What If It Could Be Easier?


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 128

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 something that I think we all do, which is that we we assume that the right way is the hard way. And we're going to challenge that assumption today and and wonder what if it can be easy. Now before I get into that, I want to tell you about builders lab, it's happening. The next one is happening January 30, through February 2 2022. And it's going to be the builders lab 360 degree experience. And I want you to be there I really do. Because, first of all, it's an amazing experience, we do a lot of work to take something in a virtual environment and make it unlike any other virtual training you've been to before not lately up to be honest, I've been to some really challenging virtual trainings, where you just kind of sit on a Zoom meeting and you watch people kind of talk over their slides or people are reading and they're staring kind of at the camera, and they're you can tell the reading something to you. And it's excruciating. I'll be honest with you, it really is. But it doesn't have to be that way. One of the things that we have done is we challenge the assumption that a virtual training means boring that a virtual training is somehow less than a live training, we have done almost 20 virtual builders labs at this point. And they keep getting better people tell us it's like, you're right there with us.

We make it highly personalized. 

We keep builders lab small. So this is not hundreds of people on a Zoom meeting. We keep it very small so that there's time for interactivity, I can see you, you can see me you can raise questions, sometimes I'll talk to you and I'll say, hey, you know, your faces, you look a little confused. Like what's what question do you have right now. So it's highly interactive. And then because it's a 360 degree experience, we don't just have this the you know, you in front of a Zoom meeting, and you hearing and seeing what's happening on the screen. It's highly interactive, we send you a box. And inside of that box are all these little small packages and boxes, and we're opening them throughout the time together. So we look for ways to surprise and delight you, we look for ways to make the experience something you will never forget. And fully immersive. We want you to be there. Because not only is experience great, but what you learn at builders lab can literally change the trajectory of your school ism, you're going to build this lab, you are going to learn the entire build a ship model from start to finish. And you're going to be able to take that model and immediately start applying it to your school so that you can see results in the next 90 days. So when you come to builders lab, we expect for you to set a plan and we're going to help you do that for how you're going to make some sort of improvement in your school in the next 90 days. And then we don't just send you off and say good luck, we we actually follow up with you over the next 90 days, you get 90 days of coaching and support and additional training and resources to help you actually see results from that training in 90 days.

So when you come to builders lab, it's not just a fun experience. It's not just you know, great training, it actually produces results in your school three months after you leave. So all you need to do to come to this builders lab is to go to mind steps inc.com/builders-lab That's mind steps inc.com/builders that lab Alright, second thing, builders ship, university. We have now opened it up so that you can join and get started and build a ship University absolutely free. And we also have the BU insiders here for even more support and resources. In fact, a couple of weeks ago inside of bu insiders we had our first book club and we read the book effortless and we are getting Together probably quarterly, I think that's kind of a rhythm for us to get together and read books that are non education books, books that are outside of education. And then we get together and talk about how we can apply what we're learning to our school context. And so something interesting we've been doing and be insiders, we just read effortless. And we had our book club discussion where we kind of came away with some big takeaways from the book, we turn those takeaways into challenges that we went back to our school and we're implementing, so not just kind of theoretical, I love this part. But really saying, this part really speaks to what's happening in my school right now. And so we've taken those challenges, we've gone back into our schools, and we are implementing things and the success stories that are coming out of it is truly, just really incredible. And we're talking about it at office hours and supporting each other and sharing strategies.

What I love about both Buildership University and BU Insiders is that you're part of a community of other Builders.

You're learning from them, you're learning what they're doing, you're supporting each other. And a BU insiders, we have something called office hours and office hours is really kind of our safe space where you can bring anything you show up, you talk about what's going on, people always say I come to office hours empty, I lethal, it's just such a supportive environment. So if you're out there, and you want to be a builder, and you feel like you're alone, nobody around you is trying to build, I want you to know there's a place where builders are hanging out, there's a place where you can get support, there's a place where you can get encouragement about your builder ship journey, and that's builder ship University. And if you want to join, you can join now absolutely free by going to build a ship university.com That's builder ship university.com. Alright, let's talk about our topic of the day because one of the things that we are so good at an education is we are good at the hard stuff we we pride ourselves on working hard and, and the rewards we tell ourselves are worth it. But is the hard way, always the right way. I was thinking about this episode and and before I started recording, and I remembered a time when I was a English teacher and high school English teacher and one of the things that, you know, we were taught to do is you want kids to have a notebook, a notebook that has all of your handouts, they have an organized, because when it comes time for a test, or when it comes time for the semester exam, you want your students to have everything ready. And and so that they can review and, and you give them handouts, you want them to hold on to it, because you're gonna refer to them later on, you know, so what you do is you have students create a notebook. And then of course, you want to make sure students are keeping their notebooks and keeping them in an organized fashion.

So you do all of these lessons on notebook organization. And then you do these notebook checks every so often. And you give them a grade because if you don't give them a grade, they don't keep it up. And, you know, you include in the notebook journal entries and reflection pieces, and maybe you collect notebooks and you go through and you read everything in their notebooks and, and you check it off and give them feedback. And, and while that all sounds great, it's an enormous amount of work. And, and, and I knew that it was enormous amount of work, you know, you take those stacks of notebooks home with you in a big box, or you buy a special bag, that's just for your students notebooks, and you take them home with you. And I remember there were a lot of times where I would take notebooks home over the weekend. And, you know, I was trying to kind of live my life, but those notebooks would be sitting there, you know, by the door judging me because I wasn't grading the notebooks and I was doing something like taking a nap instead. And I I can never really enjoy my nap because those notebooks were sitting there, you know, judging me. And sometimes I took the notebooks home, you know, overnight with all the best intentions and, and, and then didn't get to them at all. So basically, all I was doing was giving those notebooks a ride, you know, I wasn't actually doing anything with them.

I'll be honest with you, I grew to hate those notebooks. 

I had an attitude every time I opened students notebooks, why don't have to grade these things. And I remember driving to work one day having given the notebooks arrived home because I hadn't gotten to them and thinking about how I was going to have to use my entire planning period to to get my comments in the notebooks, I could get them back to students so that they could, you know, put more stuff in them that I was gonna have to grade and it just felt like this never-ending cycle. And I remember catching a glimpse of the notebooks in the backseat of my rearview mirror and asking myself ah, what is the point of these? Then I started thinking about it. What what is the point of notebooks? Well, for me, the point of notebooks was twofold. One, those notebooks and journals gave students opportunities to practice writing, and also give them a place to think in a kind of an organized and constructive way through their writing. The second thing it did is it helped them hold on to things They were going to need later on. And so I said, Well, if students are going to do those two things, do I have to grade them? Do I have to collect them, because even when I collected them, it meant that I was my own bottleneck, because I couldn't give them another assignment of their notebooks until I'd graded the first group of notebooks and pass them back. And so, you know, I was always putting off things that I wanted them to do in the notebook. So were they really getting that consistent writing practice? No, because it was taking me too long to grade their notebooks. And then were they holding on to those papers? No, I mean, at some kids who were naturally organized and had the papers, at some students who were just not organized at all, and so their papers were all over the place. And they never had what they needed when they needed it anyway.

So I was the bottleneck, what I was doing felt hard. And when you think about it, it was missing the point of why I was doing notebooks in the first place. So I remember going back into school that day, and I didn't great the notebooks during my planning period, I passed them back to students. And when they opened them up, they said, well, mines are graded. Where's my grade? I said, Well, I want to give you all an announcement. And I told them, I am no longer grading your notebooks. And they started cheering, they were so excited. Yes. Does that mean we have to do we don't have to do notebooks? No, we're just going to do them, just not going to grade them. And I started talking to them about what the point was about why we were doing notebooks. And so I said, so instead of collecting your notebooks and grading them and potentially losing them and separating you from your notebooks. What we're going to do now is this, instead of grading your notebooks, we are going to have random notebook quizzes. And it's going to be a path pass quiz and get rid of a what a pass pass quiz. What is that I said, you can either pass it in class, or you can pass it at lunch. What do you mean? Well, here's the way it's gonna work. The point of your notebooks is for you to help warehouse and hold on to papers that are really critical, because we're going to use them again and practice your writing. So your notebook chaos is simply going to be this I'm going to name a journal entry that you should have written on a particular day, or a handout that you should have in your notebook, because we're going to be using it later on, and you have 30 seconds to hold it up in the air. I'm gonna sit there. And if you haven't hold held up in the air, you pass during class, if you don't have it, for some reason, then you come in at lunch on that same day or the following day, if you're in the class after lunch, which you're coming into lunch the next day. And you're going to sit down and we are going to either recreate the journal entry that you have missing, or help you get your notebook organized so you can find things. And if you come to that session, you can pass the quiz at lunch. So the students shrugged. And they said, Okay, well, I mean, whatever. And so we started doing it.

Here's what started happening. 

First of all, the students started using their notebooks and understanding how notebooks work. And they started coming up with their own organizational strategies for their notebooks that help them actually locate material when they needed it. When, right, the second thing that they did is they started being a lot more diligent about their journal entries. Because, again, we're going to be holding it up so that we're getting that writing practice, when the third thing is that for the students who really did need help, when they came in at lunch, we sat down and started looking at how they were organizing things, help them come up with an organizing strategy that worked for them, and so that they can do the work and be good at it. When. So as long as I labored under the assumption that you know, something thorough, just hard. And, you know, teaching is hard and the work is hard. And I accepted that. I never found an easier way one that better served my students, the moment that I let go of that and said, Okay, it's hard. But what if it could be easy? What, what would it look like if it were easy, it started opening up all kinds of things for me. So that was a pivotal moment in my teaching career that extended to my administrative process. You know, one of the things that administrators hate the most is they hate doing the evaluation process. They're always bogged down with evaluations, people warn me nights and weekends, you're going to be spinning, doing all these evaluation write ups and and so I started thinking, Okay, what like, this is hard. I started going through what people were showing me to do. And it just seemed like it was just an inordinate amount of time. And so I started asking myself, What if it was set up being hard? What would it look like if it were easy, but I started making tweaks that shaved things down and to the point where I can get my evaluations done. I could give people very meaningful feedback, I would have great conversations. And I wasn't spending nights and weekends doing those evaluation write ups.

That's what we teach inside of the feedback Fast Track formula course that we have inside of builder ship University, is how to do that in a way that keeps that process from being hard. And I'll be honest with you, I think the process could probably be even more streamlined than what you see and feedback fasttrack formula that you Probably could come up with ways to make it even easier. You see, as educators, we get used to hard, but it doesn't have to be hard. What if it were easy? And I see that a lot what we have teachers adding more and more work. And we say, well, we're going to take something off their plate, you know, to make the work happen. And it's always something superficial. But most teachers are very overwhelmed, they feel overworked, they feel like the work is getting harder and harder and harder and taking them further and further away from the thing they came here to do, which was to teach and to enjoy helping students learn. Well, why aren't we taking a look at their work and trying to see, Okay, this looks hard. What would it take to make this easy? Because, frankly, if it's easier, more people are going to do it. If it's easier, you're going to see more results. If it's easier, you can get to where you need to go faster.

So why are we making things so hard? And what would it look like if we were to make it easier? 

What if, instead of of ignoring teachers complaints, we sat down and said, Hey, let's take a look at what you're doing. And we started creating this ethos in our school for saying, let's make the most important things that we're doing as easy as possible. You know, one of the big takeaways that we got from effortless when we read it, we had a book club discussion a couple of weeks ago was this idea of start from zero, he tells a story, I'm probably gonna butcher it of how when PayPal was first getting started, I don't know if you remember this, I remember this. But when when the internet first started, and we could buy things online, the checkout process was really onerous. I mean, it's hard to think about that now with Amazon Prime and one click Checkout. But back then you had all these different screens, and it created all this friction. And people were trying to tweak each individual screen to make it better and move faster. When finally somebody said, why do we need all these screens? Why can't we just click a button and check out and it's done? And that revolutionize the way we buy things online? Well, instead of that the idea, the principle that he talks about in the book is this idea of start from zero. Rather than trying to tweak each individual step, get rid of all the steps and start from zero and think about what would it take to make this easy. We spent so much time in education tweaking each individual step. I was doing that with my notebooks, I was trying to figure out ways to graded faster and I said, Okay, maybe I'll just read random things. And people are giving me all this advice. And you could go online, and people were talking about ways to manage notebooks better. And those tweaks were great.

They tweaked the individual steps. But what if we got rid of all the steps and started from zero the moment I did that, we had a much better notebook process, one that was less onerous for me and more more valuable to my students. And it helped create a place where they could hold, they could be responsible for their own work and understand the why around that. And part they could be partners and how their notebooks were organized. So why are we making things so hard? And what can we do to make things easier? So here's my challenge for you this week, I want you to think about your work. Think about something that you are doing right now that feels hard. Maybe it's teacher evaluations, maybe it's data dives and having data conversations. Let me just take an aside here, the way we do data right now is so convoluted and it's getting worse when data is supposed to make our jobs easier, not harder. But how we we lead data protocols actually makes things harder, we're looking at too much data, we have our data in all these different places, rather than putting them in one place where we can really see the numbers in comparison to each other. What if we could make looking at data the easiest thing in the world so that we could quickly learn from it and use it to improve the experiences for our teachers and our students? Shouldn't we be thinking about that? Okay, rant over. But I want you to think about how maybe maybe the hard thing for you is getting into classrooms and we have all these convoluted systems and processes for getting into classrooms and getting notes to teachers right away. And the whole time we're in the classroom, we're so busy managing our system and putting things on our tablets and or laptops and that we don't pay attention to what's happening in a classroom. One of the things we did is when we started when we started creating micro slicing. As a process, we said First thing we're going to do is we're going to get rid of all of that we started from zero, we made teacher observation easier by looking for the one thing you know when you do micro sizing rather than having to stay in the classroom for 30 minutes to then go back and analyze all your notes. You can go into a classroom, spend five minutes, get down to the brass tacks. This is the one thing for the teacher and give that teacher that one thing feedback and see tangible growth for one visit to the next. That's what we're talking about.

Look at all the things in your personal work that are hard and start asking yourself what if this could be easy. 

What would easy look like, what if I, instead of tweaking the steps, got rid of all the steps and just started from zero and started thinking about, what do I really want to accomplish here? And how can I do that in a way that's easy for me and beneficial for my teachers and my students. And then, after you think about your own work, I want you to think about your teachers. There's so much happening right now, for your teachers, they are overwhelmed, and the school years barely gotten started. And instead of saying, Oh, well, we'll take this off your plate, or we'll give you an additional 15 minutes to do this work. Why not take a look at your systems that your teachers are using to deliver instruction to plan to assess students to learn from those assessments and, and improve instruction, and start finding those places where it's really hard. And where it's gotten convoluted. Because you know, one of the things we do in education is we don't ever stop doing anything, we just keep doing what we're doing and add something else to it. So over time, we have this, this duct tape together system of all these things that made sense at the time we were adding them but no longer makes sense. And yet we're still doing them. And we can't seem to stop. So I want you to look at some of the systems your teachers are using right now, whether it's about direct instructional delivery to students, or about all the other things they have to do to make the school run smoothly. And well. You've asked yourself, what are we making hard, that really could and should be easy. And then get to work? start from zero, there are things you're doing right now that aren't adding value to your school stop. You don't the weight you eat stop right now. Don't do them anymore. Or if you have to do if it's something if there's a result that you have to produce, interrogate that system to figure out whether or not we need this system.

Where can we start from zero? What a different system work better? We're overwhelmed, and rightly so things. There's so much happening right now. But shouldn't we be reserving your energy to deal with the things that are really important rather than wasting your energy on antiquated processes that are so bloated and cumbersome, that it creates more work and and that we do that works, you know, senselessly we don't realize that there could be another way. And we never critically examine our processes to figure out, how do we make it easy. It's almost like, we feel that if it's easy, then there's something wrong with it. It's evil, you know, that we have gotten so used to this, this self sacrificing ethos of being an educator that, that we have become a collection of martyrs who who struggle under hard when it doesn't have to be hard. I know that a lot of times when I'm sitting and working with teachers, and I'm saying doesn't have to be this hard. And they immediately start saying, Oh, here you go. Yes, it is. And they mean it. Because from their perspective, it has always been hard. But if you can get beyond that, if you can let go of that idea that that that it doesn't that it that it has to be hard if you could let go of that and start looking for an easier way. And not feel guilty because you're looking for an easier way.

It doesn't mean you're lazy, it doesn't mean you're a slacker, it means you're smart. 

You are not going to waste time on stuff. That's unnecessarily hard. So you can devote your energy to the things that that really matter. So there's your challenge for the week. Your challenge for the week, is to look at some of the hard things in your job, and the jobs that the teachers you serve and figure out what would it look like if it were easy, don't tweak steps, sometimes it means you got to throw the whole thing in the garbage and start from scratch. Do that. Because you don't have time to waste on unnecessarily hard stuff, we have important work to do. So this week, I'm challenging you to find the easy button, like a builder. 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.

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.