Byron's Babbles

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.

Authentic & Genuine

During some leadership development & workshop presenting training I’ve been doing the last couple of days I’ve been discussing the need to be authentic and genuine. A participant asked if being authentic and being genuine are the same thing. Sometimes they get used interchangeably, but I like to use them with”and” because I believe they are two separate and important qualities.

“Authentic” refers to how we are being ourself. It is a reference to self-expression. In other words, how we express ourself reflects how we really are inside, what we are thinking, feeling, perceiving and believing. Being authentic means we externalize the same things as our inner world of thoughts.

Being “genuine” means we are exactly what we appear to be. This is about not faking it or being imitation. When our emotions are real and not pretended, we are genuine. This is about how we relate to others and interacting in a caring way. Being genuine is also about caring for others.

When being authentic and genuine we will show our vulnerabilities and imperfections. It’s about being present in the moment. We will also share our true thoughts, beliefs, and opinions with the world.

What’s The Next Step?

“You don’t need to have all the answers but you do need to have a next step.” Sabrina Horn told us that in her great book Make It, Don’t Fake It: Leading With Authenticity For Real Business Success. I discuss this with teachers a lot. Some in the teacher development arena will tell new teachers they need to have all the answers. This advice includes faking it and not letting students know the teacher doesn’t know the answer. This is very bad advice. Just as this is not true in Sabrina’s world as a CEO, it is not true for teachers. Some of the best labs and lessons I had as a teacher were when something didn’t go as planned. I would say, “I have no idea why this didn’t work, but let’s all dig into this and figure it out together.” The students and I learned so much from this humble act. It was so much fun and I was modeling an important leadership skill for my students. All leaders would do well to learn this.

This humility does not show weakness or confidence. It shows we recognize something pretty obvious – no one knows everything. The great leaders know what they don’t know and understand there are things they don’t know they don’t know. But, learning from and with others, asking questions, and asking for help are hallmarks of an effective and humble leader. This growth mindset modeled curiosity, collaboration, and a plan for discovery with my students. This same mindset also worked for me as a principal and superintendent. Many times the next step might be pausing to learn the answers together as a team.

Developing Leadership

Yesterday, on Day 443 of the Global Pandemic, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to do a live-stream discussion with Joseph Michelli, Ph.D. of The Michelli Experience. You can watch the video here in this post. I have literally read every one of Joseph’s books. His work has had a huge impact on me as a leader and an educator. I think back to how much The Zappos Experience, Leading The Starbucks Experience, The Starbucks Experience, and When Fish Fly impacted how I led while principal of a state takeover academy. The experience that we provided for our students, families, and teachers was directly impacted by that learning. This is actually what I call intersectional learning. The learning that takes place between different contexts, industries, cultures, or experiences. Neither Zappos, Starbucks, nor the Pikes Place Fish Market are in the business of K-12 education, but there is much to be learned from how they do business and the customer experience they provide. After the books I had be be in Seattle, Washington and I made sure I spent a day of the trip experiencing the original Starbucks and the Pikes Place Fish Market. My son, Heath, even had the experience of catching one of the flying fish (on the second try – and I have the video to prove it).

It was great to reflect on this today during my conversation with Joseph. He is truly living out his Legacy Statement: “I want to be remembered as someone who captured what was right in the world and shared it for the betterment of others.” All that he has so eloquently shared in well researched and documented ways over the years has made me a better person and enabled me to serve others in a much more effective and authentic way. Joseph has suggested that we should all create legacy statements. Here is mine: “Hopefully I’ll be remembered as a thoughtful leader who showed love for those I served by providing growth and development.” If you want to know more about this, read Where Were You Era.

In the couple of days leading up to this live-stream discussion I pulled blogs that I had done about Joseph and his work (there were many) and took some notes of things I wanted to have brought out in the discussion. Amazingly, many of these were things he asked about or wanted to discuss as well. That was pretty cool and felt very organic and authentic given that we had not talked or prepped anything together prior to the event. I loved what he pulled from my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life, “Education exists in the larger context of society. When society changes – so too must education if it is to remain viable.” This was from Part I: Why A Relevant and Real World Context Matters. In one of Joseph’s “Resilience ReCaps” in his latest book Stronger Through Adversity, he says, “Leadership action, in and out of a crisis, can be viewed as operating on three levels – generalized, customized, or personalized.” I believe you could switch out “education” for “leadership” and this statement remains very true. To be effective for our students we must be spending a great deal of time in customized and personalized. That’s where the learning becomes exciting and engaging for both the student and the teacher.

Joseph also taught us in Stronger Through Adversity that, “Love is a passionate approach to work and heartfelt care for the growth and development of those you serve” (p. 265). He said this after quoting Joe Duran, CEO and Founder of Personal Financial Management at Goldman Sachs, who said, “I hope people will say love was the driving force for everything we did. Ideally, they would feel we loved our people and our clients. They would sense that we loved waking up each morning to serve them” (p. 265) Love is something very powerful that we should be exercising with those we serve. Love makes it personal, and when something becomes personal it becomes important.

Integrity Is A Catalyst

Posted in Global Education, Global Leadership, Integrity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Walk The Talk by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 15, 2021

If culture and community are a shared group phenomenon, then our behaviors are the catalyst for the formation of a healthy and highly functioning community. Topping the list of these behaviors has to be integrity. I like looking at integrity as a behavior, not just as a word. I’ve been frustrated lately with leaders who “talk the walk” instead of “walking the talk.” Don’t tell me about your integrity, show me. I guess I’m not alone in believing this is an issue because Mike Horne wrote a great book on the subject that I just finished, Intregrity By Design: Working and Living Authentically.

In the book, Mike told us, “The effect of our behavior in groups and teams is cumulative—it all adds up in our working effectiveness” (p. 37). Thus, the shared group phenomenon I spoke of earlier. People are looking for men and women of integrity who would be able to influence their lives positively. With integrity, we are able to interact with all echelons of society and our own communities we are a part of, including our organizations and teams. This becomes a catalyst because people would undoubtedly prefer to deliberate or associate with trustworthy individuals.

Mike so aptly reminded us that, “In the course of organizational life, leaders emerge in teams and groups. Organizations and groups offer daily opportunities for lead- ers to stand up for integrity-full behavior” (p. 37). It is important to remember that a leader’s behavior reflects on not only their own reputation, but also on the reputation of the organization. It is difficult to have faith in a leader who says one thing but does another: a leader’s words and actions should match.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

It has been a while and a lot has changed since President Eisenhower led during war and then in the White House. But this gap in time has not diminished the importance of integrity as a leadership trait. Eisenhower was great at modeling integrity. “Leaders look for teachable moments and moments of truth to develop individual and group integrity” (Horne, p. 38). How about you? Are you making a strong impression?

Trust Is A Verb

I just finished rereading the great book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan. I blogged about what prompted me to do this reread in “Nuance: Subtle Differences.” We are, and have been, experiencing times when complexity challenges our ability to adapt. This is particularly true in educational systems where we must meet individual student needs. Fullan offered help for thinking about systems change around three habits of nuance: joint determination, adaptability, and culture-based accountability.

Fullan argued that “trust is a verb before it becomes a state.” Someone can’t earn your trust without you first trusting them on something. In other words you can’t talk your way into trust. Trust becomes part of the community culture in real time. It is an action. When a leader is an active participant and becomes part of the group, accountability becomes a shared norm instead of something imposed from above. This resonates with me so much because I so desire the establishment and maintaining of a culture and community of innovation and commitment. This requires deep levels of trust.

Loving Teachers

As we close out Teacher Appreciation Week for 2021 I wanted to weigh in with my thanks and call for us all to love our teachers year round, not just a designated week. During a presentation I recorded for ASCD’s Annual Conference this week, I talked about how we needed to love our teachers if we wanted to stop losing great teachers and change the trajectory of teacher retention in a positive direction. I do not take the term “love” lightly and learned about this form of “love” from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, authors of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em. To love our teachers we must be providing opportunities to grow and develop and be the best at carrying out their purpose of serving students every day. I am a former teacher and school leader who has shifted to creating and developing meaningful learning environments and transformative professional learning opportunities for educators and leaders, both in my day to day professional life, and as a citizen leader and policy maker. As a believer that everyone is a leader, we need to make sure we are doing everything possible to love our teachers, listen to their needs and desires, and honor them every day.

We have learned much about leading through a crisis during the past year. The pandemic has challenged us to be more agile in educating our children. Our teachers have met the challenge. Responding to new conditions and new data prompted us all to see school as no longer a single place. My hope is that we will double down on rethinking what success looks like in education. I also want to acknowledge the adjustments that teachers have always made every day to increase equity, access, rigor, and engagement for all students. As I write this I am reminded of the great teachers I have had over the years and continue to have. I am very fortunate to work with teachers every day and must say that I still learn from them each and every day. I was blessed to have teachers who had amnesia for the mistakes and my sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) less than perfect actions. My teachers were pivotal figures in my life. They not only educated me, but set me up for a life of success.

Thank you teachers for inspiring our students to think outside the box, outside of the classroom, and into the future. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we now control. Therefore, I stand committed to showing you love by continuing to push for, advocate for, champion for, and be a cheerleader for creating space and flexibility for creativity, curiosity, and innovation you deserve.

Nuance: Subtle Differences

Nuance is a word I use a lot as a leader, as a noun, verb, and adjective. For me it is more than a word, however. As a student of Michael Fullan, I am a big believer that nuance is the answer to dealing with complex changes and the complex issues we have in the world today. In fact, being prompted to think deeply about what nuance means to me as a leader while reading Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes also prompted me to start re-reading Michael Fullan’s great book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail. Holmes argued that straightforward answers are not always the best ones. The challenge is that in times of uncertainty and anxiety, people look for, and want straightforward answers. An inability to weigh new or different options is usually a hindrance. We many times desire simple explanations over ambiguity even when the simple explanations are completely false. Holmes also pointed to how President George W. Bush was reported to have said “I don’t do nuance” after the attacks on 9/11. Bush’s popularity increased following this. The problem was, there might have been some nuances overlooked during that period that could have lead to even better and more lasting solutions, but we were all fearful of other attacks and looking for immediate action. Studying history using hindsight can be dangerous, but there might have been cause to consider the nuances of the time. Harry Truman spoke often about the nuances of leadership and I blogged about this in “Remember, Freedom Is Yours Until You Give It Up.” In fact, I really hadn’t noticed how much I contemplate nuance, but I noticed is preparing this post that I have discussed nuance in nine different blog posts.

“The test of a first rate intelligence, is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Under pressure people want a quick solution. This also drives these same people to favor just being told (authoritarian) what to do. I’ve experienced this before in policy discussions where things get a little messy with multiple good ideas, multiple ideas where the best of bad ideas has to be chosen, or opposing ideas that are both viable options. Individuals will suddenly say things like, “Just tell us what you want us to do.” When thinking of nuance I am reminded that two diamonds can be of identical size and color, but there are always slight differences not recognizable to the untrained eye. These differences can greatly add to or subtract from the value of the diamond. We need to think about the many complexities we deal with in our leadership worlds as diamonds and make sure we are studying all of the subtleties (nuances). The worst leaders tend to speak, direct, manage, and go “hands on” way too much. These leaders miss the nuances and go to what they know (or think they know) and insert themselves and begin “telling.” Remember, this fast and expedient route to the finish line can miss weighing all options and might miss great subtle and nuanced solutions.

Fullan taught us that “Nuance leaders have a curiosity about what is possible, openness to other people, sensitivity to context, and a loyalty to a better future. They see below the surface, enabling them to detect patterns and their consequences for the system. They connect people to their own and each other’s humanity. They don’t lead, they teach.” If you’ve ever experienced a leader that does this, you are thinking fondly of them right now. Unfortunately, there are so many leaders that have not figured this out. I was fortunate to have a leader early in my career who was a flawless nuance leader. He was extremely humble and I would compare him to being the orchestra director allowing us to express our own talents while bringing each instrument together for beautiful music. Our school was on an upward trajectory and serving our students at the highest level of excellence. Here’s what makes the difference: nuance leaders consider the lived experience of others as a result of the current reality and how that might change with each decision. Don’t forget to look for the subtle differences?

Life Is Artistic Expression

This week, Chapter 35, “Edit Your Life” in Mindset Mondays with DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) had everything needed to grab my attention. The chapter had metaphors, talked about creativity and imagination, referred to Albert Einstein, and compared our lives to artistic masterpieces. I believe this chapter resonated so much with me because I use the metaphor all the time of our lives being portraits that are never completed. Every day adds brush strokes, but we are never done. My hope and prayer is that I add brush stokes to my life’s portrait on the day I die. But, it still won’t be complete because I hope there is a legacy that continues to influence. DTK reminded us that we show up to work with our creativity and imaginations. Why don’t apply these to who we are and how we show up in the world? Our lives are our own to define and explore. Why not be imaginative with the masterpiece that is “you”?

“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece, after all.”

Nathan Morris

DTK said, “I’m inspired by the idea of living a created life, a life that I chose to edit frequently and ruthlessly. I probably replace “edit” with “iterate” as I reflect on this. Edit makes me think big change and iterate makes me think about small brush strokes I’ve watched artists make that changed the entire painting. While I know some of us need big edits, iterating may be less overwhelming.

And, we haven’t even begun to think about how we have to “adapt” during our life. Think about all the adaptation strokes of the brush you’ve made to your life’s portrait in the last year, plus. A portrait is a hand crafted piece of art. We, too, are hand crafted pieces of art. Let’s all consider life as another form of artistic expression and fall in love with the possibilities.