Byron's Babbles

Build Great Things Anyway

I had a chance meeting of a professional sandcastle builder and teacher of sandcastle making this week. First of all, I did not know there was such a thing. Secondly, I didn’t do much sandcastle building in my childhood, so I was fascinated to discuss the art of sandcastle building. Really, I hadn’t thought much about the fact there are different kinds of sand. Bottom-line: lots of new things going through my mind.

There are three main rules for sandcastle building:

  • Always use wet (sloppy) sand (no such thing as too much water)
  • Always form shapes using a pyramid – larger at the base – thinner at the top
  • When all the formed sand is completed work from the top to the bottom

Other pieces of advice were to build on a big mound. This enables sand to fall down and away from the sandcastle as you are carving. And, it makes it up higher and easier to work on. Besides buckets of sand and water, the tools are pretty basic. You use simple tools (like a straw, a pencil, and a metal cutting device) to chisel it starting from the top.

The rule that was stressed over and over was working from the top down. If you work from the bottom up, the pieces from the top will tumble down onto the bottom, thus flawing your previous work. This is a lot like leadership in an organization. If the leader is a tyrannical monster all the trash falls down on the people doing the work getting marred and ruined. Thus, the flatter the organization the better, or at least the leader needs to already be chiseled and refined so all the chaff and sand isn’t ruining those below. But remember, if there are no “those below” in an organization, no worries.

I love that there are people helping kids learn to build sandcastles. When children play and create in the outer world, simultaneously they also create and learn in the inner world. We adults know change is coming when we build sandcastles but we encourage kids to build something great anyway. In our schools and classrooms, this is a valuable lesson. It’s also an important lesson for leaders to remember. Change comes, colleagues come and go, new research is discovered with the ebb and flow of the waves ever coming and going, and the tide is ever shifting. Build great things anyway.

Waves Of Change

“Sometimes in the waves of change, we find our true direction”

Unknown
🌊 Destin, Florida 🌊

As I read this quote I thought about how very relevant this is to us all in 2020. Changes from the global pandemic continue to hit us hard. Sometimes things are unexpected and we have to adjust on the fly to changing circumstances. As we ride the waves, the unrecognizable becomes clear, and finding new direction becomesJust as the tide changes, other things in our life can change too, and this can push us towards the path that we were destined to follow.

Change is something we cannot keep from experiencing, but the way we get over the hurdles is where the difference stands. We all have extra obstacles put in the way right now during the global pandemic. The question becomes what are you learning, what are you doing with that learning, and how are you sharing the learning? We must be a community. How are you breaking through and finding the right path?

Building A Community

As I reflected on the post I wrote yesterday, Imagining The Unimaginable, my mind went to just how powerful a community can be. In the case of an FFA Chapter, the students coming together to figure out how to hold events virtually during the pandemic; or in the case of agriculture teachers, coming together to discuss ideas for engaging students. It could also be a school community coming together to decide how to best educate children during a pandemic. It has been interesting to me to witness just how powerful a close knit community can be.

As I watch the classrooms that have continued to thrive during the fluid changes of going back and forth from virtual to in person to blended and then back to virtual, it has been the classrooms where the teacher had a clear community developed with her students. I have also witnessed a strong community of virtual students in a school come together to help each other learn how to become effective virtual teachers. Positive experiences with communities allow individuals to feel more connected to their environment and the people in it. Further, the connection that comes with being in a community can act as a support system for members when they require encouragement or help.

I have been fascinated with the power a community can bring for a long time. Check out what I wrote about community in Community: Aggregating for Innovation. Humans are made to live and work with others in a community where we can thrive. We are social beings that have evolved to exist within communities. In the great book Humanocracy, authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini told us that success depends on local improvisation. Try and tell me we are not seeing that during the pandemic. Hamel and Zanini said, “When interdependencies are varied, multidisciplinary, and difficult to specify in advance, you need a community” (p. 210). Is that a description of education, or what? A community gives us the opportunity for mining the wisdom of several people and helping each other out along the way.

“To solve unprecedented problems, individuals have to surmount unforeseen obstacles and extend the frontiers of human knowledge. That’s best accomplished by a community—a band of physically proximate compatriots who trust one another, are unmindful of rank and unencumbered by petty rules, and are mutually accountable and knit together by a common goal.”

Hamel & Zanini, 2020, Humanocracy, p. 210.

Organizations which emphasize community create a sense of belonging and foster transparency while reducing feelings of isolation. Having a strong community is so important right now as people and students alike are working and studying remotely. Hamel and Zanini also taught us that “At crunch times, silos and titles disappear” (p. 223). So, if we already have a strong community, void of bureaucracy, we are that much more prepared for a crisis. Overall, educational entities and workplaces who have a strong community have one major thing in common: they’re people centered. If the events of the last 255 days have shown us anything, it’s that the ever-changing work world and culture at large are ready for a more human-centered approach to the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

Imagining The Unimaginable

Last night I had the pleasure of recording a professional growth video focused on student engagement with five National FFA Teacher Ambassadors from Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The goal of our recording was to provide teachers from around the country with ideas on how to keep students engaged right now whether it be in the classroom or in FFA activities. The recording turned out awesome and I really got to thinking about how the teachers were excited about the fixes their FFA chapters had developed for keeping students/members engaged during the global pandemic. We are on day 254, by the way. And, I loved the fact that several times it was the students who came up with the solution or idea for engagement. Make no mistake, though, they are still looking for ideas for upping their engagement game.

We also discussed things that we want to continue post-pandemic, like having members who can’t attend an event in person, for whatever reason, be able to join virtually. We weren’t thinking in that mindset 254 days ago. Things like pandemics, wars, and other social crises often create new attitudes, needs, and behaviors, which need nurturing. I believe in the power of imagination and creativity. Right now there are very few things that are absolute and for sure. We live in a very complex and ever changing environment right now – the future never releases hard data.

What we were really saying in the video was that we must keep imagining every possible scenario. In other words, letting our imaginations go wild. We must be imagining the unimaginable. Think about it; what is happening right now during the pandemic to our society has no precedent, or data behind it. No matter what industry we are in right now we need to continue to be creative and use our imaginations to open the path forward.

There is a silver lining, however. As I pointed out, these five teachers gave us numerous ideas and opportunities the pandemic have made imaginable. All kinds of new ways of staying engaged and connected have been implemented that will continue after this pandemic has passed. Because we will probably never return to our familiar pre-pandemic realities, we need to keep imagining an even better future.

Leapfrogging To New Paradigms In Education

I am going guess most of us played the game of ‘leapfrog’ at some point in our childhood. You know, the game where a number of children bend down and another child jumps over them one at a time, moving the line forward. If you are still playing this game – no judgement here. I refuse to grow up, too. This is, however, a great metaphor for where we are right now as a country. You all know how I love a good metaphor and Susan Patrick, President and CEO of Aurora Institute, knocked it out of the park (note the baseball metaphor) during her opening remarks and call to action at Aurora’s 2020 National Policy Forum saying, “We are at a ‘leapfrog’ moment in education.” This is so true!

Besides the definition of ‘leapfrog’ as a child’s game I did not really like the other definitions because phrases like “moving past others quickly” or “missing stages” were used. I did kind of like Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of “to improve your position by moving quickly past or over something that blocks your way.” To Susan’s point, we have an obligation in education right now to do this for ALL students.

I had the opportunity to speak on a global platform to over 40 countries back in the spring and I presented the following list of what I believe to be our Global Education Policy Considerations:

  • Connectivity and Technology Access
  • Remote Learning – I followed the first bullet with this because remote learning is so much bigger than just devices and broadband access. We also need to be thinking about the support students need in coaching, mentoring, tutoring, social emotional learning, nutrition, and basic care/safety needs
  • Personalized/Self Directed Learning/Mastery-Based Learning
  • Equity In Learning
  • Educating Students with Physical and Learning Disabilities
  • Mental Health Counseling / Physical Health Support
  • Flexibility
  • Support for Teachers

A pretty daunting list, I know, but we must get our focus just right on these issues and now is the time to ‘leapfrog’ to that focus. And, maybe, just maybe, the bullet point of ‘flexibility’ is one way to get us there. If we put on our equity lens and take all the points into consideration can we create space, remove obstacles (I like thinking obstacles better than barriers because obstacles can be ‘leapfrogged’ and removed; barriers not so much) so we can address all these issues. The COVID-19 Global Pandemic has also highlighted how in need of attention areas of our education system truly are, with concerns of equity and quality leading the lists.

I would like to submit the following question for us all to consider as we contemplate the future of education for ALL: Can we have new paradigms for education? I certainly believe we can.

We truly are at a ‘leapfrog’ moment in education. I believe the Aurora Institute has the Strategic Pillars in place to be a catalyst for bringing about this ‘leapfrog moment’ and bringing about new paradigms in education. Here they are:

Policy & Advocacy

Removing barriers and creating space for education innovations by advancing enabling policies and providing technical assistance, expertise, briefings, and support to policymakers at all levels.

Field-Building & Knowledge Creation

Building the field across networks, creating new knowledge, analyzing field data and sharing the latest research to produce and communicate insights to move the field forward.

Convening & Connecting

Providing unparalleled networking and learning to professionals designing new learning models, our events connect the field’s leading experts and practitioners with the trends, promising practices, and research to shape the future of education.

I so appreciate Susan Patrick inspiring us to leapfrog forward. As Abraham Lincoln taught us, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Let’s not forget that excellence is our best equity proposition. By leading collectively we can create an educational ecosystem that is best for all students.

Out of Kilter

We had a gathering of our Carolina’s 3D Leadership Program today and, as is always the case, I was inspired and learned a lot from the group. Last week I blogged about the activity where I showed the group the picture of a spider web that I had taken in the barn that morning to the group to prompt a discussion. You can read about Leaders Weaving The Web here. Today I switched up the prompt just a little. Here it is: On Day 247 of the Global Pandemic, relate the  journey you are on to the picture. The picture was the photo featured in this post minus the target and dart. After having some time to discuss in small breakout groups, they came back with some very insightful points for discussion. This post includes all of their points except one: the picture looks as though we are looking through a filter. I will address that point in a separate post.

Looks Like a Target

It was commented that the web looks like a target. I loved a comment that was made that even though the world has been thrown “out of kilter” (this, from one of our participants, is so much better than saying unprecedented times), we still have much to accomplish for our students. We must still be meeting our educational targets for our students and developing them as a whole person. In other words we need to be very careful about what things we have paused that turn into permanent pauses. Some pauses need to be made permanent, but we really need to match what decisions we make to the targets that need to be achieved for our students.

Looks Like Broken Glass

One group of participants said the web looked like broken glass. This was a reminder that we must keep going. This reminded us that there has been a great deal of positive innovation brought by the pandemic. Also, we discussed that the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to lower expectations. Our kids deserve effective instruction and like was said earlier we must continue to lead them to their learning targets.

Looks Fragile

The group pointed out that everyone is very fragile right now, but there is strength in the web. We need to make sure we are serving like the silk of the spider web connecting all the small, important pieces together for our students, families, and those we serve. We need to continue connecting ideas, which in-turn creates the beautiful masterpiece. Even though the web looks fragile, we need to remember that much of the strength of the spider web comes from its elasticity.

It turns out that a key property of the silk in the spider web that helps make it so robust is something previously considered a weakness: the way it can stretch and soften at first when pulled, and then stiffen again as the force of the pulling increases. Now that is a great metaphor for during this time of being out of kilter. We are being pulled and we need to soften and allow for being stretched, which will then allow us to stiffen and become strong for those we serve. Markus Buehler, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT, has done extensive research on spider webs says this about the web: “It’s a very flaw-tolerant system.” We need to also assume this “flaw-tolerant” position when dealing with students or those be serve.

Hopefully this being out of kilter is preparing us for a new phase of greatness in education, business, and our lives. With each day of the pandemic my hope is that we are assuming an attitude of preparation. I know I am very different today that I was 247 days ago. I’d like to think that most of those differences land in the positive column. Let’s keep moving forward – onward and upward!

The Education Catapult

Last evening I had the opportunity to do some of what I call #LearningTogetherApart. Yesterday was Day 245 of the Global Pandemic and the webinar was entitled “Post-Election 2020: Charting a Path Forward in Education.” The webinar was put on by The Hunt Institute and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), which I am chair of the board for, was one of the partner organizations involved in making this conversation possible. Other partners were The School Superintendents Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National School Boards Association. And, what a great conversation it was. The panel included The Honorable Margaret Spellings, Former U.S. Secretary of Education (2005-2009), President & CEO Texas 2036; The Honorable Arne Duncan, Former U.S. Secretary of Education (2009-2015), Managing Partner, The Emerson Collection; Chancellor Richard A. Carranza, New York City Department of Education (2018-Present); and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (2008-Present). As you can see this was quite the lineup of experience and expertise in the room.

Another highlight yesterday was receiving the new book Beyond The COVID – 19 Pandemic from authors Pradeep K. Kapur and Joseph M. Chalil. I am so glad that I started reading it in the space between the end of the work day and the webinar. In the preface of the book there are six questions posed for the global community to contemplate (p. xxi-xxii):

  • What sort of changes are required at the policy level to cope with such pandemics in the future?
  • How do we better equip global organizations to evolve for dealing with the challenges ahead?
  • Do we need to think of setting up new organizations to replace the WHO and the UN?
  • Can we have new paradigms for healthcare?
  • How do we create reserves and stockpiles of essential healthcare supplies? Where will the money come from when the budgets are already under great stress?
  • How do we get the global economy back on its feet?

As you can see, these are pretty good guiding questions and even though these are not education specific questions they could be great guiding questions for any conversation. Really, the answers to these questions need to involve education in every answer. The authors point out that the pandemic is the biggest disruption to our county in 100 years. In having studied the 1918-1920 pandemic, I am amazed that we are experiencing and struggling with many of the same issues we had then. I can’t wait to immerse myself into the book as these authors dream big and have offered solutions that are possible if we just reach political consensus and carry through to implementation (a core value of how I try to serve as a policymaker on the Indiana State Board of Education).

The panelists last night were also using their experience to dream big. I want to touch on a few thoughts they had by referring back to tweets I made during the conversation. Allow me to pick a highlight or two (or three) from each of the participants using tweets. You can check out all the tweets at @byronernest or by going to #ElectionEd2020. Here we go!

Secretary Margaret Spellings reminded us that education must be a major component of any pandemic recovery plan. As she said, “Education must be on the first train out of Washington.” And, she also reminded us that in order for there to be economic recovery, education must be involved. As a person who believes so much in the involvement of business/industry in education it gave me hope when she suggested that “Alignments between our schools and workforce are going to be critical right now.” This also includes continued alignments with higher education for all of dual credit, dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, internships, and work-based learning opportunities. We cannot let the pandemic take these away from our students. These opportunities provide for some of the greatest outcomes being afforded our students. I loved that Abigail Potts, NASBE’s Director of College, Career, and Civic Readiness, retweeted my tweet on this with comments that added the importance of our high school pathways, broadband access, and state and local investment. And, Abby pointed out in that tweet that education is not partisan but a place to come together to support our students. Thanks for the tweetversation (yes, I just made up a word), Abby!

Additionally, I have to add in one more insight from Secretary Spellings. She reminded us that “We cannot just go back to normal; we must catapult to the new way ahead.” I love the way she put that. I have continued to say over and over we have to take what we have learned and apply it and never look back. “Catapult” was the best term that could have been used for this. Go back to the questions posed in Beyond The COVID – 19 Pandemic and put them into the context of education and that is exactly where Secretary Spellings is suggesting we need to go.

I got to know Secretary Arne Duncan during my service as 2010 Indiana Teacher of the Year. He is so passionate about doing what is right for ALL children. In fact he made this clear when he said, “We need to be fighting for our most vulnerable.” I’ve also been impressed with the non-partisan way in which he views education. He also reminded us that “Education is our best way to bring the country together.” He firmly gave us a call to action for stitching our democracy back together. He posed the question, “What if we committed to go find every lost child?” Wouldn’t it be great if we could reach some consensus on a vital few things we could all work on and begin our evolution dealing with educational challenges? Secretary Duncan finally reminded us that, “We need need a healthy debate/conversation, putting aside political ideologies, based on data. We need the courage to do some things differently.” Well said!

Superindent Carvalho and Chancellor Carranza brought great perspective to the conversation from street level at the school. Superintendent Carvalho taught us that “The rules of the past stop applying. We need to start using what we have learned from the last nine months.” Providing education to ALL children has been a continuing challenge for families, schools, local, state, and federal governments, and leaders around the world. To answer the challenge we have tried and need to continue to try different paradigms to equity in learning for all. In my opinion we must develop a system by which we are developing the whole child in every child. Also, we must develop an ethos that sees the potential in every student. As a policymaker I use the test question of “Will this policy reduce inequity, maintain inequity, or increase inequity?” to inform my decisions. As I listened to these two school leaders I thought about how, after 245 days, we really need to assess what to de-prioritize and what needs to be prioritized.

Chancellor Carranza warned us to not “let our foot off the gas.” Some might argue that in some areas we need to put our foot on the gas, but those are the areas that Secretary Duncan told us we need to all get around and start working together on. When speaking of early childhood education and education funding in general, Chancellor Carranza gave a very real example by asking and answering his own question: “Do we invest early in education? Yes! It takes $20,000/year to educate a NYC student. It takes $275,000/year to incarcerate someone in New York State.” This was a reminder to us all how important an investment education is. And, let’s not forget the economic impact of having students prepared for our ever changing workplaces. Additionally, I think a lot about how we need to identify all the reasons for our students’ learning struggles. This goes beyond having devices and internet access. It takes us into the support structures in place or not in place for the student. We must have the whole portrait of student if we are create the ideal environment for learning.

As you can see, this was quite the discussion and I’ve only scratched the surface. This truly was a conversation, not an interrogation around defining the challenges and how to best disrupt education with the exponential learning we have done during the pandemic.

Spreading The Wealth

Over the weekend a teacher leader asked me how her principal should be deciding which teachers should get development opportunities and be empowered. I said, “That’s easy; all of them should be getting those opportunities.” As I learned from Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, everyone has potential. Everyone should have empowerment and opportunities for development. Really, our teacher leaders should all have individualized development plans. Therefore, everyone should be in development mode and be empowered to lead from where they are. Everyone is a leader, so leadership should happen whenever and from wherever it is needed. We need to be very careful to not fall in the trap of “earned empowerment.” In other words only empowering the chosen ones who someone thinks has earned it. This might yield empowering and developing 10% at best. I blogged about this in Earned Empowerment is Dangerous.

Then tonight I was reminded how important it is to have the whole team empowered and ready for action. In the first quarter of the New Orleans Saints big 38-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Drew Brees had thrown completed passes to nine different receivers. At the end of the first half he had thrown completions to 12 different receivers. That is a big deal. Think about how much more successful the Saints are with that many empowered targets.

So, we probably better take a page from the Saints playbook and empower and develop everyone. Think about it; if we are able to empower all of our people with projects and responsibilities, aren’t we really expanding the capacity of our organization. Really, mass empowerment equals capacity building. This in turn means leadership development of our teams. It also allows us to tap into all of our resources and expertise, which can lead to achieving amazing results.

Great leadership is shifting from telling everyone what to do, to empowering and developing everyone to be ready to come up with the best and brightest ideas and solutions that have ever been thought of before. This will give you a receiver core for big wins like Drew Brees and the Saints.

Knowing The Water

Yesterday I assumed the role of Chair of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Board of Directors. The day before, in a meeting, I was introduced with the byline that in 24 hours I would be taking the helm. I’m not sure why, but I shivered a little at this. I even said, “I’m not sure what to think about that.” Then, our NASBE Northeastern Area Director, Dr. Audrey Noble (Delaware State Board of Education member) who is an avid boater/sailor said, “You’ll be fine. The key to success at helm is about knowing the water, and you know it well.” She had made a powerful statement there and had said a lot.

Later, as I reflected on that interaction, I remembered an awesome story that came out of World War II. And, of course, the story involves the great leader and 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The story goes that he went to the tent where his soldiers were mapping out a location for the troops to cross a river. Eisenhower pointed at a spot on the map and said, “We will cross here.” One of his troops said, “We cannot cross there, Sir.” Eisenhower asked why not. They told him they were not sure how deep the water was. Eisenhower pointed to his dampened pants leg and said, “It is this deep.” Clearly, he “knew the water.” Eisenhower had taken the time to actually get his feet wet and know where he was sending his troops.

Leadership by example and working shoulder to shoulder with those you serve continue to be the most successful forms of leadership. These concepts can take many different forms, but is expressed well with the phrase that is on a picture that hangs in my den, “Walk The Talk.” Walking the talk is one of my core values. It really speaks to the fact that our character is our legacy. If we say we believe or will act in a certain way, then our actions should prove that. I blogged about this in Walk the Talk!

A helmsman relies on his knowledge of the water he is in, visual references, GPS, other technological tools, and a rudder angle indicator to steer a steady course. Leading in an organization is no different. One must “know the water.”