Byron's Babbles

Relevant & Engaging Learning

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Doing An Engaging Lesson With Ms. Russell’s Kindergarten Class

This past week I had the opportunity to work closely with Mevers School of Excellence by focusing on student engagement and teaching using a relevant context. Most of you know this is a real purpose and passion area for me. I believe these are the two most critical components to student learning. It is just common sense that the more students are engaged, the more they will see the relevance of their experiences, feel connected to their school experiences and develop more positive attitudes and attributes, both inside and outside of the school walls. Student engagement must be part of a comprehensive strategy to have students fully develop their academic, social-emotional, civic and career knowledge and skills.

Learning in a relevant context is also a critical part to student engagement. True engagement happens when students discover that learning is a personal endeavor. Learning can only become personal when it is in a context that connects the learning to the students real life. In other words, as I always say, school work must be like real work. Mevers School of Excellence is a K-7 school and we discussed that school work can even be made relevant for kindergartners. I had the opportunity to work with Ms. Russell’s kindergarten class. Using pumpkins right now, at this time of year, for learning numbers, number sense, and counting is a real thing to these students. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just needs to be personal and real to the student.

When students make the connection from true engagement, they begin to understand that lessons and tasks are worthwhile because they help them meet personal goals they have begun to set for themselves, not just the teacher’s goals for them. Engagement and relevancy enable students to own their own learning. One of the activities that I had the Mevers School of Excellence teachers do during a professional development I conducted was to develop their own definition for student engagement and relevancy. To culminate their work, they developed a graphic recording of their definitions. Here’s the deal: If we want students engaged we must have students working in teams to experience and explore relevant, real-world problems, questions issues, and challenges; then have them create presentations and products to share what they have learned. Student motivation comes from lessons facilitated utilizing and encouraging student creativity, innovation, and problem solving. I have attached pictures here of their awesome work:

Schools need to have a systemic focus for all teachers to be facilitating learning in an engaging and relevant way. Student engagement needs to be intricately tied to how the school functions, supported in the context of a positive, safe, caring and equitable school climate.

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Leading Like Billy Graham

With the passing of the great leader, Billy Graham, this week I feel compelled to reflect on what made him a great leader. It just so happened I was in Charlotte, North Carolina working with school leaders and teachers this week and had the opportunity to go to the Billy Graham Library, pay my respects, and reminisce about growing up with Billy Graham on our television set.

I grew up watching Billy Graham while sitting beside my dad on the couch in our living room. Growing up in a rural Christian home, we could relate to the teachings of this North Carolina man who, as his daughter has described him, was always a farmer at heart. Little did I know at the time I was witnessing one of the greatest leaders that would ever walk the earth (besides Jesus, of course) for 99 years. Also, little did I know he was teaching me to lead like Jesus.

It has been said that there are three very important questions that leaders must answer:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Who do I want to be?
  3. How do I make a difference in the greater world and bring influence to others?

Certainly, Billy Graham modeled answering these three leadership questions for us. There was never any doubt who Billy Graham was. He believed in Jesus, told the stories of Jesus, and that was who he was. He led with integrity because who he was on the outside was who he was on the inside, period. That was who he was and who he wanted to be. Bottom line: he wanted everyone to know Jesus, and that was that. As we would say today, “drop the mic!”

Furthermore, as a believer in the idea that leadership is influence, I am not sure you could name me anyone else who has influenced more people in a life span, other than Jesus of course. This morning as I was studying the day’s tweets, I came across one from Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. She had written a tribute to her dad, “Daddy Is Home.” Needless to say, I was inspired. Click here to read it, because you’ll be inspired too.

A sentence Anne wrote in the statement really stood out to me. She said, “While he may be physically absent and his voice silent, I am confident that his message will continue to reverberate throughout the generations to come.” Wow! If leadership is influence, then this says it all. Even after passing, Billy Graham’s influence of changing the world and influencing others lives on. Powerful!

“While he may be physically absent and his voice silent, I am confident that his message will continue to reverberate throughout the generations to come. My prayer on this day of his move to Our Father’s House is that his death will be a rallying cry.  That tens of thousands of pastors, teachers, evangelists, and ordinary men and women will rise up to take his place.  That they will take up his message like a baton being passed in a relay race and faithfully pass it on to those with whom they come in contact. Because Daddy’s message is God’s message.  And it’s a message of genuine hope for the future, of love for the present, of forgiveness for the past.” ~ Anne Graham Lotz

We all look for leaders who can appreciate our vulnerability and inspire us, understand us, support us, and guide us through looming chaos. We are inspired and influenced when this happens. As leaders, we need to understand who we are, why we are doing something, and be clear about about our own core values and goals when applying our skills of influence. That way, influence comes from a place of authenticity and has the greatest impact. Remember, to be truly influential, we need to be the same person on the outside that we are on the inside.

“No, That’s Not The Problem” ~ Peter Drucker

IMG_1921Gem #5 entitled, “A Problem Well Defined Is A Problem Half Solved” (quote from Peter Drucker), in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart was about Peter Drucker’s insistence that problems be define by root causes, not symptoms. This really got me to thinking about how much we really do this. The point here is we spend a great deal of time dealing with symptoms of the problem as opposed to the actual problem. It is why I am such a believer in looking at outcomes. Sometimes our biggest problem is, we don’t know what the problems are.

img_1749Dr. Drucker also recommended against picking “Elephant Problems.” Elephant problems are ones that are just to big to address. In other words they would just cover too much to really get down to root cause problems. Therefore, elephant problems need to be broken down into smaller parts. I also like the discussion of not just using convenient data. Sometimes we just look at the data that either reinforces our own theories or hypothesis.

To really solve problems we need to first define the problem well and then get to the root cause. Only then can we begin to develop solutions that will be effective. What I have learned is that nearly everyone is usually clear on the task, but not clear on outcomes. Dr. Drucker was tough on those he worked with to continue to search for the real problem. He would continually say, “No, that’s not the problem.”

Failure To Communicate

IMG_1858We spent a lot of time today discussing communication in our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program kickoff for our South Carolina and North Carolina schools today. IMG_1857Then when I was reading Gem #4 entitled, “The Biggest Hurdle To Effective Communication Is The Assumption That It Has Taken Place” in, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. The main point of this gem was to not assume that everyone in the loop has received and understood the message. I really believe it even goes further than this. We also must make sure we understand the Vantage Point of the person we are communicating to.

“Leaders must accept as a constant that when two or more minds attempt to communicate, they are coming from at least two different perspectives.” ~ John Parker Stewart

One of the models I like to teach about to leaders is the Vantage Point Model developed by MG Taylor. Basically, the model looks like a topographical map that takes you from task to philosophy or philosophy to task depending on how you look at it. The lesson here is, though, that it depends on your role as to which Vantage Point you are working from. If we can find a way to communicate and look at all change from all seven Vantage Points we are in a better place to have communicated effectively to all. Here are the Vantage Points:

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In reality we can never understand the philosophy of an organization or school, in my case, until you are immersed in the tasks that comprise its daily functions. Moreover, our daily tasks can blind people to culture and philosophy, or cause them to accept it too casually. I have found that if organizations can find commonality by using the Vantage Points as a guide it can be become a powerful pathway to effective communication. This model also serves as a guide to answering the “why?”.

Think about all the Vantage Points of those you serve in your next communications.

 

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?

Tell Me Why I Am Wrong!

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 7.35.32 AMIn his great book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger discussed the idea that dissonance can be more valuable to leaders and organizations than resonance. We always think about jumping straight to buy-in or consensus, but the idea of having team members push back has tremendous value. I have always believed we should question the views of those with whom we disagree. We need to do this however with yet an open, curious mind. Berger suggested we ask things like: Why might they see the issue this way? Why do I see it differently? What assumptions are we each operating under?AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634

I have always had two trade-mark questions that I like to ask when making decisions or trying to design new ways of doing things. These two questions are:

  1. Tell/convince me: Why am I wrong?
  2. Can you please talk me out of this?

These two questions have really served me well over the years. It is amazing how many great ideas I have gotten to improve the project or question I am grappling with at the time of asking these questions. The beautiful thing about these questions is that sometimes I am wrong, but many times I get just the right ideas to make something great or keep me from being wrong.

An example of this is a decision I just made official yesterday. As you know we have a program I started two years ago called the Focused Leader Academy (FLA). At its founding we decided to have 15-18 participants selected each year by an application and interview process. This would give us approximately 10% of our teaching staff going through this intensive leadership training each year. We just completed our second cohort and are ready to start Cohort #3. Well, we had 34 applicants, which is the most ever. Long story short, because of the many different complexities of our school, I had the wild and crazy thought of, “Why not accept all 34 candidates and have that many more great leaders developed in our school?” As you can imagine, there are many implications to making a decision like this. Not the least of which are: financial, keeping the experience special, logistics, group dynamics, and managing a group this size.

So, I literally started making phone calls to some of my most trusted people and former participants of the group and asked three things:

  1. What if we accepted 34 participants into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  2. Why would it be wrong to accept all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  3. Please talk me out of accepting all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?

I might add that I also randomly selected some of the applicants and asked the same three questions. I thought is was important to hear the feedback from those that would be most affected by my decision.

Here’s the deal: yesterday I sent congratulatory notes to all 34 and made Cohort #3 of FLA the largest of our history. Why? Because no-one convinced me it was the wrong idea. Most importantly, however, I got all kinds of great ideas on how to make it great with 34 participants. And… even more importantly, I got great advice on how not to let the experience flop with 34 participants. And… from my financial team we already have it figured out how to make it work from a financial standpoint.

I found it interesting that I had one group that was somewhat against at first and one individual that was adamantly against, but after long conversations with both they both came to the conclusion, and I quote, “You don’t have a choice; taking all 34 is the right decision.” Keep in mind these were just conversations sharing versions of ideas. It is about me hearing negative feedback and ideas, not me trying to convince. When entering uncharted waters, I (we all) need my assumptions challenged.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from Berger’s awesome book that reinforces this idea of dissonance:

“In sharing early versions of an idea with the world at large, one is likely to receive negative feedback—which some people interpret as evidence of a failure. But that’s not necessarily true, says Harvard’s Paul Bottino, who points out that when it comes to feedback, “dissonance can actually be more valuable than resonance.” As people push back on your idea, it can be a good indication that you’re entering uncharted, potentially important territory—because you’re more likely to get negative feedback (“That could never work!”) on ideas that challenge common assumptions. “Dissonance is the most misunderstood kind of feedback,” Bottino says. “We really should welcome it and learn to make the most of it.” ~ Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question

I love Merriam-Webster’s definition of dissonance: “lack of agreement – the dissonance between the truth and what people want to believe.” When I ask team members to tell me why I am wrong, I really want to know. I usually want to really believe something will work or be a great idea, but I need to know the truth about roadblocks and potential pit-falls.

Finally, I do not want you to leave this post thinking I am suggesting throwing out the important of resonance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Resonance is the positive emotional affect of leadership. Those who are led by resonate leaders are in harmony with the leader’s emotions. Great leaders are effective because they create resonance.  Resonance comes from the Latin word resonare, to resound. Effective leaders are attuned to other people’s feelings and move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically about their own values, direction and priorities and resonate with the emotions of surrounding people. Under the guidance of an effective leader, people feel a mutual comfort level. Resonance comes naturally to people with a high degree of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management) but involves also intellectual aspects.

Remember, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations, as resonant leaders, to model and allow for dissonance when incorporating Berger’s framework of asking:

  • Why?
  • What if?
  • How?

Asking beautiful questions will enable us to lead beautiful organizations!

You Will Just Have To Accept This! Why?

file 6I have always believed we need to always refuse to accept the existing reality. I really believe this in our personal lives, organizations we work in, state, nation, and world. My thinking was affirmed when reading A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger this past weekend. He told the story of Van Phillips. This amazing and inspiring story is about the person that invented the mind-blowing “blade runner” prosthetic device.  When Phillips lost his leg in a boating accident, he could have asked the usual question.  Why me?  Instead he went further, asking “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot?”  Then he took ownership of the question:  How can I make a better foot? It’s easy, when we’re confronted with a challenge that seems insurmountable to ask “what are we going to do?”  Or… worse yet, to just accept that is the we it has to be. What if, we ask, “why does it have to be that way. Or… better yet, what if, instead we asked “What if this change represents an opportunity for us?”

AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634In this great book, Berger, incorporates a wide array of examples and his three question framework of innovation: Why, What if, and How. Plenty of innovation has started with questions, many of which are downright strange. Warren Berger’s definition of a beautiful question is, “an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.” We need to remember that questions trump answers, every time.

As leaders, we would all be better served to practice divergent thinking and encourage our teams to think and question this way as well. Divergent thinking is the intellectual ability to think of many original, diverse and elaborate ideas. This type of thinking is associated with the right brain dominant, which is seeing things in a perceptual manner. In other words asking, “Why does it have to be this way?” This is in contrast to convergent thinking which is the ability to logically evaluate and choose the best idea from a selection of ideas. This type of thinking is associated with the left brain dominant, which is seeing things in an analytical manner.
We need to develop the capacity in ourselves and those we lead to produce many, or a greater number of complicated or complex ideas from a single idea or “why does it have to be this way?” question to trigger more ideas. It calls for making unexpected combinations, changing information into unanticipated forms, identifying connections among remote associates, and the like. In divergent thinking, a single question returns multiple answers, and though the answers vary considerably depending on the person, all answers are of equal value. Perhaps they did not exist ever before and so are novel, surprising or unusual. Now, this is not to say we need only divergent thinkers because we will need the convergent and linear thinkers to help us accomplish our goals.
Asking the powerful question “why?” forces people to think deep. They can then peel back the layers of excuses and get to the root cause of the problem. Asking “why” seems easy enough. It’s just a little word, after all. So, why don’t leaders ask this powerful question more often? Probing deep can be scary for a leader. It smells of confrontation and hints of accusation. It also is giving up some authority and asks others to weigh in. Many leaders are also accustomed to and want to be the go-to person for answers. They’re used to giving direction and opinion. It makes them feel valued, important and reinforces their position of authority. Also, some leaders prefer to deliver the answers because they think it will save precious time. Unfortunately, when leaders routinely dish out the answers, they become enablers of that dysfunctional cycle, which is actually a huge time-waster. Employees regularly seek out leadership for the solution rather than being leaders where they are and becoming problem-solvers. This prevents the ability to develop real solutions, stifles employee growth and ultimately limits company productivity. Remember, leadership should be happening where the data is produced.
The best leaders are those who understand that asking “why” is a highly productive teaching method. Teaching – true professional growth – and challenging people to think is what stimulates discovery, solutions and growth. So, the goal of any leader is to become a great teacher and develop the necessary skills. This includes not only asking “why”, but then also giving employees the autonomy to ask “why” and the appropriate amount of time to determine the real answer. Remember, we all live in the world our questions create!