When the Rug is Pulled Out from Under You...


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 126

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 gonna deal with something that it's been bubbling up for a lot of builders for a while. And I'm going to tell you a little story. It's going to be a little dumb little story, but it makes an important point. And so the issue we're dealing with is this. What do you do when circumstances are just imperfect? They're infuriating. How do you handle it when you're trying to build something and it feels like people are snatching the rug from underneath you. So we're gonna do that in just a second. But before we do that, I have a couple of announcements. first announcement is that for those of you who are in Buildership University already, and you are a BU Insider, and you're listening to this in real time, don't forget, we have our first book club conversation today at 7pm. And we're going to be talking about the book effortless and it's you know, what we do in our book club, if you're a BU Insider, in our book club, we read non education books, and then we talk about the insights from those books and how we can use them in our schools. This is a really rich discussion, maybe I'll try to sneak you a little snippet of it later on if you're not in BU insiders, but the book we're reading is effortless. And it is it's got a lot of insight about how to help and it's got a really great summary at the end, too. So BU insiders, we're doing that today at seven second announcement, builders lab we are tickets are still on sale, we've got a lot of people doing, I think we're probably going to end up selling out of these tickets as well. We sold out summer builders lab, we're probably gonna end up doing that here again. So you want to make sure that you get your tickets to builders lab.

A lot of people are sick of zoom meetings

I'll be honest with you, I've been on a couple of conferences lately that have made me realize why so many of you do not want to come to a virtual conference. I mean, some really terrible experiences out there, I can assure you that builders lab is not that what we've built is something that is so immersive, and and and so powerful, that people keep telling us It feels like I'm actually in the room with you. And that's intentional. That's what we're doing. It's we call it the the 360 degree experience builders lab 360. And it's really because we work to give you a 360 degree experience, we're not just kind of sitting there and you're not staring at zoom tiles all day, you're working your thinking, and then not only that, but I can see you so we're interacting Yeah, you're talking to me, I'm talking to you, you don't have to just put everything in the chat you can stop me at any point we keep it intimate and small, so that I can get everybody on the screen and I can see everybody and I can talk to you and you can talk to me. And then so we do that for those three days we take care of all five senses yours your sense of smell, and taste and touch and, and and seeing and hearing everything so that you are fully immersing the experience. And then not only that, but we follow up with you for 90 days afterwards. So we show you how to get clear about your vision and to figure out your pathway forward for your school. How do you overcome your biggest challenge and we help you create a 90 day plan for doing that. Then we follow up with you for the next 90 days to make sure that you're implementing your plan and seeing success.

So builders lab is happening January 30 through February 2 2022 and if you're listening to this in the future, just check out the same website to find out when the next builders lab is happening and the website that you need to go to is mind steps inc.com slash builders dash lab that's mine steps think comm slash builders dash lab. Okay, last now Smith and I'm so excited about this one, we have opened up builder ship University and we have created a new tear inside of builder ship university that is absolutely free, we call it the builder tear. And so you can join if you've been thinking about joining bu and even hearing me talk about it. Now you can join be you absolutely free. So we used to have the mindsets pop up group when we pop in and we pop out and provide you know training, live trainings and resources and support and it we were popping in and popping out and we want to do that on a more consistent basis. And so we figured out a way to do it inside of builder ship University. So you now can join for free and when you join, you will have access to all of our free resources that we have our whole library of free resources you're going to have access to by monthly training. So a couple of times a month I'm going to be doing a live training or a live Ask me anything session where you can bring your challenges and, and get my feedback and support around some of the biggest challenges that you're facing. We have a community where you can tap into other builders from all over the world. And it's free that I mentioned that it was free and so all you need to do is go to build your ship university.com builder ship university.com and you can sign up. So I hope to see you inside we are we have some really exciting things happening inside of builder ship University over the next few months. So buildershipuniversity.com to sign up. Okay, I think that covers everything.

Now I want to tell you a story about something that happened to me a couple of years ago. 

You know, before the pandemic you know, shut down travel was flying pretty much every week going somewhere. And I was trying to eat more healthy. And so rather than rely on airport food I remember I was heading out for a trip and I decided to make myself a salad to eat on the plane when I got hungry. Now this was not an ordinary salad. This was epic. I said you know if I'm gonna do this, let's do it. Right and so I had you know, organic wild caught salmon and three different kinds of lettuces and I'd made you know all all these different kinds of vegetables and you know, I'm a big believer that a salad should have you know your vegetables, it should have one fruits that some dried cranberries and had some dry pistachios in there. And I mean the salad was epic. It was beautiful. I was thinking about this salad all the way to the airport. I was thinking about it when I went through security and watching the way they handled my salad, the security, I was thinking about when I sat at the gate and when I got on the plane, and I finally got settled and we taken off and we're in the air and they've come and done the drink service and I've gotten you know, a ginger ale and I'm sitting there and I'm like now Now it's time to open up my salad. If I open up my salad the bag with a salad I pour it pull it out, I pour the dressing over the salad, and then I reach in my back for for no fork. No problem. I hit the flight call button. The the cabin steward comes by I asked you know do May I have a fork please? And she says we don't have any forks. And I said well would you mind? Do you serve meals in first class? Would you mind if I used one of those forks and she says we don't serve meals on this fight. There are no forks. Now imagine my distress.

The salad is there it's ready for me I can see it I can smell it I can almost taste it. What do I do? Don't become you know do I eat with my hands? Didn't really really do that I felt you know I so I so finally I thought about it for a while. And I saw that she was serving coffee. And with a coffee. She was using wooden coffee stirs. So I called her over and I said okay, how about which those two? Would you give me a couple of wooden coffee stirs. And she says why would you want those? I said I think I might be able to use those as chopsticks. And she laughed and she handed them to me. I opened them up, they worked as chopsticks, I ate my salad and life was beautiful. Now why am I telling you this stupid story. Because one of the things that happens around this time of the year is that when you start out the school year you have a lot of energy you have a lot of excitement you have spent the summer thinking about what you're going to do this school year and how this year is going to be different. Maybe you can build your slab over the summer and so you've got this clear vision and and you've gotten some preliminary work around your your your mission and your core values done and you're excited about this worker or maybe you you spent the summer working on a CIP plan that's going to change things you bought a new program and this year, you hired new staff members. 

Last episode I talked about that October surprise, and oftentimes that can lead to disillusionment.

Sometimes the disillusionment comes when you look at that new hire that you thought was going to be great and realize, maybe they're not as great as I thought they were going to be, they're going to need a little bit more work, maybe that new program that you bought, you're starting to hit glitches and challenges in the program by now, maybe you came back all excited about what you wanted to do. But your district has a different idea about what it wants you to do. And so they're asking you to do things that take you away or seemingly take you away from the work that you really want to get done at your school. And so right about now, right after that october surprise, the next thing that happens is, we start to feel like, there are these forces that are working against us. The work is right in front of us, we can smell it, we can almost taste it. But somebody has taken our fork. And so now what are we supposed to do? And what makes it even more frustrating? It's right there, you can see it and tasted, but you feel like you don't have the tools to be able to implement it. So what do you do? Well, if you use the leadership paradigm, the one that we were all trained in, what you do is you lament the fact that you can't do it, you get more frustrated, maybe you try to battle with the powers that be to make it happen. But if you're a builder, you look at it differently. If you're a builder, you realize that the goal is right in front of you that it's a worthy goal, you've worked hard on that goal, that vision you have, you can't unsee it now that you've seen it, you want that for 100% of your students. And so as a builder, nothing stops you from building that new hire that you thought was going to be great that you found out maybe not so great, fine, you have a teacher dashboard, fill that teacher dashboard out, figure out what's the next step for that teacher, and then help that teacher be great.

You use that new program isn't working out the way that you planned, that's okay. You can sit back, you're having your weekly meetings, right. And so you can sit down during your weekly meetings and, and anticipate where the program is failing you and fix it in those weekly meetings and make the program better every single time. That that that district mandate that that is taking all of your time or you know, in some cases, you may have a district that's telling you you can't set the vision for what you want it to be you can't pursue the vision in the way that you believe is most important for your school. Well, that's what being a builder is about being a builder is about how you continually build with whatever you have. I remember once I was a teacher, I wasn't a new teacher, I've been teaching five or six years and we got a new principal. And he came in and we you know, when you get a new principal, you're always trying to figure out okay, so is this person going to be like, the good person to work with? Or is this person a sociopath? Or what is what's going to happen. And so, you know, big High School, the new principal came in, we kind of saw him from afar for a couple of weeks. And then he came to our department meeting our English department meeting. And he was sitting there and he was smiling. We're having the meeting, and it's so nice to meet you. And then after we finish meeting and greeting him, he says, Okay, well listen, here's why I'm here. And he opens up a folder, and he hands each teacher a pie chart of their student data that showed that we were not doing a good job with kids. I mean, it was so demoralizing. 

He showed us our data, and he said, What are you going to do about it? 

We were sitting there shocked, we felt blindsided. Afterwards, this was probably foolish on my part. But afterwards, I went back to my office, and I wrote him an email. And I said, Listen, it was great meeting you. But I have to say that what you did today felt like a little bit like we were being blindsided. You know, we're doing our best here. And we've never seen our data before. And so this was kind of new to us. And, you know, that's really not one of the great start to our relationship. I tried to be as diplomatic as possible. He did. He wrote me back. I came into work the next morning, and the email, I think I remember it had all caps, and he was like, Who are you to tell me what to do? That data is shameful. And y'all need to stop, you know, talking about doing the best you can and do better, basically, you know, it was I read this email, I was like, I can't work for this guy. I mean, I hadn't. I was happy at that school. I've been that school for a long time. But I start dusting off my resume and start, you know, looking at the district and seeing what other positions were available as I can't work for this guy. He's a monster. I he's terrible. And the next couple of weeks, he started instituting policies that felt like they were taking away my ability to have the impact that I wanted to have on kids. And I said, I gotta go, I can't stay here. I've never felt that way before. I don't know if you've ever felt that way before. But I had never felt that way before. And it was really disorienting to feel like, there's so much that I want to do for kids. And I can't do it here. But then you got to think like a builder.

By that time, I had an idea of something that I believed would make a difference for the kids, I was scared to approach him about the idea because we had not gotten off to the best start. But I did submit it to the district and the district invited me to a district wide kind of, you know, in House Conference to present the idea. And so I was going, but I had to get permission from my principal to go to the conference, he had to sign off on it. And I remember going to the main office and and, and, and asking him to sign off my I asked my department chair to come with me, you know, just to kind of uncover, and he looked at the proposal, and he said, Tell me more about this. And I nervously kind of explained to him what I wanted to do. And he goes, sounds amazing. Can I come and he signed the paper. And he came, and he heard the vision of what I wanted to propose. And afterwards, he sat down, and we talked about it. And I talked about why I wanted to do this for kids. And I had to do with opening up AP for all kids. And he gave me permission to do it. And we built an AP program in our school that had true equity and true access, and we change the lives of a lot of kids. If I had let that first encounter discourage me, or or make me leave or or, or, or, or make me depressed, that would have never happened that that program would have never gotten instituted. And it really did make a difference.

That's the risk you take when you're a Builder, because as a Builder, you're not satisfied with the status quo. 

And because you're not satisfied with the status quo, because you are building something different. You will meet obstacles not you might meet an obstacle, you will, people don't see your vision, they don't get it. They don't understand it. Maybe your vision scares people, it intimidates people. And so they put blockers up because they'd rather you stay in your lane. I remember not a good story. But I remember I was presenting at a in a district that was training their instructional coaches. And I was talking to their instructional coaches about they were trying to get standards aligned instruction. And I was saying that the traditional way that we unpack standards doesn't work, you know, circle and mountains and underlying verbs. And they kind of all nodded because they'd all been to that training. And I showed them how to interrogate the standards instead, to look for the the implied thinking processes and thinking skills in the standard, and how you could use that to build really rigorous lessons, but got so excited. They're like, this is what we need, this is exactly what we need. And I remember the district, there was a brand new associate sofern Superintendent there that was taking over the coaches for that district. And he sat through the first day of the presentation. And the more excited they became the more he was on his phone and typing on his phone. And the more intense in theory is working.

And I thought, Oh, he's excited just like they are he's he's inspired by these ideas, he can see how this can really change instruction in the district. Oh, no, he was emailing the the person who had bought me in and telling them to cancel the next day. He was he was convening a meeting with the powers that be in the meeting and saying she's coming here. And she's teaching them teaching heresy. And basically, I got a call that evening and said, You know, when you come back the next day, do not talk about unpacking the standards, we already have training around that. And so talk about something else, or just be there and help them develop something. And they kind of canceled the rest of the work that I had to do in that district. The risk of being a builder. So I want you to know that I've hit those obstacles too. I've been canceled to the coaches were furious. They were thinking, this is what we really need. This is what will make a difference. The district was telling them Nope, we already have a program that we've paid for. And y'all are going to go through that program. Even if it doesn't make a difference. The coaches were furious. I get it, but the district made the decision. What are you going to do except keep building. You see whether you call it builder ship or not. Whether you talk about your 100% vision or not, whether that's the thing that gets on the paper that you submit, or that's the thing that just you carry in your heart and that drives your work doesn't matter. Because the work is important enough your vision is important enough that nothing absolutely nothing should stop you.

There are times when you are going to be faced with situations that feel impossible. 

Keep building builders find a way, builders don't complain builders don't let anything stop them, they find a way. And you will too. If you go into it with that attitude, if there are going to be times when, when people are going to it's going to feel like they're actively working for your failure. And you have to understand that when you say a vision 100%, it's going to feel threatening to a group of people who can't see a dream that big. People are going to tell you 100% is nice, but you're never going to get there people going to tell you that's really naive and cue but you can't even get to 20%, how are you going to get to 100%? You got to expect that that shouldn't stop you though. What's working with a client a couple of a while ago, and the client had created a, a vision for the district. That was really low. It wasn't 100%. And I was trying to encourage this person to move the vision to 100%. And the person said, What if we don't make it. And they were comfortable setting a SMART goal, to say we're going to get to, I don't know, 25% proficiency. And they weren't even sure they were going to get to 25% proficiency. And it was gonna take them five years to do it. Now, that may sound ridiculous to you. But for a lot of you that sounds really, really hard. And I started talking about 100% 100%. And the client kept saying, I don't even know if we're going to get to 25. And I said, Well, yeah, I mean, with the current system you have your system is giving you the results It was designed to give you if you want to get beyond that you do need to reimagine, rethink the whole system.

But if you rethink it, then you can start to ask yourself, what does our system need to look like where 100% is not only possible, but likely? Well, even though that made sense to this person, and it made sense to to everybody else, the person ultimately didn't take me up on the challenge, because they were so worried that if they didn't hit 100%, after saying so they they would they would lose face. Here's the thing. If you shoot for 25%, and you don't make 25%, do you lose face? Yeah. If you sue for 25%, and you hit 25%, should you lose face? Yeah, because at the end of five years, what you're saying is that in the end of five years, we will now be failing. Only 75% of the kids versus whatever we're failing now. So yeah, you should be ashamed. But if you shoot for 100%, and you make, let's say, you really miss the mark and only make 50%. Well, you still made more and failing than you would have made and succeeding with the other goal. So a lot of people are scared of what you talk about when you start talking about a builder, they don't believe it's possible. And when you start working to make it possible, your success threatens their complacency. When you start proving that, you know what, we can get better than what we're getting when all along. They've been saying I'm doing the best I can this is the best that I can get. You can expect that there are going to be times when people try to sabotage your work because your work threatens their complacency. What do you become a builder, you become scary to a lot of people.

You can expect that people are going to be throwing up all kinds of roadblocks.

You can expect that people are going to be telling you it can't be done. You can expect that sometimes people are going to come in and try to shut you down. That's all a part of the gig. But it shouldn't stop you. Because if you're truly a builder, then just because somebody takes your fork doesn't mean you don't eat ritually a builder, you can't help the build. There have been times that I've been shut down and shut out. I keep building. There been times when I've been told no you can't find another way. And I'm and I want to encourage you to do that too. Because once you see that vision once you see that it's really possible for 100% of your students. It's very hard to settle for less than as hard as it is to push through and keep building. Even in the face of discouragement Do you want an What's harder, what's harder is to settle. What's harder, is to allow somebody to rub your dreams back to where they were before you could see 100% What's harder is to have to live with yourself knowing that you could have made a difference. But you let somebody else talk you out of it. Don't do that. Instead, when things get hard, and they will keep building, when someone blocks you over here, find another way and keep building. When, when when someone takes your fork, it doesn't mean that you don't eat. Find a way to eat, find a way to build find a way to serve your students. Because they need you they need somebody fighting for them, your teachers need somebody fighting for them, you need to fight so you can make the difference you came here to make.

I know it's hard. I won't pretend it isn't. I will say though that when things do get hard, you have a place you can come and and where we will build you back up you know, we we have something called builder ship university where we come together you know the we have the BU insiders level where we have office hours twice a month. And that's exactly what we do. We come in, we support each other. You know, a lot of times people say I just can't office hours to Fill my cup. That's what it's there for. You don't to do this by yourself. We join us in build a ship University and and we'll support you we have a whole community of builders who are trying to do the same thing. A lot of times it's hard when you're working by yourself because you think you're the only one. And then you realize when you come to someplace like build a ship University, there are other people who are doing it. And that gives you the energy to get up and fight again and do it. So you don't have to do it by yourself. But I want to encourage you don't let anyone or anything stop you. Keep building. The only way you're going to achieve that vision for your students. The only way that you're going to make the difference you were called here to make the only way that you are going to to create something bigger than you could imagine. Keep building and that's how you overcome obstacles #LikeABuilder.

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 Buildershipuniversity.com and get started writing your school success story today.

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