Byron's Babbles

If You Cannot Lose, You Cannot Win

IMG_5157I always have a long list of topics that I want to blog about. With this post I get to one that hit the list on Christmas Day, 2018. My father-in-law had a page of quotes from a magazine and he did a little devotional reading before we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus (a family tradition on my wife’s side). He handed me the copy when he was done and I got to reading the other quotes. One quote really jumped out at me. Better yet, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It is one of those that I needed to read two or three times to really comprehend what it was saying. Here it is:

“If you want to do something where we can’t lose, then we must accept the proposition that we cannot win.” ~ Gene Hill, A Hunter’s Fireside Book, 1972

Read it one more time. This quote really caused me to take pause. It is very true. I we want to do things that we cannot lose at, then we have to accept that we will never win. At the time I was reading this I was really thinking about lots of things in a winning and losing context. Whether it be in the public policy arena, football bowl games, or many other things. It is very frustrating to me that many times people do not want to get behind, support, or associate themselves with new and innovative things until they know they are going to be successful (a win). That to me is playing not to lose, not playing to win. In athletics, one of the worst things you can do is play not to lose. Very rarely will that strategy get the person or team the win. I believe this is true in all other areas as well.

Not being able to take a loss or having fear of losing will keep us from ever making progress. Trying not to lose is not the same thing as trying to win. Trying not to lose is reactionary. It’s prevention. Most of the time it prevents us from winning. Worst of all, it starts with the belief that we should focus on “not losing,” which gives the idea of losing too much power. “Playing to win” begins with the belief that we can and will win. It’s empowering. The belief that we can win and the desire to do so allows us to take initiative, be creative and innovative, to be resourceful, and to take the necessary actions that will better the chances of winning—even if taking those actions comes with a particular risk. We cannot live risk free and have guarantees that everything we do will be a winner.

We’ve all seen athletes, athletic teams, businesses, and political leaders try to play it safe and approach games, life, and administrations from a safe and play not to lose vantage point. What usually happens? At best, nothing! At worst, the loss. If you’re like me you have probably been in the situation where you were really working hard for a win with very little support of others who were afraid you might lose. Then all of the sudden when the win came, lo and behold, everyone was there to take credit. Amazing!

When we are playing not to lose our focus is not on what we could gain, but on protecting what we already have. When playing not to lose energies are channeled into shoring up the status quo, and guarding against what we do not want to happen. So play to win, not to not lose. In the larger game of leadership, playing it safe is the most dangerous game plan of all. Playing to win might just be the greatest of all leadership traits. It requires putting what you already have at risk for the sake of something bigger, something better. Additionally, it requires throwing caution to the wind and having the courage to creative something new and be innovative. This takes a great deal of courage and a trait that I am so glad I have been blessed with: “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

So, lets get out there and play to win. Remember, without failure there can be no real progress. I leave you with the great wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

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Teaching Like Angry Birds

I am not a big game player on my phone, but I love Angry Birds. I have blogged about this game twice before in The Angry Birds Effect and Angry Birds University. Just in case you aren’t familiar with Angry Birds, it’s simple: the pigs have stolen the birds’ eggs. This has made the birds angry. Therefore, they allow you to slingshot and catapult them into the pigs’ fortresses. The birds love every minute of it.

The thing that still amazes me about Angry Birds is that a person can download the game and be playing in 10 seconds. You are given small pieces at a time in a way that makes it possible to master a level in 30 seconds. In education we call this chunking. I always wonder why we can’t create learning management systems (LMS) in education the same way. Instead the first thing that has to happen with a new LMS is to take a training on how to use. With Angry Birds this is done real-time as you go.

In Angry Birds the learning is paced and is scaffolded just like in a great classroom. Once you develop foundational skills you are given new birds with different abilities. At the same time different scenarios are introduced. This is a very engaging and developmental path to mastery.

The game also has a very well structured star ⭐️ system. And remember you are able to play over and over making improvements to reach mastery. We need to operate more like this in education. Players are also able to earn badges. I love the way schools are adding badging to their e-portfolios.

Another very cool addition is that of tools that can be used. These tools include an earthquake, a scope, extra power sling shot, bombs, and more. These really teach creativity and problem solving because you only get so many. Therefore, the player must decide the right time and how best to use these limited resources.

As you can see, Angry Birds supports many learning principles and best practices. Rovio just continues to make improvements. I last blogged about Angry Birds in 2014 and this game continues to improve and be a relevant example of how to lead learning.

Using A Different Runway To Help Students Take Off To New Heights

This morning as I was trying to fly home from Charlotte, North Carolina, the pilot came on and said there would be a slight delay. Because of the storm that was Hurricane Michael, we were going to have to use a runway that they usually do not use. He told us we would be using the runway going to the northeast, whereas typically the north/south runways are used. They would need 15 minutes to recalculate takeoff speeds, routes when in the air, et cetera. I was cool with it as long as we got in the air, headed north, and away from the storm.

As you know, I love metaphors, analogies, and similes; so here we go: I compared this to how, as teachers, we must constantly be making adjustments. We are constantly having to recalculate for our students and use new runways. We regroup students based on data, we spiral in new material based on mastery, we develop ways to maintain the proficiencies already mastered. Adjusting and recalculating instruction also means providing more opportunities for students to learn successfully based on information you gather such as their interests, work habits, motivation and learning styles and academic performance. Doing this on a consistent basis helps refine instruction so they can succeed.

Great teachers are those who know their students abilities, know the students proficiency of standards, and then use that information to determine how and what they will teach. They use educational standards and differentiation to guide instruction, while constantly focusing on 1) what the students know, and 2) what objectives (or steps) they need to take) to fulfill their goals. They focus on what the students can do today. How about you; Are you recalculating for a different runway for the success of your students?

Leader Traits From The Palmetto State

I was reading some research on leadership development this week and one of pieces that jumped out at me was the statement, “what leaders really want is a personalized experience and the opportunity to learn from…their fellow-leaders.” I was reminded of this last night during the September 3D Leadership gathering of our South Carolina members. One of the things discussed during our plus/delta time at the end was the fact they were able to discuss freely and transparently which made it possible for them to get to know each other and learn from each other. In fact one participant said, “I’m so glad you brought up the issue of communication and that we discussed that. Now we can work on making it better.” Effective leadership development involves time for reflection and learning from those around us.

We did one such learning activity last night where the South Carolina group developed their own top list of good and bad leadership traits. It was a great discussion with being supportive coming out as their number one trait every good leader should have. Here are the rest of their results:

Here’s what we know: Success in today’s world depends on how leaders perform as a team. The unpredictable and rapidly changing landscape, whether it is in government, education, or business, means you need to have people with a variety of skillsets and mindsets who can quickly step in to show leadership in response to a variety of challenges. This is why organizations need to look at all employees as leaders, with “leadership potential,” and start developing leadership potential earlier in careers. That is why we do 3D Leadership – to help our leaders Discover, Develop, and Distribute leadership wherever and whenever it is needed.

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

View all my reviews

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?