Byron's Babbles

Teacher Leader Shape-Shifter

This morning I did a session for our Teacher Academy where I had the teachers pick a toy from a bag of lots of different cool toys. I gave them two minutes to play with the toy and then they had to report out how the toy related to their classroom, serving students, and them personally. This is a great reflective activity that really makes participants think. Then, of course, these reflections really get me thinking and I end up writing blog posts like this one.

One of the teachers chose a Slinky® and while reporting out she described herself as a shape-shifter. She stated that she needed to adjust and adapt according to student needs. This was genius. I have always tried to inspire team members to be continually comfortable shape-shifters. I am such a big fan of fluid change; whether that is organizationally, personally, or in the classroom. We need to be comfortable with the one thing that is constant – change.

Here’s the deal: as leaders, teacher leaders, and organizations, we must be comfortable with an ever-changing skin; no matter what we call it. Whether we call it change, changeover, conversion, metamorphosis, mutation, shift, transfiguration, transformation, translation, transmutation, transubstantiation we must have the resilience that shape-shifting brings to be successful. I would suggest that leaders and teachers must become adept at negotiating multiple, sometimes divergent, identities. We must be adaptive because everything we do during the day as teachers is situational – it shifts from context to context.

In other words we all need to use our portfolio of attributes, skills, and experiences to arrange, re-arrange, and adapt to meet the needs of our current situation. The concept of shape-shifting implies a sense of individuality and free agency in making choices, removed from constraints. By creating her own meanings for curriculum and leading of learning, the teacher who inspired this post, will be able to apply it within the context she is teaching. We then need to be able to demonstrate the resourcefulness and ability to change as contexts change.

Shape-shifters can be seen as innovators, rebels, or even a compromiser, but I see this as an important adaptive leadership trait. I do believe that shape-shifting also allows us to push away from the status-quo way of doing things and adapt to changing needs.

Travel Is Education & BIG Learning

As you know from my previous posts, my family and I are in Calgary, Alberta, Canada right now and have seen and learned a lot. Here are my posts from the previous days:

As you can see, it has been an action packed few days of learning for my family and I. I am speaking and doing a workshop at an education research conference on leadership development here in Calgary and am so glad we came out a little early to do some exploring together.

Yesterday, before the conference we had the opportunity to go to Banff, Banff National Park Of Canada, and Lake Louise. These are two destinations that a person does not want to miss when traveling in Alberta. I am so glad that we have had the opportunity, as a family, to see so many different places and experience different cultures. My son made a comment yesterday about all the new ideas and things he has learned from talking to everyone and taking it all in. This is how we keep the creative juices flowing.

When we are young, like my son Heath, we are still finding ourselves and preparing for our education and career. The skills and experience we gain from traveling can give us life-long personal benefits as well as a leg up in the professional world. I believe traveling, even within one’s state, province, or country builds cultural awareness. Being aware of cultural values and norms is not only fascinating, but can help us understand international issues and conflicts, or even relate to the cultural norms of a foreign business partner. It is an important skill to be able to shift perspectives and see where someone else is coming from. In our globalized world it is so important to be culturally aware.

Yesterday, in Banff National Park Of Canada I learned that they are doing extensive studies on saving wildlife and reducing accidents on the Trans Canada Highway. They are fencing along the road and have built overpasses and underpasses for the wildlife to cross the interstate. Genius! Accidents and wildlife injuries have been reduced. Interestingly, they have found that black bears and cougars like to cross in the underpass and grizzly bears like to use the overpassed. You’ll find a picture of the overpass before this paragraph and a picture of the fencing here:

I get so many ideas when traveling. These inspirations can happen from seeing a sign, talking to a restaurant owner, meeting a local person, or just reflecting and meditating while enjoying the beauty of nature. I believe my creativity and innovative abilities are boosted by just taking in all I can experience. If you’re open and willing, travel will make you an incredibly more well-rounded human being.

Calgary Stampede: Invented Tradition & Cultural Phenomenon

IMG_6251One of the events I have wanted to attend for a long time is the Calgary Stampede. Yesterday that dream came true for my family and I. I had to come to Calgary, Alberta, Canada and speak at a research conference this week; so we decided we would make this our family vacation and get here in time to experience the Calgary Stampede. What an experience it was!

 

I also had the unexpected surprise of having a Smithbilt hat box at the hotel waiting on me when I got the hotel. I had been presented with the iconic Smithbilt Hats, Inc. White Hat representing friendship. This tradition was started in 1950 by Calgary Mayor Don MacKay. I wore it proudly all day at the Calgary Stampede, and will wear my White Hat of friendship proudly all week. Actually, I wear a cowboy hat every day back home on the farm.

To start off with we were able to walk out of our hotel, step across the street and get right on the Calgary Transit System’s, CTrain. Fifteen minutes, and Ten stops later we were exiting the CTrain and walking across the street to Stampede Park. This was just about as easy as it gets. I am a huge believer it public transit transportation and this experience to and from Stampede Park validated this. The CTrain cars were super clean and comfortable. We are looking forward to making use of this system throughout the week. Calgary had one of the earliest transit systems in North American and it is evident they have done it right.

IMG_6272Now, back to the Stampede! We were immediately greeted and made to feel welcome by the Calgary Stampede International Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee. We discussed the agriculture industries in our countries and we were given access to the hospitality area that we visited during the day and met many new friends from around the world. The Stampede is an ideal vehicle through which respect for a locally-grounded tradition can be integrated with the active promotion of the values it embodies. Specifically, these include western hospitality, commitment to community, pride of place, and integrity. This committee of the Calgary Stampede is getting it right for agriculture.

IMG_6270Then it was off to Elbow River River Camp to take part in the morning flag raising ritual. This was an incredible experience of learning cultures of the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut′ina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations. It was great to connect with Indigenous culture and experience First Nations culture through stories, art, tipi life and culture, and other events. This was an incredible learning experience for my family and I. While some outsiders have claimed that native culture as being commercialized, the Calgary Stampede has actually proved to be an important factor in preserving it. IMG_6244IMG_6277It was then off to see the sites; go to the Junior Steer Classic, check out all the exhibits, walk the Midway, and check out all the food options for some lunch. It was all pretty overwhelming. The Stampede is truly an invented tradition – an activity that is accepted by the public as having a particularly long and resonant history and as representing something essential about a nation’s character, values, and identity. The Stampede symbolizes the ideals of rural collective purpose, sociability, and community. These invented traditions develop from the need to reconcile the constantly changing nature of our world with our desire for stability. The Stampede presents new values or shows us how old values apply to new situations.

 

One of my favorites was the Blacksmith Showcase. This was a great way to experience and learn what blacksmithing is all about. This was found in the Country Trail of the Agriculture Zone. We learned so much and even got to watch as a blacksmith made the hat pictured here for us.

 

Then came the signature event: The Calgary Stampede Rodeo. Little did I know we were going to be part of the richest rodeo and see the championship culmination of the week. One million dollars in prizes with $100,000 to the winners in each of the six events: calf roping, bare back bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. Additionally, it was awesome to hear the Calgary Stampede Show Band perform at the rodeo. This is an incredible youth program that gives these young adults great experiences throughout the year to perform and gain leadership experience.

 

The day ended with the awesome GMC Rangeland Derby Chuckwagon Races, more looking around, visiting with our new international friends, and an awesome fireworks show. Needless to say, we did not want to leave. My family and I rated the Calgary Stampede as one of the best events we have ever been to. It might be the first multi-day event (10 days) event I have ever been to where you would not have known it was the last day, unless you were told. I have always said that a person going to the last day of an event should get the same great experience as the person who attended on the first day. I would argue that the Stampede has evolved into a cultural phenomenon. As my family and I found out, the stampede is not simply attended; it is experienced. It is clear when going through the city of Calgary that the Stampede is by and of the citizens of Calgary. It is also for the world. Starting with the parade, then the fireworks display, midway, stage shows, rodeo, agricultural exhibits that “edutain”, and Elbow River Camp, the Calgary Stampede is the best visual cornucopia I have ever experienced. Well done, my new friends!

Cheesecake Talk Triggers

IMG_4995 2This past week I finished the great book, Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers With Word of Mouth by Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin. What I learned from the book was that talk triggers are all about sparking conversations between customers and potential customers. They allow people to tell stories about your product or service. I compared this to this to the leadership sessions I do where we use Mr. & Mrs. Potato Heads, toys, or glider planes. Everyone just can’t stop talking about their experience doing those things in our gatherings. Most actually have the Potato Heads sitting on their desks or are using them in some way. index

Studies show that a single-word-of-mouth recommendation by a new customer can lead to almost $200 in increased sales. The things that we do need to be:

  1. Be remarkable (the example in the book was how The Cheesecake Factory has remarkable food choices – in fact over 200 choices)
  2. Be relevant (the example in the book was how Hilton Double Tree give you a warm cookie when you check in)
  3. Be reasonable (Five Guys always gives you an extra order of fries)
  4. Be repeatable

“No differentiator will be loved by 100% of customers; if that were the case, it wouldn’t be different enough to create conversations.” ~ Jay Baer & Daniel Lemin

Talk triggers give customers an experience that sticks in their memories and they want to tell everyone. These talk triggers:

  • show empathy.
  • show generosity.
  • have attitude.
  • are emotions-based.
  • have speed.

Of course I had to dig a little deeper into the learning. I had never been to The Cheesecake Factory, so I told the family that we were going, and go we did, this past Sunday evening. I was looking for all the talk triggers that make it possible for The Cheesecake Factory to only need to use .2% (you are reading it right – point .2 percent) of their revenue on advertising.

After being seated by friendly staff, we were given the 21 page menu. I have to admit I was a little overwhelmed (in a positive way) at first. If you could not find something on this menu that you like, you are way to picky! To me this was truly remarkable. It took a while for us to decide what we wanted. Here is my video of the 21 page menu with over 200 remarkable choices:

One thing that will cause us to talk is that we had roasted artichoke which reminded us of being in California with our friends eating fresh artichoke. We even taught our waiter how to eat artichokes, by dipping the base of the petals into a great sauce; then pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy portion of the petals. It was awesome! I then went on to the gumbo and finished with original cheesecake.

It’s not just the volume of items that’s surprising; it is also the apparently random variety of dishes that comprise the menu make it hard to peg what the Cheesecake Factory is. The menu defies any normal definition of what we traditionally think a menu would look like. The menu also circumvents any semblance of restaurant menu item consistency. It’s almost as if the founder of the Cheesecake Factory decided to just put literally anything into the menu, as long as people liked it. It’s almost as if the folks at The Cheesecake Factory decided to just put literally anything into the menu, as long as people liked it. And, in doing a little studying I think that is exactly their plan.

As you can see, there really is something to these talk triggers. Clearly there are businesses who have figured this out. I believe it gives us all something to think about – I believe I had talk triggers when I was teaching in my classroom. What are your talk triggers?

 

“Innovation Happens Between The Ears”

I heard a great phrase from a retired U.S. Air Force General today. He said, “Innovation happens between the ears.” This quote was in reference to the story of the young Lieutenant George S. Patton developing a plan for making newly invented tanks into an effective tools for war in World War I in 1917. Tanks had not been effective yet because no one had taken the time, nor had the creative genius to figure out how to use the big, slow, machines that got stuck easily. Thus, innovation is not about the gizmo (in this case a tank); innovation is about how the gizmo is used to change the world.

I believe that the tanks mentioned above were just inventions, or worthless gizmos, until Patton got ahold of them and used them to innovate. In doing a little studying I came across the work of Canadian historian Benoit Godin. Godin attributes the differentiation between inventions/creations and innovation to a 1939 definition offered by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. He defined invention as an act of intellectual creativity undertaken without any thought given to its possible economic import, while innovation happens when individuals figure out how to craft inventions into constructive changes in their organizations, personal lives, or to change the world. This is why some believe, while use of the word innovation is at an all time high, actual innovation is on the decline.

It has taken innovation to take many creations, inventions, and failures into complete successes. There is a very thin line between brilliant innovation and absolute failure, and there are many famous examples. Examples that include: penicillin, slinky, Wheaties, plastic, pacemakers, and my favorite, Post-It Notes. The creation of a weak glue when Spencer Silver of 3M was trying create a super strong glue in 1968 was revolutionary. It took till 1980, however for the first Post-Its to be distributed. It took a little while and another 3M employee, Art Fry, for Spencer’s mistake creation to become an innovation that has certainly changed our world. Let’s face it, Post-It notes are everywhere.

In the context of change, innovation does not happen for innovation’s sake, but to find more effective ways of doing things. How about you? Are you creating gizmos and procedures, or innovating to create social change and break the status quo?

Dream Of Things That Never Were…

Not too long ago, I was in a meeting and one of the participants said, “we need to think in terms of aspirational goals, not what is already being done.” The individual went on to say, “you know, the way Byron is always coming up with wild ideas that nobody thinks could ever happen.” This really got me thinking about the value of aspirational thinking, planning, and goal making. I am guilty as charged for thinking this way. I guess my mind works in the way Robert Kennedy described it when paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw’s play Back To Methuselah (1921):

“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” ~ Robert Kennedy

Dreaming is aspirational, and fundamentally changes the way we think. This aspirational thinking liberates leaders to achieve the unachievable. Instead of being locked into what is theoretically achievable, we need to be asking the question “why can’t we do this?” We need to find ways to become unburdened by “the way things are done around here?” I love to ask the question “why is this still being done this way?” Almost three years ago I started asking the question “why are we one of only 14 states that still uses/has a graduation qualifying exam (GQE)?” Now, Indiana has Graduation Pathways with multiple ways to graduate based on the student desires, goals, and needs. We no longer have a GQE, or single path to graduation. Don’t think we didn’t here “This is the way it’s been done.” Or, “We’ll never get this changed.” But, guess what? We did, and it was the right thing to do for Indiana students. It started with an aspirational dream (and getting laughed out of a few meetings).

One advantage I have when it comes to aspirational dreaming is that I am comfortable being uncomfortable. Individuals, organizations, and groups need to remember it is important to set a goal or go after a dream without necessarily providing or having full certainty about exactly how it will be achieved. Clarity is achieved, however, from understanding why the aspirational goal is necessary.

Aspirational dreaming allows us to operate in an environment where “we are open to doing things differently.” There is something almost magical about having goals that are aspirational in nature. An aspirational goal defies logic in many ways in that you can’t see a specific path to achieving the goal when you set it. You just know that it is something that is very important and you want to find a way to bring it into your life or the lives of others over time.

Go ahead, dream a little and pull the levers that have never been pulled before, and ask “why not?”

Pushing Our Boundaries & Reaching Beyond Ourselves

As I was driving across Central Florida from Orlando to Tampa yesterday on I-4, I noticed a place that I will definitely have to factor into my next excursion for facilitating my Florida 3D Leadership gatherings. When I got to Polk City I looked over to the north and saw a place called Fantasy of Flight. As you all know, I am an avid student of the history of flight; particularly as it relates to the Wright Brothers. I have blogged about them so many times I am not going to put any links to posts here, but if you search Wright Brothers here in my blog you will find lots about the inspiration I have found from these to great men in our world’s history.

I say world’s history because I really believe that their tenacity and vision for the why of flight might be the single most important innovation ever. This is why I was so struck by the name of this museum and event venue – Fantasy of Flight. It is so perfect because for so many flight was a fantasy. But, the right brothers took the fantasy and made it a reality. This quote from the owner, Kermit Weeks, is so perfect (Not to mention that I love metaphors!):

“Flight is the most profound metaphor for pushing our boundaries, reaching beyond ourselves, and freedom. And…don’t we All…fly in our dreams?” ~ Kermit Weeks

As I continued across the beautiful Florida countryside I noticed many birds and remembered how the Wright Brothers studied the wings of birds and how they took off, landed, climbed in altitude, and glided. I can imagine them fantasizing about flying. It is hard for me to imagine what was going through their minds. I’ve never lived in a time without airplanes, so I am envious of their incredible, artistic, and creative abilities that it took to invent the first plane. They used intersective innovation by taking the design of the bird and applying it to the first flying machine. Amazingly, those same designs and innovations on the first Wright flyer are in use on the plane I am sitting on right now, preparing to fly me home.

Imagine the audacity to think they could build a machine that would fly. Remember, people made fun of them. Also, the audacity to know what being able to fly would do to affect all generations to come. In other words, WHY being able to fly would be advantageous to the human race. Basically, everything in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum , where their first plane is on display, is there as a result of the Wright Brother’s innovative leadership! Additionally, there would be no Fantasy Of Flight museum without the Wright Brothers.

I am so glad I was paying attention on my drive yesterday and saw Fantasy Of Flight. It also gives me something to look forward to exploring. I so want to meet Kermit Weeks. I also see where they have flying experiences available in bi-planes – I am so doing it! I can’t wait to fly out in the open air like Orville did on that fateful day in December, 1903.

The Wright Brothers believed that just because it had never been done before, did not mean that it could not be done. They were modeling for us how to push beyond the boundaries. Think about all the impossible things that have been conquered by man. These things might include, landing on the moon, landing a craft on Mars, curing many diseases, organ transplants, and yes – even first flight.

What are you working on that is pushing your boundaries? What is your Fantasy Of (insert here)? Go ahead, fly in your dreams!

That’s A Little Too Far Out There!

This past weekend, at our Carolinas 3D Leadership gathering, I was recording comments during a planning discussion for a project they were working one. It struck me that at one point they went from talking transformation to the comment, “That’s a little too far out there.” I’m thinking to myself, “Uhm…if it’s going to be transformational, it probably needs to be out there.” I’ve always believed, and I we often see this; the idea that seems crazy at first turns out to be the idea that propels the organization forward or enables the desired transformation.

As I see it, passion, purpose, and capacity are the only requirements for coming up with and participation in “way out there” ideas. And, once the freedom to try out new ideas becomes ingrained in employees’ behavior, it can spread and transform the entire culture of your organization to be nimbler and more creative.

We need to create environments where we can challenge the status quo as if no one’s judging you. If being open and willing to try out new ways of working isn’t practiced and encouraged in the culture at the top of the organization, how anyone ever have the courage to voice their ideas?

The secret to truly agile and innovative organizations is this: they encourage and invite new ideas from all levels and see leaders at every level. So, next time you have that idea that might just go too far, voice that “crazy” idea regardless of your title or level; lead from where you are!

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?

Teacher Leadership

IMG_3896This week I had the chance to do a couple of sessions on Teacher Leadership at the Impact CSUSA 2020 Conference that Noble Education Initiative put on. In the session we discussed creating a shared leadership model and engagement pipeline. I even did a plate spinning show to represent how hard it is to spin all the plates we need to as leaders. If we empower teacher leaders, we can spread out the load and keep all the plates spinning. We must create a supportive community where everyone helps to spin the plates. By the way, I can only keep three going at once, but brought others up and we were able to have all six plates that I have going at once. Another one of my metaphors!

IMG_3891First, let’s start by answering the question, “What is teacher leadership?”Here’s the definition I have always liked: “Teacher leadership is the process by which teachers, individually or collectively; influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.” (York-Barr & Duke, 2004, p. 287) During the workshop, participants came up with a list of teacher leadership roles. Here is there list:IMG_3884I also laid out a seven step process for growing teacher leaders:

  1. Realize teacher leadership is essential
  2. Recognize teacher leadership as a teachable skill
  3. Recruit teachers to become teacher leaders
  4. Build leadership capabilities among teachers
  5. Nurture leadership qualities in teachers
  6. Empower teacher leaders
  7. Provide ongoing professional growth opportunities for teacher leaders

Of course it wouldn’t be a session by me without there being model making, innovation, creativity, and creations. First, I asked the question, “Why is building a great teacher leadership pipeline more like chess than checkers?” We had a great discussion in both sessions about this. We discussed how in checkers there are very limited moves and you can’t the checkers cannot be promoted until they reach the other side of the board – we believe everyone should lead from where they are. We discussed how chess is about strategy and a longer term overall play. I’m sure you get the idea.

I broke the participants into groups of four or five, gave them a chess board, pipe cleaners of all sizes, colors, and even with glitter, glue sticks, masking tape, little eyes, fuzzy balls of all sizes, and straws. I then told them that there objective was to replace the traditional chess pieces with ones that represented the ideal chess game for building an amazing pipeline of teacher leaders. I’ve got to tell you, it was amazing to watch them. Even more amazing were the descriptions of the chess pieces and and the discussion. Following are pictures of some of the games created:IMG_3892

IMG_3894

IMG_3895

Finally, we created a list of attributes for effectively developing teacher leaders. Here’s our list:

  • Results-driven
  • Standards-based
  • Job-embedded
  • Differentiated
  • Linked to learning needs (student and teacher)
  • Collaborative in nature
  • Sustained over time
  • Discipline-focused/Content rich
  • Reflective
  • Evaluated

How are you doing at developing your teacher leaders?