Byron's Babbles

Making Your Conversations Count!

Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful EngagementConversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement by Jackie Stavros

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyone involved in leadership or in education needs to read this book. I love the fact that it has education examples with actual stories from teacher and student interactions. This books helps the reader to better understand how appreciation and inquiry enhance relationships as well as productivity and performance. After reading this book I realize how important it is to bring an appreciative dimension to conversations and add value. We have all been involved in conversations where someone is bringing the depreciative dimension and devaluing the conversation. In this book we are given the guide to be generative in our conversations. Our community, whether an organization, school, classroom, or business is defined by the conversations we have. If we want our conversations to be meaningful in shaping and defining the future of those we serve then we need to use appreciative inquiry and make those conversations generate greatness. Find out how in this book!

Dr. Byron L. Ernest

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You Can’t Know It All So You Might As Well Be Curious!

This guest post originally appeared on the Conversations Worth Having Blog

You Can’t Know It All So You Might As Well Be Curious!

By Cheri Torres

Adopt an attitude of curiosity about life. When we are genuinely curious, we naturally ask generative questions. Such questions:

• Make room for diverse and different perspectives. How do you see it?

• Surface new information and knowledge. How did they manage this process at your previous place of work?

• Stimulate creativity and innovation. What might be possible if we . . .?

When dealing with any issue, even difficult issues, generative questions make unseen information visible and result in conversations that create trust, positive energy, and the transformative power to move the system forward in a desired direction. The result: new ways for solving complex problems and compelling images for collective action.  Here is a table from our book, Conversations Worth Having.

Here’s an example that parents of teenagers will easily relate to. Monica, mother of a teenage boy, uses generative questions to change the conversational dynamic with her son. Monica had been in the midst of a recurring argument with her son, Aiden. She was tired of the same old interaction that never produced a way forward. Aiden wanted to borrow the car over the weekend to go ‘do things’ with his friends, and Monica didn’t like the idea of him joyriding with the possibility of getting into trouble. Their critical conversations had created a rift between them, which saddened Monica, but she didn’t know what else to do. Suddenly, in mid-conversation, it occurred to her she could use the practice she’s learned at work for shifting the tone and direction of a conversation. When Aiden started to reiterate the argument, Monica held up her hand, paused and said, “I really do understand why you want the car, and I hope you understand why I’m worried for your safety and well-being. So, how can we have a more productive conversation? How can we come to some agreement that allows you to get the car and me to feel comfortable that you’ll make good decisions, even if your friends are pressuring you?”

Aiden was stopped in his tracks. This time it was his turn to pause, and then they began a brand new conversation that promised to be worthwhile . . . and it was. Monica’s question allowed Aiden to let his mom know he did understand. He shared that sometimes he was glad he hadn’t been allowed to have the car because of where his friends ended up. But other times, he’d missed out on experiences he wanted to have and at those times, he felt she was being over protective. Upon hearing that, she realized she hadn’t even considered that part of the stalemate might be her own refusal to let go. They eventually arrived at an agreement to start small and keep expanding car privileges as trust and confidence grew between them.

Monica shifted the conversation out of critical debate and into a conversation worth having by reframing the situation and asking a generative question. This simple action shifted the tone and direction of the conversation. It allowed both of them to step back, reflect for a moment, and be more open and honest, and this shifted the outcome of their interaction.  [To read more stories like this, order Conversations Worth Having today.]

This is one of the most valuable practices you can develop for building strong relationships, expanding the potential of a group, surfacing possibilities in the face of challenges, and rapidly moving towards desired goals.

Generative questions often arise naturally when we frame a conversation around what we want but don’t currently have. For example, “I don’t have the money to buy a new car” to “I do have the money to buy a new car.” It’s as if the second statement primes our question generator automatically:

• “Where did the money come from?”

• “What did I do to earn, find, or save it?”

• “What miracle might occur to support that?”

• “I wonder how I could ask for a raise, it’s been six years, and they tell me I’m a real asset.” What if I frame it as an adjustment in pay?

• “What if I offered a workshop and had just enough people coming to pay for the car?”

Take the opportunity now to try this little miracle maker with your own problems or “don’t wants”.  Flip it, and then let the generative questions flow. Let your curiosity and imagination help you turn the flip into your future reality. You can download the Executive Summary for an overview of the practices and principles.

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About Cheri Torres:

Cheri Torres, Ph.D. brings the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, design thinking, and an ecological worldview to communities and organizations striving for sustainable growth. Her work facilitates learning, innovation, and dynamic interpersonal relationships capable of achieving remarkable outcomes. Cheri has worked with diverse communities across the globe, from public schools and community organizations to corporations and government entities, to elevate their strengths and broaden their capacity for collaboration and collective intelligence. She has trained thousands of trainers and teachers in the use and practice of Appreciative Inquiry and Experiential Learning, with a particular focus on leadership development, teamwork, creativity, and sustainable collaboration.

She has authored or co-authored numerous books and articles, the newest of which is Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement co-authored with Jackie Stavros.

Reluctant Leader

IMG_1855Today when doing one of our newly developed Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program trainings, I had a teacher say, “You know, I would call myself a reluctant leader.” This was in response to me saying that “Everyone is a leader.” And…I really believe it. Interestingly as I dug deeper into the teacher’s comment we realized it was not what you might think. It had nothing to do with being passionless or not wanting to step up to fully embrace his leadership role. Taking on a leadership role does not always come naturally. Lack of confidence, self-doubt, apprehension and fear of failure all hold many gifted people back. Or just simply having a leader who does not embrace developing others as leaders or empowering others in an intent-based leadership environment.

IMG_1857Many times individuals, maybe including this wonderful teacher, might have no pressing desire to be the one that directs and guides others (and would prefer to stay in the background) yet responsibility regularly falls in his lap. If so, he may be what is often called a reluctant leader. The reluctance does not reflect the individual’s desire or ability to be a leader. More than likely, this might be the very type of leader that would fit best into a situation because the reluctant leader is not seeking the opportunity for status or recognition.This type of leader simply wants to serve. I think this describes many teachers.

I really believe we often find this reluctance in teachers. I was that teacher for a long time, too. I just wanted to be a great teacher, period. Then I began to realize I could have a leadership influence in the school and had a principal at the time that embraced that. Out of this added responsibility came my passion as a teacher leader. We must leverage our teachers as leaders if we want to have our schools operating at maximum potential performance for our students. Teacher leaders assume a wide range of roles to support school and student success. Whether these roles are assigned formally or shared informally, they build the entire school’s capacity to improve. Because teachers can lead in a variety of ways, many teachers can serve as leaders among their peers. Teacher leaders are the most important untapped resource in many of our schools today.

Teachers have front-line knowledge of classroom issues and the culture of schools, and they understand the support needed to do their jobs well. Teachers’ contributions are critical to making education reform efforts succeed. When teachers participate in improving education, the changes are more likely to work. Without teacher leaders’ contributions, teachers often pretend to comply with the new expectations, but conduct business as usual once the classroom door is closed.

I loved the fact that at the end of our retreat today the same teacher that had called himself a reluctant leader was now saying, “I must embrace the role and opportunities that I have.” In fact, click here for this teacher’s reflection using his Mr. Potato Head model at the end of the day. It’s pretty powerful. If we can train and help all teachers to be all the teacher leader they can be, think of the great schools we will have.  It is our role, as leaders, in whatever the organization, to help our team members be ready to embrace their roles and responsibilities and give them the opportunities for professional and personal growth.

Educator Reflections On This NCLB Anniversary Day

It all started in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of The Great Society program, created The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA created a clear role for the federal government in K-12 policy, offering more than $1 billion a year in aid under its first statutory section, known as Title I, to districts to help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students. At the bill signing in Johnson City Texas, President Johnson said, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.” Then on January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This bill was born out of concern that the American education system was not competitive­­ in a global economy.

NCLB increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students. Even though over the years there has been controversy over the effects of NCLB, I believe it is important to note the desire of progress for all students. As a believer that all students can learn and all students deserve a great school regardless of zip code, I would argue that NCLB helped us make strides in the right direction. It put a special focus on ensuring that states and schools improved the performance of certain groups of students, such as English-language learners, students in special education, and poor and minority children, whose achievement, on average, trailed their peers. NCLB really creates the environment for focusing on eliminating the achievement gap. NCLB put us on the trajectory to begin to focus on student outcomes instead of inputs or outputs. These outcomes enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

As a teacher during the passage and majority of the tenure of NCLB I appreciated the critical view of teaching and requirement of “highly qualified” teachers. I believe this was a precursor to teaching being a more highly regarded profession and teachers being treated like professionals. We still have a long way to go, but with ESSA we now have the opportunity to further the development of teacher leaders to build more capacity for distributed leadership. On this anniversary of NCLB we need to celebrate advancement of disaggregating data and recognizing areas for improvement and our continued commitment, as a country, to address long-standing gaps and ensure students are well-prepared for their post-secondary endeavors.

What Difference Has Been Made?

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to have a discussion during a meeting about outcomes versus outputs. I made the comment that I believed in accountability based on outcomes. The person I was meeting with said he was glad I said outcomes versus saying outputs. If we get stuck just evaluating and making decisions based on outputs we are bound for mediocrity. Great organizations, including schools, are managing to outcomes. In education, I believe we need to lead schools according to outcomes.

What do I mean by this? Let’s use the example of graduation rate. Make no mistake, this is an important output, but it is just that – an output. If we change our thinking to outcomes we look at what students are actually doing (or could be doing) after graduation. To me, this enables us to understand how our schools are serving students and how their lives and circumstances are being changed.

An outcome is the level of performance or achievement that occurred because of the activity or services an organization or school provided. Outcome measures are a more appropriate indicator of effectiveness. Outcomes quantify performance and assess the success of the organization and the processes used. In the high school graduation rate example, some outcomes would be is the student employed, is the student in the military, or is the student attending some post secondary education. Graduation rate, an output, alone does not demonstrate how the life of the student had been impacted. Basically, without outcomes, there is no need for outputs.

Furthermore, outputs are the what. Outcomes are the difference made. In other words, outcomes are the why. Sometimes I worry there is a perception that it is too hard or impossible to measure outcomes and that stops us, as leaders, from collecting key outcomes data. We need to work toward thinking more about outcomes. In the case of schools this will enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

Finally, if we study outcomes we can answer the question: What difference has been made?

The Leadership Symphony

IMG_1279Well, I have come to the end of another book. Actually this is the completion of my 84th book this year. My goal is 87. It has actually taken me a year to complete this book as it is divided in 52 distinct lessons. I have tweeted about many of them. I will do a post about the book as a whole and include the posts, but for now want to post thoughts on the 52nd lesson. In lesson #52 entitled “What Makes A Symphony” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart he tells us how the conductor brings individual musicians together to form the playing of the symphony.

“A symphony consists of polished performances from many sections that become a unified whole. If not played together it is merely a cacophony of disconnected sounds.” ~ John Parker Stewart

This chapter really resonated with me as a believe in shared, intent-based, leadership. Everyone is a leader and has a part. But, there still must be a leader who is conveying the shared vision and making sure the musicians, in the case of a symphony, have the necessary professional development to do their part.

IMG_1273This point was driven home this morning in the last general session of the annual conference of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). The keynote was delivered by Dr. Pedro Noguera. He is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. His research focuses on the way in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional, and global contexts. In his keynote, Dr. Noguera gave five strategies for successful school leadership:

  1. Shared leadership
  2. Concerted effort to obtain buy-in around the strategy
  3. A coherent strategy focused on student needs
  4. Differentiated professional development
  5. Follow through, examining the evidence, sticking with it

“Only a clearly communicated perspective, directed by a wise and capable leader, results in a magnificent performance. ~ John Parker Stewart

The big takeaways for me and relations to this 52nd lesson were the idea of shared IMG_1277leadership, coherent strategy, and differentiation. As I said earlier, every person in an organization is a leader. As in a symphony, every person has an important part no matter their job or instrument. Additionally, in a symphony everyone needs to be playing from the same musical score, or strategic plan. And, finally, since everyone one plays different instruments or has different jobs or is playing/working at a different level of proficiency, the development must be differentiated.

img_2431The bottom line is that shared leadership an drive change. If, as a leader, we are the conductor, we must bring everyone together sharing the leadership of a coherent strategy. We know, for example, in schools we must invest in teacher leadership by developing leadership pipelines. This involves cultivating structures, processes, and mindsets for shared leadership. We must also prioritize and enhance instructional leadership skills. What are the priorities of your industry or organization?

Great Leadership: Offering Up Something Better Than The Status Quo

file 3As a school leader it is my most important role to find the right solutions that are best for students. People will then buy into solutions that are developed collaboratively. I believe the staff will buy in if we offer up something that is better than the status quo.

In order to move the staff, a community of continual learning where everyone is a leader must be developed. The following are guidelines that need to be followed for effective adult learning and motivation to take place:

  • Learning needs to be frequent and sustained over time
  • There must be connected and coherent learning sessions
  • Opportunities for teachers and staff to practice and reflect on new learning must be afforded
  • Opportunities must be available to tap into expertise or prior knowledge
  • Clear and reasonable objectives must be provided
  • Adults need challenging tasks
  • Respect of the risks involved in new learning need to be recognized; in other words, it is o.k. to fail.
  • Choice and flexibility is important to adults
  • Collaboration
  • Regular coaching and feedback are provided
  • Focus everything on academic content
  • Letting staff problem solve will motivate them to learnfile 5

I believe two things will really help here:

  1. The notion of empathy  – of really listening to your staff and understanding their views and what they need.
  2. The idea that innovation lives as much within the way you define problems as the way you generate solutions

Additionally, I believe in an intent-based leadership style where everyone is considered a leader. With this style of leadership, authority is shifted to where the information/data is generated. In other words, teachers would be empowered to act on both data and new thinking. But… for this empowerment to work there must be the professional development necessary to make sure that teachers have the skills necessary to utilize this empowerment.

These skills are two-fold:

  1. Technical Competency
  2. Organizational Clarity

We must feed our leaders by:

  1. Committing to leadership development
  2. Making it a priority to give professional growth time to developing leaders

Finally, it is crucial to treat all teachers as leaders!

This all really will produce a happier, healthier, and more engaged staff.

What Do You Bring To The Table?

file1A couple of Saturday’s ago for our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) we used the mental model of food again. Participants decided to prepare breakfast and tell their story. This was pretty special and really meant a lot. I was struck by the fact that these teachers who had been ISTEP (Indiana’s students achievement test) all week and were probably exhausted would want to do this, But, as always, they amazed me one more time.

What a spread! It was the most amazing breakfast buffet I had ever seen with: two kinds of bacon, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, yogurt, biscuit and gravy casserole, bagels, cheesy potatoes, and lots lots more. I have put a picture of the buffet here for you to see, We have a practice of writing on the table butcher paper and on the breakfast buffet table someone had written the statement, “What do you bring to the table?” This of course then became the theme for the discussion. file 5

So what does it mean to bring something to the table? I believe it means to ​provide something that will be a ​benefit. Just like the fact that I believe everyone is a leader, I also believe everyone brings something to the table. Essentially, your list of what you bring to the table should reflect your best qualities, and that is what you should be offering to an organization, school, or business. Is what you are offering equal to what you are expecting? Do you consider what you have to offer those you lead, or merely what your team is offering YOU?

Leadership is about taking care of those you lead. Leadership is serving others. It is involving others in setting and achieving their own goals or the group goals. Leadership includes learning from mistakes and growing from them. Leadership is about having a positive impact on anyone we cross paths with. Leadership is contagious. If we can do these things, we are offering quite the leadership buffet to our organizations.

It was so great that Saturday to have Mike Fleisch, Sita Magnuson, and Kelvy Bird all present to graphic record the discussion presented by the FLA members about their food. It is the first time they had ever worked at an event all together. These are amazingly talented individuals, thought leaders, community leaders, and facilitation conveners. I have embedded a photo of the graphic here:file2Just like the awesome selection and choices that a breakfast brings us, the more different people become leaders, the more problems we will solve. The more skills, interest, and expertise that will be brought to the table. We need leaders to think about and organize around many issues beyond those of our organizations and schools like: youth development, economic growth, substance abuse, crime, the environment, health care — the list goes on and on. Each issue will require a troop of skilled leaders to handle them. We need leaders who are women, young people (we were all young once), people of color, low -income people, immigrants, people with disabilities and many others that have been told that they should follow others, not lead. We need leadership from all walks of life in order for ours to be a truly democratic society. Remember, we are all leaders!

You have to make a decision to lead and view yourself as a leader. No one else can contribute what you can. You have a point of view that no one else has. You have a set of skills that is unique. Your corner of the world will be different if you decide to act on its behalf.

How has your organization benefited from having you in leadership roles? What do you bring to the table? Are you showing value in your current role?

Learning From An Education Reformer

rick_hess_book_portrait

Here is my review of the great book:

Letters to a Young Education Reformer by Frederick M Hess

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has so much great information and thought leadership, that one recommendation/review cannot do it justice, but I’ll try. From the beginning of the book, Dr. Hess teaches us that passion can distort our perception of reality. We are taught in the book to draw wisdom from our own experiences and failures and the experiences and bad judgement of others.

Furthermore, this book eloquently argues we need to learn from both those whom we agree and those we don’t. We do not want our passion to close the door to a fruitful discussion. This book also drives home the fact that reform is not about having good ideas, but about how to make ideas actually work. For this, Dr. Hess teaches us that the how of education reform is more important than the what. We are reminded that we all want the same end (what is best for children), but we many times disagree on the means.

We are reminded in the book that American schooling was never designed to do what we are asking it to do today. While this book is specifically about education reform, anyone involved in the reform of anything in business or society today would be well served to read this book. As reformers, the author holds us accountable by positing that those making decisions need to be held responsible for making them work.

View all my reviews

Leadership Toy Story

fileIt 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. file1 3

file 2Of 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.

41XhiUsxovL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In order to plan this past weekend I used the guiding question of: What leadership lessons can be learned from the toys you loved as a child? I also went back to a great book that I read some time ago: Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From The Toys You Loved As a Child. In this great book characteristics of successful leaders are identified by Hunter & Waddell and compared to toys we have all played with. I have found the toy box a great place for lessons to successfully influence and lead others. Here is the list:
  • 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?

Reference

Hunter, Jr. , Ronald & Waddell, Michael E. (2008). Toy box leadership: Leadership lessons from the toys you loved as a child. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.