Byron's Babbles

Leading The Michelli Way

I am a huge believer in intersectional learning. This is the learning that can be accomplished from the commonalities and complexities of different industries, businesses, and organizations. I have always been a fan of Dr. Joseph Michelli’s work and books. He has knocked it out of the park with his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges. This book is the encyclopedia of intersectional learning. I am only about 25% through the book, but have learned and reflected on so many things. I have read all of his books, and I have to attribute many of the ideas I have implemented over the years started from the learning I have done from his books.

My goal with this post is to pay it forward and invite all of you to learn from Dr. Michelli. If you are one who likes to learn from others and then apply that learning to your own context, then his work is for you. He has studied and chronicled, in-depth, the many companies he has worked with, improved, consulted, and learned from. Let me just give you one example from the book. Let’s begin with this quote:

“a responsibility alongside other hospitality brands to ensure all travelers who decide to book an all-inclusive getaway will feel confident that they’ll have a safe, comfortable, and memorable experience. Each and every resort or hotel brand needs to stay true to its unique value proposition in the market, yet abide by a common denominator of strict hygiene and safety protocols. Health and safety have always been top priorities among travelers, and now they are key determining factors in a consumer’s decisions to travel.”

Carolyne Doyon, President and CEO of North America and the Caribbean at Club Med

I don’t care what industry you are involved in, the learning here applies. Take the words “hotel or resort,” “traveler,” “travel,” or “hospitality” and change them to those that apply to your organization and the statement applies. When I think of both my policy making and leadership roles in education this statement really applies.

I talk about the value proposition that Doyon speaks of in my leadership training all the time. As a believer in school choice, I believe every school must have a unique value proposition. In other words, why should families choose your school to attend? No doubt, the pandemic has even created new, what I call, competitive advantages.

We have had to contemplate bringing students back and opening schools, keeping students and teachers safe, how to do virtual education or some combination of virtual and in person education effectively, and how to still hold ourselves accountable for the learning and outcomes ALL students we serve deserve.

Dr. Michelli’s book is so timely because we are still working on all this. I was just in a briefing today on the Biden administration’s priorities in education and these items are being contemplated. We need to use the learning from all sectors to help us learn and navigate our course. Stronger Through Adversity gives us the actions of many great leaders. I wish we could have a summit of all the leaders to create action plans for all of us. Maybe he’ll let me pick a couple of leaders and invite me to do one of his podcasts with him. I can dream, can’t I?

As I said at the beginning, this post is intended to serve as my paying it forward for you to check out this great book and the learning that can be gained from Dr. Michelli’s work. Check it out!

Into The Wild Blue Yonder

Here we are on day 323 of the global pandemic. It is also a monumental day in that I am flying for the first time in 328 days. The last time I was on an airplane was March 7, 2020. As I write this I am looking out the window from seat 16A on an Airbus A321 watching the plane be de-iced. Then, it is on to Atlanta to catch a connecting flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to facilitate an in person teacher leadership gathering; March 7, 2021 was the last time I did that and it was in Kissimmee, Florida, so I flew into and out of Orlando, Florida. Seems like forever ago. I am still having conflicted thoughts about whether going live is the right thing to do. I get that it’s just hard to beat live presentations as that is where my passion really comes through, but is it safe for me, my family when I come home, or the attendees? And, I’ve gotten pretty good at facilitating gatherings virtually. Time will tell us the answer. Rest assured I am a stickler for masks, physical distancing, and lots of hand sanitizer.

It was important for me to blog about this first time back in the air because I am doing this with a certain amount of anxiety – and I’m usually not someone who has anxiety. Also, I want to chronicle as many of my global pandemic experiences as possible. Last night as I packed I had to think about things I hadn’t thought about for almost a year. Things that were second nature to a person who was flying at least once a week in the past were not routine any longer. Then there were questions:

  • Did I still need 2 hours at the airport before the flight?
  • Would my TSA Pre check still work?
  • What would it be like at the airport?
  • Would I be able to get a Starbucks?
  • Would others really actually be wearing masks?

There were other things running through my mind, but you get the idea with those five examples. I am now in the air and I can tell you that so far the experience hasn’t been too bad. The worst part so far was a month ago just picking the flights. With reduced trips it’s almost impossible to get a direct flight anywhere (I used to be able to fly direct to Ft. Lauderdale from Indianapolis). It is taking me eight plus hours to get from Indianapolis to Ft. Lauderdale today. I did find that, at least right now, arriving two hours prior to the flight is not necessary. There are a lot less people at the airport. I even had my choice of parking places in the parking garage this morning. My TSA Pre worked flawlessly, and that process has even been streamlined to inserting your drivers license into a machine and the machine taking your picture – no one touches anything. Everyone was wearing masks, and yes I got my Starbucks.

With so few people traveling, what normally is a frenetic and sometimes stressful process felt downright relaxed. I got hand sanitizer when I got on the plane and just now was given a baggie containing water, cookies, and more hand sanitizer. I’m going to sit back, relax, and have a cookie. I’ll start writing again when I’m on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale. The only thing that causes me worry right now is that you don’t get your seat assignment till you get to the gate. But, I love having no one in the seat next to me!!!

One major improvement that COVID-19 has prompted is the loading of planes from the rear forward. I’ve always wondered why we didn’t do that. Wow, what an improvement. Hey airlines! Let’s keep doing that in the post COVID-19 world. Also, I must throw in that it would be wonderful if you would always leave the seat next to us empty. Again airlines, could you implement that forever? Somehow I don’t think you’ll operationalize my request for that post COVID-19. It was worth asking, nonetheless. Check out this text I got as we landed in Atlanta:

Now I am sitting in seat 44D on a Boeing B757 on the way to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I must say I am a little over the smell of hand sanitizer. It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t a gazillion different scents of hand sanitizers. But, I’m glad everyone is using it, so no more complaining from me. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was much more crowded than in Indianapolis, but we are now midday as opposed to early morning. I walked around the terminal for a little while, still marveling at the fact that I was inside an airport terminal again after so long.

As I look out the window I’m reflecting on all that the last year has brought to us. Today, I had the experience of flying again. It has been great to witness and experience adjustments that have been made to the airline travel business. My flying experience was remarkably less stressful than I anticipated. The airports and planes themselves were the cleanest I’ve ever seen them. Delta did a really good job of managing the risks associated with flying and, in my opinion, it appeared like the airline had things under control. I loved it when the flight attendant said, “We must do everything we can and take every precaution to care for one another.” Amazing it took a pandemic for us to begin to really think and act this way.

How about you? Have you flown since the global pandemic started? What has been your experience?

Learning From KISStory

As they have since the band began it’s journey when I was 10 years old, the greatest rock band ever, KISS, continues to influence my life. I attended the KISS 2020 Goodbye New Year’s Eve concert held in the United Arab Emirates last week at Atlantis, The Palm and have been processing it in my mind ever since. Live music was silent and as of the the day of the show, on New Year’s Eve, KISS had not been on stage in 296 days. I even used it as the theme/throughline for a professional development program I did yesterday for teachers entitled “Student-Student Interaction.” KISS, in conjunction with Landmarks Live, is the ultimate example of fan-fan and band-fan interaction. I took three pages of notes during the three hour event put together by KISS. There were leadership lessons from KISS on how to deal with COVID-19 lessons; how to engage a huge global audience virtually; how to engage in person and virtual fans individually; how to bring together an international team; how to change what working as a team looks like during a pandemic; how to keep over 400 team members safe (they had no COVID cases) and have them working in-sync; and, triple the physical size of the show.

Director of the show, Daniel E. Catullo, put it this way: “We are attempting to pull off the biggest show of 2020 at the height of the pandemic.” Let me tell you what, they did! I remember when I saw the first announcement of this back in November, I said, “Leave it to KISS to figure out how to make big things happen during a pandemic, and do it safely.” They spent extensive time explaining how they dealt with COVID protocols during the first part of the three hour event. Everyone should watch that introduction documentary – they did it right, they did it well, and are a model as to how, in my opinion, we should be doing it. I said out loud during the event, “why are we not doing it this way in our schools. This is the right way to do it!” They had contact tracing protocols using colored bands identifying work groups, bracelets that kept track of every person coming within two meters of each other, daily testing, strict mask wearing, et cetera, et cetera. And, let me repeat what I said earlier, the day of the concert they were reporting no COVID cases. Well done!

“It’s KISS! Anything worth doing is worth overdoing as far as they’re concerned. I hope this inspires other’s to want to do shows.” ~ Robert Long, Production Designer

The shows Production Designer, Robert Long said it best, “It’s KISS! Anything worth doing is worth overdoing as far as they’re concerned. I hope this inspires others to want to do shows.” With all the gimmicks, stunts, and theatrics that we are used to with KISS times 1000, they lived up to Long’s expectations of overdoing it. Setting world records for things like tallest flame thrown in a concert to over 1.5 million dollars in pyrotechnics, the show was over the top. After opening with “Detroit Rock City” and “Shout It Out Loud” we heard from Paul Stanley for the first time when he said, “Hello Dubai! Hello World!” He was drawing all of us at home in. Then after “Deuce” he drew all of us at home in the rest of the way saying, “If you’re here that’s cool. If you’re at home, we’re talking to ya. You count!…This is your show!” And, let me tell you it felt like they were singing every song, shooting off every firework, and making every gesture just for me. I reminded teachers yesterday how important it was whether teaching students in person or virtually that we make each one feel like we are speaking to them personally. I appreciated how Gene Simmons would point to and look right into one of the more that 50 cameras being used for the show and speak just to me. In fact we had a little fun yesterday during my professional development with Gene’s best practice. Every time someone spoke, reported out from small group discussions, or addressed someone virtually (we had a group in person with me, a group that was virtual, and some individuals who were virtual), we would point and look directly into the camera or Owl to draw everyone in.

“If you’re here that’s cool. If you’re at home, we’re talking to ya. You count!…This is your show!” ~ Paul Stanley

Using best practices, that we in education need to emulate, KISS did a phenomenal job of acknowledging those fortunate enough to be on the individual room balconies of the hotel while intentionally involving and engaging all of us around the world at home screaming, yelling, playing air guitar, and singing along. This was one of the most spectacular rock shows in history. What they achieved is what we need to work hard to achieve in anything we have to do virtually or in a blend of virtual and in person right now: recreate the visceral energy of being live. KISS pulled this off brilliantly and, as Paul Stanley described it: “Bombastically!” with the KISS 2020 Goodbye New Year’s Eve concert. As KISS’ music manager, Doc McGee said, “Why, because people need it.” We’ll bring it to the people. We have to have a tipping point, and I think this is the tipping point.” Let’s all strive to be like KISS and be a tipping point for all great things as we continue to do all the things we need to do to keep life going during the rest of the pandemic. Happy New Year!

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.

Second Quarter 2020 Book Inspired Posts

This is the second of five posts highlighting my 2020 blog posts that gained inspiration from books I was reading at the time. The first quarter posts were highlighted earlier in the week in The First Quarter Of An Incredible Year of Reading. I really love to read and think I maybe read in a little different way than others. I know leaders who many times I can guess what they are reading because they are copying everything that is in the book or copying the person the book is about. I always say, “Great leaders don’t copy.” I prefer to think of myself in terms of being a portrait that is being painted that will never be completed. Everything I read, every person I come in contact with, every event I experience are strokes of the brush or different colors of paint being added to what I hope is becoming a beautiful portrait of who I am becoming. Another thing I say a lot related to this is, “I’m not done!”

It is curious to me that with global literacy rates as high as 86%, we are shown to be reading less and less. I worry about this because reading catalyzes insight, innovation, empathy, and personal growth and effectiveness. For example one of the books, Saving FACE, by Maya Hu-Chan that I blogged about in FACE Is Social Currency (listed below), has made me a better person. I can honestly say that having the opportunity to read her book, get to personally know Maya, and do some webinars with her has changed my life and enabled me to help in the professional and personal growth of those I serve. Let me tell you, the signed copy of her book she sent me is one of the most valued possessions in my library. Again, I point out: how did this all happen? It started with reading a book. I’m going to keep you all in suspense until the last post of the year when I announce my top books of the year where this one ends up, but let’s just say it’s already on the list. This is one of those cases where being a bibliophile paid off in getting to know and learn from such an incredible leader.

Take a moment and check out just a little of what I learned from some of the books I was reading in the second quarter of 2020. Now, on day 281 of the Global Pandemic that seems so long ago, but all of the books I have read in 2020 have been an important part of the continued journey to get on the other side of this pandemic. Here are my second quarter posts referencing some of the books I was reading at the time:

April, 2020

Whether It’s Spinning Plates or Juggling Balls, We Can’t Afford To Drop Either For Our Kids!

Educating Students To Improve The World

Advanced Consulting

Being Perfectly Imperfect

May, 2020

Good Enough: Five Positives For Every Negative

June, 2020

FACE Is Social Currency

Coaching To Examine Meaning

Pretty great set of books from the second quarter of 2020. It’s probably obvious how these books inspired blog posts. Let me know if any of these books have inspired you along the way, and how.

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.

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.

Focused Perspective

Posted in core values, Global Leadership, Leadership, Pandemic, Teacher Leader, Teacher Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 30, 2020

Have you ever noticed a cat’s ability to focus like a laser on something that interests them? There is never a challenge to get them to focus, but they become oblivious to what others around them are focused on. This is one of the things I love about cats; they do not need constant attention. But, when they do, you better be prepared to give it to them because that will be their sole focus. If you’ve ever been around cats you know that when they want some affection, they will not notice that you may be focused on something else. I was watching one of our barn cats this morning sitting on a feed pan I had just moved and flipped upside down after a show heifer was done eating. He was hyper-focused on something and I could not take his attention away (see picture).

When working with developing leaders I always talk about the effective leader is focused on self, others, and the wider world. The art of being self-aware and self-managing is about being centered. This enables us to notice our thoughts and feelings, label them, reappraise things that do not serve the situation and lead forward. This centered perspective is important so that understand our own values and how those values fit in the big picture. This also determines what lens we are looking through to bring context to situations. Perspective enables a leader to clearly assess the reality of today while also envisioning what is possible for tomorrow.

We also need an empathetic perspective that has the heart to understand others and identify those who might be struggling and provided compassion. Remember, empathy plus action equals compassion. We need to give people space and permission to take care of themselves. Particularly right now, everyone is in just a little different place dealing with the pandemic. We must remember that their reality is just that, their reality. Asking those we serve what they need and then truly being prepared to help them is crucial. Just thinking through priorities and plans for action can many times do the trick. We don’t have to tell people how to do their job, but syncing frequently on priorities and plans of actions can be very supportive.

How about you? Are you so focused, like a cat, that you may be missing opportunities to focus on those around you and the wider world?

Boom! Hang On Tight! Oooooh So Close! Woohoo! Go Enjoy Your Time!

“Boom! Hang on tight! Oooooh so close! Woohoo! And… Go Enjoy your time!” were all descriptors I was receiving on my phone last night in Murray, Kentucky. We were at Mister B’s Pizza and Wings. Because of the need for physical distancing this great restaurant has an app that tells you where you are in the seating process. Once we gave them our number, a text was sent with a link to our personalized app. It gives you how many parties are ahead of you and an approximate time for seating. Genius, right? It also gave us the menu so we could be thinking about that.

I loved the descriptors along the way:

  • Boom! Let me know we were in the system and to click on the app
  • Hang On Tight! Meant we had one party ahead of us.
  • Ooh So Close! Meant we were next.
  • Woohoo! Was our text telling us they were ready for us.
  • Go Enjoy Your Time! The app’s message telling us they were ready to seat us.

Now, I know some of you are saying, “Big deal, Byron! Other restaurants do that too.” I get it. Others use QR codes to go to their menu, but I just thought the descriptors and the design of the app was cool. It may have also been the fact that we were eating at my son’s favorite go to place (data shows he can eat 15 Mister B’s famous buffalo wings in one minute – I guess there was a contest) in the home of Murray State University.

My point here really is just how far we’ve come during this, as of today, 155 day journey of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Business have adapted and created new ways, including our experience I described above, to enhance the customer experience; while at the same time doing their best to keep us safe. Those of us in the education world are constantly navigated the fluidity of school no longer being a place. And, individuals and families are making adjustments we never dreamed of.

I believe we need to take a moment and acknowledge and appreciate some of the great things that have been done during these 155 days, such as:

  • Telephone befriending services to keep communities together
  • Supermarkets, banks, and other businesses offering “elderly/senior only” times for shopping.
  • We’ve become comfortable having virtual gatherings where we can come together globally without the expense and fuss of travel (I had the opportunity to spend and hour and a half with neighbors from 42 different countries, recently). We wouldn’t have even thought of that a few years ago.
  • Finally, leaders are realizing working remotely can be effective. Let’s face it, big egos are the only reason for fancy buildings, offices, and “places” to work in many cases.
  • Our abilities to provide professional development have improved greatly – the way we time them out, delivery, access to more people, et cetera.
  • Creative money raising events
  • Creative virtual concerts with some of our favorite artists. Some great artists, like Mark Tremonti, send out regular clips of personal recorded music with a message. In some ways we can feel closer to these artists than ever before.
  • A chance to break routine and restructure our lives. We’ve gotten back to do some of the things we want to do, but never had the time to.
  • We have learned to access culture without having to travel.
  • Demand has made the internet providers make improvements; along with all technology providers.
  • Educators have been allowed to be, and have risen to the challenge I might add, creative.

I know we all want the Pandemic to be over, but I believe we need to take a moment and celebrate the accomplishments from around the world. This has given us a chance to grow and improve in so many ways as a global community. Let’s not ever fully go back to the way it was 155 days ago – let’s keep the improvement momentum going and strengthen our community. Let’s keep asking, “What can we create together?” Perhaps the biggest positive emerging from this crisis, though, is the realization that we humans are capable of global, collective action. If the stakes are high enough, we can take on these challenges together and, most importantly of all, rapidly abandon business as usual. I would love to hear about other positives you believe should be added to the list.