Byron's Babbles

The Frustrating Truth Of Turf

Great Pumpkin 🎃 Carving By Steve Treffiletti

I learned a new term this week: “Lawnmower Parents”. One of our activities during our North Carolina 3D Leadership was to carve pumpkins using the prompt of: “Truths we Are Frustrated With”. This turned into a great and meaningful activity in all our states with some really deep conversations. I love to watch the carvings develop and am always trying to guess what is being represented. I had to laugh when I saw Coach Steve Treffiletti from Langtree Charter Academy carving a lawnmower. If I would have carved a pumpkin using our prompt, I would have carved a lawnmower too. I have made the picture of his pumpkin the featured picture of this post. While we both would have carved pictures of mowers, our stories were different. I am going to write about both in this post.

Lawnmower Parents

Coach Treffiletti’s truth he was frustrated with, was that of a new group of parents categorized as “lawnmower parents”. I guess I have been under a rock because I had not heard this term yet. For those that are like me and aren’t familiar with theses parents, they are pushing aside “helicopter parents” to intervene or, mow down, any person or obstacle that stands in the way of any inconvenience, problem or discomfort their child might encounter. Coach Treffiletti’s point was that our students won’t be prepared for life or to be great citizens if every hurdle is removed for them.

Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. Make no mistake, this does not mean parents should not keep their children safe, help, and encourage them. But, lawnmower parents are not teaching kids how to deal with discomfort. Quite the contrary, they are preventing kids from learning to problem-solve.

I’ve never met a parent who sets out to be a bad parent or whose heart wasn’t in the right place. We all want what was is best for our kids. But we have to watch being too focused on reducing our child’s discomfort in the short-term, rather than focusing on our child’s needs in the long-term Sometimes we must just back off and let our children gain experience dealing with adversity.

Turf

My truth I am frustrated with is that of “turf”. Let me explain. As an education policy-maker it is so frustrating when it becomes challenging, and many times nearly impossible, to innovate and make improvements because the different turf is being protected by the individuals, groups, organizations, or governmental agencies involved. All have a stake, but everyone is afraid of losing turf. When we don’t mow down the turf, we end up with the status quo. I actually discuss this so much in meetings that a person, who I respect a great deal, gave me a toy lawnmower in honor of my constant desire to “mow down the turf.”

Beth Macy discussed the issue of “turf” in her great book, Dopesick. Macy argued that it is hard to get agencies to work together to solve an issue because of turf. She used the example of most drug offenders being sent to federal prison instead of being dealt with at the local or state level because it would leave money at the local and state level. The problem is we begin to view problems to rigidly based on where our funding comes from. We need to figure out ways to eliminate turf’s devastating effect on innovation and changing the status quo.

What’s your truth that frustrates you?

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The Blind Spots Identified

The following is an excerpt from What Are Your Blind Spots?

The Blind Spots Identified

By Jim Haudan and Rich Berens

We have identified five leadership blind spots that perpetuate disengagement and indifference. They do the exact opposite of creating thriving, innovative workplaces that turn customers into advocates and fans. Let’s take a quick look at each one before each chapter breaks them down further and answers the key questions leaders need to ask themselves in order to see things as their employees do.

Leadership Blind Spot #1: Purpose

Common Misconception. Purpose matters, but it doesn’t drive our numbers.

The Basics. While there was a time when employees were only paid to complete a specific set of tasks, there is way more to it than that today. Many leaders are starting to embrace the concept of purpose but fail to actually run their businesses in a purpose-driven way.

The Question We Will Answer. As leaders, how can we put purpose at the center of the way we operate our business and achieve exceptional financial results because of it? Leadership

Blind Spot #2: Story

Common Misconception. We have a compelling story to tell that our people care about.

The Basics. Most organizations have a semi generic vision statement, accompanied by what seems like too many slides to outline their strategy for what winning looks like for the organization. Leaders believe they have a compelling story to tell, but when seen through the eyes of the employee, the complete opposite is often the case.

The Question We Will Answer. What makes a strategy story compelling, and how can we craft one for our people?

Leadership Blind Spot #3: Engagement

Common Misconception. Rational and logical presentations engage the hearts and minds of people.

The Basics. In many organizations, a tremendous amount of money is spent creating strategies to win. Those strategies then get communicated using PowerPoint presentations, road shows, or town hall meetings—but things seemingly get stuck. Employees fail to connect with the strategy, leaders are frustrated about the lack of progress, and managers just try to hold the ship together.

The Question We Will Answer. How do we move from presentations to conversations and create genuine engagement in strategies in the business?

Leadership Blind Spot #4: Trust

Common Misconception. People will not do the right thing unless you tell them what to do and hold them accountable to do it.

The Basics. Companies want and need to deliver great service to differentiate themselves, and the common belief is that the best way to deliver this is to create tight processes, scripts, and routines that minimize variability—to hold people and their behaviors to a strict policy and uniform standards. But that approach will never create consistent yet unique, differentiated, and personalized experiences that lead the market.

The Question We Will Answer. How can we trust and scale the unique human judgment, discretion, and care of our people, while at the same time having firm standards that we all share?

Leadership Blind Spot #5: Truth

Common Misconception. My people feel safe telling me what they really think and feel.

The Basics. In many leadership teams, what people really think often gets discussed in the hallways and bathrooms and by the watercooler rather than in meeting rooms. People don’t feel safe telling the truth because they don’t think it is smart or safe to do so. Many leaders believe that to be effective and successful, they need to be smarter than the next guy, fight for their area of the business, and not show vulnerability. This mentality creates lack of trust, collaboration, and common ownership for a greater goal—and ultimately greatly slows down execution speed.

The Question We Will Answer. What can we do as leaders to make it safe for our people to tell the truth and act on those truths to make the business better?

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About Jim Haudan

Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc. Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successful, build employee engagement, and transform businesses.  He is a sought-after business presenter who has spoken at TEDx BGSU, Tampa TEDx, and The Conference Board. His latest book, What Are Your Blind Spots?: Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back is co-authored with Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. The book equips readers with the tools needed for a personal leadership reset. You’ll discover how to increase engagement, productivity, and growth in your own organization.

About Rich Berens

Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc, and has helped align leaders at Global 2000 organizations to drive strategic and cultural change at scale. He is a noted speaker on the issues of, transformation, and how to create lasting change  and has authored articles for numerous publications and blogs. Under Rich’s leadership, Root has been listed among the Great Place to Work® Institute’s top 25 places to work, been named to the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list, and experienced 10 years of consecutive growth. His latest book, What Are Your Blind Spots?: Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back is co-authored with Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc.

Why You Should Read “What Are Your Blinds Spots?”

What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions That Hold Leaders BackWhat Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions That Hold Leaders Back by Jim Haudan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book dives deeply into five areas that are written and talked about often in the realm of leadership, but does it in a way that is different from all the rest. The areas of purpose, story, engagement, trust, and truth are all leadership dispositions that most would think are very straightforward. Because they are dispositions, however, we become blind to our organizations and our own approach to these, we miss opportunities for improvement or even gross inadequacies. This book is not just all talk; practical applications are given along with activities to identify and inform our blind spots. We all have a leadership style and mantra, and this book gives the reader a chance to take an introspective look at whether that mantra is what we want those on our team to be sharing about us. As a leader, student of leadership development, and leadership development professional, I found the lessons in this book engaging, able to be used immediately, and transferable. I grew professionally from reading this book.

View all my reviews

A New Approach to Leadership

The following is an excerpt from Humble Leadership

A New Approach to Leadership

By Ed and Peter Schein

This book introduces a new approach to leadership based more on personal relationships than transactional role relationships.

The good news: employee engagement, empowerment, organizational agility, ambidexterity, innovation . . . all of this can flourish in the rapidly changing world when the fundamental relationship between leaders and followers, helpers and clients, and providers and customers becomes more personalized and cooperative.

The bad news: continued deception, scandals, high turnover of disengaged talent, safety and quality problems in industry and health care, all the way to corruption and abuse of power at the highest levels of industry and politics, driven by financial expediency and the obsession with retaining power as primary success criteria . . . all of this will continue to happen as long as leader-follower relationships remain impersonal, transactional, and based on the roles and rules that have evolved in the current culture of management that still predominates in our hierarchical bureaucratic organizations.

The Leader-Follower Relationship

“Leadership” is wanting to do something new and better, and getting others to go along. This definition applies as much to senior executives developing new strategies, new purposes, and new values as it does to a group member down in the organization suggesting a new way of running a meeting or improving a process to drive better results. Both the word new and the word better remind us that leadership always refers to some task that can be improved and to some group whose values and culture will ultimately determine what is better.

What is new and what is better will always depend on context, the nature of the task, and the cultural values that are operating in the group or organization that is doing the work. What we later may label as “good or effective leadership” thus always begins with someone perceiving a new and better way to do something, an emergent leader. Our focus will be not on the individual and the desired characteristics of that emergent leader, but on the relationships that develop between that person and the potential followers who will have influenced what is finally considered to be new and better and who will implement the new way if they agree to try it. Those potential followers will always be some kind of workgroup or team, so our focus will also be on the relationships between them. They may be co-located or widely spread in a network, and their membership may change, but there will always be some kind of grouping involved, hence group dynamics and group processes will always be intimately involved with leadership.

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About Authors

Edgar H. Schein is Professor Emeritus from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He’s a pioneer in organizational studies, organizational culture and leadership, process consulting, career development. Ed’s contributions to the practice of O.D. date back to the early 1960s and continue with the recent publication of Organizational Culture and Leadership 5th edition and now Humble Leadership, co-authored with Peter A. Schein, co-founder of OCLI.org who brings 30 years of hands-on experience in large and small companies leading growth initiatives in Silicon Valley.

Community: Aggregating For Innovation

IMG_3385Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a webinar with Peter Block, author of Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2nd Edition. I already blogged once about this webinar hosted by  Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence in honor of the release of the second edition of this book last week. Click here to read, Why Does Community Matter?

During the webinar I had the opportunity to ask a question of Peter Block. My question was, as a public policy maker, how can we scale the use of community and convening of people to really solve the issues at hand; in my case in education? You can listen to Peter’s response to my question here:

This was such a deep and thoughtful answer from Peter, don’t you agree? I had to do some follow-up study to really get my mind wrapped around all of the thoughts he presented here. First of all, this idea of aggregation. There are so many ways you can use and think about the idea of an aggregate. Many times the aggregate is thought of as the whole, like a country, and then the community as part of that whole. Peter challenged me to think about aggregating as opposed to bringing something to scale. He said, “When I aggregate I bring big things and people together that do not need to be alike.” This was powerful and made me think about aggregates like components of a composite material that resist compressive stress. In other words, we need to aggregate people who are co-creating what education, in my case, needs to look like.

Peter was also very clear that legislation follows the innovation phases; you can’t legislate innovation. You innovate through experience. As I was putting this thought process together I realized the aggregation theory was so powerful because by aggregating we are developing by the merging of the differences of the people we are bringing together. Therefore, when we aggregate people together, we get a great deal of experiences to draw from. Peter also pointed out we need to make visible the people who are doing great and important things with the idea of replication. I believe an aggregate can also be made up of many different communities with diverse experiences. Across the country, we find a wide array of communities. However, when you put all of them together, we get an aggregate or the whole.

IMG_3386Then we need to begin aggregating for co-creating for education (in my case), and we then get people talking to each other.  I love the question that Peter suggested we should be posing when convening, “Who wants to participate with us by making it real for you?” Two other things I have learned from Peter Block are to always ask, “What can we create together?” and elected officials and policy makers need to be conveners and not problem solvers. I have always tried to take this very seriously and convene communities with no preconceived solution. This idea of aggregating really drove home the value in convening groups with a wide array of experiences and then valuing those differences – not being afraid of them.

As you can see, this was a very thought provoking webinar that caused a lot of reflection. Here is the entire webinar for you to watch:

 

Why Does Community Matter?

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.31.57 AMThis past week I had the honor to be involved in a webinar put on by my friend Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence. The webinar featured a hero of mine, Peter Block. I consider him to be the father of Community. In fact, he literally wrote the book on it – Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2nd Edition. The webinar was held to launch the 2nd Edition of the book that was released last week. Peter Block was introduced to me by my good friend Mike Fleisch. Mike has literally shown me all the great community work that Peter Block has done in Cincinnati. I have read Peter’s books and was excited to be on the webinar with him. Peter is truly helping to change the world.

“The best way to connect is with groups of three people with their knees 9 inches apart.” ~ Peter Block

Let me tell you, there was a great deal of content in a one hour webinar. Peter is very philosophical, but is also able to bring his philosophies and core values to a practical level as well. I want to provide you a bulleted list of some of the more salient points that I believe Peter made during the interview. I will provide you with the link to the webinar and you can make your own list later in this post. Here is my list:

  • We’ve reached a limit as to what professionals can do.
  • Schools cannot raise our children.
  • PowerPoint pretends our conversations are predictable.
  • How can you have learning, if all you have is content?
  • We need to ask the question, “why did you show up?”
  • All cultures value depth of relationship!
  • We are afraid of the stranger.
  • Working of deficiencies just makes the deficiencies stronger.
  • Using community strategies creates real and concrete outcomes.
  • You can’t innovate through legislation.

Wow, I just realized I created a top ten list from the webinar. I am not going to go back and number them because there is no real order to this list, but all important points that Peter covered in the webinar. I need to go back and blog about each one (we’ll see if I get that accomplished or not). So, I promised you the opportunity to make your own list. I want to provide you with the link to the YouTube video of the entire webinar, including the chance I had to visit with and ask a question of Peter Block. My next post after this one to my blog will specifically deal with my question and the conversation that followed. But for now, click here to watch the whole webinar (again my thanks to Becky Robinson and Weaving Influence for making this possible):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUPAFSbcEHY&feature=youtu.be

As you can see, this was a very powerful webinar. I would love for you to reply to this post with your top ten (or however many) takeaways you have from the webinar. By replying you will be creating the strong aggregate Peter talked about. Notice I am trying to practice the teachings of Peter by not offering my own thoughts on each of the bulleted points, but asking you to give your thoughts. I really do want to hear from you. Peter Block really is the father of using Community to change the world.

Independence Day Leadership Lessons From Maine & Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

On this 2018 Fourth Of July morning I am reminded of the great leadership that has been necessary for the United States to become the great country it is. My family and I are vacationing in Maine right now so, of course, I had to do some studying of influential leaders from Maine. Boy did I come across a great one: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Now I know that Independence Day is observed to honor our Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of Great Britain and those who provided the leadership during this important time of our country’s founding, but since I am in Maine I am going to honor and remember Chamberlain too.

Raised from a modest life in the small town of Brewer Maine, Joshua Chamberlain chose the professions of ministry and academia filling in the post of Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College during the tumultuous 1850s. As the Civil War broke out, Chamberlain felt the impulse to serve based on his belief in preserving the union and his moral conviction against the institution of slavery. In early 1862, Chamberlain expressed his desire to serve to the Governor of Maine, who offered him the rank of Colonel in the Maine volunteers. He turned that rank down because he did not believe he had the experience necessary for the rank. This is lesson one learned from him – be modest and know what skill level you have and what you still have to learn. Believing he needed to gain experience and knowledge of the military profession, Chamberlain’s uncommon act of humility set a tone for the remainder of his service.

But the cause for which we fought was higher; our thought wider… That thought was our power. ~ Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain went on to have a very successful military career and ended that career as a Brigadier General, but two Civil War stories are worth telling in this blog post. Here they are:

Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, Little Round Top

Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, who he now commanded, ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to execute a daring counterattack against the 15th Alabama Regiment of the Confederate Army on July 2nd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. At the extreme left flank of the Union Army, the 20th Maine fought off repeated assaults for the past several hours against the determined Confederate Soldiers. Even though the 20th regiment was outnumbered and low on ammunition, Chamberlain’s bold decision and courageous leadership led his men of Maine down the slopes of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and stopped the Confederate assault against the Union Army’s left flank. He showed tremendous insight and leadership in making this bold move. Colonel Chamberlain was inspirational to his men and as a leader, a true influencer.

Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, April, 1865

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain taught us what it meant to be a man of character and compassion when he was personally asked by General Ulysses S. Grant to preside at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse over the surrender detail. It was not the fact that he presided that is noteworthy here, it is the awesome act and example of leadership he performed. As the 20,000 Confederate Soldiers paraded by to turn over their arms and battle flags, Chamberlain gave the Union Army detail the command of “carry arms” to salute Confederate’s service and gallantry in battle. Many, then and now, credit this leadership gesture as the beginning for the country’s healing process toward reconciliation.

This act took courage and would bring him accolades and plagued him politically for the rest of his life. The southerners deeply respected him for this show of compassion and respect. Conversely, however, many northerners, including those in his home state of Maine, did not see it that way. They wanted to continue the humiliation of the Confederacy. Chamberlain did what was right and faced the consequences.

Congressional Medal of Honor

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was awarded the Medal Of Honor for his service At Gettysburg. He saw combat at Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Five Forks, and the Appomattox Campaign.

Chamberlain Leadership Lessons

Chamberlain always positioned himself in the middle of his brigade’s formation. He led shoulder to shoulder with his men. This built trust and gave him the ability to truly know what was going on. Chamberlain reassured his soldiers through his cool and calm presence during the heat of combat. He garnered the trust of his men through his actions in combat. The other thing that really impressed me as I studied this hero was his commitment to studying his new military profession, and his commitment to developing his subordinates. We need to pay attention to these lesson learned and apply them to our daily lives as leaders.

Learn More About Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

There are so many more leadership lessons to learn about this great man that went on to be President of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and four term (one year terms at that time in Maine). Let me suggest two ways that I did to learn more:

  1. Visit Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and visit the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Museum. It is awesome! I learned a great deal from the tour and curators there. The museum is the restored home (the only home he and his wife, Fanny, ever owned). There is family history, Civil War history, history of his time as Bowdoin College President, and history of his Governorship. It is awesome!
  2. Read the great book by Alice Rains Trulock, In The Hands Of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain & The Civil War. This book is awesome and I gave it five stars. Is a very well written well told story of this great leader. This book inspired me to dig deeper and explore more to understand how this man became the great leader he did, at a crucial time in our nation’s history.

I am thankful on this Independence Day, 2018 for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. What leaders are you thankful for on this day of celebration of our great country, The United States Of America?

What Can We Create Together?

Every year, the Ernest family takes the first week of July as an opportunity to get away and spend time together. We have found this to be a great week because it is moratorium week for Indiana High School athletics; in other words, Heath (my son) does not have football 🏈 practice all week. Another thing I love is that when we travel we get to celebrate the Fourth of July in different places around the country. And…with the holiday, many others are off work too, and it seems the draw to do work related things is less.

View from my camper door in York, Maine. Breathtaking!

This year, we are spending our week working out of York, Maine. This trip is giving us the opportunity to pick up visiting in four states (Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont) that he had not been to yet in his quest to get all 50 before he graduates from high school. He will just have Alaska, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico left after this trip. Not bad for a 17 year old. Yesterday, as we were setting up our camper, my son and I noticed a neighboring camper flying the American flag 🇺🇸 and The Gadsden (“Don’t Tread On Me Flag”). Heath and I had a discussion about the flag, Christopher Gadsden (who designed the flag), what it meant during the American Revolution, and what it means to us now. Please don’t go down the route of thinking I am on some anti-government weird movement. I’m just reflecting on our past,studying history, and what it means to our future.

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” ~ President Harry S. Truman

The Gadsden Flag

Many people during revolutionary war times thought the rattlesnake was a good example of America’s virtues. They argued that it is unique to America; individually its rattles produce no sound, but united they can be heard by all; and while it does not attack unless provoked, it is deadly to step upon one. I have to think 🤔 this was how our forefathers were thinking. Even though we later had some expansionist behaviors as we put the whole United States project together, there continued to be to mentality we would not go beyond our geographic boarders.

Colonel Christopher Gadsden

He was from South Carolina and really liked a yellow banner he had seen with a coiled rattle snake drawn on it, and the rest is history, so to speak. Gadsden made a copy of this flag and submitted the design to the Provincial Congress in South Carolina.

During The American Revolution

At the time of the American Revolutionary we were in a time period where intense, but controlled individualism was the dominating disposition of most people. Remember, most of the colonists had come here to escape some type of oppression. An important fact, by the way, I believe we need to remember today! This was a time when self-directing responsible individuals again and again decided for themselves what they should do, and did it without needing anyone else to give them an assignment or supervise them in carrying it out.

Does The Gadsden Flag Have Meaning Today?

YES! I want to just stop there, because I believe we must make that meaning for ourselves, using our founding fathers as the guides. It reminds me, we need to be mindful of the idea of government overreach. For me this means on a local and state level, as well as at the federal level.

And…as we know, this is not an easy thing to balance. What I see as support, you may see as overreach, and visa versus. Or, I’m reminded of pre Civil War times when decisions were made pointing to states rights, which I believe very deeply in, but states rights were being used as a political shield to not doing the right thing – abolishing slavery once and for all for the whole country. I believe this conundrum itself is part of the genius our democratic design. It allows us to debate and have discourse about how to proceed. My only wish on this week of celebrating the independence of our great country is that we take more of a stance of civilized discourse and come together as a nation of communities to develop great solutions to our challenges. What can we create together?

Learning By Playing Like Kittens

Those of you who know me well, know that I really value my time in the barn in the morning. For some reason I can be working along giving bottles to babies, milking cows, or washing heifers, and at the same time, be thinking and reflecting on a lot of things. This morning I became entranced while watching a new litter of kittens romping and playing. They would go from one end of the barn to the other and then became totally into playing on a feed pallet we had leaned up against a grooming chute. They would climb, jump, and knock each other off. Such fun!

I began to think about all the things learned while playing. I also thought about how important it is for us to make learning fun for both our student and adult learners. Here is what kittens learn from playing, according to iheartcats:

6 Life Skills Kittens Learn By Playing With Each Other

• #1 – How to hunt. Kitten play is full of stalking, chasing, and tackling to the ground. …

• #2 – Good social skills. In order to grow into social, emotionally-healthy cats, kittens need to be socialized. …

• #3 – Coordination. …

• #4 – Communication. …

• #5 – Confidence. …

• #6 – Boundaries.

Most of these are skills we need all need to have. I have to tell you I witnessed a large group engaged in fun learning this past Friday. I had the opportunity to keynote an event. Click here to read about it. During my keynote, that was about the critical need for relevant learning, I had the over 200 participants put together toy glider planes I had put on the tables ahead of time. Everyone at each table became a team and the participants developed team names and then wrote the team name on the wing of their plane. Four containers had then been placed at the corners of the room and boundaries marked off. The participants were given time to put the planes together, practice, and then given one try at gliding the plane into the container.

I have to tell you, every person was up and engaged. There were questions being asked, teams practicing, laughing, strategizing, and adults and students having fun. It was amazing! Check out this video tweet – it shows it all. Click here to watch. All the while, they were learning the importance of learning in a relevant and engaging way. And…let’s see here…they were learning social skills – team work, coordination, communication – giving advice and feedback to one another, confidence – rooting each other on, and boundaries.

So, just as we know play is the cornerstone of the kitten’s learning process in the first few weeks and months of its life; I believe it is also the cornerstone of learning for our students and lifelong learning adults. It is by playing together that we humans and kittens will develop both physical and mental abilities. But play is more than that: it is also good, rollicking fun, which in turn increases both the kitten’s and our social skills, technical skills, and sociability.

Excavating Lifelong & Engaged Learners

Today’s world absolutely requires collaborative and critical thinkers, creative and courageous innovators, and true lifelong learners. Then comes the question – how do we achieve having our students become all these things? First of all, I believe we must do a better job of providing career exploration opportunities for our students at a much younger age. This means so much more than just hearing about jobs or walking by a booth at a job fair and getting a piece of candy. It means really digging in (no pun intended) and learning about what career paths fit the interests and passions of the student. It also means facilitating the creation of a plan of how to get there. We need to be thinking about internships and pre-apprenticeship programs. If we get this right, I believe it brings relevancy to the students’ education and will improve student engagement. We do a pretty good job of mapping out the courses and plans for four year colleges (mainly because there is a list of courses needed to get accepted). But, when it comes to helping our students into other paths, we need to improve.

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 5.28.50 PM

William E. Dugan Training Center

I was reminded of this recently when spending some time with Mark Kara, Assistant Apprenticeship Coordinator for the International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150. While at the Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program‘s William E. Dugan training site, he made the comment that he would go to a school job fair and “…when I leave I suck everything that I told the kids or that they learned about us out of the room as soon as I walk out.” This really resonated with me because as I toured and learned more about this amazing training program and facility, I realized how we need to have our students realize these opportunities exist. We need both our students and parents understand the career opportunities that exist outside the normal four year degree track. The jobs associated with the apprenticeship programs I was witnessing were high wage/high demand and highly skilled. We owe it to our students to get better at this!

img_2920While at the training facility I had the opportunity to run a Caterpillar Excavator Simulator. Wow, what an experience! Apprentices start out on the simulators for so many hours before moving to the real machines. I’m not going to lie, the farm kid in me was coming out and they had to pull me off the thing. The cool part is that the Cat Simulator you see me on in the picture, for example, has hand controls that can be switched out for different CAT machines. In other words, the same simulator can be used to simulate all of the heavy CAT machinery. And, as new models come out, the new controls can be purchased and put on with software updates. The controls are the actual control panels from the machines. Bottom-line, however, is we need to be using real world experiences like this in some type of pre-apprenticeship programs to get students interested and then teach our courses in a real life context. These are just the kind of things I researched and discuss in my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room.

In my opinion, a rather clear pattern of practices has emerged as to what works for engaging students and certain “best practices” are recommended and should be put in place. Exploration and relevancy are at the top of this list. You can’t do much more exploring or be more relevant than actually sitting in the same seat using the exact same controls as the real equipment I would be using if I wanted to be an excavator operator – let me tell you, I could get my mind wrapped around that!

excavator-slew-ring-also-5230-caterpillar-excavator-with-excavator-for-sale-together-with-cat-390-excavator-bucket-sizes-plus-yanmar-b-50-mini-excavatorsOne common prerequisite for engaging learners is “relevancy.” Today’s learners ask that their learning apply to real-life scenarios whenever possible as opposed to being theoretical and text-based. Working with authentic problems or community issues engages students and builds a sense of purpose to the learning experience. Students, themselves, clearly want their work to be intellectually engaging and relevant to their lives.

Additionally, today’s learners ask for the opportunity to explore and to find solutions and answers for themselves. We need to be giving our students the opportunity to explore different careers by actually living them; just like I lived while running an excavator. Here’s the deal: Our students want to turn the thing on, get in there, mess around, and see what works; and, what does not work.

As we enter a time where we are making Graduation Pathways available to our students, we must increase and improve the opportunities for our students to explore different careers first hand and facilitate their learning by connecting school work to real life.