What To Do When Your Situation
Seems Impossible


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 123

Welcome to the school leadership re-imagined podcast where we rethink what's possible to transform your school if you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders,

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today, we're going to talk about how you can begin to see inside the matrix. And it started out with this idea that I'm seeing happening a lot right now where people are feeling like they're in really impossible situations that that right now with everything that's happening with the restart of school with the shortage of subs and the the controversies around the political issues, people feel not only overwhelmed, but they feel boxed in by impossible situations. And I remember once seeing the movie, the matrix, and I'm dating myself, the matrix is a pretty old movie at this point. But I remember watching that movie, and there was a scene where Neo who's the main character was trying to figure out whether or not he's the one and he has these, you know, powers, that he goes to a place to go see the car. And while he's in the waiting room, there's a little boy there, and the little boy is bending the spoon with his mind. And he was looking at the little boy like Wow, that's amazing. And the little boy says, Don't try to bend the spoon. That's impossible. What you need to do is you need to realize that there is no spoon. Now, ever since I saw that, that that that scene, something kind of unlocked inside of my head, that a lot of times when we are trying to solve problems, it's the equivalent of trying to take a spoon and physically bended with our minds.

That's Impossible! 

But once you start to question the assumptions around the problem, once you start to realize that there is no spoon, all of a sudden, all kinds of possibilities open up. So today we're going to talk about how to do that. And I'm going to take you through an exercise that one of my mentors took me through recently to help me see that there is no spoon and helped me to find a way to creatively solve one of my biggest challenges. And I hope it will do the same for you. But before we do that, I have a couple of announcements. First one tickets to builder's lab are now available. You all you've been waiting for these tickets to come Come have you become available because the day that they became available, people started buying tickets. And so I imagined that last bill just left that we had this summer sold out. And it's sold out before the end of ticket sales. So I you know, we're already on track to repeat that. So if you want to come to builders lab, and you should, you need to go ahead and get your tickets as soon as you can. And if you have any trouble at all, give us a call at the office and the number there is 1-888-565-8881. That's 1-888-565-8881. And so if you need help getting your PEO together, if you want to bring a team, you're not quite sure how to register them, call the office, we have a team there waiting to help you out and make sure that you get your ticket.

One of the things that I think separates the builder's lab 360 degree experience from Virtual Training and other conferences out there is that it is an entire experience. I mean we send you a box, there's stuff that we do with you before the actual conference happens. There is a 90 day follow up sequence that you go through and the first 30 days we've just redesigned to make it even more useful so that when you leave builders lab, you have all these great ideas, we don't want them to die, we want them to boster and flower in your school. So we want to make sure that we set you up for that. So we have just redesigned the first 30 days of that 90 day follow up to give you a jumpstart on getting those ideas implemented in your school because it's one thing to go to a conference and have a great time. It's another thing to have a great time Yes, but then take what you've learned back to your school and use it to make your school better immediately. And that's really my goal. Are you at builders lab. So Tickets are on sale and to get your ticket, you need to go to mind steps Inc slash builders dash lab. That's mind step think slash builders dash lab. Alright, that's the first announcement. second announcement.

Inside of Buildership University, we are reading a book this month for our book club. 

The book is called effortless. And it's by Greg McMullen. And it's been really good. And so what we're doing is that to build a ship university with our book club is, every month every other month, we're going to pick a book, usually it's a book from either a summer reading list past or a book that I'm considering for a summer reading list coming up. And every single book is a non education book, a book completely outside of education that we want to read, to get ideas that we can apply to our own schools into our own situation. So that's what makes it really fun. And they're in depth during the book club discussion. We're not just talking about Oh, I love this idea on page 32. We're talking about how that idea would apply to our schools, and how we're going to commit to using those ideas to improve our schools, and to help us to get better at our jobs. So that book club is happening right now if you want to read along this, this, you know, we're going to be having that discussion inside of builder ship University. But if you want to read along and join us, and at least some of the big takeaways, then I urge you to get the book effortless by Greg McMullen. And we'll have a link in the show notes in case you need to get that book we'll have a link to that book in the show notes for you. By the way, if you ever want to get the show notes, all you need to do is go to school, leadership reimagined comm slash episode, whatever. So this is Episode 123 go to school leadership reimagined comm slash Episode 123, you can get the transcripts of this episode.

If you are listening to this on the podcast, we will have a link to the video I'm actually recording this so you can actually see me talking to you if you prefer it that way. And also any links that I mentioned on the episode. Alright, let's now talk about seeing inside of the matrix. A lot of people have been talking to me lately, inside of the Facebook group, I'm asking, you know, what kind of things do you want me to cover this year, and you all are raising really legitimate challenges that you're facing in your school, you know, there's a shortage of substitutes. So if you're a coach, you're having to cover classes. Rather than doing what you came to do, which is coach teachers, or some of you are dealing with very resistant teachers, teachers who are just not feeling you're not buying into your vision and seem to be almost resistant, some of you dealing with teachers who are shut down, because they are just overwhelmed with everything that they have to do. And so you're having teachers resign, you know, in the middle of the first week of school, or the first month of school, and so you're having to replace teachers, and there's a shortage in the pool right now. And so you're you're trying to figure that out. And so all of these challenges that you're facing, and you're looking for answers, and I was very tempted to do episodes around providing answers for that.

There is a difference between handing you a fish and teaching you how to fish. 

One of the things that has helped me over the years to solve problems that feel insurmountable is to remember that there is no spoon. And the idea around that is really about challenging the assumptions you have around problems, a lot of times the assumptions and the preconceptions that we bring into the problem solving situation, actually box us in and prevent us from coming up with a solution or seeing a solution that's right there in front of us that we missed. And I know that I fall into this too, it's a part of our training, it's how we were trained as leaders to see problems only one way and to use one strategy to solve problems. And what happens is when we do that, we're locked into the same solutions over and over again. And if we feel like those are the only possibilities, a lot of times we can feel very, very overwhelmed. So I want to take you through an exercise now to help you challenge some of the underlying assumptions that you have now around your problems that are keeping you from seeing other solutions. Now this is this is an advanced builder ship, I get that. But stay with me for a second and do me a favor and just let go of the overwhelm and the haste to solve the problem for a second and just go with me on this exercise. And let's see how it works. So that you can have a way to think through these problems. People always come to me and they say, Wow, how did you come up with that creative solution?

Here's the answer. I'm showing you how I do it so that you can do it too. And you can begin to think more like a builder because remember a builder create success with whatever you have right now. We are always talking to you about how you can turn your school into a success story in the next three years. With the people and resources you already have. But you can't do that if you continue to think like a leader, which, when you think like a leader, you see the resources and the people you already have. And you're saying, There's no way I'm going to get to success for 100% of my students, with with these resistant teachers, or with this lack of a curriculum or with these ridiculous district policies, there's no way I'm going to be able to do it. But when you think like a builder, you say, Okay, what do I have on hand? What are the tools and the resources that I currently have? And how can I make something out of this? How can I use these things that I have to build success, because if you wait for the perfect situation, it will never come. But if you get started with the people or resources you already have you open up the way for more resources and more people to come to you.

It's hard to attract good people to a broken system. 

So if your school system is broken, if you've got a culture that's broken, then even if you go grab that superstar teacher, that superstar teacher gets into your culture, and your culture begins to infest that teacher. And sooner or later, that teacher starts to conform in some ways to your culture and become just like everybody else. So you don't, you don't bring new people into a broken system, you fix the system, so that even the people who are currently in the system behave differently. And when you bring new people, they are attracted to you, because you've built a new culture. See how that works. So what we're going to do right now is we're going to go through an exercise. And I want to start out by having you think about your biggest challenge right now. For some of you, the challenge feels very immediate, you are dealing with COVID outbreaks in your schools. And every time you have an outbreak, you have to quarantine entire classrooms. So some days, you may have 20 3040 kids at home, because they've been quarantined, because of exposure. Maybe you have teachers who are home and so you're constantly scrambling and spending all of your time doing contact tracing and and trying to figure out how am I going to get into classrooms when I have a full time contact tracer quarantine manager, okay, so that may be your biggest challenge. for others of you your biggest challenges, you've had a teacher resign or you weren't able to fully staff your school this year.

So you're missing teachers, or you have teachers out because they're in quarantine for two weeks. And, and so you're having to either cover classrooms for missing teachers, or you're having to find coverage for classroom for missing teachers aid, that may be your biggest challenge. For some of you, your biggest challenge is that you have a staff that doesn't buy into your vision doesn't believe that your vision is possible, you're trying to be a builder, and your staff is there, they're not even actively resisting you. They're just ignoring it, they're just acting as if it will go away. And so you're having a hard time getting people started. For some of you, your biggest challenge right now is that you don't still know what your vision is you you know, you need one, if you've been listening to this podcast for a while, but you're not sure what your vision is, or what it should be. And this idea of 100% still feels very hard for you, you're barely getting 25% 30%. And so you're trying to figure that out. For some of you. Your biggest challenges your students have had interrupted schooling for the last two years. And so even though you have students who are fifth graders, they really are behaving like third graders, because that's the last time that they were physically in your school. And so you're having to do a lot of work to get students re acclimated to school and to help students catch up. For some of you your biggest challenges that you have had years of underachievement with your students, and you have tried everything, and you don't know what else you can do in order to get the reading scores up and the math scores up.

So many of our students are so far behind, you're not sure how to get them caught up. 

For some of you your biggest challenge is that you have a high school and your graduation rate is low. And a lot of students are just not feeling high school right now. And they've gotten used to kind of choosing their own adventure through online learning. And now that they're back in school, you're seeing truancy, you're seeing a lack of engagement, a lack of motivation. You've got kids who are under credited and over age, you're trying to figure out what to do with them. Whatever that challenge is, if I didn't raise it, maybe for some of you your biggest challenge is not the kids or your teachers, it's your boss, that you're working for someone who don't. You don't believe in and the more you become a builder The more you see the flaws of the approach that your supervisors asking you to make. Whatever that challenge is, I want you to right now sit down and write down. My biggest challenge is you can pause this podcast if you want. But I want you to figure out what is your biggest challenge. You may have several challenges. What do you believe is your biggest challenge? Now if you kind of build your slab we're going to help you figure it out because oftentimes your biggest challenge isn't what you think it is. But for the time being. Just tell me what you think your biggest challenge is. That's step number one. Okay. Step number two is now I want you to take what you believe is your biggest challenge. And I want you to write down all of the assumptions you have around that challenge. For instance, your biggest challenge right now is that you can't find enough teachers to fully staff, your school that I want you to write down all the assumptions.

Here's an assumption I need people who are certified. There are that another assumption is there are no good teachers out there. Right now all the good teachers have already already have jobs because we're in the middle of this beginning of the school year. Another assumption, I can only find good teachers through the traditional channels. Another assumption, because I can't find a good teacher, I'm going to have to take a mediocre teacher, or even somebody who's a bad teacher, and I just need a body in front of kids. Another assumption, parents are going to kill me if I don't get a teacher in front of their kids very soon. So do you see all of the assumptions that you believe are true? around your challenge, I want you to just write them down. Don't do anything yet, just write them down. Let's take another challenge. Let's say that you have a challenge right now your staff is not buying into your vision. So assumption might be that they're just too overwhelmed. And they can't take one one more thing. Another assumption might be that they have not had the experiences and builders lab or builders university that I've had, so they don't get it. And if Robin talked to them directly, maybe if they heard it from her, they would believe what I believe you'd be surprised at how many people believe that assumption. Another assumption might be that not everybody will buy in there, I'm going to face resistance from somebody because they always fight me. So those are all assumptions that you have write them down.

Let's take another challenge. 

Let's say your problem is your boss, you might say my boss doesn't want to hear anything, I have to say because they have their own program, write that down, that's an assumption. My boss doesn't really get it and doesn't want to get it. That's an assumption, write it down. So you're going to take all of the assumptions that you have around a challenge that you're facing, right? Now, you want to write down those assumptions, okay, so that's step two. And if you need to pause this podcast to do that, or if you want to kind of think about this later on, we'll make sure that we put the four steps and we'll give you like a printout that you can use with the four steps. So that way, if you can't pause right now, and you want to go through this exercise later on, you can do it, okay. That'll be in the show notes, by the way. Okay, third step, you've written out your biggest challenge, you've written down all of the assumptions you can think about, about your biggest challenge. And now you're going to go back and you're going to start questioning each assumption. Okay, so let's go back to the teacher shortage example. So one of the assumptions is all the good teachers already have jobs. Is that true? Yeah. I mean, yes, we have started the school year, and most of the time, traditionally, teachers who want jobs and need jobs have already have jobs by the beginning of the school year. But there are a bunch of people out there who, who may have a job in one school and be unhappy in that school and may be looking to go to another school, there are a bunch of good people out there who haven't started teaching yet, or who just decided that they want to be a teacher, or are they pursuing another career and can be enticed into teaching? Or they were a teacher, they retired during COVID. And now they're missing the classroom? So is it really true that all of the good teachers have jobs already?

Or is there a scenario where someone may be very, very good, but may not have a job. And if you thought of that scenario, you'd know how to find those people. And if you knew how to find those people, they become your pool. And it is possible for you to get somebody really, really good in the classroom. Here's another thing, there may be other people who are in your school right now, who may not have the traditional teaching trajectory, but are so good with kids, that they may become teachers. So have you looked at your media specialists? Do you have any aides with potential who are really good with kids, but they don't have the degrees they need in order to be a full time teacher? And could you get them started in a program where they can teach in your school, and you're nurturing them as they get the credentials that they need. So don't buy into the assumption that everybody is taken. There are good people out there, people who are good for you for your school, you just have to understand and think about where might those people be and then go looking for them. You don't want to broad you don't want to cast a broad net at this point. You really want to be focused and fine, who are the kinds of people who would be good, but who may not have a job yet, and where can I find those people? Okay, so that's number one. Another assumption that you may have around teachers is that I have to use the I have to use a traditional classroom configuration so I need one teacher for every single class. That may or may not be true. I know that there are laws around this you have to be careful. But is it true that That you have to have one teacher for every single class, could you because you have a shortage of teachers, reconfigure your teaching staff or your master schedule, so that your kids get that same ratio. And you can do it with fewer teachers. So play around with your whole configuration and schedule. And think about that as a possibility. Rather than thinking about I have 30 kids in one classroom, I need a teacher in front of those kids. That may not may or may not be true. That's another assumption to question. Well, let's take the scenario, my staff has too overwhelmed, that assumption is often wrong, they may not be too overwhelmed, to be able to absorb a new vision, maybe your vision is the thing that helps calm their overwhelm, because they get excited about the vision.

The work doesn't feel as overwhelming because there's a purpose and a point to it. 

Maybe your vision can actually calm their overwhelm, because instead of trying to do all the things, your vision can focus on doing the right things, so that people feel like, okay, I can handle this, because I don't have to do everything, I just have to do these things. So that's an assumption you want to challenge. Let's take, for example, your boss, you know, you have a boss, and they don't care, they have their own agenda, well, that may or may not be true, maybe they have their own agenda, because they haven't been shown another way. Maybe what you are trying to do fits in very nicely with their agenda, if you can just find the right language, so that they can see it. And it doesn't feel like you're yanking them for their agenda. But what you are trying to do in your school actually advances their agenda. So when you start to question the assumptions, things that you just assume are true, you start to find opportunities in in those assumptions that that open up whole new possibilities for you. And that's when it gets really fun. That's when you start thinking like a builder, because instead of being kind of limited by your situation, you start to find options that nobody else has even considered. You know, in the teacher example, you're going after a very specific group of people, where everybody else is competing for this pool over here, you move to this pool over here, people who are going to be great for you, right?

So what you want to do is you want to question the assumptions. When you question assumptions, you can Zig where everybody else is zagging, you can, you can find solutions, where other people don't even look. And that's what makes you so powerful as a builder. Because when you think like a leader, a lot of options feel close to you based on assumptions that aren't even true. When you're a builder and you start to question those assumptions, you start to find options that other people have missed or ignored, don't even know exist. And then you can start to find solutions for your school that actually move your school forward. You know, there's a reason why we say that, as a builder, you can turn your school into a success story in the next three years. You can't do it by being chained to your assumptions that you've always had. But when you start to question those assumptions, it starts to become a lot more obvious exactly how you can achieve that success for 100% of your students in the next three years. I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and you know, I get really frustrated when people write, write these vision statements that or these these goals that you know, or something like, we're going to go from 25% reading proficiency to 35% reading proficiency in the next five years. Are you kidding me? It's going to take you five years to serve 10% more kids. And in five years, your plan is Oh, okay, at this point, we're only going to be failing 65% of the kids instead of the 75% of the kids were failing right now, really, that's the best you can do. And people pay a lot of money for consultants to come in to help them write goals like that. I get so angry because they are so stuck in one way of thinking they are trying to do what feels impossible, they are trying to bend a school with their spoon with their minds. Without realizing that in many cases, there is no spoon. There there. You don't have to. If you understand that, then you you find other solutions. A lot of people write goals like that 25% or 35%. And that feels ambitious to them because they have never even made that kind of progress. And they don't see another way out.

Is that really why we became educators? 

So we could move the needle from 25% to 35%? Is that really why we are working so hard? So that we can fail? 10% less, do fewer students and in five years, is that really what we're supposed to be doing? No. But when you start to challenge the assumptions, the assumption that we can't get there or the assumption that well, the kids are so far behind Even if we, you know, grow a year and a half worth of growth for years with a school, we're still not going to get there or they're so you know, the families don't care, all these other assumptions that we have that, that keep us boxed into these little teeny tiny goals. When we begin to challenge those assumptions, we realize that there are other ways to get there, and we can get there faster. And so, my challenge to you this week is, first of all, think about your biggest challenge, whatever it is, and then spend some time writing down everything you believe is true. Right now about that challenge, write down everything, things that you that feel obvious, write them down, my district won't let me x, write it down. The students are struggling with why write it down, my parents won't do the write it down whatever it is, whatever you believe is true and factual, write down things that feel like facts, and then begin to question every single one. Is this really true? Is there a situation where this could possibly not be true? What would it look like? If it weren't true? What would I be able to do? if this weren't an issue? Is there another way around it? Do I have another option, start to question your assumptions. And then, as you do that, you will start to see solutions, you will start to see options that you didn't even think were available to you.

That's when it gets really fun, that's when you start to become a builder, because you realize you have a lot more raw material to build with, than you assumed before, just by questioning your assumptions. So my challenge to you this week is to go through this exercise. And believe me, we'll make sure that we have kind of a download of it written down for you to kind of sit down and reflect on it later on. And then let me know what you discover, let me know some of the assumptions that you realized weren't true. And you can do that in two places. If you are a member of Buildership University, then in our next office hours, you can bring those assumptions to our office hours. And let me know there if you are not a member of Buildership University, but you want to share some of the assumptions that you're challenging.

The best place to do it right now is in our new Buildership University, we have a free version that's available to you.

It is formerly the mindsets pop up group. But now it is the new Buildership University. And so we are taking that Papa group and moving it inside of builder ship University. And so we have a membership level just for you. So all you need to do to get in on the action and get in on the conversation is go to build your ship university.com and sign up for your free membership. And you can be a part of that conversation as well. So again, builder ship university.com. And you can go and sign up if you're not already a member, and I'd love to hear some of the assumptions and let's start kind of challenging some assumptions together. Alright, that's it for today. I'll talk to you more 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 Buildershipuniversity.com and get started writing your school success story today.

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build master teachers.