Byron's Babbles

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.

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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.

Cultivating Student Success

26afa71ed72a2063737bb720421104c8I was so moved by a video I watched as part of my Harvard class I am in right now, that I wanted to share a blog post response to it. Here is the link to “The Gardener”: https://youtu.be/ktj4jGmUs6Y . Take a moment to watch the video, I’ll bet you will be inspired and moved as much as me.

This Allegorical Story drove home why students perceive a lack of justice, lack of equity, or disparate treatment for certain racial groups. When students see their schools as unfair places, their loss of trust will lead to lack of engagement. Using the metaphor of the video, we need to not be creating different growing conditions (soil fertility) for our students. Black and Hispanic students, who often take the brunt of inconsistencies in schools, are then less likely to trust their white peers. We must create policies that show our students we value and expect equity.

Additionally, we must help and provide growth opportunities for staff to not let the “two flower pots” effect happen in the first place. These teacher/student relationships are key to breaking cycles of inequity. Finally, we must ensure interactions between students and educators that prove the school has high standards and expectations for all students. We must also ensure students that all at the school believe in the potential of all students – especially our underachieving and school dependent children.

Schools For All Citizens

fileOn 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.

Reference

Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging (p. 31). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Listening as a Principle for Authentic Community Engagement

Lead with Listening Listening is a neglected skill, especially in change efforts.  Often the leaders’ emphasis is on communicating a decision to stakeholders. When listening campaigns are con…

Source: Listening as a Principle for Authentic Community Engagement

Leading Conversations 

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?

Leading A Community of Experimentation

Mike Fleisch Graphic of Our Marshmallow Challenge Discussion

Imagine a room with 15 aspiring teacher leaders, divided into five teams. Each team gets 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of string, a yard of masking tape, and a single marshmallow. They have 18 minutes to build a free-standing structure that will enable the marshmallow to rest on top. This is the so-called “marshmallow challenge”, a staple of many leadership trainings and design schools. It’s a great way to teach the benefits of rapid model-building and prototyping. Our team at Hoosier Academies used it in our January leadership development retreat yesterday of our Focused Leader Academy.

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. 

Develop a community of experimentation, be willing to try stuff, do it quickly. But if it’s not working, be willing to fail fast and pivot.

We Have To Norm That…

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: