Can Assistant Principals Be Builders?


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 106. 

Hey Builders, 

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today we're going to talk about a topic that is slightly different than what we talked about before. We've been talking all season long about boss, leader and builder and the difference between the three. And we're continuing that series. But I'm getting a lot of questions from people about how do you do that? How do you approach this work of builder ship, if you're an assistant principal?

So today, it's all about you Assistant Principals.

If you are not the principal of the school, but you want to practice builder ship in your work, how do you do it? And what's the difference between being an assistant boss, an assistant leader and assistant builder. But before we do that, I have three very important things to share with you. The first one is that tickets for builder's lab are still available, we have one or two VIP tickets left, we have a few more of the regular admission tickets and builders lab is coming up. I cannot believe how fast it's coming up. It's coming up at the end of June, June 28. Through 30th, we're going to be doing another 360 degree experience, which means we'll be coming to you through the magic of our virtual builder's lab University studio. And so that means no travel No, no hotel arrangements, no flight arrangements, no worries, simply sign up for builders lab and then you can enjoy builders lab from your office or from your home. And what I love even more about is if you bring your whole team, you all can come together and you can continue to work together, we put you in a room together, we focus on you.

The thing about builders lab that I like the most is just intimate. You know, we keep builders labs, small, less than 100 people. And we do that so that I have time to work with each and every one of you. We're going to get your vision straight, we're going to work on your mission, we're going to work on your core values. And we're going to help you develop a 90 day plan what is your best next move, and then we're going to develop a 90 day plan for that. So when you come to builders map in June, you will come out of builders lab with a plan for how you're going to finish out the summer and how you're going to start the new school year strong. Not only that, but we don't just give you a plan and say go off and do the plan. We're going to follow up with you for the next 90 days. Make sure that you are successful, make sure that your plan is working. And so if you want to come to the next builder's lab sign up at mind steps Inc. slash builders dash lap that's mindset slash builders dash lab. Now, second announcement has to do with builders lab. Because we have had an amazing sponsor for builders lab, we have a company that we were looking for something to put in your builders back.

When you come to Builder's Lab, you get the Builders Box. 

It's it's huge boxes, and we fill it full of goodies. And one of the things we wanted to do is we wanted to have some interactive whiteboards. We're doing stuff in builders labs, especially in that first session, and you're writing something down but I wanted to be able to see your answers and looking at in the chat just wasn't working. So we wanted a whiteboard that you can write your answers down and hold it up to your camera and then I can look across and see everybody's answers. And when we went searching we found these amazing whiteboards and they're from a company called clean slate and it's Kleen Slate and we reached out to them when we told them what we were doing and they said we would love we were going to buy them we were we were we were asking for a quote to buy the the the interactive whiteboards, but they were so amazing. They knew we were educators and they said listen, we want to sponsor builders lab. We love what you're doing. We support and love educators. And so they became a sponsor builders lab. they've included a clean slate and every one of the builders boxes. Now again, this is something that we were going to buy, we love these things so much. And what makes them amazing is that if they work, whether you are on zoom or you know in a virtual classroom, or if you're in the classroom, face to face, and these are whiteboards, they have a handle built on them.

So they're not like the squares that kids have just hit Hold up. And in the handle, there's like a little niche for a pan that she designed. But the whiteboard, the dry erase pen has the eraser on the tip. So everything is right there. Plus, there's a little eraser that hangs off the board. I mean, you have to see these things to to believe them. So what I want you to do is if you are thinking about how to make your classroom more interactive, if you're thinking about something that can work, whether you are face to face, or virtually a way to help students, every child in your classroom have a voice that I want you to check out these clean slates, k l, e, n, clean, They're amazing. We love them, we keep ordering them. And everybody sees them and interacts with them. And builders lab thinks are amazing. So I just wanted to give them a shout out.

Pop up group is back in session. We have popped back up for the month of May.

We've already had one workshop, we did a vision workshop, we're going to be doing office hours where you can come in and ask me anything and get my coaching on any kind of challenge that you're facing, we're going to do at least one more vision workshop where if you're not sure what your school vision should be, or your team vision, or your department vision, and you want some help and feedback around that, then join us at the vision workshop. And then we are also going to be having a couple of other workshops as we get ready for the end of the school year. So this pop up the theme this time, it's really about how do you finish strong. And so we're really focusing on that. So if you want to join the mind sets pop up group, simply go to mind step And there'll be a pop up on the page, where you can join the pop up group, the pop up group is absolutely free. So if you want to know what builder ship University is like, if you want to get some free support and training and resources, then the pop up group is a great place to test the waters.

We call it a pop up group because we pop up you know, a couple of times a year, then we pop out. And so this one's going at least until the end of May and into the beginning of June. And we know we're going to be closing it down for sure at least one week before builders lab so we can get ready for bill just lab. But while it's there, take advantage of it. Okay, I think that's all the announcements. Let's talk to the assistant principals. And we were talking about the difference between bosses, leaders and builders. And that paradigm may not always make sense. If you are in the number two position if you are the assistant principal. A lot of times we talk about how the vision belongs to the builder. But what do you do if you are an assistant principal and the principal with whom you work is not a builder if that principal may be a boss or leader. So today, we're not going to talk about how you can be a boss, a leader builder, what we're going to talk about instead is how do you if your assistant principal handle it if you're working for a boss, a leader or a builder. So let's start with a boss.

If you're an Assistant Principal, and you are working for a boss, the challenges are great, but the opportunities are great as well. 

So if you're working for a boss, the boss is not trying to get involved, they're trying to do the least amount of work for the most amount of money, they are ordering people around, they're making hard decisions, they're doing stuff and they're wanting you to do stuff to the advantage of working for a boss is that a lot of times working for a boss means that they're going to delegate responsibilities to you, and then they're going to just kind of leave you alone and expect you to get stuff done. And that gives you a really good opportunity to practice build your ship in your sphere of influence. So let's say that you are your boss has assigned you the special education department or your boss is assigned to you. Working with pre K through three, you can create a vision for that that group of people that that department that section, and you can work, build your ship towards your vision and build even in that smaller sphere of influence. And then as long as you're showing success, as long as things are working out great, your boss is probably going to be satisfied.

So if you're working for a boss, this is not the time for you to try to go in and try to convert them to Buildership. A lot of times bosses need a different kind of nuance work and they're not going to appreciate hearing from you. Someone who they consider to be someone that they supervise telling them they should be doing things a different way. Instead, listen to the boss hear what it what they want to do, as they give you assignments, as long as they're not Micro-Managing, you have an opportunity to build in your sphere of influence. And so that's what I would tell you to do. And as long as you're producing success, as long as you are showing results, as long as, as you are helping the boss achieve his or her goals, then they're going to be happy and satisfied with how you're doing it. I do want to tell you one story though, we had someone come to builder's lab a couple years ago, she was an assistant principal. And she really, really wanted to practice Buildership in her building. And she before she left, she had set up something trying to create more requirements, help people be more accountable for doing work on behalf of students. But while she was at Builders lab, some of her staff went to the principal and complained about what she was asking them to do.

The Principal reversed her decision... while she was at Builder's Lab.

She got the email while she was at builders lab, and she was devastated. I did remind her that as an assistant principal, when you work for a boss, unfortunately, you have some limitations around what it is you're able to do. But when you think like a builder, you find a way to handle it. So we started talking about her bosses will driver, we started talking about what was going on with the team. And then we sat down together and we compose an email in response to what the boss had done with the teachers reversing her decision that fed his will driver, but and also talked to him made the case for why she wanted to do it and helped him save face for reversing her decision. She sent that email and an hour later, while we were still in session, she just can't she's she's she checked her email, as you just saw, she goes like that. And we stopped, she's, I can't believe this worked. I'm sorry, if we interrupted we stopped builders lab. And she said my boss has already responded, he's apologized, he's going to support me in the new course, and things are working out. So in the matter of a few minutes an hour at the most she was able to keep her head and practice build a ship. And that's what you're gonna have to do when you are dealing with a boss. The frustration about dealing with the bosses and bosses making decisions not based on any kind of principle, or any kind of core values or vision or mission, they're basing their decisions on policy on their own personal goals, which they may or may not have shared with you on what is most expedient on on what do I need to do to get things done without a lot of a lot of cost to me. But once you understand that, and if you can understand the boss's will driver, then you know how to speak to your boss, you know how to manage your boss.

And I don't mean that if we've had those bosses out there who are listening to this and bristle at the idea of being manage. I'm not talking about people running the school. I mean, we you know, as an assistant principal, you got to know your lane and stay in your lane. But in order to get things done on behalf of students, when you're working with a boss, you need to remember what is that bosses will driver? And are you feeding that? Are you do you understand that bosses goals? And are you doing work to help that boss achieve their goals, and then where you can in any sphere of influence that you have begin to practice Buildership. And as long as it's delivering results, your boss should be okay. It gets a little more complicated if you're working for a leader. Because if you're working for a leader, a leader is driven by a different motivation. Whereas a boss is motivated by what's the most expedient. Your leader is motivated by really trying to bring everybody together and move the school towards a goal. So they're not looking for the most expedient choice. And they are operating from a leadership paradigm. They've been trained that this is the way that things are supposed to work, they believe they are doing the right thing on behalf of students. Again, if you're working for a leader, you don't go into there and say, Listen, I know you are subscribing to leadership, but there's this thing called build a ship. And it's gonna blow your leadership little leadership paradigm out the water, don't do that.

Remember, stay in your lane.

So what you do instead is if you're working for a leader, again, if they give you opportunities to run a department or be in charge of a particular area, there are opportunities there to practice. Buildership within your sphere of influence. So we have a couple of builders right now in build a ship University and actually we had a really interesting conversation at our last office hours we have several assistant principals inside of Buildership University, and they were giving advice to someone who was an assistant principal who was concerned because she wanted to practice builder ship but our boss is not a builder. So we were trying to help her kind of think it through and there's some politics going on. If you go in and you try to blow up everything that they've been doing that has been working to some degree as a matter of fact, then you look like a young ops Start, you know, nobody likes a new convert. So what you do instead is you want to get on their program. So if your leader that you work for you're you're the principal who's in a leadership paradigm, if they don't have a vision, or if they have a vision that isn't quite the Builders way, don't say, don't tell them that it's wrong. Ask questions, try to get at what outcome would show that, ask those coaching questions that we asked her in the vision workshop to help them clarify their vision, don't do it in a way like, let me coach you up. Instead, do it in a way of just trying to understand you're going to seek to understand, once you understand your leaders vision, then you can start thinking about the areas where you have influence and how you can you can operationalize that vision.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that you work for a leader and their vision is every child every day. Now, we all know, that's not the right vision for a Builder. But that's the vision that they have. So start asking questions, what every child every day, what like, what would, what would the ideal outcome be for every child in the school every day, and they may say things like, well, we want all of our kids to feel loved, we want our kids to have a challenge. We never want to give up on students or you know, whatever it is, listen to them, then restate. So if this were to happen for every child every day, then you would feel like we're doing the right work. Absolutely. Okay, got it. Now, you're in charge of the English department, or you're in charge of the Physical Education Department, or you're in charge of grades K through two. And now you are going to sit down with your people, you're going to say that now as a school, our vision is every child every day, what does that mean for us? Here's and then you're going to try to figure out how do you help your team or your department over which you are given some sort of authority? How do you help them achieve that for every child every day? How do you make what does that vision look like for that team for that department for that grade level? And how do you operationalize it, and then you can begin to put in practice the Buildership piece. You can use your school vision and mission and try to kind of clarify it, what that means for that department or that team. And then you can set up team core values or departmental core values or grade level core values.

If you can't go school wide, set core values for a team or grade level, you still get that practice, and then "Get to Work".

You want to give people the feedback, the support the accountability and the culture, you want to make sure that you are setting up 90 day goals with those teams. You're sitting down and you're talking to the teams about what do we want to accomplish in the next 90 days, if your leader is trying to move test scores, if your sip plan says we've got to move test scores, What can your area, your department, your team, the place where you are in charge, how can you move those test scores, so you what you're going to do is you're going to use the leaders vision in whatever state that it is, and build on that, because that's what you do as a Builder. And at every turn, you can share what you're doing with your leader so that they know what you're doing. So you haven't gone rogue, and why you're doing it, and then start showing results start showing results right away. Now, the challenges with working with a leader are that if you are not careful, if you're not mindful of the politics, it can come across as if you are trying to take over. So what you want to do is you want to make sure that you're reassuring the leader, I'm working on your vision, your mission, what we're doing here, what I'm practicing is really about your vision, your mission, your core values. And if they tell you, I don't want it done that way, I want it done this way, you're going to have to do it the way that they asked because they are the principal, they're in charge of the school, and you're there in a support role.

Now, I want to say this, because I think it's important, even though you are there as in the support role. And you are let's just let I want to be clear about that, from the very beginning, you have another responsibility to is that if you are an assistant principal, and you are hoping one day to assume a principalship somewhere, then even though you're there in the support role, and even though you are going to have to ultimately do what the principal says, You are also there to hone your own skills so that when you take over your old school one day, or your own district or your own department in the district, that you are ready and that you can begin to build. So as many opportunities as you can find to practice build your ship in a non threatening way. You want to take it so a lot of people get frustrated because the principal is a boss or their principal is a leader. And that's not the builders way. Builders don't get frustrated because other people are builders, builders start building. And in this case, you know how people often say you have to lead from behind. This case you're not leading from behind your building. from behind, you're starting to feed your principles will drivers, you're starting to understand that you're starting to listen to what they really are trying to accomplish, and then help them begin to build the thing that they really want to build, help them accomplish the thing that they're trying to accomplish. That's your role.

You don't have to wait until you're in charge to be a Builder, Buildership is happening every single day.

When I was a teacher, before I even really understood builder ship. I was, shall we say, entrepreneurial about how I taught, we had things that we had to do. I didn't always agree with them. And I wanted to do what was best for my students. And so I remember one time, and maybe you've heard me tell the story before our district had a policy that kept a lot of traditionally underrepresented students out of advanced placement and honors courses. Because in order to get in, you had to have passed a certain tests that they had shown had some cultural bias to it. You also had to get recommendations, you had to know how to work the system, you have to have a certain GPA. And there were all these hurdles and hoops that the students had to jump through in order to get into an honors and AP class. And then once it got into those classes, I can't always say that they were supported. When I wanted to change that on my school. I couldn't do that I couldn't change the policy alone. I was a lowly teacher, I wasn't even in a department at I was saying lowly in quotes, but I was the low person on the totem pole for sure. There were other people who have way more authority and responsibility.

And I did it two ways. The first time I wrote my principal an email and told him that I felt that the what we were doing was wrong. And he wrote me an email back that basically told me, I needed to stay in my lane. And I was livid. I was mad, I was ready to quit. I think I've told you the story before. But instead, I just take a step back and say, Okay, how would I do it? And again, I didn't know Buildership then. But my thinking was, how do I do this, like a builder. I remember going back to him. And I made the case, in the through the lens of his vision for the school. I started by listening started for asking, What did he want to accomplish. And then I made the case for opening up the gates. Based on his vision, I listened to his objections, I listened to why he was so concerned with with doing it, because he was worried that our scores were going to go down when he was trying to get our passing rate up. And so because I saw that as once I listened and heard that as his key concern, I said, Okay, let's try it for one year, if at the end of the year, the scores go down, I'll go away. But if the scores maintain or go up, then we'd need to have the conversation to reconsider for all kids. And that's what we did. And at the end of the year, the scores went up. And he kept his word and he opened it up for everybody.

That whole school changed. 

Because I have the idea because an idea is only worth that you know whether or not you'd implement it. So the whole school changed not because I had that idea, the whole school change, because I was able to go to my principal who at the time was being a boss, and not get deterred by his bossiness, understand his will driver, speak the lead in his terms, stay in my lane, be respectful, but bring help him achieve something that he was trying to achieve anyway. And it's not your ideas. It's how you sell your ideas. If you can't sell your ideas, if you get frustrated and mad every time somebody else chooses to go a different direction than what you think is best for children, you're never going to get anywhere. So the beautiful part about what you are learning right now as an assistant principal, is you're learning how to sell your ideas, you're learning how to understand the people around you, and to invite them to start building with you. So what are your principal, whether you're a department head, whether you're a teacher who aspires to to to an administrative position someday, whether you are your principal, in a district trying to sell to your area superintendent, whether you're an area superintendent, trying to get the superintendent and the other area superintendents on board, you could be a cabinet member trying to get the superintendent to do something district wide, wherever it is, the lesson is the same.

If you're working for a boss, you're going to have to understand that you're working for a boss, understand your boss's will drivers and still be able to sell your ideas, but also be respectful and and bloom where your plant it, take the areas of responsibility that you have and begin to build there. If you're working for a leader, things get a little more complex, but you still have to sell your ideas. You still have to make sure that you're doing that in a way that's awesome. backfill in a way that honors their vision. But you have a lot more room to add to their vision because their visions a lot more fully defined. And as you do that, as you begin to show resolve, and as you begin to respectfully make other suggestions, the leader begins to hear it. And then that's how you influence it. Now, if you're working for a builder, then it's pretty simple because builders build other builders. So if you're working for a builder, they're including you and advising you to help them build. But here's the point. Just because you are not in the position of power, you're not the principal, you're not the superintendent, doesn't mean that you can't start building right now. 

So that's a big takeaway I have for assistant principals today. 

The same thing I told the APS inside of build a ship University, Bloom where your plant it, you have an opportunity right now to learn how to sell your ideas. You don't have to sell your ideas in the same way when you're in the principal's ship. But if you don't learn how to sell your ideas, now, if you don't learn how to understand who you're working with, if you don't learn how to build from behind, then you're always going to be frustrated. Think about yourself as a builder. Now, don't wait until you get your own building. Think about yourself as a builder now and bloom where you're planted, build where you are. Don't just sit back and say, well, it's not my show. And I'm just here to support. Don't get so excited about Buildership that you run in and try to take over an Indian date people with this idea builder ship before they're ready, stead find ways to build even where you are. You see, as an assistant principal, as someone who aspires to administration someday. A lot of times, we're so focused on where you want to be that you're not paying attention to all the lessons you're learning now. This is a great opportunity for you to really learn the buildership model, double down on fee giving teachers feedback and support and accountability and shaping the culture where you are. Start thinking in those 90 day cycles for your department or your team or the areas where you're responsible practice and also practice building from buying because that's some of the best builders ship you're going to ever learn how to do.

Don't waste this opportunity that you have recognized the politics, I understand that they're there. But use this as an opportunity to become a better builder so that when you take over Someday, you're not learning on the job, you're ready. You walk in with a vision, you know how to get people excited about the mission, you know how to create core values that drive your work, you already have systems in place for giving people feedback and support and accountability and culture. You already know how to work in those 90 day cycles, you already know how to plan and to recognize that every time you play a new level new devil and get ready for those new levels and those new devils and you know how to build people. You know how to sell your ideas. You know how to help people get excited about buildership. So don't waste this opportunity, take advantage of it. Because someday you are going to be in charge. And then you're going to recognize all of the lessons that you learned on the way how they're going to come in handy. And if you if you take advantage of the time that you have now when you do walk into that next position, you'll start off day one. #LikeABuilder. 

That's all for this time, I'll talk to you next time. 

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.

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