It all started a couple of weeks ago with a comment made during the Friday night dinner of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) when Executive Chef Nick Townsend of Ulen Country Club made the comment that we must lead like Mr Potato Head® in that we have to change and adapt just like the pieces of a Mr. Potato Head® toy. This really resonated with me and made me think about the difference between this adaptation and compromising core values. There is a difference – adaptive leadership is not about compromising core values, but about adapting to circumstances, thus enabling your core values.
Of course all FLA members knew the instant they heard the Mr. Potato Head® reference that it would become a through line for a future FLA leadership retreat – and, it did! Little did I know just how powerful this toy would be to our journey of leadership journey. I decided to use a toy through line for our retreat this weekend. We used Mr. Potato Head®, Play-Doh®, and Legos®. These were incredible examples to use for leadership reflection, training, and professional growth. As you know, I use a non-traditional form of agendas for the weekend and have attached the agenda that reflects the learning arc for the weekend as the featured image for this post.
- Legos – Relationships
- Slinky Dog – Vision
- Play Doh – Mentoring
- Yo-Yo – Creativity
- Mr. Potato Head – Communication
- Rubik’s Cube – Ethics
- Rocking Horse – Efficiency
- Lite Brite – Illuminate to Communicate
- Weebles – Endurance
- Green Army Men – Strategy
You will find in my next two posts that the leadership lessons are not limited to what are listed above. In fact there will be a list of graphically recorded lessons about Legos® and Mr. Potato Head® in my next two posts. People love following leaders whose hearts are fueled by passion. Interestingly, I believe that passion in leaders can be fueled by toys. Just think of the feelings and memories that are spurred when thinking of toys that you had in your toy box as a child. So, here is my challenge question: What was your favorite toy growing up and what leadership skills did you learn from it?
On this President’s Day, 2017, I am reminded that there are those who believe people are now judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. I want to believe this too, but know that the question of race runs much deeper than this. Others would contest that racial identity still strongly influences many aspects of their lives in American society. The question that is still causing me pause is “How do we reconcile such opposing opinions?” Furthermore, I need to make sure that I constantly remember to consider that all students have tremendous potential and most, regardless of race, are school dependent, and underachievers. Additionally, I really believe that many of the staff I serve, again regardless of race, have huge potential and many times are underachievers. I have a strong belief that race does not cause achievement differences, but how we structure the education and the pedagogy we use for teaching.
The real problem is low quality instruction for classes of lower skilled, underachieving students. Differentiated teaching is very difficult and presents a challenge to mixed ability groupings. Equity for me means that we are making sure that every student has the same high quality instruction. It also means that I continue to learn and remove my own and the school’s as a system implicit biases to make sure we are not grouping students incorrectly and making sure we are meeting the student where he/she is. As a school leader I must remember the school as a workplace is the most important place for teacher training/learning/and induction.
When discussing equity in education I believe we must first address the difference between equality and equity. I believe the definitions set forth by the Center for Public Education (2016) do an adequate job of capturing what I believe and read: Equality in education is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources. Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school. It is very important to recognize that equality and equity are not the same thing. When dealing with issues of equity we need to use data driven decision making and transparency as keys to success. I also believe we need to shift school and district level foci to external benchmarks as points of comparison, instead of inter-group comparisons in the home community. One of the pieces of the Every Student Succeeds Act that I really value is the breaking out and analyzation of more sub-groups.
“One fundamental aim of our democracy is to provide an adequate education for every person. Our educational systems face a financial crisis. It is deplorable that in a Nation as rich as ours there are millions of children who do not have adequate schoolhouses or enough teachers for a good elementary or secondary education. If there are educational inadequacies in any State, the whole Nation suffers. The Federal Government has a responsibility for providing financial aid to meet this crisis.
In addition, we must make possible greater equality of opportunity to all our citizens for education. Only by so doing can we insure that our citizens will be capable of understanding and sharing the responsibilities of democracy.
The Government’s programs for health, education, and security are of such great importance to our democracy that we should now establish an executive department for their administration.” ~ President Harry S. Truman in his 1948 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 7, 1948.
I do not believe we have gotten to where President Truman wanted us to be in terms of education. It is interesting to me we have researched, written and debated about for years the problems of race, poverty, and public education. These issues have been studied by academics and fueled by talk radio, television, and politicians which serves as a place for us as citizens to argue, debate, and complain about who is right or wrong and who needs to change. All of this has caused me think about the questions of race as related to education and see that what we now call problems are simply symptoms of something deeper.
What I believe we need to be asking is about a breakdown in our communities and education, not viewing as a problem. If we think of race as a problem then we will only be looking for symptoms. Instead we need to be thinking about what is possible and what can we create together. If we continue to look at education in the context of a set of problems to be solved, we may actually limit any chance of the future being different from the past. We need to be having the courageous conversations as a community to develop ways in which all school dependent children are provided the opportunities needed in a great education.
I believe that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being are dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community. We need to create communities where citizens have the experience of being connected to those around them and knows that their safety and success are dependent on the success of all others. I believe as Peter Block does that “A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and action of institutions and formal leaders” (Block, 2009, p. 31). We need to continue to find ways to bring communities of people together to work for continuous improvement of our schools and the systems with which we evaluate those schools.
Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging (p. 31). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.
I continue to be amazed at how many people espouse to want to have great conversations and be a conversational leader, but really can’t help themselves from becoming a pontificator and problem solver. So many leaders leap right to answering the questions themselves. There are many reasons for this, but I believe for many it is just ego of hierarchy – he wants to be seen as the smartest or person who solved the problem. Authentic conversation that deepens a group’s thinking and evokes collaborative intelligence is less likely to occur in a climate of fear, mistrust, and hierarchical control.
I believe everyone is a leader. Everyone has the right, responsibility, and ability to be a leader. In fact, I believe everyone has the obligation to be a leader. We all need to lead from where we are. How we define leadership influences how people will participate. In my world with educators, teacher leaders yearn to be more fully who they are—purposeful, professional human beings. Leadership is an essential aspect of an educator’s professional life. This is why I spend a great deal of time working directly with our rising teacher leaders in our Focused Leader Academy.
We are building an organizational community for thinking more deeply together about key strategic questions. It has been my experience that results do come from the questions. The results lie in the personal relationships, the knowledge, and the mutual caring that gets strengthened in people’s conversations together about the questions, along with the discovery of their own answers.
What kind of conversations are you leading?
So, here is a generalization of what happened: They spent the first few minutes with someone establishing the leadership role, dominance, or trying really hard to be super collaborative. In a few teams’ cases one emergee as a leader. The next few minutes were devoted to planning. Construction began, usually with less than eight minutes left on the clock. Then, with about a minute to go, someone placed the marshmallow on top of the beautiful tower, and….it collapsed – failure.
Kindergarteners and engineers do the best on this activity (see graph above). We decided that the kindergarteners win because kids don’t vacillate; they simply try something, and if it doesn’t work, they try again, and again, and again. Think about it… young children love to iterate. They are very curious.
We concluded, in our post-challenge discussion (see picture for our Mike Fleisch graphic of the discussion), that engineers are good a this because they plan, build things, and are resourceful every day. In other words, engineers are quicker to understand how the spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallow become a system together.
The big takeaway from our teams yesterday, however, was the idea of “failing quickly.” We are all familiar with the phrase “fail fast”, but what does that really mean? And how do you put it into practice? Failing fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach development and creation that embraces lots of little experiments and iterations with the mindset that some will work and grow and others will fail and die. And, that’s okay.
We had a great norming session today for our teacher evaluation team. This has been an important monthly retreat for making sure the team is doing all they can to help our teachers on their journey of continuous improvement. Norming helps us to unpack the nuances of teaching practices that have the greatest potential for improving student achievement.
Our norming sessions prompt teachers and administrators to engage in professional conversations that make the critical link between teaching and the supports that teachers need to improve and hone their skills. This common understanding is the basis for high-quality evaluation systems that can drive professional growth. Our goal is to help all teachers grow throughout their careers.
We believe teachers and administrators need a common language and vision about what constitutes effective practice. Being able to identify and articulate these practices allows administrators to assess teachers and provide them with feedback on their strengths and areas for growth.
Here are our graphic notes I created from our norming session today:
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The first thing that struck me about this book was Denis’ use of Thinking Questions at the end of every chapter to guide the reader through the learning. As we know, questions open the door to the future and are more powerful than answers in that they demand engagement. I couldn’t help but be engaged as I read this book. As a believer in the fact that context and relevance matters, this book hits the mark.
Denis shows you how he brings his life into the classroom. Whether we like it or not, our students want to get to know us – and why not? Or, why would we not want to form that relationship? As Denis said, “We have no choice but to make learning more relevant to our students, or they will learn without us.” If you want to make school work relevant and learn along with your students, you need to read this book.
~Dr. Byron L. Ernest
Regardless of your position on this topic, “inking” is in. What I’m talking about is tattooing. The interest of young and old in getting a tattoo is increasing. Many of our heroes have ink and we maybe want one too. Amazingly, 25% of those getting tattoos regret it within the first month of getting the tattoo. Now, to be clear, I don’t really think I want a tattoo right now, but I do have a temporary tattoo that won’t seem to go away. Let me tell you the story.
This past weekend we used Emojis as a “through line” for our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) December retreat. The first activity we did had participants pick an Emoji temporary tattoo and put it somewhere on their body. Check out the picture of the sheet of available tattoos. The catch was, you needed to explain why you picked the tattoo you did and the significance of where you placed the ink on your body. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun with this.
This was an exciting and inspiring activity. The explanations were very well thought out. Some were comical, while at the same time being very meaningful and heartfelt. I am hoping our Cohort #2 FLA members will reply to this post with their stories. Here’s mine:
“I chose to put the two pink hearts Emoji on the inside of my right wrist. I explained this was because I love FLA and love facilitating the learning of our teacher leaders. In the words of Cohort # 1 graduate, Jill Landers, these weekend retreats are Byron’s “leadership heroine.” She’s right; I’m addicted. Furthermore, I placed the tattoo on the inside of my wrist because by personally working with our teacher leaders it helps me keep a pulse on what is going on with our teachers.” ~ Byron
Now, here we are almost a week later and my temporary tattoo looks just as good as on the day I applied it. At first I got a little concerned, but I have gotten used to it and actually really like it. I keep getting questions about it. Questions like the one at the state board of education meeting this week, “Byron, do you really have a tattoo of two pink hearts on your wrist?” These questions give me the chance to say “Why yes. Let me tell you why and about the journey our teacher leaders are taking through our Focused Leader Academy.”
So, if you were going to get some first time, or new, leadership ink; what would your tattoo be and why?
Here is the sixth and final guest post in this series on Emojis from our top teacher leaders. It has been exciting to bring you a new post every day this week from these talented individuals. The goal was for this cohort of our Focused Leader Academy to experience the thrill of putting content out there for anyone and everyone to read in the form of a blog post. They explained that it was a little scary and intimidating to put thoughts out there for others to critique. The biggest question our reluctant bloggers were asking was “Will I be clever?” While, yes, there is a certain amount of vulnerability, blogs can enable self growth, serve as a journal, and most importantly to me – serve as a library of personal thoughts, research, and lessons learned. I go to the archive of my posts often to get information from the past that I have documented in my blog. Blogs are an incredible leadership tool for your organization’s to know about you as the leader, but I believe blogs are most valuable as a personal tool.
Emojis…Creative or Lazy?
“People who use emojis are too stupid to communicate with actual vocabulary.” This was a quote we saw on the internet, which sparked controversy. Are emojis stupid? Do people use them as a cop-out for thinking OR as an alternate way of communication? The way people communicate in 2016 come in various forms of email, text, tweets, etc. Does this mean we are dumbed down or actually more innovative and creative? It’s your choice.
Courtney Seiter says, “Scientists have discovered that when we look at smiley faces online, the same parts of the brain are activated as when we look at a real human face.” She goes on to say that emojis replace the tone of voice you would hear in typical conversation, thus creating an online version of empathy. When you communicate with emojis, are you using them as a tool to express emotions or as a symbol to replace real vocabulary? Right brained people tend to take a more artistic approach to communication, and like to be shown rather than told. Right brained people also prefer to draw rather than write which may lead us to believe, if you use emojis, you might have right brained tendencies.
Symbolism is often used in things like poetry and art. Emojis are essentially a picture that represent words…so could be considered an art form. For example, silent movies can be enjoyable because you get to interpret the story being told. Pictures books are another simpler form of using symbolism for story-telling purposes…could emojis be the same?
Left brained people tend to be more detailed and use words rather than pictures. They often find it easier to read things that are straight forward rather than vague. With this being said, a left brained person may find it inappropriate to use these vague pictures to represent specific information, especially if it a message that should not be up for interpretation.
In an online environment, sometimes emojis can be misinterpreted. The simple mistake of a winking emoji in place of the regular smiling emoji may lead people to think you know something they don’t. This could lead to over-analyzing and misinterpreting a simple statement. Emotions are complex things and people can have a differing view on what an emoji could symbolize. General Motors actually introduced a publication in all emojis which caused confusion and intrigue. Some people may interpret this as a positive or a negative public relations move. It can also cause a gap of communication between generations. For example, in my personal life, an older family member used the “laugh so hard you cry” emoji with a post on Facebook about a death in the family. They assumed the tears were sad tears, thus causing major confusion and miscommunication.
In conclusion, do you find yourself relating more to the benefits or hindrances? If you associate more with benefits…you might just be a right brained person. If you tend to agree more with hindrances, you might be a left brained person. Maybe you’re in the middle, and find it depends on the situation. In the end, it’s all about the audience and getting across the message you’re trying to convey. However you choose to communicate, make sure it’s effective.