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Lindsey & I During The Workshop

This past week at the National FFA Convention here in Indianapolis, Indiana I had the opportunity to do teacher workshops with our National FFA Teacher Ambassadors. One of my roles is to help our ambassadors be the best presenters possible. After each workshop I did a reflection so that during next year’s ambassador trainings I can point out positive practices that really work during workshops. One such practice was done by Lindsey Lasater of Silex, Missouri. She is incredible at leading workshops. When leading discussions with workshop participants, Lindsey would write down each participants’ comments word for word on tear sheets. I used to do this in my classroom when teaching and now also use it when facilitating. I love this strategy. One, it helps the teacher/facilitator listen better, and two, it shows the student/participant that what they have to say is valued. And, a third plus is that it helps the other participants know what was added to the conversation.

In Simple Truth #43, “Since We Were Given Two Ears And One Mouth, We Should Listen More Than We Speak” in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice, Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley we are reminded that good listeners are interested in what you are thinking and feeling. Some great ideas were being shared last week during Lindsey’s workshop and she honored and captured those thoughts by actively listening and writing them down. We are a good listener if we are focusing on the other person. Bad listeners focus on themselves. If we get the listening right, those we serve will share their best thoughts and ideas with us.


My Experiences

Yesterday I had the opportunity to facilitate a session during the National FFA Organization’s State Officer Summit on preparing national officer candidates by 2016-2017 National FFA President, David Townsend. He was incredible. One of his beginning slides had this disclaimer: “These perspectives are based on my experiences.” I loved this on so many levels. I believe it is an awesome way introduce space where our own opinions are being used based on our own experiences. And each of our experiences matter. Telling stories of our own experiences are important. These stories of our experiences have a way of transporting us away from our realities, and our mind opens up to new experiences and perceptions of other people and how they think, feel, and act.

“To argue with someone else’s experience of reality is futile…To add their experience to yours is possibly useful.”


I believe we can use David’s model to understand the fact that others’ stories help us to learn to empathize with other people as we come to understand their point of view. When we hear another person’s experiences, we step out of our own reality and place ourself in someone else’s shoes, and get to experience their perspective and engage in their emotions, actions, and decisions. These experiences being shared allow us to learn from other people’s experiences.

Subtracting Shows Competence

Last year I read the great book Subtract: The Untapped Science Of Less by Leidy Klotz and described the book as changing my life. Learning from the book also ends up in many of my blog posts, like Don’t Always Saticfice. Last evening I had the honor of facilitating a discussion between Leidy Klotz and National Teacher Ambassadors of the National FFA Organization. As part of their training, the teacher ambassadors received a copy of the book and Leidy was gracious enough to spend time with the group. Leidy spent some time discussing what led to the research and ultimately the book, which was fascinating, and then had a very open discussion with our teachers.

One of the points Leidy made last night, that I have heard him make before is that, “Subtracting shows competence.” We all need to reflect on this. Whether as a school principal, we show competence to remove the things teachers have to do that don’t really have anything to do with student learning, or myself as a policymaker continuing to advocate for reducing the number of standards having to be taught/tested. Or, just the competence it takes to reduce that email from four paragraphs, which by the way no one reads, to a couple of sentences. I’m sure you can think of thousands of other examples.

Leidy taught us not to focus on what we can’t get done and want/need to subtract, but focus on what we will be able to do better because of eliminating those mundane tasks that create marginal value at best. Those of us in education can really relate to this. It’s not easy. As Leidy pointed out, adding more is highly visible and easy to promote and subtracting either goes unnoticed or becomes controversial. I loved this advice from Leidy: “Give yourself a definition for what you are setting out to accomplish. This will help narrow down the necessary from the unnecessary.” Dr. Klotz’s job is to create and share knowledge and he did a great job of schooling us on subtracting.

My Memories Matter

As I wrote the rough draft of this post I was on a plane taxiing to the runway at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. As I looked out window I saw the dome of our Capitol and the Washington Monument (see my pictures). This caused several moments of reflection. I thought about all 12 U.S. Presidents that have been in office since I was born. I thought about the Vietnam War that happened during my lifetime. I thought about President Nixon and his resignation. I thought about the first President I voted for, Ronald Reagan. I thought about the first Gulf War. I thought about 9/11. I thought about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought about all the time my son Heath and I spent in Washington D.C. when he was growing up when I brought him with me to the Washington Leadership Conference of the National FFA Organization every year. I thought about getting to pay my respects to Ronald Reagan as he was lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. I thought about being with President Obama in the Oval Office. I thought about spending time with, then Vice President, Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at Number One Observatory Circle. I thought about being awarded the Smithsonian Diffusion Award in the Smithsonian Castle. I thought about the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and getting to stand at the Brandenburg Gate where President Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the wall. I thought about being in Vice President Pence’s White House Office. A lot of memories were running through my mind. I realized I’ve experienced a lot in my almost six decades.

That’s a lot of history. That’s a lot of memories. But what does it all mean? Does living through all that matter? Yes, all those memories matter! Our memories make us who we are. They create our worldview in ways we hardly realize. It is why we must be always creating the situations to create memories for our children. We also need to be creating memories for our students. All that we have ever learned, from how to get along and play with others, how to read, and even how to resolve conflicts, makes us who we are. That is why who taught us and our experience of the things we have learned are all embedded in the memories themselves.

Our memories are essential because they allow us to grow and learn to be a better person. Our memories help us understand why we are who we are. When we understand why we are who we are, we become empowered to create ourselves intentionally. Oscar Wilde said, “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” I am so glad that my peek out the airplane window caused me to open my mind’s diary and begin reflecting on who I am.

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.

Become More Human & Less Machine

Back in June I had the opportunity to facilitate human development of the National FFA Organization‘s Teacher Ambassadors. The National Teacher Ambassadors for FFA Programs is open to any current middle/high school agriculture teacher all over the United States with the goal of having representatives from every state. Teacher ambassadors are responsible for presenting workshops, working with state officials, conducting webinars, and serving as content specialists in agricultural education and the FFA. I had the opportunity to work with teachers from all around the country and Puerto Rico.

comp_backtohuman_3d_5bf57cbf4616eOne of the things that past years’ participants had recommended is that there be a book chosen to use along with all the other professional growth opportunities being provided. As an avid reader, FFA leadership deferred to me to pick the book. I was thrilled to get to do this! The theme of “making connections” rose to the top as a theme for the two week development. It is so great to have a theme developed organically from the participants. We even used the hashtag #FFAConnections on twitter. I did my due diligence thinking of books I had read and reviewing others, but a book that I had read in the past kept jumping to the top of the list: Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation by Dan Schwabel.

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author and the Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, a research and advisory firm helping HR adapt to trends, drive performance and prepare for the future. He is the bestselling author of three career books: Back to Human, Promote Yourself and Me 2.0. Schawbel is also the host of the 5 Questions podcast, where he interviews world-class humans like two of my heroes Richard Branson and Condoleezza Rice; among others like Rachael Ray, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Jay Shetty. At the beginning of the book Dan said, “The point of Back to Human is to help you decide when and how to appropriately use technology to build better connections in your work life.” He also told us in the book that leaders can only be successful if we are able to create emotional connections to others – connections that allow empathy, performing acts of kindness, and avoid hurting others. Because these teachers would be making connections during the continued Global COVID-19 Pandemic (we are now in day 147), this topic was so relevant.

Because we were doing this growth opportunity virtually, I decided to take advantage and see if I could get a Zoom conversation with Dan Schawbel set up to discuss just how we could become more human and less machine. He was more than willing and we had a great conversation that we were then able to provide to our participants. Here is my conversation with Dan split into to two YouTube videos:

What an amazing conversation, don’t you think? Needless to say, our participants thought so. Our participants also loved reading the book. It is amazing to me how applicable a book that was released back in 2018 is even more applicable today than when it was released. This really is a book that I believe every human should read.

Dan was also so gracious in agreeing to answer all questions submitted by these highly engaged teachers. Here are there very thoughtful questions, and Dan’s answers:

1. How do you recommend balancing/setting boundaries when tuning out the noise of technology when so much of our work has to be completed using technology or communicate with our superiors? There is so much pressure to “look like you are working” that sometimes boundaries of not checking emails or not answering the phone after hours can make us “look bad.” When you’re working remotely, there is both external and internal pressure to work harder, longer, and deliver more value above and beyond what would be expected at the office. That’s why you have to self-manage, set expectations, and create boundaries with the people you work with. You need time away from technology or you’ll get burned out and sick from overwork and too much screen time. Block off time during the day on your calendar for walks, phone calls, reading a book, and other activities that pull you away from your screen.

2. What do you believe the long-term effects of the widespread remote working will be? The widespread effects of remote working will be more competition, yet more freedom for professionals globally. By working remotely, people have the freedom and flexibility to work when, where, and how they want. But, with remote work comes global competition because people don’t need to be at a corporate office to interview or work. For instance, if you live in Idaho you can work for a Silicon Valley technology company, which would have forced you to relocate in the past. If you are job searching in Silicon valley, now you have to compete with people who live everyone in the world including Idaho, which wasn’t your competition pre-covid.

3. Even though our students have grown up with technology, and are addicted to it, there was a lack of engagement during Distance Learning this year. Seeing that we are most likely going to have a hybrid type of classroom moving forward (distance learning and in class learning), how do we engage them in the distance/technology learning portion of that hybrid model? Can we trick their brains to make them feel like it is “cool?” I think the smartest thing teachers can do when it comes to teaching in a hybrid model is to experiment and then solicit feedback from the students. Find out what’s working and what isn’t by asking them directly and using the data you receive from virtual learning as an indicator of what changes need to be made. Make two buckets, one for virtual learning and one for in-person learning. As you experiment with your coursework, put activities into one of those buckets based on what’s working for you and the students.

 4. In a world of instant gratification and praise being needed, like discussed in chapter 6, are we enabling this “addiction” by giving that praise and recognition? How do we find a balance between giving the recognition needed in order to build relationships with students, and enabling that mindset? I don’t think it’s wise to give recognition for the sake of it. I think you should be consciously awake that recognition is important to student engagement, but only do it if it makes sense and feels natural, otherwise, it could come off as being fake.

5. As teachers how can we start the new school year with better communication/connections during our new teacher inductions? During this spring I felt like I was chasing students around for attendance purchases. I recommend that you start the communication before the school year begins and when crafting the introductions be vulnerable with what you’ve been through during the pandemic, how it’s affected you, and emphasize the importance of teaching. This will help you connect emotionally to your students and also reinforce the importance of education.

6. If we practice over-communicating, how do we make sure the communication still appears authentic? You be authentic first, then over-communicate second. Come up with an important message and say it in multiple ways across multiple days or weeks.

7. How do we allow those who we are virtually meeting with trust us through what we are presenting or discussing versus being in a classroom or office setting? How do we keep their attention during that time? Trust needs to be earned overtime by being honest, dependable, competent and consistent, all of which you can display virtually but strengthen in person. Getting and keeping attention is hard virtually so you have to spend that much more energy making your teaching dynamic and interactive.

8. What long term effects do you think we will see from using zoom and the virtual communication on real in person communication in the future? Technology can be a bridge to more human interaction and trust, but I think we’re at a point where people are exhausted from it. I think the combination of technology and in-person interaction will be the prevailing hybrid in the aftermath of the pandemic.

9. I LOVE the idea about communicating once on Monday and once on Friday and I actually used this method with my students (optionally) this spring. There were incentives for them to come to my meetings though. I had a hard time making them mandatory because –I knew they had 6ish other teachers that could be expecting the same things or have different demands. What kind of system or pattern of meeting do you recommend when dealing with students in a situation like that vs. An office? Just a short meeting with each teacher -still Monday and Friday –or having like a whole grade meeting and then asynchronous meetings with individual teachers? When it doubt, put the options on the table potentially in survey form to find out what works best for them, then analyze the results and act on the most frequently chosen response as a trial. This way, you can justify your choices to the students if they ask.

10. Is it bad that I am enjoying the “break” of life with the outbreak of covid? No, we all need breaks especially during hard times.

11. What are some ways that educators can make our connections unique through virtual learning? By talking more about personal activities instead of just school work and by asking more questions instead of just lecturing. 

12. The Monday/Friday video calls seems like an excellent idea! I resonate with ideal of having to “prove” your worth when working digitally. Our district has required time logs that have instilled a feeling that the district does not “trust” its teachers. How can school leaders balance expectations and trust? I think you have to run trials and then iterate because we are living through a historical time that hasn’t happened before. Everyone is experimenting to see what works and then running with the results.

13. I find it interesting that he said we are working more and harder when working digitally. Up to ten hours. Part of me felt like I was slacking just because I was working at home and I am not used to that. I also realize now that I was working more because I was checking email, Google Classroom, and other platforms ALL DAY! How will we get away from that if we are more digital next year? I’m not saying that we should be working up to 10 hours more, the data just shows remote workers have fewer boundaries between work and life so they end up working more during their life. It’s not healthy to overwork and burn out and can be counterproductive.

14. A recent impromptu poll I’ve done with my kids showed that the majority of them “cheater, or felt the urge to cheat” because of the lack of structure or supervision with FFA activities. In a period of isolation, besides meetings once a week, what are other possible strategies to promote structure in an online setting? You should equip students with their own structure and not expect them to do it for themselves. This can be done using technology like a calendar where they get alerts when they have to be in class or a homework assignment is due.

15. With so many varying backgrounds and interest levels with students/teachers, how can we keep our virtual/hybrid learning and communication relevant to those that we are communicating with? The video talked about zoom fatigue, but it seems to be something we must learn to live with. I understand communication is key to understand what your audience wants, but it’s much harder than a classroom to adjust virtually to appeal to a virtual audience. We have to adjust as we go because this is new territory for everyone, both students and teachers. Through our experience and by talking openly, and soliciting feedback from students, you should adjust your communication style. When class starts in-person again, people will naturally spend less time on Zoom since we use it by necessity right now.

16. How do you convince school leadership that beginning and ending the week together (as talked about in the video) can create a sense of community within a district? It comes down to a conversation about setting expectations, being on the same page and ensuring that there’s consistency in communication. The start and end of the week create the biggest impression.

17. How do we mimic small accountability groups with our school staff, classrooms, and FFA officer teams if we continue with virtual learning? Right now you can do Zoom breakout rooms in order to do that.  

18. What are some tips and tricks for increasing digital engagement? Quizzes and facilitated discussions work really well. You want the students to participate much more than they normally would because you aren’t in a physical space.

19.How do we turn the digital/virtual/remote environment to where people will want to show up and engage? You pick the right platforms and then use the tools inside of that platform to engage students, allowing them to participate and connect with you and each other.

20.As an individual, how do you suggest employees who consumed with online learning disconnect from the digital world to create a healthier work/personal life balance? You give them time in their schedule for breaks and encourage them to take time off.

21. Are there specific ways/methods of engaging young people/students that are more effective than professionals? Use the platforms that they are currently using as a way to communicate with them and solicit interaction. For instance, Tik Tok is an iPhone app that students are using so you can use that same platform to think of creative ways to engage them.

As you can see Dan really does fulfill his role in society by making information and research universally applicable and digestible by the public. Back to Human and Dan himself really gave these teacher ambassadors useful and immediately actionable information for helping them be effective ambassadors for the National FFA Organization and agricultural education. They also will be better teachers for the students they serve because of the “back to human” experience. How about you? Do you want to become more human and less machine? I sure hope so!

“Sam, Be A Man”

I have been in the Rayburn House Office Building many times in Washington D.C. I had not, however, really ever given much thought to the great man the building was named after, former Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn. Robert Caro did a whole chapter plus on Sam Rayburn in the great book I’m reading right now, The Path To Power. I am now researching biographies on Rayburn and I am going to study his life, service, and leadership.

The part that Caro vividly portrayed is the integrity with which Sam Rayburn lived and led. He wrote the story that Rayburn told of what his dad told him when he left home for college. His dad held his hand and told him four words, “Sam, be a man.” That’s pretty powerful when you think about it. What does it mean to be a man? For Sam Rayburn it was about living and leading with honor and integrity. Rayburn would say, “There are no degrees of honorableness. You either are or you aren’t.” A very powerful two sentences to live by.

There are no degrees of honorableness. You either are or you aren’t.” ~ Former U.S. Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn (Texas)

This reminds me of what my good friend, former U.S. Congressman Steve Buyer, used to tell me and my students each year when we visited him in room 2230 of the Rayburn House Office Building: “Your character is your legacy.” That was always so moving. My students would talk about that and try to define it for the rest of our time at the National FFA Washington Leadership Conference, and the trip home. I was so proud, as an Indiana FFA Advisor to take students to this conference every year for so many years and have my students get to meet with such a great leader. It was so impactful for me to read about the man who lived with such honor that the building was named after that housed the office of a man that was such a great leadership role model for myself and my students.

“Your character is your legacy.” ~ Former U.S. Congressman Steve Buyer (Indiana)

Our legacy grows with each new experience. Our leadership is not shaped nor our legacy defined at the end of our career or life, but rather by the moments shared, the decisions made, the actions taken, and even the mistakes made along the journey. It’s about a continual reinvention of ourself with new learning, experience, relationships, and wisdom. We need to be thinking about our personal growth and continual improvement.