An Intimate Conversation About Buildership


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 100. 

Hey Builders, 

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today we are celebrating 100 episodes of this podcast. You know, the closer we got to 100 episodes, the more I kept feeling all of this pressure to do something big to celebrate, you know, what can I do? What kind of splashy special episode could I do. And then I realized that we don't need to do anything splashy, we don't need to do anything big. What I need to do is spend some time thanking you for allowing me into your homes, in your cars and into your lives for these 100 episodes. And so what I thought I would do is that I would pause our series that we have going on right now about the difference between being a boss, a leader and a builder. And I would just spend some time talking to you about how I got here, how, what was how did I get to the point where I believe and I've dedicated my life to working towards builder ship, and why buildership pays off and, and so I thought I would just spend a little bit more time instead of a big splashy episode. Let's do an intimate episode where I just kind of talked to you I tell you about the journey I tell you about what it has meant to me and what you mean to me. And so that's what we're gonna do in this episode.

So many of you know that my journey started out as a high school English teacher.

Then I became a middle school administrator. And I've talked at length about the journey from being a middle school administrator and how I resigned from my position right before I was about to get a promotion because I had this book inside of me. And I didn't know at the time what the book was going to be. I just knew that there was a book there, and I needed to write it. And so I resigned from my job. And I started mine steps. Really with no book contract. You know, it's one thing to say you have a book inside of you. But I didn't have a book contract. I didn't have a plan. I didn't have a business, I didn't have any income. And I I talked about that journey in at length in Episode 23. So go back and listen to that. And you can see that story. What I haven't talked about very much is what happened afterwards. What happened after I resigned from the school system, and I started mine steps and I started working with teachers and doing professional development for teachers. And so let's pick up on that journey today. Because I think it's really helpful to hear how we got to build a ship so that you can understand why build a ship is so valuable.

So after I resigned and started working on never work harder than your students, I started mine steps and I was doing consulting. And when I first started doing the consulting work, I was mostly working with teachers, I was doing a lot of workshops for teachers. But the challenge was that when I would go in and work with teachers, we were showing teachers how to reach every student how to eliminate failures from their classroom, how to make the work that they were asking students more rigorous and how to help underprepared or underserved students reach those rigorous levels of learning. And so I was doing a lot of this work with teachers. And what we found was that when I would go into a school, and I would train teachers on this, if the principle was not involved, then the best that we could hope to achieve with pockets of excellence. Teachers were so excited about this work, and they would go back into their classrooms, and they would start doing it. But if it wasn't supported by the principals, eventually teachers would abandon this work and do what the principals asked. And so the only way that we were seeing whole school transformation happen was when the principal was on board. And that worried me because there were a lot of teachers who were saying, I want to do this work, I believe it's important. And I had a goal of every teacher becoming a master teacher.

I realized very quickly, it wasn't going to happen in a workshop.

If I really wanted to help teachers become master teachers, we had to work with the principals. And so initially, we started out by doing workshops for principals just around feedback, we thought we'll show teachers how to, to shift their focus in the classroom will show teachers how to increase the rigor, how to increase their differentiation, how to serve all kids. And then the principals when they go into the classroom, we'll show them how to give teachers the kind of feedback that helps promote that. So that's where we started. And soon, we found that when principals were learning how to do this kind of feedback, that's when we started doing micro slicing, and principals loved it. But then the next challenge became, okay, I've given the teachers feedback, they hear that feedback now what how do I help them operationalize that feedback? How do I help them use that feedback in their classrooms. And so we realized that we needed to provide provide principals training around support. So we started doing workshops around how to support teachers, and how to help every teacher grow one level in one domain, and one year or less. Principals love that.

They started implemented that in the next problem became, well, there's some things going on in my culture, that are really inhibiting my efforts to give teachers feedback and support. There's a lot of toxicity. Teachers don't want me in the classroom teachers, you know, mutiny every time we try to do PD. And so then we started doing work around culture, and how do you move a culture and remove toxicity from the culture? And that worked. And then the next problem came with principals were saying, this is a lot and we want to keep this up. But there are all these distractions that get in the way, how do we sustain our growth over time, and then we realized we needed some work around accountability. So initially, we were just offering a bunch of workshops, and the schools that took those that information and put systems around that information, they began to grow. And I'll tell you, I'll be honest with you, it was a real blow to my ego, because I remember going to a school and they had done this tremendous work. And I visited the school about three years after I'd stopped working with the school, just to check on him and see how they were doing. I happened to be in town. And when I stopped by, they showed me around and showed me all the stuff that they were doing. And it kind of hurt my feelings, because they were telling me we were doing this and we're doing that. And I'm like, Yeah, I showed you how to do that. I remember we did a workshop on this.

They had forgotten that I taught them how to do it. 

Now. Like I said, I'll be transparent and honest, my ego took a real blow for that until I thought about it. Isn't that what we want to do? It can't work unless people own it. And once I understood that, then my my ego started to to get excited when people forgot about me, you know, when I would go back to a school, and I'd hear about their work, and they own that work. They claimed it. It wasn't. This is something we learned in mind steps. This is just how we do things around here. Yeah, that that's what became exciting to me. And we started seeing that, but we realized that we needed to put systems around it. And I was struggling with this a few years back. And in 2009, I read an article by an economist named Amir hake. I think I'm pronouncing his name right. And he had gone on the screen about how the world no longer needed leaders that the world needed builders. And it was the first time I've been introduced to the term builders. And he said something that just really resonated with me because it captured what I was trying to build without even realizing it. He said that bosses say go bleeders say, let's go and builders say come. And I thought that's it. That's the difference. That's what what we're missing in education. And so from there, we were off to the races, we started trying to take this idea of builder ship and flesh it out. And a lot of what you hear me talk about in the podcast are just different things that I'm still learning about build a ship along the way that I want to share with you.

So once we started creating systems around this, once we started putting this under the umbrella builder ship, everything started to come together. And now when we're working with schools, rather than just giving them you know, building just skills around, you know, feedback, support accountability or culture, it's part of a bigger model, I still remember the first builders lab where we debuted the builder ship model, there was someone there who had been to a prior builders lab. And when she saw the models, she says, Now this all makes sense. That's what we knew we'd gotten it. And we've been implementing this model for about three or four years now. And we're starting to see schools take the model, start to put their own spin on it, and use it to move their schools for to achieve things that they thought were impossible. So that's kind of the builder ship journey. But now I want to talk about you, I don't want to talk about what we've done. I just wanted you to have that background so you know why we're doing what we're doing and how it can work.

Now I want to talk about you. 

If you're listening to this podcast, it means that you have at least started to become committed more and more to this idea of shifting from being a leader to being a builder and it's a hard shift. And it's not hard because the work is harder. It's hard because as you were learning how to be a builder, you were also unlearning a lot of what you were taught about leadership. Just the other day, I was doing a builders lab, one of our private builders, labs, and someone asked me, Why is it that people don't create visions that include 100% of their students? I don't get it. Why are we even in education? If we're not thinking about how we serve 100% of our students, I don't get why people hesitate, or why people write visions that that aren't really focused on that. And she was upset she was she she was frustrated with with her colleagues who weren't doing that work. And I said, you can't be mad at people. It's how they were trained. I mean, when have you ever been told that your vision should include 100% of your students? Most of the time, we're told to look for incremental gains every single year. And we kind of people kind of say, well, you're never gonna get to 100%. But let's get close. Or they'll even say things like, You know why? Because when we're not just talking about 100% of our students, we're also talking about 100% of our teachers, every teacher becoming a master teacher.

Every time I say that people like, wow, I'm not sure about that. And they start hedging. And they do it in the name of being realist. But builders, aren't just realist. We're not just looking at the situation we are in a day. Because if we did, we would, we would say, same kind of things. Yeah, it's not going to happen. And you're right, it's not going to happen with the school that you have right now, you're not going to get to 100%. With the school that you have right now, you're not going to get to 100% of your staff, every teacher becoming a master teacher, with the school that you have right now, with the way that you are building them, you're not going to get there. But what would the school have to look like, in order for you to be there? That's the difference. That's the step that builders take that leaders never take, is we recognize, yeah, we can't get there. We're never going to get there with the school that we have. So what do we need to build? What kind of school do we need to build? So we can get there? What kind of, of professional growth process Do we need to put in place in our school so that 100% of our staff become master teachers. And that's where making the shift from leadership to build a ship gets hard. Because so much of what we see right now is discouraging. When we look at our staff, we see people, we just can't imagine that person ever being a master teacher. And part of it is that we have this mythology around what a master teacher looks like, you know, it's akin to sainthood.

My definition of a Master Teacher is pretty simple. 

It's a teacher that helps every child achieve, it's a teacher that helps every child hit or exceed, meet or exceed the standards, period. And when you think about that, why shouldn't every teacher be able to do that? Why shouldn't every teacher be able to reach every kid? Or else? Why are we in business? Why? Why do we have schools? If we're not striving for that? What on earth are we doing? And so one of the reasons that I love builder ship so much is that it opens up new conversations, it steps outside of what we've already been taught. And it starts to imagine what could be not what is doesn't mean the builders aren't realist, we look at what is we, we have a process for, for taking a really hard look at what is and why it is. But we don't stop there. And I think that's the difference with leaders. They stop there. This is our reality. So let's deal with our reality. We'll build our say, as this is our reality, our current reality, what is reality have to look like in order for our vision to become true? What does our reality have to look like for success to be predictable for every single child? That's a difference. That's, that's what builders do, we step away from our reality, and we start looking at what could be and then we get to work building that and turning what could be into what is. And I think that if you can allow yourself to accept the fact that your reality does not have to stay where it is right now.

If you can allow yourself to start imagining a new reality then you're a builder. Even if you don't have everything perfectly yet, you know a lot of people come to builders lab and and build us up you learn a lot you you get exposed to the whole model you you're learning a whole bunch of skills and people trying to come back and do all the things. But if you're a builder, you don't do all the things that first you recognize you can't do all the things at first you start figuring out what is the thing I need to do right now that gets me closer to the reality that I imagined for my students, for my teachers, and then you get to work on that. The moment you start thinking about what could be your bill The moment you start accepting that what could be, could be your builder. And you don't have to worry if you get it all perfect, I don't get it all perfect. Even the things that I teach you, there are times when I just don't, you know, I slip back into kind of the default stuff, I start going back into what I learned as a leader. There are times when I get frustrated with people, and I think you know what this person has to go, then I have to check myself and say, Nope, I wouldn't do it. If they weren't good in my classroom. I can't do it if they just because they're sitting in this workshop, and they're not paying attention, or just because they're sitting in this workshop, and they're not trying, I don't dismiss people, I don't write them off. Because that would be antithetical, I have to ask, what do I need to do in this workshop? To help reach this person? What does this workshop have to look like for that person to be successful? for that person to grow? What What do I need to say differently to help this person grow? And when you do that, that's when the work gets so much fun. On the other day said to me, You need to tell me, Robin that if I'm a builder, I just all my worries go away? Is that what you're trying to say to me? And she really didn't want to answer that question. Because the answer to question is kind of Yeah, it does.

You don't get stressed out in the same way when you're a Builder, because the problem is the solution. 

So when problems come up, you don't look at them and say, Oh, you know, here's another problem was so stressed out, you look at that and say, where's the solution in the problem, and then it gets exciting, the work gets fun. And people who haven't accepted build a ship yet, they don't see that. And I used to get kind of frustrated with those people, the people who wanted to challenge me, the people who refuse to see that there was a better way, the people who just wanted to stay stuck in negativity, I used to get really frustrated with those people. And now I just feel really sorry for them. Because I know there's something better out there. And I want that something better for them. So if you're here, if you're listening, if if you have allowed yourself to believe that you know what my vision could happen. I don't know how it's gonna happen yet. And the road ahead is not clear to me. But I believe it could happen. If you've done that. You're a builder. And then once you have it, that's the hardest part. Once you've done that, the rest gets easier. And people always look at me like I'm crazy. Like, Robin, these are real problems. I get that. But once you start allowing yourself to envision what could be? What does your school have to look like, for this vision to be true? Once you do that, then figuring out how to get there becomes easier.

You know, I was talking to someone, one of our builders inside of our office hours. So what office hours are, if you go to builders lab, or if you're a member of bu builders University, we do something called office hours where people can come, they can ask questions, they can bring challenges, you know, we do it in a zoom meeting so they can share their screens and you know, some Can you take a look at my master schedule and give me some feedback. And you take a look at this, this thing, I'm going to roll out to my staff and give me feedback. Or I rolled this out and it didn't work. And he helped me figure out what the next step is going to be. That's what office hours are anyway. So he was in office hours. And he said, You know, I roll this out to my staff. And it was a colossal failure. And he started talking about how the staff pushback and it just went nowhere. And he was really discouraged to say what did I do wrong? And I said nothing. He said, What if they did accept it? I said, Yeah, I know, they didn't accept it the first time.

As a Builder, you don't take the first rejection and go on, you take that as feedback.

That wasn't a rejection wasn't a failure was feedback. Why didn't they accept it? What was it about what you were were rolling out that they didn't accept? It was aligned with your vision? Clearly, it was it was a result of your doing your builders blueprint. So you knew that this was a root cause and this was your attempt to solve the root cause. So now, if you believe this is the right work for the school to do, and your teachers didn't buy into that, why is that? I don't know. So well go back to your teachers and say, Hey, listen, we all believe in this vision, right? You still believe in this vision? We've got that buy in around that? Is that still our vision? Do you still believe in that? Yeah. All right. Well, then this is our next step. And here's why and share that thinking with them. Can you see that? Yeah. So then why did you want not embrace this and it's not about an attachment to a program. It's more about how this is what I believe is our best work that we should be doing right now. If you don't believe that helped me understand why, and then helped me find the best work to do. Because we're reimagining our school. We're reimagining what this reality currently is for our students and creating a new reality for students. So hello Do that. You see, as a leader, when you roll something out, if people don't immediately embrace it, we get discouraged. Because there really isn't much left to do and suffer, either go into boss mode and force things down people's throats, or to abandon it altogether and say, Well, my teachers are just too stressed out right now, maybe we'll return to this next time or whatever. We are builder, you are stubborn on that vision, flexible and details. And so that's why you're not stressed out. If they don't buy into it the first time doesn't mean your plan is over just means that you need to go back and continue the conversation.

It means you have to keep having that conversation. until you find the right route. You gave it your best shot, if the teachers are rejecting it, and they're rejecting it not on the merits. If they're rejecting it, because they're, they're stressed out or overwhelmed, or they don't like you, then you know, the answer is always going to be culture. Okay, so now need to do some work around culture. So you do that work. And then you bring it back again, if they're rejecting it, because they believe in it, but they're just they just don't know how to make it work. Okay. All right, well, let's give them the support that they need. If they're rejecting it, because they don't fully understand what you're asking them to do yet, or they don't understand why well give them some feedback around that. If they're rejecting it, because they feel like it's going to be a heavy lift, and they don't know how they can add it into their day, just one more thing, then go back and put some systems around it and create some accountability around it and remove other systems that aren't working and find a way to incorporate it into your work.

There's always an answer when your Builder. 

That's why I say that builders never get stressed. It's not that we don't ever feel like a twinge of, you know, anxiety, we're human. But we don't feel prolonged stress. Because there's always an answer, there's always a solution. And it's right there in the model. And it's not a 20 part 30 part 50 part model, the model is very simple. Every problem in your school is a result of either we don't have the right purpose. We don't have people committed, we're not on the right pathway, or we're not executing the right plan. That's it. So when you hit a problem, is this a matter of purpose? And we have to go back to our vision mission and core values and re anchoring that? Do we have to improve the will and skill of the people involved? Do we have to Are we on the right pathway? Is this the right work we should be doing right now? Okay? Or is the plan not the right plan? Do we need to go back and create a plan that that will help us execute and pursue this pathway. That's it. So you don't have to get stressed out. So much of the time that I spend with our builders, inside of builders University is really about helping them see the solution that's right in front of them. But it's so hard to let go of leadership paradigms, it's so hard for us to get out of the mode of you know, getting stressed and trying to solve problems and coming up with solutions. And you know, doing it the old ways. When you're a builder, the more you practice it, the less stress you become, the more you start to see opportunities and every problem, the more of the solution is just right in front of you. And when you have that sense of calm and that sense of purpose.

Not only is it great for you, because your stress levels go away your the amount of work that you're having to do thesis, you're not going home and kicking the dog every day you you go home and you can enjoy your life because you're not carrying stress from school into your life. But other people start to pick up on that calm to other people see that you're not stressed out and they stop getting stressed out. They're they're not feeding off of your stress that's radiating. Instead, they they see that you you don't you have a solution. And so they feel okay, well, already, there's a solution coming. So one of the biggest benefits of being a builder is that you don't get stressed out about stuff. Maybe you feel a momentary sense of stress. But the moment you remind yourself, hey, there is a solution here. And the moment you start looking at the challenge ahead of you and saying is this a Is this a people problem? Is this the purpose problem is is the pathway problem? Or is this the plan problem? Stress goes away, because now you have a solution. Now you have a direction. Just talking to that principal the other day, where he started out by seeing something that's a colossal failure, and once he saw the opportunities and he got excited again, and that happens over and over and over again. So if you're new to this journey on builder ship know that the more that you become a builder, the less stress you are, the more that you become a builder The more you start seeing solutions instead of problems.

The more that you become a Builder, the more people trust you because you continually find solutions. 

The more that you become a builder, the less your stuff gets derailed. By some sort of momentary hiccup, because you're playing the long game. And those of you who are already on the journey for eldership, I just want to encourage you, sometimes you can get discouraged. Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. Sometimes you beat yourself up because you're thinking, I should be doing more but builder ship is not about shooting all over yourself. builder ship is about not should, it's about everyday getting better. It's about everyday adapting the mindset, it's about every day, giving yourself more and more permission to reimagine what your school can become. It's not every day you're getting better. So don't put the pressure on yourself. That's, that's the leadership stuff. builder ship says, You will learn the skill when you need it. You know what's available, you know what's out there. And so you kind of think about builder ship is once you understand all the skills involved in builder ship, you think about this, this, this never ending resources reservoir of support that you have available. And anytime you need it, you can go back to that reservoir and you can dip into it, and you can get what you need. It's not about getting all the parts perfect. It's really about having that mindset and knowing that there is an alternative available. And then knowing how to tap into that anytime you need it.

So today, I want to thank you, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey. Thank you for taking this idea of Buildership embracing it, and making it more and more your own. If I've done my job, right, in a few years, you'll forget about me and a few years, you'll be like, Oh yeah, I remember Robyn, because you're so busy building these amazing schools for your teachers and your kids. And it's become so much a part of you. It's just who you are. And when you do that, I will be so happy because my goal is it all started out with every teacher, master teacher. And the reason I wanted that was because I believed every if you had a master teacher in every classroom that every child had an opportunity to succeed. So if you did that, if you build a school where every teacher in the building was a master teacher, and every child was succeeding, you're not just going to make me happy, I'm going to be an old lady sitting in a rocking chair somewhere, just proud of you. But you're going to be proud of yourself because you will be changing the world. 

That's the beautiful part about being a Builder. 

It's not just something to make your job easier. It's not just something to help you get another promotion, it's not just something that you know, makes you more successful or helps you get your weekends back, build your ship. It's about empowering you to make the difference that you came here to make the difference that you know you can make in the lives of your children, you just couldn't figure out how build a ship gives you that how, but you're the one who's making the difference. You're the one who is doing the work. And so if you've embraced build a ship, or if you've just started on your bill to ship journey, I want to encourage you you are doing the right thing, you're headed in the right direction, you're going to get better and better along the journey. And what's even more important is you won't get builder ship down perfectly, nobody does. But what you'll do is you'll make builder ship work for you, you will turn this idea of builder ship into something that you own. One of the things I love is that every builder is different. B I'll teach something and build a ship University. And everybody will take that thing you know, like I remember the first time this happened. We were doing a sprint around building teacher dashboards and I created this teacher dashboard template. And within an hour of working together we had everybody had taken that template and they had made it their own.

They customized it to work for their school, their district, their evaluation system, their teachers. And that was one of the most proud moments I've ever had in build a ship university because these builders took this tool and they turned it into something that they own. That's what I want for you. I don't want you to take what you learn here on this podcast and try to implement it perfectly. I want you to take what you've learned on this podcast and use it to reimagine who you are as a as a as an administrator in your building. And then what who your school is what your school can become. That's what that's true builder ship never have to look like what I teach. You should take it use it turn get into something that serves you and serves your kids if you did that if you if you truly took this these concepts everything that you're learning and you transform them you own them you reimagine them in hell use them to reimagine the school that you have you can literally change the world and that's what gets me excited that's what gets me up in the morning that's what keeps me coming back for 100 episodes 150 episodes and 200 episodes is i want to share these nuggets with you so that you can grab them you can use them you can use them to empower yourself and then you can use them to change some part of the world that's what we're building together here on this podcast so thank you thank you so much if you've only listened to one episode if you've listened to every episode.

Thank you for trusting me enough to let me walk alongside you in this tiny small way on your journey.

I want you to know that I appreciate each and every one of you when when you reach out to me on LinkedIn or twitter or in the school leadership for your imagined Facebook group and you share your victories feel like they're mine to win when when you when you take something that you learned here and you you make it yours and and and you use it to do something that that you dreamed up for your students and your teachers I'm so proud and I look forward to what you're going to build i look forward to hearing more and more of your success stories and I look forward to being a part of that even a small part of that going forward so today I rambled a little bit today but I really felt it was important to talk to you about how this journey how builder ship started to evolve and emerge why it's so important and I wanted to encourage you a little bit as you go on your journey next time we're going to go back to the series and teaching I've got some really cool things I've got ready to share with you but just for now know this I'm grateful for you I'm proud of you I'm proud to know you I'm proud to be a part of this tribe that we are building. Builders who are going to go out and change the world so thank you and let's keep going out there every day and becoming more and more #LikeABuilder 

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

I'll talk to you again next time.

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit

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