Byron's Babbles

Success In Aspirational Terms

This past week I heard a person say that “success should be measured in aspirational terms.” The more I thought about it, the more I like it. In education I believe we need to think more aspirational in the way we prepare students. In other words looking beyond just credits and a diploma to the outcomes of what a student should be able to do now and be capable of learning to do later.

Let’s use an example that gets used a lot – welding. It is short-sided to think that having a student be in the single pathway of learning to fuse two pieces of metal together is enough. Don’t get me wrong, good careers await the student, but that’s not aspirational enough. This is why I believe in achieving multiple pathways. A student with aspirations for welding should also be studying computer science. Computers have become an indispensable part of welding processes. Computer, and even artificial intelligence, are required for the execution of many welding operations today. We can only imagine this need for knowledge of computer science will increase. Industry is telling us that welders will need knowledge of lasers, computer program, robotics, artificial intelligence, materials engineering, and systems integration to advance.

With the increased demand for highly skilled and technically sound workers, our students will need to shape their careers around multiple areas of expertise. This aspirational approach will enable their lifelong learning and ability to be agile to a ever-increasingly fast changing world.

We need to be deliberately aligning our student’s aspirations and abilities. The scene in the movie “The Martianwhere it doesn’t look like it will end well for astronaut Mark Watney he sends this message to be relayed to his parents:

“Tell them I love what I do and I’m really good at it. And that I’m dying for something big and beautiful and greater than me. Tell them I said I can live with that.” ~ Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, in The Martian (2015)

Try and tell me that’s not aspirational. We all need to find what we love and what we are good at. It’s not either or, and we need to help students find that balance as well. Some would say that aspiration is magical thinking. I don’t believe it is a magic trick to strategize about the future, help students invent themselves and us reinvent ourselves, push upscale, and keep a growth mindset. Without deep thought and planning about measuring success in aspirational terms, it just becomes a vacuous platitude, or “thing,” as I like to say. But taken in the context of enabling the future, career/skill agility, and student outcomes, measuring success in aspirational terms becomes about being prepared for what we don’t know we need to be prepared for.

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?