Byron's Babbles

“The Rock” In The Atlantic Ocean

Yesterday while exploring the rocks along the Atlantic Coast of Maine I found a beautiful rock that once I took out of the ocean 🌊 wasn’t so beautiful any more. That experience prompted this VLOG Post:


Daily Huddles

pgden02egu4dcugdaponhhqgrozifj.binLesson #32 in The Disciplined Leader by John Manning (2015) deals with accountability systems and checking up on goals daily. Accountability, regular check-ins are very important. Many organizations, my own school included, use dashboards to keep track of the important data that needs to be regularly monitored. Disciplined leaders are goal minded and this dashboard data needs to be linked to goals both for the organizations, teams and individuals. Besides the dashboard looks at data, Manning (2015) provides three really great ways to manage performance daily. I would like to illustrate these by providing examples of how we do these while doing our state testing for the school I lead. Keep in mind, we are a statewide school and test in 23 different locations – a monster! Here are the three practices:

  • Implement flash reporting – We do this by keeping a spreadsheet that is updated by our site leads at each testing location. An important metric for us is test participation. By law, we need to hit at least 95% attendance for our Full Academic Year (FAY), those students who have/will be with us for 162 days, students. Our goal is 100% of our students to be tested. The spreadsheet shows the sites, FAY students, non-FAY students, attended vs. non-attended, and whether a make-up has been scheduled for non-tested students. This report goes out every evening to our team giving us a flash update as to how we are doing.
  • Manage by walking around – I am sure you have all heard of this practice before, but I practice this during testing by picking three to four locations across the state to just show up and be an extra set of hands. This gives me a chance to visit with teachers, parents, and students and see how we are doing with our testing first hand.
  • Implement “daily huddles” – This is my favorite practice during testing and the one I believe does the most good. Each night we have a daily huddle debrief call with our testing staff, site lead teachers, principals, and myself to debrief about the happenings of the day. This debrief includes a discussion on attendance, things that went well, and areas of concern/challenge/opportunity/problems. The thing I like most about these daily huddles is the fact that it allows us to implement lessons learned the very next day. Another very important component in these huddles is the time spent laughing and telling stories from the day. Most of the time these stories start with, “You can’t make this up.” This time spent telling stories laughing and having some humor really makes the stress of testing go much better and builds camaraderie among the staff. Never forget – humor is an important leadership tool!img_1643-2

I believe these are great tools/best practices for keeping track of important accountability data and goals. Hopefully, my examples from just one area in a very complex school are food for thought to apply to your leadership setting. Do you have other best practices you would like to share or experiences? Please share by replying to this post.

Fireside Chats

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 24, 2013
Fireside Chat In My Office

Fireside Chat In My Office

I realize that all the credit for the idea of fireside chats goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt but I want to share with you something that started spontaneously at our school and has turned into an important part of our culture. Just as FDR used the chats to bring awareness to the American public. We use these to bring awareness about our world as a turnaround academy. These fireside chats started as a group of teachers mingling in my office after school, particularly on nights when there was an hour or two gap between school letting out and an athletic event. Most principals use this time for catching up on paperwork or the likes – not me!

We use the time for our staff to get together in my office to vent, share ideas, make me aware of issues, laugh, and even cry. Honestly, many great ideas, procedures, and programs we now have in place came from these fireside chats. Interestingly enough we called them fireside chats without a fire. Then word got out about our fireside chats and some students bought me a small electric fireplace for my office. This has become one of my most valued possessions in my office. You can see it in the picture – look close under the white board or you might miss it.

In the great book, TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of MomentsDouglas Conant discusses the interruptions that leaders face interacting with their staff are actually moments that give the opportunity for awareness and leading in the largest of proportions. Amazingly I had a lengthy fireside chat with some teachers today and also amazingly I got an email from an assistant principal of a school in our network of schools that had started “campfires” after hearing a presentation I made on our fireside chats. I really believe the email exchange between us does the best job of describing the thoughts I would like to present in this post.

FDR Fireside Chat

FDR Fireside Chat

So, here it is:

Byron,We just wanted to take a minute to thank you for telling us about your campfire idea from your school.  We implemented this with our staff last week during RTO and had another one yesterday after our first week of school.  We even had the art teacher make a campfire for us with a battery-powered light and fan (see the attached picture)!  Our staff LOVES it!  Here is what one staff member said:

I wanted to share how much I appreciated “Camp Fire”. The advice/counsel that I was given will definitely help me grow in my position. I left those moments with a sense that not only am I valued as an employee but as an individual. I guess that’s what happens when we take the time to validate a student’s concerns/feelings. Thanks again and I look forward to an amazing year!

Hope you had a great first few weeks of school!  Thanks again for sharing your ideas that support and value our people!



I want you to know words cant describe how much your email means to me! Thank You! We want to be a contributor of best practices to our network, and really believe that the “camp fires,” or “fireside chats” as we call them, are one of those. These started spontaneously, but have become an important part of our culture. These “touchpoints,” as I like to a call them, are important to us as leaders for awareness.
Additionally, your timing of this email is impeccable! I just finished a fireside chat with seven teachers who were in the building today, that started at 11:15 and just ended at 3:15, and was feeling a little frustrated that I had got nothing I had planned to do done. But guess what? Your email reminded me that there was nothing we could have done today that was more important to teaching and learning, putting our teachers first, and most importantly our students first, than the 4 hours we spent having a fireside chat! 
So, thank you for getting me in check, and the email. I am so excited about this! Please, let’s stay in touch about how your campfires evolve. 
How COOL is what we do?
Warm Regards,


Seriously, how cool is this! So next time you think you are wasting time talking with the people you lead, remember these could be the moments where the greatest leadership opportunities lie!

TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments – See more at:
TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments – See more at:
TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments – See more at:
TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments – See more at:

Learn From The Day!

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 21, 2012

I just finished Cal Ripken, Jr.’s book, Get In The Game: Eight Elements of Perserverence That Make The Difference (2007). It was an incredible book on leadership and learning! There were so many takeaways, but the one that stood out the greatest was Ripken’s (2007) formula for learning – Awareness >; Curiosity >; Learning. This was an incredible formula that he described.

When you are aware of something you get curious. This curiosity leads to learning. We must strive to be aware of those things we don’t know. More importantly, however, we need to be aware of those things around us we need to be curious of. In my case this awareness may be what is happening with the culture of my school, new ways to bridge the learning gap with students, or more effective ways to lead. I am always curious and spend time reading, collaborating with others, and studying to satisfy this curiosity with learning.

I was particularly touched by the phrase that Ripken (2007) quoted from his father, Cal Ripken, Sr., who said: “Get in the game. Do the best you can. Try to make a contribution. LEARN FROM THE DAY. Apply it to tomorrow” (Ripken, 2007, p. 247). My favorite sentence there is, “Learn from the day!” We need to remember to take time and reflect each day on what we have learned.

My challenge to you is to be AWARE, be CURIOUS, and LEARN FROM THE DAY!

Isaiah 1:18

Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 6, 2012

As we reach the point of being only about four weeks from the November 6th Presidential election I was reminded of why our system of government works. I just finished Bill O’Reilly’s (2012) new book Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot which was delivered to my iPad Kindle App on the day it was released. Today during my study time I finished the book and right now I am calling it my top read of the year! That is a big deal considering I have read books like No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleeza Rice (2011) and Steve Jobs (2012) by Walter Isaacson.

Amongst all the great stuff O’Reilly (2012) included in this book, one part really moved me; particularly in a Presidential election year. In the book, O’Reilly points to Lyndon B. Johnson’s (LBJ) favorite Bible verse: Isaiah 1:18. This verse exemplifies LBJ’s passion and abilities for building coalitions; or being “collaborative” as I would call it. I have written about collaboration in previous posts such as Putting Learning Organization Theory into Practice andPelican Leadership Lessons.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come Now And Let Us Reason Together.” Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be about? Really, isn’t that what any top performing organization is all about? I think it should be!

John F. Kennedy and LBJ hated each other so LBJ had to work his political magic and coalitions to his advantage. Now, my thoughts on why our system works and we must tolerate, embrace, and try to work with a bipartisan system: LBJ was not really a champion of civil rights because of right and wrong. But, he became a major player of social change related to civil rights in our country for the better. As O’Reilly (2012) stated: “For Johnson civil rights has nothing to do with right or wrong. Taking this stand just makes good political sense.” So, what this tells me is that having issues be political can work.

President Johnson Works With Civil Rights Leaders

So what am I saying? I’m saying I believe in our imperfect system and believe we should strive, as LBJ did, to follow Isaiah 1:18 and “Come Now and Reason Together.” Make no mistake, my points here are not about being Republican or Democrat, but about using our form of government to collaborate and be a Learning Organization!

Tagged with: ,

Mending Fences

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 3, 2012

As most of you know I live on a farm. My son raises Jersey dairy cows so one of the jobs that periodically has to happen is fence maintenance. I got to thinking how true this is in leadership of organizations as well. There are basically four jobs my son and I were doing:

#1. Checking for areas that needed maintenance or repair.

#2. Tightening up loose wires (we have high tensile fence).

#3. Replacing fence staples that had popped out (the fence staples hold the high tensile wire to the posts).

#4. Cleaning out and spraying weeds around the fence.

If these four maintenance items are taken care of regularly a fence will remain strong and do it’s job. Let’s look at each of these actions individually and compare them to leadership in an organization.

Checking of Areas of Needed Maintenance/Repair

Marzano (2005) calls this situational awareness and has it as #2o on his list of 21 Responsibilities of a Leader. Situational awareness is knowledge of what is going on in the school (or organization), feelings and emotions, day to day activities. This will allow the leader to anticipate any issues, or be better prepared should a situation arise (Marzano, 2005). It is very important that we, as leaders, know what is going on in our organizations. We must be out checking the fences, so to speak, knowing what is going on. As I always say, “People by day, paperwork at night.”

Tightening Up Loose Wires

Our high Tensile fence makes use of eight wires (heavy gauge) that are tightened to give them strength. Loose wires encourage the animal to try to go through. Because I believe in the flattened hierarchy of the learning organization (Garvin, 2000) I really believe in a tight-loose approach to leadership. Successful organizations ensure every person, regardless of position, has a clear understanding of what the vision and mission is and the ability and the opportunity to achieve the goals and drive results. Movement toward a tight-loose culture, which is high on clarity and empowerment, enables all employees to lead from where they are and be effective ambassadors for their organization.

Replacing Fence Staples That Have Popped Out

This may mean at times we may need to bring new people in to replace employees that just aren’t getting it done or provide professional development to get individuals back on track. This goes back to my first point of being situationally aware of what is going on.

Removing the Weeds

This point is so important to leading an organization. Weed removal is analagous to leading in a complex organization. Just as the fence needs a clear pathway to realize it’s full potential, so do our team members. An ideal environment contains the correct mixture of diversity, climate, capability, and potential. The key is to cultivate them and diligently remove the competition (weeds) and through really understanding (situational awareness) their different needs, build lasting relationships.

Hopefully, these four points of fence mending and maintenance can help you do a better job of maintaining your organization!


Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Marzano, R. J. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Put Your Thumb Print on Someone

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 19, 2011

Winston Churchill once said that he had become a little bit of everyone he had ever come in contact with. How true this is. Today marks the last of our activities we are conducting for our FFA Chapter’s October Anti-Bullying Campaign. If you remember last week I wrote a post “What If We All Wore White T-Shirts.” This week everyone was to take their white t-shirt from last week and decorate it to show their own personality. Let me tell you it has been fun to see everyone’s shirt today.

For my shirt (see picture), I chose to have all of my students (161 to be exact) put their thumb print and signature on my nice white button-down shirt. I wanted this to represent, and for them to understand, that I believe, as did Winston Churchill, that we all become a little bit of everyone we associate with. We can choose for that influence to be negative or positive. By placing their thumb print on my shirt I wanted them to realize what influence each of them has on me and anyone else they come in contact with is as personal as their thumb print.

So please remember that you are putting your thumb print on everyone you come in contact with, teach, mentor, lead, or coach. Make sure that thumb print is one that is helping to lift that individual to a higher level.

Lesson of a Pin Oak

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 10, 2011

Last year my son, Heath, received a small Pin Oak tree to plant at home as part of a fourth grade project. We planted the little 18″ sprig and it is now a little over five feet tall (see attached picture). Heath is proud of his Pin Oak tree and and has watered it every day, has kept it staked and even put in tree fertilizer stakes for it. Needless to say, it might be the healthiest tree in Indiana.

I know there have been lots of writing using trees as the analogy, but I couldn’t help sharing my son’s reflection. This weekend he was standing next to his tree and he said, “Dad this tree and I are about the same size. I guess I have done a good job of taking care of it. You told me if I did everything right that it would put down good roots, grow fast, and be strong enough to last for my kids to see someday.” Then he made the profound connection. He said, “I guess that is really what you’ve been doing with me, huh?”

This became one of those “Touchpoints” for learning as Douglas Conant and Mette Norgaard called them in their book Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments. As Conant and Norgaard (2011) pointed out, these interruptions (or little conversations) can be both planned and unplanned, but give us the opportunity to lead. For these touchpoints to be effective Conant and Norgaard (2011) posited that leaders must “listen, frame, and advance.”

I did the listening, and Heath had framed the learning perfectly. All that was left was to advance. So we talked about how this nurturing did not just apply to father son, but to any time we are able to help someone, whether it be a classmate, teacher, or anyone who needs our expertise to be lifted up. We discussed how he has the chance to be a role-model and how others can learn from his example.

Finally, I learned from Heath that, “the action truly is in the interaction,” as pointed out by Conant and Norgaard (2011). So let’s all make sure we take time to listen so we can make something of our interactions.

Autonomy – A TALL Order

Posted in Education, Leadership, Learning Organization, Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 15, 2011

I’ve read two great books in the last week,Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and The Modern Meeting Standard: Read This Before Our Next Meeting. These two books caused me to reflect on a process I had the opportunity to develop and champion at Lebanon High School called TALL – Tiger Academy of Lessons Learned. Allow me to share the process (it’s not a thing or initiative, it’s a process) in this week’s post.

In the last three years many changes have been made in the way our school-wide professional development activities are planned, organized, and presented. The primary concern was that teachers should have ownership of the professional development process – Autonomy.

The Lebanon High School staff meets two times per month for professional development in Tiger Academy of Lessons Learned (TALL) groups. TALL was started in the spring of 2009. TALL is modeled after the U.S. Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) (Garvin, 2000). It is a process with no hierarchy, which has teachers working in groups of like interest and knowledge to learn new techniques, study research, try new practices/technology, and discuss professional literature. Any teacher may propose a topic to be addressed and groups form according to the appeal of the topic. As Pink (2009) said, “As organizations flatten, companies need people who are self-motivated. That forces many organizations to become more like, er, Wikipedians. Nobody sits around trying to figure out how to “motivate” them. That’s why Wikipedia works. (Kindle Location 452).

Groups meet formally every other week during time set aside in the morning, and report in diary form to our common computer drive. Groups can form and dissolve as necessary. Members are also able to freely switch groups as the need arises. Many groups meet outside of the normal school day to work. All individuals and groups had total autonomy (Pink, 2009) to pick their topics and groups they work in.

TALL has enabled the development of communities of practice in our school.  One advantage of this process is that it provides a forum where teachers learn from each other.  Teachers, according to their needs, choose TALL groups. This strategy enables teachers to use the group genius created to improve teaching skills and acquire best practices from each other, thus improving student achievement. Another important facet of TALL is that it includes the entire staff. All principals, support staff, and teachers are involved as equal participants. The groups with principals have learned to discuss sensitive topics and share opinions without fear of repercussion. TALL has helped our school by moving our staff toward an environment of risk taking and trust.

Another important outcome of TALL has been the opportunity for cross-curricular collaboration (Dufour, 2008) or development of learning organizations (Garvin & Edmondson, & Gino, 2008; Garvin, 2000) between all teachers. Garvin (2000) defines the learning organization as, “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring, and retaining knowledge, and at purposefully modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights” (p. 11). Becoming a learning organization is an important component of our school’s culture change toward improved student achievement and performance (Warnick & Thompson, 2007).


DuFour, R. D. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work.

Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Garvin, D.A., Edmondson, A.C., & Gino, F. (2008). Is yours a learning

organization? Harvard Business Review, 86(3), 109-116.

Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning

organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York,

NY: Riverhead Books.

Warnick, B.K. & Thompson, G.W. (2007). Barriers, support, and collaboration: A

comparison of science and agriculture teachers’ perceptions regarding integration of

science into the agricultural education curriculum. Journal of Agricultural Education,

48(1), 75-85.

It’s All About the Cupholder!

Posted in Unstructured Collaboration by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 5, 2010

For the past month I have had the distinct honor of serving as Lebanon, Indiana’s Fourth of July Celebration Grand Marshal. Yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I had the pleasure of being chauffered in the parade by someone I consider to be a great friend, mentor, and coach; Kevin Eikenberry. Kevin and I love to spend time together visititing about the latest technology, building learning organizations, the similarities of business and education, and about agriculture. One of Kevin’s passions is antique tractors. Therefore it was appropriate, I thought, that I ride in his wagon being pulled by his Farmall BN that he has painted to match the Purdue Boilermaker Special and has appropriately named the Boilermaker Ag Special. Let me give you one more detail that is important for you to know to really get a grasp on how special it was for Kevin to do this. He had to drive to Michigan and get the tractor and bring it home to use in the parade. Now that’s friendship!

Here is the important part of my post. You cannot imagine how much I was looking forward to hooking up with Kevin yesterday morning to help unload the tractor and wagon. It really was not about being Grand Marshal, it was about spending time with Kevin. And our time started just like any other time we get together – like two ducks that have been apart we chattered, laughed and poked fun at each other. Then we got ready to drive from our staging area to the parade line-up I saw Kevin fumbling with his bottle of water, and I said, “Dude, you need a cupholder.” Then, everything ceased and we proceeded to determine where the cupholder needed to go, and who he knew that could fabricate it! So, the point of this post is to point out WHY it is so important for us to have friends, mentors, and coaches. It’ about finding our cupholders – It’s all about the WHY!

Simon Sinek talks about this in his book Start with Why. He talks about how the German car engineers thought that selling cars to Americans was all about the engineering, but then they found that we are obsessed with cupholders. We must know our WHY.

Let me conclude by saying what an honor it was to be selected as the Grand Marshal, and what a thrill it was to represent my school, Lebanon High School. Hopefully I have my WHY in check with my personal mission of, striving to be a steward of high student acheivement by using rigor, relevance, and relationships while collaborating and gaining the trust of my colleagues. Our principal, Kevin O’Rourke, always stresses “Students/school before self.” This is a pretty important WHY from someone I greatly respect!

What a day it turned out to be as we rode the parade route with friends, colleauges, students, and others giving me shout-outs. Addtionally, all of the Purdue fans giving us “Boiler-ups” as we passed in the Boilermaker Ag Special. I was humbled, because I realized that without Purdue, a great school, awesome students, an incredible wife and son, wonderful teacher colleagues, visionary administrators like Mr. O’Rourke, and the greatest friends in the world like Kevin Eikenberry, the Grand Marshal honor would have never happened. The WHY was really not about me at all!

Thanks Kevin for always helping me find my cupholders, and I can’t wait to see yours on your tractor!