Byron's Babbles

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.

An Invitation

Posted in Communal, Community, Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Invitation, Invite, Leadership, NASBE by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 29, 2020

“It is such an honor to be part of a community of citizen leaders who seek conversations by showing up through invitation rather than mandate, and the diverse gifts of each person are acknowledged and valued. Together we will answer the question, ‘What can we create together?’ so students of all backgrounds and circumstances are prepared to succeed in school, work, and life.”

~ My remarks on October 22, 2020 when accepting the gavel as Chair of the National Association State Boards of Education Board (NASBE) of Directors

The remarks above come from the personal core values I have developed from being a student of Peter Block. Peter Block’s name is synonymous with “Community” and he literally wrote the book on it: Community: The Structure of Belonging. I first became acquainted with Peter through my great friend Mike Fleisch. Mike kept telling me that everything I believed in was aligned with Block’s values as well. Mike told me I just had to read the book, Community, and that I would learn so much from Peter Block. So, I began reading and studying, and have since had the chance to visit with Peter Block a couple of times. The bottom line is that everything we do is as part of a community whether it is an organization, neighborhood, city, country, or world that works for all. We need to take our membership in these organization, truly belong, and then be accountable for the leadership of making communities great to be part of.

So, my post here deals with an organization, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) – let’s call the organization a community. A week ago I took the helm as Chair of the Board of Directors and I reflected back on how I really came to be so involved and belong in this organization. It all happened because of one of the most powerful tools that Peter Block says we have in a community in the power of the invitation. The question becomes “Whom do we choose to invite into the room?” In our case as an organization made of state boards of education and their members, that’s who we want to invite, right?

“If the artist is one who captures the nuance of experience, then this is whom each of us must become.” ~ Peter Block

(Block, 2008, p. 9)

That is where my story begins. Shortly after being appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education back in 2015, fellow board member, Gordon Hendry, personally invited me to attend the NASBE New Member Institute. Peter Block would remind us how powerful the invite is “because at the moment of inviting, hospitality is created in the world” (Block, 2008, p. 117). Gordon told me about NASBE and how valuable the organization would be to my development as a board member and how awesome the New Member Institute is. Here’s the deal: any new state member can go to New Member Institute. But, here’s the big deal: Gordon Hendry had asked me to attend and raved about how great it was. How could I refuse? I couldn’t abdicate my responsibility to the communal structure. I registered and I attended. I didn’t just attend, however, I became a part of the fabric of NASBE and was woven into the fabric of a collective community of great citizen leaders from all over the United States, including Guam.

This transformation from thread to fabric happened because another group from Delaware (without consulting me, I might add) nominated me during the Institute to serve as the New Member Representative to the Board of Directors. First of all, how cool is that? Quite an honor coming from my new east coast friends. Secondly, how cool is it that an organization has a new member sit on their board? What a way to truly get to know customer needs, right? Anyway, the members from Delaware nominated me and a day later somehow I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors (and there were even three other candidates). The rest is history or history that is still being written. I served two years as New Member Representative, then two years as Secretary-Treasurer, then a year as Chair-Elect, will serve this year as Chair, and then next year my final year on the Board will be as Past-Chair.

Again, what a ride that is still running. Here’s my point in all this: none of this would have happened without the invitation from Gordon Hendry to be at the “table” and then the Delaware delegation further weaving me into the social fabric by nominating (a form of invitation) me as a New Member Representative on the Board. Peter Block taught us that, “To build community, we seek conversations where people show up by invitation rather that mandate, and experience an intimate and authentic relatedness” (Block, 2008, p. 93). We need to have diversity of thinking, dissent encouraged and valued, and the gifts of everyone valued.

Our NASBE community is an asset-based community that is continually evolving because of the tremendous aptitude of our members. Together we continue to advance education equity and excellence for students of all races, genders, and circumstances by answering the question, “What can we create together?”

What do you have going on, and who do you need to invite? Go ahead and bring some more hospitality to the world!