Byron's Babbles

Do Not Forget The Small Talk

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Small Talk by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 26, 2021

I have finished two great books this week that have caused me to do a great deal of thinking about how we communicate with each other and how, now on day 351 of the global pandemic, we need to be communicating with others. Pre COVID we had ample opportunities to casually chat with our colleagues. Now, much of the time we pop up on a screen and must talk to everyone, or not at all. In A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles, the protagonist, The Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, exclaimed “We all have many small details about ourselves that we can put together to make a mosaic of who we are.” These small details are important to relationship building. The Count used conversation to elaborate on the smallest of details. Even in our virtual interactions we must build in time (or let it happen organically) for small talk. This does not mean asking a single question that everyone in the group must answer – that is not small talk.

Growing up we raised a lot of White Pekin Ducks. It was always interesting to me that when a group of ducks got separated from each other, once they got back together there was a great deal of chattering and quacking like they were getting caught up on all the latest news. It was amazing to watch and listen to this loud interaction. Boy would I have loved to speak White Pekin Duck. Ducks are like us, very social. In fact, they do not like to be alone and should never be raised as singles. I believe we have found how much we are like that. Therefore, I always like to get on to virtual gatherings I facilitate about 15 minutes early and will leave the room open for a short time afterward. This mimics the time that we all do small talk before and after meetings. This gives us a chance to sort through what was called “our vast catalog of casual questions” in A Gentleman In Moscow. This needs to be unstructured time to be worthwhile. Many leaders have real trouble just letting this happen naturally.

As chair of board for the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) I have had to get comfortable with meetings starting a little late (maybe 10 minutes) because participants from all over the country are Zooming in and want to talk about the personal things we would all talk about if in the literal room together. Clearly, there is a balance to reach, but if I didn’t allow for this it would irritating to the members. We must create space for small talk.

If we use the interrogatives for conversation, we can learn so much about those we serve. Sharing a space is not always sharing an experience. Allowing space for small talk will also allow for us to, as Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans told us in the sixth edition of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em to “Ask so you don’t have to guess.” These interactions help us to understand how to love those we serve. I love how The Count did it in A Gentleman In Moscow. He used the phrase “So tell me…” Don’t you love it when someone starts with “So tell me…” instead of “Let me tell you…”?

Finally, if you’re one that needs a little more structure, ask questions that those gathered will have an opinion about. But, don’t forget, you may not have the same opinion. This is okay and fun. Let’s not forget just how important small talk is to really knowing those we are associated with.

Explore And Heighten On President’s Day

Interestingly, the holiday we celebrate today is officially Washington’s Birthday, not President’s Day. In 1971 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law, Washington’s Birthday (February 22) was moved to the third Monday in February. This put the holiday in between Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Washington’s. It also gave us another three day weekend – the intent of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill. There was a push to change the name from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day, but that did not pass – we just all call it President’s Day.

As I take a moment to reflect on this day, I remind myself of advice I give to others: study humans, not heroes. I believe this is important in teaching history and civics as well. While we have the advantage of hindsight when studying the past, always remember those who lived it, did not. One of my favorite authors, David McCullough, put it this way, “Nor was there ever anything like the past. Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either. It’s very easy to stand on the mountaintop as an historian or biographer and find fault with people for why they did this or didn’t do that, because we’re not involved in it, we’re not inside it, we’re not confronting what we don’t know—as everyone who preceded us always was” (McCullough, February 15, 2005, in Phoenix, Arizona, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar on the topic, “American History and America’s Future.”). We need to remember that history was not created in a vacuum and could have gone a bunch of different ways.

As we reflect on our Founders and past Presidents we need to remember they were human beings, just like us, with flaws, sins, and both terrible and good qualities. We’ve had leaders do some terrible things and we need to study those things and call them out to make sure and not repeat them. We also need to learn, grow, and continue to improve and get better. In the world of improvisation there are the five syllables “explore and heighten.” This is where we usher in our imagination, where ideas are born, where our power finds its source, and where we discover what’s waiting for us. I believe this to be the genius of our American community. We know everything can and should be improved upon. So, on this day of reflection, let’s renew our resolve recognizing our errors of the past and continued improvement for making the world a better place for ALL.

Natural Curiosity

Posted in Curiosity, Education, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 10, 2021

Curiosity. Everyone is born with it; it’s innate and natural to every child. But somewhere along the way, many lose their sense of how to use curiosity to expand their minds. I would even argue that there are things we do in education that cause our young people to lose or give up on their curiosity. When we reach school age, answers become more important than curious thought. Today, I had a person in a meeting describe me as being open to my natural curiosity. I’ve got to admit, I took it as a compliment to be described as curious. I am a very curious person and try to be curious every day.

Curiosity helps us to discover new ideas and open up new avenues and possibilities. Additionally, curiosity brings excitement into our lives. So, how do we stay open to our natural curiosity? We need to make time for curiosity. Part of that time needs to be for play. This gives us the opportunity to explore. Curious people can always find something interesting to explore. Being curious can help us be less judgmental. Curious people as focused on exploring options rather than just trying to be right and have someone else be wrong.

We also need to ask lots of questions. We need to channel our innate child-like curiosity and do more asking of what, why, who, when, where, and how to get at the big-time secrets of the world. Those that are curious are not afraid of questions and being wrong. Finally, the curious never stop learning.

Leading The Michelli Way

I am a huge believer in intersectional learning. This is the learning that can be accomplished from the commonalities and complexities of different industries, businesses, and organizations. I have always been a fan of Dr. Joseph Michelli’s work and books. He has knocked it out of the park with his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges. This book is the encyclopedia of intersectional learning. I am only about 25% through the book, but have learned and reflected on so many things. I have read all of his books, and I have to attribute many of the ideas I have implemented over the years started from the learning I have done from his books.

My goal with this post is to pay it forward and invite all of you to learn from Dr. Michelli. If you are one who likes to learn from others and then apply that learning to your own context, then his work is for you. He has studied and chronicled, in-depth, the many companies he has worked with, improved, consulted, and learned from. Let me just give you one example from the book. Let’s begin with this quote:

“a responsibility alongside other hospitality brands to ensure all travelers who decide to book an all-inclusive getaway will feel confident that they’ll have a safe, comfortable, and memorable experience. Each and every resort or hotel brand needs to stay true to its unique value proposition in the market, yet abide by a common denominator of strict hygiene and safety protocols. Health and safety have always been top priorities among travelers, and now they are key determining factors in a consumer’s decisions to travel.”

Carolyne Doyon, President and CEO of North America and the Caribbean at Club Med

I don’t care what industry you are involved in, the learning here applies. Take the words “hotel or resort,” “traveler,” “travel,” or “hospitality” and change them to those that apply to your organization and the statement applies. When I think of both my policy making and leadership roles in education this statement really applies.

I talk about the value proposition that Doyon speaks of in my leadership training all the time. As a believer in school choice, I believe every school must have a unique value proposition. In other words, why should families choose your school to attend? No doubt, the pandemic has even created new, what I call, competitive advantages.

We have had to contemplate bringing students back and opening schools, keeping students and teachers safe, how to do virtual education or some combination of virtual and in person education effectively, and how to still hold ourselves accountable for the learning and outcomes ALL students we serve deserve.

Dr. Michelli’s book is so timely because we are still working on all this. I was just in a briefing today on the Biden administration’s priorities in education and these items are being contemplated. We need to use the learning from all sectors to help us learn and navigate our course. Stronger Through Adversity gives us the actions of many great leaders. I wish we could have a summit of all the leaders to create action plans for all of us. Maybe he’ll let me pick a couple of leaders and invite me to do one of his podcasts with him. I can dream, can’t I?

As I said at the beginning, this post is intended to serve as my paying it forward for you to check out this great book and the learning that can be gained from Dr. Michelli’s work. Check it out!

Somebody Did It For Me

Leaders motivate us to go places that we would never otherwise go. They are needed both to change organizations and to produce results. In any organizational climate, good leadership is perhaps the most important competitive advantage an organization can have. Amazingly, followers of leaders are just as powerfully driven to follow as leaders are to lead. Great leaders have a way of supporting others to grow and become more productive. Great leadership means putting people in the right place at the right time and then letting them thrive there.

Mr. Combrinck & Ms. Figueroa’s Potato Heads

Yesterday, during our south Florida gathering of 3D Leadership participants, we did an activity that I love to do called “Who Am I As A Leader Now?” We use Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads to do this and participants build their Potato Head to represent themselves, at that moment, as a leader. It becomes such a powerful reflective time. Then, we gathered in a big circle and shared out. All of the share-outs were so meaningful, but one phrase really caught my attention that a participant ended with, represented by a Potato Head arm placed backward, “Somebody did it for me.” This really struck me because it is so true. Everyone has a “somebody did it for me” story. And this fit so nicely with the work we were going to do later around John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. Helping others develop into all they can be are those “People Development” and “Pinnacle” levels of great leadership.

Alexis Prieto’s Potato Head

It’s always inspiring to be in a room of educators because developing young women and men into all they can be is what we do. We get to provide that “somebody did it for me” story for many. But, let’s not forget that as leaders we have an obligation to be finding ways to provide those “somebody did it for me” stories for those in our organizational communities. It really comes down to being a servant leader. As I listened to all the stories and reasons for the Potato Head designs I was in awe of all the collective expertise in the room. This group of leaders truly wanted to be the best at serving others. Now, as I write this post I am reflecting on those in my life that have been that “somebody that did it for me” person. There have been a lot, and I would even say this group of south Florida educators “did it for me” yesterday. All of this reflection made me go back and reflect on a blog post I did back in 2013 where I reflected on those who had been a servant leader to me along the way and, in some cases, throughout my entire life. Check out my post, Matthew 20:26 on Being A Servant Leader to learn more about my journey and those who have “been there” along the way.

As we try to make some sense in this pandemic stricken world, I, and I believe all the other participants, needed to hear the stories of others – how they got where they are and how they are dealing with all things related to the global pandemic. We really developed a bonded sense of we are in this together, and while we all may be separated by only a few miles, or hundreds of miles we can all be kindred spirits and part of something bigger than ourselves to into great leaders providing “somebody did it for me” moments.

How about you? Who has provided those “somebody did it for me” moments in your life? And, who are you providing “somebody did it for me” moments for?

Living Lifeopoly

In Chapter 19 entitled “Mistakes Don’t Matter” in the book Mindset Mondays With DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK), he used the metaphor of life being a little like a game of Monopoly. Well, I couldn’t resist created my own game called Lifeopoly. And, yes, Lifeopoly has a red hash line underneath it. I love creating new words. I even drew a prototype box for the game shown here as the featured image of this post. Let me know what you think. This chapter was all about mistakes and our mindset in dealing with those mistakes. DTK described it this way, and I have inserted a blank for you to put whatever area you’ve considered yourself a failure in: “The wounded version of myself was making this one significant failure mean that I would always be a failure at ___________________” (p. 151). As a person who can make hundreds of mistakes per day, I have developed a mindset of considering what I can/have learn(ed) from these mistakes. Failing at something once does not we we are always going to fail at it. Never forget, we have to be bad at something to get good at it.

I loved the Happy New Year card that DTK described getting from a friend that said, “This year, may every mistake be a new one” (p.152). I thought this was very appropriate given this is the first week of 2021. I am also reading the great book The Midnight Library: A Novel by Matt Haig right now. I’m not going to divulge too much here because you need to read the book, but there are three great passages in the book that caused me to reflect on making sure we grow from mistakes and life’s events. Additionally we need to not get so uptight and view some things as moves on our Lifeopoly journey. Our time and energy is best spent being the best “me” we can be, and as an educator I’m reminded we need to make sure our students have as many experiences possible and help them understand how to grow and learn from the mistakes and experience life offers. Here are those passages from The Midnight Library I believe will cause you to do some reflection about life decisions and mistakes:

“‘Because, Nora, sometimes the only way to learn is to live.'” ~ Mrs. Elm to Nora

The Midnight Library, p. 67

“Everyone’s lives could have ended up an infinite number of ways.” ~ Nora thinking to herself

The Midnight Library, p. 54

“‘If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise. Keep your head down. Keep your stamina. Keep swimming…'” ~ Mrs. Elm to Nora

The Midnight Library, p. 93

How about you? Are you embracing your you-ness?

Learning From KISStory

As they have since the band began it’s journey when I was 10 years old, the greatest rock band ever, KISS, continues to influence my life. I attended the KISS 2020 Goodbye New Year’s Eve concert held in the United Arab Emirates last week at Atlantis, The Palm and have been processing it in my mind ever since. Live music was silent and as of the the day of the show, on New Year’s Eve, KISS had not been on stage in 296 days. I even used it as the theme/throughline for a professional development program I did yesterday for teachers entitled “Student-Student Interaction.” KISS, in conjunction with Landmarks Live, is the ultimate example of fan-fan and band-fan interaction. I took three pages of notes during the three hour event put together by KISS. There were leadership lessons from KISS on how to deal with COVID-19 lessons; how to engage a huge global audience virtually; how to engage in person and virtual fans individually; how to bring together an international team; how to change what working as a team looks like during a pandemic; how to keep over 400 team members safe (they had no COVID cases) and have them working in-sync; and, triple the physical size of the show.

Director of the show, Daniel E. Catullo, put it this way: “We are attempting to pull off the biggest show of 2020 at the height of the pandemic.” Let me tell you what, they did! I remember when I saw the first announcement of this back in November, I said, “Leave it to KISS to figure out how to make big things happen during a pandemic, and do it safely.” They spent extensive time explaining how they dealt with COVID protocols during the first part of the three hour event. Everyone should watch that introduction documentary – they did it right, they did it well, and are a model as to how, in my opinion, we should be doing it. I said out loud during the event, “why are we not doing it this way in our schools. This is the right way to do it!” They had contact tracing protocols using colored bands identifying work groups, bracelets that kept track of every person coming within two meters of each other, daily testing, strict mask wearing, et cetera, et cetera. And, let me repeat what I said earlier, the day of the concert they were reporting no COVID cases. Well done!

“It’s KISS! Anything worth doing is worth overdoing as far as they’re concerned. I hope this inspires other’s to want to do shows.” ~ Robert Long, Production Designer

The shows Production Designer, Robert Long said it best, “It’s KISS! Anything worth doing is worth overdoing as far as they’re concerned. I hope this inspires others to want to do shows.” With all the gimmicks, stunts, and theatrics that we are used to with KISS times 1000, they lived up to Long’s expectations of overdoing it. Setting world records for things like tallest flame thrown in a concert to over 1.5 million dollars in pyrotechnics, the show was over the top. After opening with “Detroit Rock City” and “Shout It Out Loud” we heard from Paul Stanley for the first time when he said, “Hello Dubai! Hello World!” He was drawing all of us at home in. Then after “Deuce” he drew all of us at home in the rest of the way saying, “If you’re here that’s cool. If you’re at home, we’re talking to ya. You count!…This is your show!” And, let me tell you it felt like they were singing every song, shooting off every firework, and making every gesture just for me. I reminded teachers yesterday how important it was whether teaching students in person or virtually that we make each one feel like we are speaking to them personally. I appreciated how Gene Simmons would point to and look right into one of the more that 50 cameras being used for the show and speak just to me. In fact we had a little fun yesterday during my professional development with Gene’s best practice. Every time someone spoke, reported out from small group discussions, or addressed someone virtually (we had a group in person with me, a group that was virtual, and some individuals who were virtual), we would point and look directly into the camera or Owl to draw everyone in.

“If you’re here that’s cool. If you’re at home, we’re talking to ya. You count!…This is your show!” ~ Paul Stanley

Using best practices, that we in education need to emulate, KISS did a phenomenal job of acknowledging those fortunate enough to be on the individual room balconies of the hotel while intentionally involving and engaging all of us around the world at home screaming, yelling, playing air guitar, and singing along. This was one of the most spectacular rock shows in history. What they achieved is what we need to work hard to achieve in anything we have to do virtually or in a blend of virtual and in person right now: recreate the visceral energy of being live. KISS pulled this off brilliantly and, as Paul Stanley described it: “Bombastically!” with the KISS 2020 Goodbye New Year’s Eve concert. As KISS’ music manager, Doc McGee said, “Why, because people need it.” We’ll bring it to the people. We have to have a tipping point, and I think this is the tipping point.” Let’s all strive to be like KISS and be a tipping point for all great things as we continue to do all the things we need to do to keep life going during the rest of the pandemic. Happy New Year!

Learning Together Apart

As I walked back to the house from the barn this morning I noticed the unmistakable sound of fresh snow squeaking and crunching under my boots with every step. For anyone who has ever lived in a climate with snow, this sound is immediately recognizable. These sounds reminded me that in the midst of a pandemic, we have watched the transformation from winter, to spring, to summer, to fall, and now, back to winter. But other transformations are upon us everywhere without such clear cut and defined definition. These other transformations are of a global perspective and are personal, health related, economic, political, and economic. When you add all this together it is very complex change.

All those areas listed above are constantly evolving, but as we know a single virus has taken over how the game is played right now. Think about it, change has come in much the same way you draw a card in a board game – “You are now in the middle of a pandemic; go back 10 spaces.” Or something like that. Change is here, and has been here. There are changes in my house, in my body, in my family, in my community, culture, economy, and in the whole wide world of ecological systems. In some ways things are falling apart, but maybe that has to happen to put things back together.

I guess it is only appropriate that one of my last posts of the year, on New Year’s Eve, would be entitled with the hashtag I coined back in March as we began our, now 294 day, journey together dealing with the global pandemic – #LearningTogetherApart. As a person who believes so deeply in the power of community, it is about “showing up.” Just like when Major League Baseball gave us the opportunity to show up, albeit in the form of cutouts. Nevertheless, in our case, my family was in attendance for every Cincinnati Reds game in Great American Ballpark in Section 136, Row P, Seats 6-8.

You might say this is a trivial example in the face of a pandemic, but I would argue it’s the perfect example of being invited to be a part of a community. Being invited is fundamental to showing up and be part of a community. By being invited by the Reds and the Reds Community Fund we were able to, as a family, show up to help the Reds Community Fund continue the creation of programming that connects underserved children with baseball and softball, and connecting baseball with the community.

So, in the case of my field of education where right now via Zoom we are expected to give our students a sense of “home” when some children have never experienced or have any perceived notion of what “home” is, I must continue to show up and support environments for learning together apart. The issue just described is very complex with no one direct solution as some might naïvely think. Education, religion, poverty, economics, technology, generational cultures, and community are all woven together as part of this issue. No single directive will solve this. I hope to take the opportunity each and every day to shift the tone.

Even though things are confusing, terrifying, infuriating, heartbreaking, and completely out of control right now, we all need to keep showing up. We must continue “learning together apart.” We still do not know what all will be required, but whatever it is we must, with all we can offer, be there, learning, in integrity and generosity.

Do You Feel Like I Do On Christmas 2020?

Heath & His Milking Machine!

Here it is, Christmas morning on Day 288 of the Global Pandemic in 2020. It’s easy to get caught up in all that is chaotic in the world right now, but I also want to pause and reflect on this day of the celebration of birth. This is the day that many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus. This day has, and will continue to serve as a day of birth to many new interests for kids. Think about that Lego set or rocket model that spurs an interest in engineering or being an astronaut for a little girl. Or, the electric keyboard that encourages the musical aspirations of a little boy.

I realize there are more significant influences on a child’s career choice than toys or the things they play with on Christmas morning as kids. But, children need access to a healthy play diet. It’s why I believe programs that make sure children get a toy at Christmas are so important. Playing boosts a child’s belief. No child plays with Legos and learns how to build houses, but she might learn how to overlap bricks to create a stable structure. Or, her brother and her might decide how to change the design of the picture on the box as they build. It’s more about confidence and familiarity than an actual skill set.

Toys and playing can compliment attributes in our children such as having their own mind, standing up for their own beliefs, showing initiative, having goals, and finding passion and purpose. I was reminded of all this while reading Peter Frampton’s incredible book, Do You Feel Like I Do? A Memoir, this week. Early in the book he told the story of his dad playing Father Christmas. Their tradition must have been to put the presents at the foot of the bed and his dad was making noise with the wrapping paper. Peter woke up and busted his dad. Of course, no kid’s going back to sleep, so he began to play with acoustic guitar Father Christmas had brought him. I loved the last part of the story in the book when Peter Frampton said, “But I didn’t know how to tune the bottom two strings. Dad said, ‘It’s three in the morning; can’t you go back to bed?’ ‘No, no, come on!’ So he came in and tuned the two bottom strings for me. And from 3:30 in the morning on Christmas when I was eight years old, I haven’t stopped playing since” (p. 11). Was that where the career of an awesome and very talented rock star was created? Probably not completely, but it certainly played a part in his development, or Peter would not have told the story. For one thing, think of the morale boost for a kid to get a musical instrument from his parents. Wow, my mom and dad believe I have talent!

Of course, all of this from the father of the boy who got a milking machine from Santa. In my defense, that was what he asked Santa for. But, that little boy grew up, and is now studying Animal Science at Murray State University and has a respectable herd of Jersey dairy show cattle. Did it all happen because of the milking machine that we assembled on the living room floor and then carried to the barn that Christmas morning? No, but Heath has never forgotten that Santa invested in his interest of dairy cows. Thus, the intersection of purpose and passion were beginning to be defined for Heath.

Now, let’s not overthink this. The most important thing is to make sure our kids have the chance to play. If they have specific interests, great, but it doesn’t have to be a guitar or milking machine. Let’s let kids play with a wide variety of toys and give them the opportunity to discover their interests, passion, and purpose.