Byron's Babbles

A Scholar’s Book Of Life

Yesterday, we used pumpkins in our leadership development workshop in Georgia. Participants carved out an image of their leadership mantra on one side and their leadership legacy on the other. I always love seeing these and hearing the explanations. They were all very meaningful and inspiring, but one really caused me to pause as an educator and leader. The participant had carved a book into the pumpkin (the featured picture of this post).

The teacher leader then went on to explain that the book represented each students’ book of life and she wanted her legacy to be entered in the book as having taught the student something and having positively influenced her or his life in some way. I thought this book was a pretty great metaphor.

In some professional development at another school this week we discussed how every teacher needs to own every scholar in the school regardless if she or he is in your class or not. The pumpkin carving reminded us that we are impacting students even when we don’t know it. Here’s the best part: to make it in a student’s book of life, teachers don’t have to be perfect.

Students remember teachers for all kinds of reasons. Students might be inspired by teachers who were kind, funny, brilliant, or passionate. The kids we serve remember the teachers who really cared about them. Our scholars remember teachers who were supportive or encouraging or saw something in them no one else did and then challenged them and made them think. Finally, our students also remember teachers who were maybe just a little quirky. Thank goodness!

Every staff member in the school represents the next entry or chapter of our scholar’s stories. Let’s fill up the pages of those books!

Seventh Graders Know!

I spent this past week coaching teachers during their first days of school. It was so great to be in classrooms all day and then spend time leading reflection discussions after school. It has always been interesting to me how I can walk into a class and immediately know whether the teacher has the entire class engaged and the overall culture of the classroom. I think it is because I always focus on what the students are doing. I walked into a seventh grade class this past Wednesday and saw a teacher and group of students knocking it out of the park. It was one of those moments where I wanted to be back in seventh grade and a part of her class.

At an appropriate transition I asked the teacher and class if I could interrupt with a question. They all said yes and I asked if they all thought their teacher was doing a great job. It was a loud and resounding “YES!” I then asked a followup, “Why?” I also asked the teacher to write down what the seventh graders told us. By the way, a student pointed out I had asked two questions and not just the one I had gotten permission for – gotta live seventh graders! The list is the featured pictured of this post. What they said was:

  • Our teacher inspired us.
  • She can relate to us.
  • She makes it exciting and engages us.
  • She had a lot of energy (literally, this teacher was running from student to student).
  • She helps them make everything shiny and pretty.
  • She talks to us really well.
  • She gives us actual attention.
  • She makes learning funner (I know funner is not a word, but it should be and I told the student I would allow it).

This teacher was clearly “withit” and was building relationships with her students. Our students deserve those eight items that these seventh graders outlined. It really doesn’t matter what age group a person is facilitating, all these items apply. Our seventh graders know!

Leading Like A Hinge

I spent this week coaching teachers as the school year got started for many of the schools I work with. One of the teachers I coach told his students that he loved it when I was in the school because I was like the hinges on a door. “Without hinges the door is useless. You can have fancy doorknobs and windows, but the hinges make the door functional. Hinges attach a door to its frame, and are the pivot point for opening and closing the door.” I do hope I am helping teachers connect with their students and am serving as a hinge for the door to open for them to become highly effective facilitators of learning for their students.

Upon further reflection I was reminded of something retired Admiral James Stavridis, author of Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, said: “Leadership is how we influence others. It is like a big door that swings. But that big door of leadership swings on the small hinge of character.” I hope that I bring a great degree of character to my leadership and that I inspire others to do the same.

I want to provide those I coach with the tools, guidance, support, and feedback they need to thrive in their teaching career. I want to be the hinge that opens the door to their success.

I Was Needed!

I love that a lot of what I do is helping teachers get better at their craft. Teaching is such a beautiful cross of science and art. Leonardo da Vinci would be having great fun if he were around helping us improve our teaching for learning today. He believed science and art were very tightly connected. This week I have had the honor and pleasure of facilitating professional development for teachers at Nashville Collegiate Prep and Knowledge Academies in Nashville, Tennessee. I have truly been inspired by this group of professionals. Every day I am excited to get the day of learning with them started.

“Change the audience, change the meaning.”

Leonardo da Vinci

On Wednesday I did a session entitled “Engagement Strategies: Teachers As Facilitators, Knowledge Navigators, and Co-Learners. At the beginning of this session I do an activity that begins with the prompt question, “What do you want students to say at the
end of the week about your facilitation?” The groups got five minutes to write everything that came to mind on Post-it® notes. This is part of a larger activity and participants get to share out after each part. I love walking around and looking as they are writing. There were literally hundreds of sticky notes being made, and I was inspired by all of them. But, one caught my eye and required my attention (the featured photo of this post).

On one of the Post-it® notes of Jamie Martineau, Kindergarten teacher at Nashville Collegiate Prep she had written four bullet points:

  • I was part of something
  • I was important or needed
  • I am a part of this class
  • We did it

I was blown away by the thought of every student feeling this way. After getting to know Jamie this week, I have no doubt that her students will feel that way. Going through school is where many of students begin learning to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s during this time in our classes that we can help make our students feel valued as individuals. The developing personalities of our students need a strong and secure environment in order to flourish in academia. Let’s face it; our students learn more and behave better when they receive high levels of understanding, caring and genuineness.

We cannot underestimate the importance of cultivating a classroom culture in which students feel valued, respected, heard, and an important part of something. One way we can build this solid foundation for learning is to listen to our students. Fostering conversations about real world and relevant issues, topics, and problems ensures that our classrooms become places of academic inquiry and collaboration founded on a sense of fairness and mutual respect.

If a student considers their teacher to be caring and accepting, they’re more likely to adopt the academic and social values of their teacher. This, in turn, influences how students feel about their school work and how much (or how little) they value it. Here are some tips on how to make sure our students belong and are part of something:

  • prioritising high-quality teacher-student relationships
  • creating a supportive and caring learning environment
  • showing interest in students
  • trying to understand students’ point of view
  • respectful and fair treatment
  • fostering positive peer relationships and mutual respect among classmates to establish a sense of community
  • positive classroom management
  • Giving students a voice

We all want to belong. ALL of our students deserve to be an important and needed part of our school communities. We can do it!

Loving Teachers

As we close out Teacher Appreciation Week for 2021 I wanted to weigh in with my thanks and call for us all to love our teachers year round, not just a designated week. During a presentation I recorded for ASCD’s Annual Conference this week, I talked about how we needed to love our teachers if we wanted to stop losing great teachers and change the trajectory of teacher retention in a positive direction. I do not take the term “love” lightly and learned about this form of “love” from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, authors of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em. To love our teachers we must be providing opportunities to grow and develop and be the best at carrying out their purpose of serving students every day. I am a former teacher and school leader who has shifted to creating and developing meaningful learning environments and transformative professional learning opportunities for educators and leaders, both in my day to day professional life, and as a citizen leader and policy maker. As a believer that everyone is a leader, we need to make sure we are doing everything possible to love our teachers, listen to their needs and desires, and honor them every day.

We have learned much about leading through a crisis during the past year. The pandemic has challenged us to be more agile in educating our children. Our teachers have met the challenge. Responding to new conditions and new data prompted us all to see school as no longer a single place. My hope is that we will double down on rethinking what success looks like in education. I also want to acknowledge the adjustments that teachers have always made every day to increase equity, access, rigor, and engagement for all students. As I write this I am reminded of the great teachers I have had over the years and continue to have. I am very fortunate to work with teachers every day and must say that I still learn from them each and every day. I was blessed to have teachers who had amnesia for the mistakes and my sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) less than perfect actions. My teachers were pivotal figures in my life. They not only educated me, but set me up for a life of success.

Thank you teachers for inspiring our students to think outside the box, outside of the classroom, and into the future. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we now control. Therefore, I stand committed to showing you love by continuing to push for, advocate for, champion for, and be a cheerleader for creating space and flexibility for creativity, curiosity, and innovation you deserve.

Pathways To Quality Principals

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be part of a great National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) webinar where Susan M. Gates presented findings from research conducted by RAND Corporation. Click this recording link to view the recording of the webinar entitled Using State-Level Policy Levers to Promote Principal Quality. I was honored at the end of Susan’s presentation of the findings to, along with NASBE’s President and CEO Robert Hull, provide some thoughts, observations, and feedback.

First of all, this is such an important topic for state boards and all policymakers to contemplate. Leadership matters. The research suggested, as we might have all guessed, that there is no “one size fits all” policy that will miraculously place quality principals in all schools. Another point that came out in the research was that professional development alone is insufficient. Highly effective pre-service development must also be a part of the pathway to quality principals. As a former principal, I reflected as I was reviewing this report and was thinking about the complexity of being a principal. Ultimately, the principal is a leader of learning, but there are many parts to that. Highly effective teachers and facilitation of learning and leadership define how successful any school is. A school without a strong leader will likely fail the students it serves.

The RAND report gave us four key levers to use as policymakers. Those four levers are:

  1. Standards
  2. Licensure
  3. Program Approval
  4. Professional Development

Interestingly, four things came to mind as I was reviewing and listening to Susan’s report. Here are my thoughts, observations, and feedback:

  1. As state board members, we need to take the approval of teacher education and leadership development programs very seriously. In my own state, our department of education does a tremendous job of evaluating and providing us reports for revue prior to approval of programs. We still have an obligation to study these reports and make sure the programs meet the test of equity and excellence. We also need to make sure that any pathway to the principalship is not rewarding the person who can best meet meaningless requirements.
  2. As I listened, I wondered if there were ways to leverage the attention we are now rightly giving to teacher leadership. Teacher leaders are so important to building the capacity is schools and it seems to me we could better leverage identifying those teachers with the leadership dispositions and develop those skills. Notice I said dispositions, because many teachers are very interested in being teacher leaders but not, at least in the present-tense, being a principal. As a believer that everyone is a leader and that leadership should happen where the data is created, in this case the classroom, it makes sense we would be developing teacher leaders to make decisions that traditionally have been cascaded down to teachers. This real-time development would give teachers practical pre-service development that would be important to effective leading for learning whether a teacher or principal. I would argue that a well developed and highly effective teacher/teacher leader could be the best bet to become a high quality principal. You’ll want to check out Susan’s response to this point in the recording.
  3. Another point made was the fact that sometimes we need to look at subtraction as well as addition when formulating policy. We deal with this a lot in education where we continue to place mandates without taking anything away. We need to allow for more flexibility. Additionally, how can we more effectively use incentives or information sharing in the place of mandates?
  4. Finally, there was a suggestion in the report of finding opportunistic ways: “Be opportunistic: link principal initiatives to key state education priorities and build on related initiatives.” By doing this we might find new ways to streamline, provide flexibility, or identify those things that can be removed.

I really appreciate the research and this report. Again, it provides levers for us to consider using as policymakers as we contemplate how to better prepare and provide quality pathways for the development of our critically important principals.

Spreading The Wealth

Over the weekend a teacher leader asked me how her principal should be deciding which teachers should get development opportunities and be empowered. I said, “That’s easy; all of them should be getting those opportunities.” As I learned from Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, everyone has potential. Everyone should have empowerment and opportunities for development. Really, our teacher leaders should all have individualized development plans. Therefore, everyone should be in development mode and be empowered to lead from where they are. Everyone is a leader, so leadership should happen whenever and from wherever it is needed. We need to be very careful to not fall in the trap of “earned empowerment.” In other words only empowering the chosen ones who someone thinks has earned it. This might yield empowering and developing 10% at best. I blogged about this in Earned Empowerment is Dangerous.

Then tonight I was reminded how important it is to have the whole team empowered and ready for action. In the first quarter of the New Orleans Saints big 38-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Drew Brees had thrown completed passes to nine different receivers. At the end of the first half he had thrown completions to 12 different receivers. That is a big deal. Think about how much more successful the Saints are with that many empowered targets.

So, we probably better take a page from the Saints playbook and empower and develop everyone. Think about it; if we are able to empower all of our people with projects and responsibilities, aren’t we really expanding the capacity of our organization. Really, mass empowerment equals capacity building. This in turn means leadership development of our teams. It also allows us to tap into all of our resources and expertise, which can lead to achieving amazing results.

Great leadership is shifting from telling everyone what to do, to empowering and developing everyone to be ready to come up with the best and brightest ideas and solutions that have ever been thought of before. This will give you a receiver core for big wins like Drew Brees and the Saints.

Focused Perspective

Posted in core values, Global Leadership, Leadership, Pandemic, Teacher Leader, Teacher Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 30, 2020

Have you ever noticed a cat’s ability to focus like a laser on something that interests them? There is never a challenge to get them to focus, but they become oblivious to what others around them are focused on. This is one of the things I love about cats; they do not need constant attention. But, when they do, you better be prepared to give it to them because that will be their sole focus. If you’ve ever been around cats you know that when they want some affection, they will not notice that you may be focused on something else. I was watching one of our barn cats this morning sitting on a feed pan I had just moved and flipped upside down after a show heifer was done eating. He was hyper-focused on something and I could not take his attention away (see picture).

When working with developing leaders I always talk about the effective leader is focused on self, others, and the wider world. The art of being self-aware and self-managing is about being centered. This enables us to notice our thoughts and feelings, label them, reappraise things that do not serve the situation and lead forward. This centered perspective is important so that understand our own values and how those values fit in the big picture. This also determines what lens we are looking through to bring context to situations. Perspective enables a leader to clearly assess the reality of today while also envisioning what is possible for tomorrow.

We also need an empathetic perspective that has the heart to understand others and identify those who might be struggling and provided compassion. Remember, empathy plus action equals compassion. We need to give people space and permission to take care of themselves. Particularly right now, everyone is in just a little different place dealing with the pandemic. We must remember that their reality is just that, their reality. Asking those we serve what they need and then truly being prepared to help them is crucial. Just thinking through priorities and plans for action can many times do the trick. We don’t have to tell people how to do their job, but syncing frequently on priorities and plans of actions can be very supportive.

How about you? Are you so focused, like a cat, that you may be missing opportunities to focus on those around you and the wider world?

Leaders Crashing & Flying Higher

IMG_9434So what traits do great leaders have? That’s such a loaded question – different great leaders demonstrate different traits. If you ask a group of teacher leaders to select the top traits they think are important in a leader, you’ll find as many answers as you have teacher leaders. No one has ever been able to come up with a definitive list of leadership traits that everyone – or even a majority of people contemplating leadership – agrees on. This doesn’t stop me from trying however. During our August 3D Leadership gatherings I always do a discussion/activity called “Good Leader/Bad Leader: Crashing & Flying Higher.” This involves an activity where participants fly paper airplanes to each other with good leadership traits on the left wing and bad leadership traits on the right wing. They then keep adding to the lists as we fly the planes. This is really fun virtually on Zoom. Yes, you can fly paper airplanes virtually! Ultimately, their task is to develop a top five good leadership trait list and a top five bad leadership trait list,

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 9.29.10 AMThe exercise enables a great discussion and thought provoking debate. What we find is that each person’s list of good and bad traits is heavily dependent on her or his experience with different leaders. I get to do this activity 9 or 10 groups per year and every group’s lists are always at least a little different, but many times are very different. Things like who is leading the school, turnover of leaders, style of leadership of leaders, culture of the school, et cetera. This activity somewhat reinforces the idea that the trait theory of leadership is not the end all be all. “The trait theory of leadership focuses on identifying different personality traits and characteristics that are linked to successful leadership across a variety of situations. This line of research emerged as one of the earliest types of investigations into the nature of effective leadership and is tied to the “great man” theory of leadership first proposed by Thomas Carlyle in the mid-1800s. The idea with trait theory is that if you can identify the personality traits or characteristics a great leader has, you can look for those same traits in other leaders, or even develop those traits in people who want to be leaders.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 9.29.48 AMThe differences that I see when doing the “Good Leader/Bad Leader: Crashing & Flying Higher” activity suggest that this may due to situational variables in which different leadership skills emerge when opportunities for leadership arise. These situations might include turnaround work, poor leaders in place, war, a political crisis, or in the absence of leadership. As a believer that everyone in an organization is leader, I believe that there must be adaptive leadership for many situations.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 7.20.28 PMI just finished reading Robert Gates’ great new book, Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World. Having served for eight Presidents of the United States, he certainly saw different leadership styles and traits. He explained that most want to put Presidents into ascribing to idealism, realism, or transactional. As he stated, great leaders must be all three. He gives examples of Presidents being all three. In other words, to be effective, leaders must be able to adapt. When I reflect on the top five “good leader” traits that our 3D Leadership group from Tennessee came up with this past Saturday, I believe they are traits that would serve all leaders well. Here is there top five list:

  1. Listening to understand
  2. Authentic
  3. Being consistent
  4. Straight forward
  5. Relationship builder

Here of the top five “bad leader” traits causing leaders to crash, from our Tennessee teacher leaders if you are interested:

  1. Insecure
  2. Belittling
  3. Negative
  4. Leads by intimidation
  5. Doesn’t walk the talk

 

More Smithsonian Exploration

As a former Smithsonian Teacher Ambassador, I am very excited to be partnering with the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) to provide a webinar in our series of Noble Education Initiative opportunities for learning. Back in April we partnered with the Smithsonian Learning Lab and had two fantastic webinars and were able to provide outstanding resources to educators. I blogged about these webinars in Bringing The Smithsonian To You. Since then, we have continued to be asked for more from the Smithsonian Institution.

Tomorrow, May 20th, we will do just that with More Smithsonian Exploration: A Journey To The Smithsonian Science Education Center. We want educators and caregivers to join us to learn to use the resources that provide tremendous opportunities to learn with their students. The SSEC offers curriculum and digital resources that support educators and caregivers in providing authentic STEM experiences. EVERYONE is welcome and can still register here: https://m.signupgenius.com/#!/showSignUp/60b0b44a5a92ca7fe3-more.

I am really proud of this partnership to bring make this free webinar possible because of the aim of the SSEC to transform and improve the learning of science for K-12 students. Click here to view the SSEC fact sheet to learn how the world’s largest museum, education and research complex is bringing an interdisciplinary approach to education using science, history, art, and culture.

The SSEC is also providing tremendous resources and support to teachers who work with newcomers from all over the globe and English Language Learners (ELLs). Our webinar will be engaging and inquiry-based to model the strategies that are effective for effective learning with our ELL students. We will also get a first hand experience with the SSEC’s real world and relevant featured curriculum dealing with COVID-19: COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others.

Join us tomorrow and see how the Smithsonian Science Education Center is transforming science education.