How to Handle the “October Surprise”


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 125

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 the idea of the October surprise. Now, October surprise is a term that's mostly used in politics. It has to do with some surprise that usually shows up in October, that has a significant impact on the election happening in November. And you can think about the past few presidential elections and how something devastating that happened in October may have potentially changed the course of the election in November. Well, while politicians talk about the October surprise when it comes to elections, did you know that there's also an October surprise lurking right in your school building right now. And so on today's podcast, I want to talk to you about that October surprise that that's waiting for you if you're not careful, then how you handle that October surprise, given your school zone. Now, when I talk about school zone, I'm talking about the zones that I referred to last time on last episode where I talked about the four zones of buildership. So if you're not sure what your school zone is, don't worry, we have a quiz that can help you figure it out. And we'll make sure that we put a link to that quiz in the show notes. But if you do know your school zone, we're going to talk about how you deal with that October surprise based on your school zone. So that's what's coming up today. But before I do that.

I've got a couple of really cool announcements. 

So number one, you know, I'm going to talk about it builders lab. Tickets are available for our next builders lab, which is happening January 30. through February 2 2022, we are going to be doing the 360 degree experience. So you don't have to get on a plane. I don't know about you. But I still hate getting on planes right now. So you don't believe you can stay home you can do in your office, you will have to take off work because this is an intensive, which means that we are it's a very interactive time and we're going to be working the entire time, you have heard me talk about this 360 degree experience and we are trying to even upgrade it every time we do it, we try to get it a little bit better. So I just hired somebody to lovingly pack your boxes and I can't wait for you to meet her. She's amazing. And so she's going to be taking extra care and packing your boxes that we're going to be sending out to you sometime in January so that you can have them in time for the intensive. We've got we I'm playing around already with the teaching to make it even more focused. When you come to builders lab, you spend three days getting very clear about your school vision, and then developing a plan to achieve that vision. Not only that, but once the conference is over, we spend three months following up with you just to make sure that you are achieving your vision, we send you an email every single week, we have a new 30 day post builders lab a boot camp that I can't wait to share with you as well. So we're going to be talking about that when it comes to builders lab. And then the next 60 days after that we're following up to make sure that you're getting stuff done.

So once you come to builders lab, you become a part of this builder ship family and we don't leave you off to figure it out for yourself. We stick with you. And you can get your tickets to builders lab by going to mind steps slash builders dash lab, that's mind steps slash builders that lab Now this next announcement I'm so excited about I have some good news and I have some bad news. So I'm going to give you the bad news first. We have been having a mind steps pop up group for almost two years now and the group pops up and we do you know probably six weeks of free trainings and free vision workshops and free Ask me anything sessions with our office hours. We have shared free resources and we create this great community and then we pop out and the reason we did that is because I didn't know if I get commit to having that kind of intense support all the time, I couldn't figure out a way to do it. And the platform really didn't allow us to do it. So we've had that pop up group and several of you have joined, we've had a great time, we've gotten a lot of value out of the pop up group. But the bad news is that we're going to be closing down the pop up group for good at the end of October. So October 31, the pop up group is going to close down for good. Now, here's the good news, we're going to be moving the party over into builder's University and giving you something better. So with a pop up group, you got free training free resources, asked me anything sessions, vision workshops, and that was on a pop up basis. But now that we're moving it into build a ship University, we don't have to pop up and pop out, you can get that consistently, we're going to start setting a consistent schedule where we're going to be doing vision trainings, once a month, we're going to be doing Ask me anything live sessions with me where you can bring all of your challenges and we can solve them together. Once a month, we're going to be releasing resources every single week, we're going to have a community where you can talk in between sessions and ask questions and talk to each other. All of that is happening inside of builder ship University.

The best part, it's absolutely free to join. 

So just like the pop up group was free, this builder ship university we have created a tear and build a ship University that's absolutely free. So you get a lot of the benefits that come with with the premium membership of builder ship University, and you get it on a platform that's way more robust, and you get it for free. So what you need to do right now is you need to go to builder ship slash join dash B you I know that's a lot we'll make sure we put a link in the show notes as well build your ship slash join JO I N dash B you and sign up and you need to do so now today because this week we are doing a free workshop inside of builder ship University, we've got some new resources that we're releasing this week inside of builder ship University. And so once you join, you can get to be a part of that. So we have a workshop coming up this week. So we just had our first vision workshop inside of bu this past week yesterday as a matter of fact, and you get come in and you could bring your school vision and get live coaching and support around upgrading your school vision statements and make it worthy of a builder. Next week we're doing a live Ask me anything on October 19 at 5pm eastern time where you can bring any challenge or any problem to that ask me anything session and I'll coach you through kind of thinking it through and point you to some resources that can help you and that's just the start of what's happening. So this month we're we're launching we're getting everybody in and then we have plans for November and December to really upgrade it. So that's happening and you can join by going to build your ship slash join, be you alright the last thing for those of you who all already build a ship University insiders, don't forget that our book club is happening on next week and that is October 20.

At 7pm we're going to be having our first live book club discussion. And if you are not a bu Insider, but you want to catch a glimpse, we may be able to sneak you a couple of minutes of that book club discussion. But what we do inside of builder ship University for the the the insider tier is that we have a book club, I pick a book sometimes it's from the summer reading list some sounds is something that that may be relevant to the time that we're reading. We're working right now. And we read that book together. And it's always a non education book and we're reading it and looking for insights about how we can grow and improve as educators and this book club selection that we're reading right now. It's really good. It's called effortless. And it's by Greg McKeon, McKeon. I don't know how to pronounce his last name, but it's a really good book, and it talks about how to take the things that are most essential that you must do, and how to make them effortless. So for those of you who are feeling overwhelmed right now, I strongly recommend that you read the book. And what we're going to be doing at our book club conversation is we're going to be talking about how we take some of the insights in the book and make them apply in a school context. So the discussion isn't isn't just kind of a generic discussion at the end we're going to have some key takeaways and I may sneaky some of those takeaways later on if you're not an insider at BU, but that's what's happening for you all who are insiders Don't forget about the book club. Okay, so I think that's the announcement.

Let's talk about October surprises. 

So when I used to teach AP, high school AP language and composition, one of the things that I could always count on what's something I called the October at As you see you recruit kids for AP and the early spring of the year before and they're all excited about it. Yeah, I'll try an AP class that, you know, it's really working to broaden and increase our AP enrollment. And so I was talking to kids who had never had an AP course before. And it tried to convince them to join my AP class, give it a shot, because I wanted to increase equity and access for kids in high level classes, like honors and AP. So they would hear my sales pitch, they would join, they'd get in the class. And then right around October, after they've turned in their first paper, I've gotten a couple of grades back, they start to say, you know what, this is a little hard. This is harder than I expected. And so they start sneaking off to the guidance counselor's office and say, Can we change my schedule from AP to regular English or even honors English because this is feeling a little bit too hard. And once I understood that there was an October Exodus, I did some things to make sure that I can anticipate it and cut it off in the past, I would start the year by telling kids around October, some of you are going to start feeling like this isn't for me, you're going to go to your guidance counselor's I started warning them about it. So when they started feeling that way, they didn't necessarily feel like they needed to go see their counselors, they they said she told me this was coming and I knew it was coming. And so they were prepared for it.

At the beginning of October, I started doing things like checking in with each kid individually checking and seeing how they were doing, giving them some encouragement so that when they would never get to the point of being so discouraged that they would actually go down and leave. beginning of October, I started bribing guidance counselors to say if any of my kids come down and one out, make sure you don't let them out until they talk to me first. And so that way I could catch them before we did that. And once I did that, not only did we cut down on the number of kids who were ready to go in October, so we cut the October Exodus off at the path. But our students when they hit that point at the beginning of October, where they started to feel a little less confident, a little more unsure, a little discouraged, that we put some things in place to help them manage it so that they didn't ever have to feel so low that they felt like the only thing they needed to do was leave. Well, I did that as a teacher. But after working with schools all these years, there's always another October surprise that happens at a school wide level, you see the beginning of the year, everybody's doing this summer training, everybody's excited to be back, you know, you lay out your vision, your mission and your core values, you you you get everybody excited about the initiatives for the year, the first few weeks are kind of Rocky as people are getting their their footing. And around October, things start to settle down. And once things start to settle down, and you don't have that same kind of New Year energy, that's when people start to feel a little bit more discouraged, a little depressed, a little overwhelmed. It happens every single year.

If you're a Builder, you start to recognize the pattern.

You know what happens, know what's going to happen, and then put some things in place to nip it in the bud to cut it off before it creates toxicity in your culture. Before it creates this, this overwhelming sense of overwhelm that feels insurmountable before it creates this, the sense that Oh, all those things we said we were going to do this year, we're probably not going to do this year, the satisficing that starts happening as you start chipping away at your goals because reality feels to present and too overwhelming. If you know that there's going to be always some sort of october surprise or October Exodus, then you should be preparing for it. And so let's talk about how you do that. First thing that happens is that you have the energy at the beginning of the year, and October is where it finally starts to settle in, whoa, this is what the year is going to be like, by October, you've gone through kind of the growing pains of the brand new school year, you're settling down into a routine. And once the initial sense of urgency at the beginning of the school year kind of goes away, people have time to look around and say, Is this really the kind of school year that I want to have? And people begin to question that. And if you know that people are going to be doing that, then you need to be there with answers. So this is a great time to start revisiting your vision, this is a great time to start reminding people around your mission. If you haven't had the core values conversation, this is a really good time to start having that core values conversation, because people have have lived a little bit in your school year and so what what will be most present on their mind are the things that they really need.

When you have a core values conversation at the beginning of the school year before the school year even hit those core values, conversations begin to be a lot more aspirational. It's nothing wrong with that. But when you have those core values conversations about now in the school year, those core values conversation, stop being so aspirational, lofty, and start dealing with some of the very real issues that people are feeling and facing right now. So this is a good time to start anchoring in that outcome to get people to remind people about why we're here and what we're building, and why it's important. And the role that we all play in building that. The next thing that happens in October that creates kind of an October surprise is that we have the excitement of the beginning of the school year, this is going to be the year we created our school improvement plans on the summertime, by now you start getting some data. And that data starts telling you, it's going to be a bigger slob than you thought it was. How many of you right now are looking at some preliminary data. And it's worse than you anticipated this summer, you're not making the kind of progress that you want to make. And that can hit a blow on you can start saying oh, maybe I need to revise my CIP plan, maybe I need to trim things down. Now instead, what you need to do is look at that data and take a deep dive in that. What are the things that we do and build a ship University every single quarter is that we take some time to look at what's happened, what happened in the past. And to make plans for how we make that up in the future, we create what's called the the builders scorecard. And we create something that helps us track the most important pieces of data, and to close the data gaps that we're seeing. So rather than looking at the data, and starting to feel discouraged, and starting to kind of trim back on your goals, if you look at the data the right way, if you look at the data through a builder ship lens, the data starts to point forward to what you're going to do for the remainder of the school year to close that gap.

One of the most critical periods in your school year is between October and December. 

Why because this is the time where you're laying the groundwork and the foundation for that spring testing. He said when you come back in January, if you just then start responding to the data, well, it's only it's too late, because many of you start testing in March, some of you in the end of February and and that spring time is really about testing to see what has been accomplished. If you look up in January and realize you're not close to your goals, what do we do about it, then you start scrambling and making really bad decisions looking for band aids and quick fixes. If you really want to make consistent progress towards your goals, this quarter, this 90 day period between October and December is one of your most crucial periods. So when one way to avoid that october surprise is to take a look at that data. And then really spend some time planning from between October to December on how you're going to make it up. What the data is giving you is a reality check. It's showing you the work that's ahead. But also within the data, the data doesn't just show you the problem, it also shows you that solution. If you take time to look at it. Most of us are so tired by October that we're so happy that the school year is happening. And it's running Finally, that we feel like we can just take time off. But no, you can't. October is that time when you're looking at that data and setting up that plan for the remainder of the school year. So usually I like people and the first two weeks of October to set their plan for the next 90 days, that takes you all the way through December, and really starting to pick those indicators, those leading indicators that you want to track in your data so that you can check on your progress so that you can continue to adjust so that you can really move your school forward. Okay. Third october surprise that you have is this is when the honeymoon period is over.

So this is when the serious discipline problems start to emerge. You know, the kids are kind of on their best behavior right now the bat glad about being back in school. But and you may have some discipline problems. It's not like you don't have any. But the kids who are testing boundaries have usually finished all of that by now. And October is a time when you start to see the real, the real challenges that kids are going to present for the year. The kids who came to the school, the beginning a year and they said this is going to be my year, they may have had a history of failure, but they're believing somehow that this is going to be their year, they're getting some information back that showing them no I'm still failing. The kids who are who have been dealing with trauma for a while had put on a happy face for the beginning of the school year because they're happy to be back. But now some of the pathology of their trauma is starting to come to the surface and play out in the classroom. And so this is a time to double down on taking care of your kids. They got a lot of caregiving at the beginning of the year.

What are you doing now to follow up?

So with a lot of schools, this is the time where your student success plans really matter. So if you don't know what I mean by student success plan, we'll make sure we put a link to some free resources around student success plans in the chat. We're also going to be adding some free resources for student success plans into build a ship University over the next month. So if you are a Even a free member of builders University, we're going to be putting a ton of stuff in there to help you develop Student Success plans. But now's the time for those plans to start kicking in. Right now you probably have interim, you may be close to first marking period grades, what are you going to do the kids have shown you now, what they can do academically or they've shown you how they're performing, how are you going to respond? Now's the time, the more that you can intervene early in the year, the less you will have to remediate later in the year. So if you're starting to look and see the kids aren't performing the way I thought they were, the kids are having some some social emotional challenges that I didn't anticipate. Again, don't treat it as a surprise. Instead, take that information and respond to it now, don't sit on it, so that you can have a smooth leaf functioning rest of the year, you don't want to wait.

Lastly, October, it's a time where you start seeing stuff emerge with your staff. Usually everybody comes back at the beginning of the year, they've had the summer off. I mean, I don't know if you call it off, but you've had the summer break in between students. And now you are starting the new school year. So when people come back, they're excited, they're enthusiastic, they're excited to be back, or they're nervous about being back. But you have this big push in August and September, about new school year stuff. And they work really hard. And they bring a lot of energy to it. Because the the the assumption is if I work really hard at the beginning of the school year, then when I get to October, now I can rest. But as we know, this school year is not like a normal school year and there, you're not resting in October, there's still a ton of work to do. So what's happening is that teachers are feeling very, very overwhelmed right now. And there's only so much self care you can give them I mean, how many bath bombs are you going to give them in their boxes, how many, you know, Starbucks gift cards are you going to put in there, you know, pass out at staff meetings, it can't just be about self care at this point, we have to look at what work teachers are doing, get a realistic assessment of that, and then provide teachers with Options, Options for how they are going to manage their work.

Now is not the time to add more to teachers plates.

Now is the time to look at some of the things that we've been asking teachers to do, and figure out what needs to be taken off their plates. What is work that we're asking them to do, that's not making a difference by now, you know, you know that there are some things that you dreamed up over the summer, that seemed like a good idea at the time. But you know, they're you're not saying that you've got the data that shows that that work isn't actually making a difference. So what is what is the work that actually matters. And now's the time to get your teachers focused on the work that actually matters most. So you don't have to have the big October surprise, or the big October exodus of people's hearts and minds in your school, instead of being scary. And instead of having this big October surprise, October can be an opportunity for you to now have some really important information and data and then reset. And when you do that, you really do a lot of course correction that helps you have a much smoother school year. So my challenge for you this week, is to spend the next week looking at your data, checking in with your staff, and anticipating what that October surprise is going to look like for your school and putting some things in place to respond to it. So I promised at the beginning, I talk to you about zones. And so if you don't know what I'm talking about what these zones, don't worry, all you need to do is go to school leadership reimagined that comm slash Episode 125. And we'll make sure we put a link in the show notes for you to be able to take the zone quiz, it's absolutely free, and it tells you what zone your school is in.

So you know what work you need to be focusing on right now. So for those of you who are in the red zone, here's what you need to be focused on right now. If your school is in the red zone, you're really working on pivoting your school this school year. And so how you handle October is going to be so critical because this is where a lot of the toxicity begins to take root and set in. And so people have heard you talk at the beginning of the school year, how this year it's going to be different and by October they stopped believing you. So if you're in the red zone now is a really really good time to anchor in your outcome. So sharing your vision and if you don't have a vision, don't worry because if once you join builder ship University you have no matter what tier membership you're in, you have access to our monthly vision workshops. So you can come to the vision workshop and get my personal help on shaping that vision. So you want to go ahead and do that. But in October, you want to start working On your vision and reminding people about your vision, if you have your vision already, next step is your mission. And then your core values that can help get people anchored in the right thing before the toxicity has a chance to take hold. Now, if your school is in the orange zone, your focus is on how do I get traction.

In order to get traction, the thing that you need to focus on is putting some systems in place. 

So if your school is in the orange zone, you want to think about what are the systems I need around feedback support, accountability, and culture. And if you put those systems in place, that helps you keep the momentum going, rather than saying, we want to do these things, and then looking up, you know, 90 days from now, and you haven't done anything, put the systems in place, so that you can maintain, you can achieve some traction in your school year and maintain things throughout the school year, and start to move things forward. Now, if your school is in the yellow zone, your big thing is you want momentum, you have had some fits and starts and October is one of those times where you start experiencing fits. So to achieve that momentum, what I would focus on for you is helping you develop that plan for the rest of the school year, really I did looking at that data and digging in, and then assembling on a plan for the rest of the school year. I mean, not sorry, the rest of the school year for between October and December, creating a 90 day plan in response to that data.

So if you're in the yellow zone, that's where you really need to focus is creating that 90 day plan, looking at the data and thinking about where do we need to be by December? And how are we going to get there. And then if your school is in the green zone, remember your big thing is how do I get to the next level. And so your focus is on how do I begin to build other builders. So you're going to spend this time in October, checking in with your team leaders with the other builders you're trying to build and helping them put some systems in place to do their work. So you're going to be doubling down on that. And then you're also going to be making sure that you're set you set up a meeting rhythm so that you can be accountable, and they can be accountable with you. So we all have our marching orders now, instead of just kind of sitting back and you know, getting hit by the October surprise, why not anticipated, and why not put some things in place to blunt the impact of that surprise. So instead of knocking you off your feet, you use the the the inevitability of that october surprise to actually propel your school forward and to make your school better. You do that that's how you handle the October surprise, like a builder. 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.

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