Byron's Babbles

To Learn Without Being Taught

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 10, 2023

Yesterday I made a comment in a meeting that I make quite often: “I am pretty sure none of our students took a TikTok course in their school.” So, how have they learned to be so proficient with this controversial social media? Easy. The kids were excited to learn it, so they learned without being taught. I actually did a post on this last year entitled, “The Real-World Inspires.” Today I want to go a little further and talk about the idea of to learn without being taught. We all do it. As a founder of a business I have had to learn all kinds of things without being taught in the traditional sense. Yesterday, what prompted the whole conversation was that a person apologized for being self taught on some communication strategies and workflows we were discussing. I asked, “Why are you apologizing? Clearly you are passionate about this and see the need and relevance for your organization.” Some of the most impactful learning involves learning through trial and error, exploration, experimentation, and through exposure to new situations or environments. We all develop new skills, ideas or perspectives by engaging in activities.

Also, think about all that children learn without formal lessons or instructions. We all learned how to walk, talk and interact with others through their own curious exploration and observation of the world around us. We need to create environments for our children, ourselves, and within our organizations for the curious exploration and learning to occur. And, I think you’ll agree that kind of learning is very fulfilling and rewarding; not to mention lasting.


Learning Vs Being Right

We live, work, and play in such complex institutional and cultural environments today. Therefore, we must be adaptive individual learners, as well as, learning organizations. Mary Catherine Bateson taught us that openness to learning and changing is more important than what one knows at any given point. Openness to learning and willingness to adjust are important qualities. Learning is more important and being right. Learning is a perspective as much as it is a practice. We need to be nurture and encourage an attitude of learning. We must seek out ideas, information, and approaches so we can learn from others, including those whose views diverge from ours.

There are really three pieces to great leadership:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Growth Mindset
  3. Openness

If we go back to the teaching of Bateson, we find openness as an essential trait. If we have an appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to try new things, we can better navigate daily challenges and discover novel solutions. Openness allows ideas to merge and develop by valuing diversity of thinking. Unfortunately, school taught us (and is still doing this) that we need to always be right. But, that binary way of thinking keeps us from considering that there might be a right answer, especially when we are on uncharted ground.

How Did You Learn Today?

What gets learned is very different than
“how” the learning happens. If we only focus
on the “what” we miss tremendous
opportunities for learning to occur. Think about when you were a kid or when you ask your own kids today, “What did you learn at school today?” Answer: “Nothing.”

But how about those days when some activity, project, or lab really tripped your trigger? Were you learning? Yes. What made it impactful was how you learned. We all learn differently whether we are adults or kids and there must be a variety of engagement strategies used. Even better is to give the student choice and agency in deciding the “how.”

Our scholars learn in a complex social environment and we have rapidly changing contexts. When teaching with relevance and how students learn, four important learning criteria are enhanced: core academics, stretch learning, learner engagement, and personal skill development. Students need to develop skills in information searching and researching, critical analysis, summarizing and synthesizing, inquiry, questioning and exploratory investigations, and design and problem solving.

While facilitating some student focus groups recently, the students pointed out that some teachers fail to provide a context through observations, inferences, and actions appropriate for students to make the connection to the real world. These connections help the students to understand higher-level science concepts. Students, now more than ever, want to understand how they will use what they are learning today in life or in a career. We adults are the same way, we want to learn things we can use immediately in what we do.

We need to remember to frame learning as a process rather than merely an outcome. Additionally, meaning making, is at the core of how we learn. Finally, how we learn includes the role of prior experience and interpretation of that experience. This is where we must help in providing experiences to give real world context. Thus, why I am such a proponent of work-based learning, apprenticeships, and internships. How we learn matters!

Finding Someone A Level Better Than You

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 21, 2022

I made a new friend last evening who was telling me stories of his pool (billiards) playing days. He said, “Son, you have to play people who are a level better than you to improve in the game.” He went on to tell me that, “Watching and thinking through what the better opponent is doing gives you the model for improvement.” This was a wise man reminding me of an important lesson – there is always room for improvement. We’ll never get to the point where we’re not able to learn from someone. Everybody you meet has something to teach you if you’re willing to listen and learn. Those better than us can serve as our teachers and mentors.

This week I have been doing facilitation work in Washington D.C. for the National FFA Organization as part of the State Officer Summit. I have taken many notes and learned new facilitation strategies from watching and getting to know others. They are challenging me to get better. I love it! The biggest apology I could ever owe anyone is to myself for the times I chose not to push myself and be the best me I could be. We all need to strive to not need to make that apology. So, no matter what your doing, let’s all go find that person that is a level better.

Go! Learn Things!

Dwayne Cassius “King” Pride (Scott Bakula) knows how to keep the town safe on NCIS:_New_Orleans. Last night I watched the series finale of the great show and it ended with Pride telling his team “Go! Learn Things!” after they got the call to a new case while all at his wedding. This was such a great character tag line that he always told the team throughout the series. I always loved it when he said it, and loved the way he said it – with such conviction. And, the team always reacted with, “You got it!” What a great leadership mantra. Pursuing new knowledge always generates excitement and new possibilities. When solving a case, Pride encouraged team members to provide their insights. When the team feels like they can openly bring new ideas to the table, true innovation, engagement and success can prevail.

Most leaders spend a great deal of time “telling“ others what they know or think. It’s refreshing to imagine a leader who wants the team learning things – and tells them so. The trick to good leadership is making time for the hard work that continual learning requires. By telling the team to go and learn things, he was encouraging freedom and creativity. Great leaders are open to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the table, and that is something to take advantage of, not discourage. How about you? Are you creating an environment for learning things?