so are the differences that we bring into the world.

“It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.” ~ Aristotle

To begin our discussion I had the FLA participants take their Lite Brites® and make a picture by either using templates provided or a picture created by them. Here is a picture of all of their Lite Brite® creations: file-1

The participants then needed to describe why they did the picture they did and reveal something about themselves and their own leadership journey. This prompted an amazing discussion. I have included the graphic recording by Sita Magnuson here:file1-1

What Will You Reveal?

Your message won’t be bright if there is no light, but will chaos if all light is revealed. As a leader we need to take complex issues and deliver them in an understanding manner. We need to be adaptive leaders and make adjustments/orientations according to context. There is value in vulnerability and authenticity. This opens the door to dialogue and community. We decided in our discussion that knowing decreases judging. We need to experience feeling, listening, seeing, and embodying. We must decide what we will reveal and break down the barriers that are not useful. How will you let your Lite shine?

What Do You Bring To The Table?

file1A couple of Saturday’s ago for our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) we used the mental model of food again. Participants decided to prepare breakfast and tell their story. This was pretty special and really meant a lot. I was struck by the fact that these teachers who had been ISTEP (Indiana’s students achievement test) all week and were probably exhausted would want to do this, But, as always, they amazed me one more time.

What a spread! It was the most amazing breakfast buffet I had ever seen with: two kinds of bacon, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, yogurt, biscuit and gravy casserole, bagels, cheesy potatoes, and lots lots more. I have put a picture of the buffet here for you to see, We have a practice of writing on the table butcher paper and on the breakfast buffet table someone had written the statement, “What do you bring to the table?” This of course then became the theme for the discussion. file 5

So what does it mean to bring something to the table? I believe it means to ​provide something that will be a ​benefit. Just like the fact that I believe everyone is a leader, I also believe everyone brings something to the table. Essentially, your list of what you bring to the table should reflect your best qualities, and that is what you should be offering to an organization, school, or business. Is what you are offering equal to what you are expecting? Do you consider what you have to offer those you lead, or merely what your team is offering YOU?

Leadership is about taking care of those you lead. Leadership is serving others. It is involving others in setting and achieving their own goals or the group goals. Leadership includes learning from mistakes and growing from them. Leadership is about having a positive impact on anyone we cross paths with. Leadership is contagious. If we can do these things, we are offering quite the leadership buffet to our organizations.

It was so great that Saturday to have Mike Fleisch, Sita Magnuson, and Kelvy Bird all present to graphic record the discussion presented by the FLA members about their food. It is the first time they had ever worked at an event all together. These are amazingly talented individuals, thought leaders, community leaders, and facilitation conveners. I have embedded a photo of the graphic here:file2Just like the awesome selection and choices that a breakfast brings us, the more different people become leaders, the more problems we will solve. The more skills, interest, and expertise that will be brought to the table. We need leaders to think about and organize around many issues beyond those of our organizations and schools like: youth development, economic growth, substance abuse, crime, the environment, health care — the list goes on and on. Each issue will require a troop of skilled leaders to handle them. We need leaders who are women, young people (we were all young once), people of color, low -income people, immigrants, people with disabilities and many others that have been told that they should follow others, not lead. We need leadership from all walks of life in order for ours to be a truly democratic society. Remember, we are all leaders!

You have to make a decision to lead and view yourself as a leader. No one else can contribute what you can. You have a point of view that no one else has. You have a set of skills that is unique. Your corner of the world will be different if you decide to act on its behalf.

How has your organization benefited from having you in leadership roles? What do you bring to the table? Are you showing value in your current role?

Learning From An Education Reformer

rick_hess_book_portrait

Here is my review of the great book:

Letters to a Young Education Reformer by Frederick M Hess

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has so much great information and thought leadership, that one recommendation/review cannot do it justice, but I’ll try. From the beginning of the book, Dr. Hess teaches us that passion can distort our perception of reality. We are taught in the book to draw wisdom from our own experiences and failures and the experiences and bad judgement of others.

Furthermore, this book eloquently argues we need to learn from both those whom we agree and those we don’t. We do not want our passion to close the door to a fruitful discussion. This book also drives home the fact that reform is not about having good ideas, but about how to make ideas actually work. For this, Dr. Hess teaches us that the how of education reform is more important than the what. We are reminded that we all want the same end (what is best for children), but we many times disagree on the means.

We are reminded in the book that American schooling was never designed to do what we are asking it to do today. While this book is specifically about education reform, anyone involved in the reform of anything in business or society today would be well served to read this book. As reformers, the author holds us accountable by positing that those making decisions need to be held responsible for making them work.

View all my reviews

Centenarian JROTC Leadership!

Last night I had the honor of speaking at the annual Manual Military Appreciation Day celebration. This great annual event was started by the Army JROTC program when I was principal of Emmerich Manual High School. This event also served as the 💯Year Anniversary Celebration of the Army JROTC program at Manual. It was incredible to be invited to this event and reconnect with alumni, teachers, staff, and former students. 

I was reminded just how much I love this school. It was also a reminder of what can be accomplished when a team comes together, truly puts students first, and works hard while having fun toward a common vision. This school had been rated one of the worst, had been an “F” school, as rated by the state for seven years. We were able to turn the school around and take it off the “F” list. Make no mistake, the Army JROTC program was crucial to the success of this school. The JROTC instructors Colonel Duxbury and Sargent Carter are highly effective teachers and are responsible for making sure the program has continued to thrive, improve, and grow.

Emmerich Manual High School is an awesome school with great teachers and incredible students. This school is an important part of Indianapolis’ south side community. 

In my speech, I discussed why the 💯Year Anniversary of JROTC was such a big deal. I also told the story of my friend David Marquet, author of the book, Turn the Ship Around! I believe JROTC is a program where students learn and practice character, citizenship, and leadership at the highest level. 

Please click here to watch the video of my comments. 

Lead By Telling The Truth

Nicolle Wallace & I

I had the honor and opportunity last night to personally meet and hear Nicolle Wallace speak. Nicolle is a bestselling author, political analyst for MSNBC, and former co-host of ABC’s “The View.” And, I would add, great speaker! She keynoted our opening joint dinner for the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). On my side, as a NASBE member, this opened our annual Legislative Conference. 

Let me tell you, I was mezmarrized by her comments. In her many meaningful phrases she made one that hit me like a ton of bricks. She said, “If you want others to tell you the truth, you need to tell them the truth.” Think about that. What wold the world be like if we all put this in practice. 

Powerful leadership is needed in America today and the world to deal effectively with a broad range of challenges. History, however, is full of examples of leaders that lacked character to sustain trust and credibility with the public. Good character and integrity, basically telling the truth, are the solid foundation of great leadership. Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. Character is a rare commodity now adays. Our culture has produced few enduring leaders, few people with leadership integrity.

Great leaders must demonstrate the right virtues to lead effectively. Nicolle said, “we must all take responsibility for our power.” We must demonstrate honesty, humility, authenticity, credibility, courage and accountability. Thanks Nicolle for reminding me that the most important leadership virtue is integrity.

Leaders Must Be Schooled

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-5-23-10-pmGiven the high rate of leadership turnover in many fields nationwide, finding ways to provide leaders with the experience they need quickly is paramount. This is very true in my own area of educational leadership. What makes leadership so challenging is that it is rife with painful trade-offs that make decisions difficult under the best of circumstances. What’s more, leaders are faced with a group of stakeholders—vendors, customers, students, teachers, parents, communities, local, state, and federal government—whose competing demands can make it impossible to satisfy the needs of one group without dramatically upsetting another. By developing adaptive leadership skills we can get help our leaders improve decision making at times of crisis, benefiting, in my particular context, both the school culture and ultimately, student outcomes.

Because of the many stakeholders involved in leadership, leadership is dangerous because we are rarely authorized to lead. We all operate within a limited scope of authority. Opportunities for exercising leadership do not depend on position. Since I believe everyone is a leader, leadership can come from any place within or even outside the organization. With adaptive leadership we need to help those we serve understand that leadership often involves challenging people to live up to their words, to close the gap between their espoused values and their actual behavior. Leadership often entails finding ways to enable people to face up to frustrating realities.

It is important to recognize the difference between technical challenges and adaptive challenges. Technical challenges may be complex but an expert can usually solve – like fixing a car that won’t run or a website glitch. Conversely, adaptive challenges do not lie in technical answers, but in the leader. The technician can fix the car, but he can’t make the owner do the regular service to keep it running. This would be an adaptive leadership challenge. Most social issues are adaptive. They are not resolved with a logical argument. This is what makes my field of education so challenging. This also why there is such a great need to school our leaders.

Successful leaders in any field tend to emphasize personal relationships. These relationships are a tenant of adaptive leadership. Again, with adaptive leadership we are asking people to close the distance between their espoused values and their actual behavior. This kind of leadership can come from anywhere in the organization and can fashion new and better responses to local realities. Are you schooling your leaders?

 

Leadership Story Reflections

file-3This is the final post of a four post series reflection on this past weekend’s retreat of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA). The first in the series was Feeding Leadership. Click here to read the second in the series, Leadership Breakfast Story. Yesterday, I posted the third in the series, Telling Your Leadership Story. If you read those posts you will realize what and incredible journey this past weekend was. To give a quick recap; we started Friday night by learning fro an Executive Chef how to tell a story with a meal. Then Saturday morning Mike Fleisch and I modeled this by cooking breakfast for the group and telling the story of our journey together. The highlight of the weekend, though, was when our FLA members were turned loose to plan, organize, and execute a breakfast to tell of their journey as teacher leaders and about the school. This was a total success and this post is about the reflection session of the FLA members afterward.

For this reflection we used a technique call the “Fish Bowl.” To do this, a circle of chairs is made in the number of participants minus the number of groups used to complete the activity. In this case here were three groups, so three chairs were placed in the middle (see picture in this post of setup). One person from each group then sits in the middle and are the only ones that can talk. If you have something to say after the original three have had a chance to speak, then you can get up and tap the person from your group and take their seat in the middle. This can go on for as long as someone has something to say. It is also a best practice to have prompts to help get the discussion going. Here are the prompts we used:file-2The graphic recording of this session, included below, from Mike Fleisch does a great job of reflecting the richness of the discussion, but I wanted to point out a few of the highlights. One of the comments that really struck me and that I had not thought about was that the planning, organizing, and executing of the story through a meal was a great 360° evaluation. 360° feedback has been around for some time now. In case you haven’t gone through the process, here’s how it works. Your boss, your direct reports, and your peers give you feedback on what are your strengths and weaknesses (or “developmental needs” or “opportunities”). Therefore, you get feedback from everyone around you who knows you well — hence, you’re hearing it from 360° around you. When it’s done well, 360° programs allow all your team members to improve in key areas that might be limiting their upward career path or actually causing major conflict within a team.

This discussion was around the fact that they were all able to see their own personalities come out and the personalities of those on their team. Additionally, the ways in which each individual changed in conditions of shared urgency. One participant said, “I feel like I left out the organization step and rushed too much.” Another participant admitted to thinking, “If you all would just shut up, I will lead you!” There was a great deal of self reflection going on during this part of the discussion. I realized just how effective this activity was as a 360° tool – much better than a survey done by someone else in my opinion.

Another point that came out was when someone said, “Sometimes it is hard to think about giving up another Saturday, but I for sure do not want to miss these retreats.” Obviously, that was music to my ears, but it is an important concept that is worth mentioning. We should always have at the forefront of anything we plan the idea that we want to design it in such a way that no one will want to miss it. In other words a participant should feel as if there is too much great stuff going on and content being learned to miss. Here is the graphic recording of the rest of the discussion:fileAs you can see this was a tremendous experience for all of our teacher leaders. I come away from each of these weekends inspired and rejuvenated. There is so much energy in these young leaders and we must continue to take the time to give them the development experiences they deserve. What experiences are you providing for your up and coming leaders?