You’re Cutting Yourself Short
Note: School Leadership Reimagined is produced as a podcast and designed to be listened to, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 130
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.
Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today we are continuing our brand new series that we're calling the vs series where we take something that all of us have been taught. That is true and and we challenge it with build a ship. So some leadership strategy, some leadership paradigm or idea that we were taught, this is the work, this is what we need to be doing. We're challenging that and showing you how builder ship actually turns that notion on its head. And this week, I want to talk to you about something that happened probably a month ago now I was talking to a principal. And he was talking about moving his school forward. And he had an estate plan that they were going to have an 8% increase over one year 8% year over year increase in reading and math scores, I think maybe Matthew was going for a 10% increase in reading was an 8% increase. And listen to all the things that they were going to do to get this 8% increase.
So they were going to be doing some standards alignment work making sure that the teachers lessons were actually aligned with the standards, they were looking at the data and trying to target some of the kids who are close to getting to proficient and give those kids some extra help. So basically, what I call the bubble kid strategy, they were going to do that they were going to be doing targeted interventions for students who were more than one grade level below grade level. So they were going to have a reading or math intervention period. And work with those kids. They were doing in a work around increasing rigor across the board. So a lot of PD around that. They were also doing work around differentiated instruction to to make sure that teachers were targeting their instruction to the kids. That's a lot of work for one school year. And so when he finished telling me all of his plans, I said, you're going to do all that work. And you're only going to get an 8% increase from all of that work. And he just sat there and he looked at me and and and and I think he was a little offended because he was doing all this work had all of these plans and scripts and protocols for his teachers.
I said, "If you're going to work that hard, shouldn't you be getting more than an 8% increase?"
It's a question that I'm sure all of us have wandered at some point. We're working so hard, shouldn't we be getting more from the work that we're doing, and yet, we're not getting it. And so that's why on today's episode, we're going to talk about the difference between big goals and little goals and and we're going to explore this idea that it's just as hard to achieve a little goal as is to achieve a big goal. So why are we setting our goals so low? Now, speaking of setting goals, low and elevating goals, I'm going to talk to you briefly about builder's Lab, which is coming up in January. And I want to talk to you because I've been talking to a lot of you about saying yeah, I really want to come to builders lab but I just can't get away right now. I mean, if you're feeling that way because of the crazy school year that we've had and how overloaded everybody feels and how you know your school feels so chaotic. You don't even have time to go to the restroom during the day. How are you going to take three days off to come to builder's lab and I totally get it because it feels when you are in the midst of the of the work right here and the crisis that's happening right now. It can feel almost frivolous to step away for three days. But I want to talk to you briefly about why you should you see as long as you are in the weeds as long as you are just surviving from day to day, then maybe you're maintaining your school but you're not moving it forward and and that's why stepping away from for three days to come to builder's lab is so critical right now, not this summer, not after I get through the school year, but right now, because when you step away for those three days you can get perspective on the first part of the year, and you can start planning to be better The next half of the year, you see, if you're working as hard as I know you are, that kind of effort is not sustainable, you are going to burn out. And not only are you going to burn out, but your teachers are going to burn out.
So you have a choice, you can either finish the year strong, more energized, and your school in a better place by taking some time away to figure out how to do that. Or you can keep doing what you're doing and just surviving and crawl across the finish line at the end of the year. And try to take some weeks off in the summer to recuperate, and your school is no better than it was. And in fact, you've now instilled some really bad habits habits around just surviving, that you're going to have to try to undo next school year, and you're so exhausted by the time you get to the summer, you can't even think and your expectations start to get lowered. So the choice is yours, take the time away now. Get some perspective, come back and finish the year straw. Or keep doing what you're already doing, keep surviving and get to the finish this school year hit the finish line crawl over that finish line but then have nothing to show for it all of that effort all that time, all of that energy. And the only thing you can say at the end of the year is we survived. So it's up to you. But if you want to do more than survive the school year, I know it's hard to take three days away. But it's harder to not take those three days and continue to stay in survival mode. And so I would invite you to build your slab and to get your tickets, just go to mind steps inc.com/builders-lab That's mind step think.com/builders-lab. And you can get your tickets there. Also, if you want some help between now and builders, lab builder, ship University is where you need to be and now we have a free membership to build a ship University. So you can come into builders University, we have monthly trainings monthly asked me anything sessions where you can come in and ask me anything.
You are part of a community of other Builders there.
We have a community forum where you can post questions and, and share ideas and connect with each other. And the thing that I like the most about build a ship University is it's not Facebook, right. So when you join those forums on Facebook, and you post something on it, it lives in Facebook forever. And you know, it's possibly exposed to your teachers and your students. We intentionally built built a ship University off of social media, because we really wanted it to be a secure place for you to go and to be able to get the support the community the help the the the the feedback, the camaraderie that you needed, and know that it's not going to be posted on social media for everybody to see. And so if you want to be a part of builder, ship University, all you need to do is go to builder ship university.com. And you can join be you. Alright, I think that's it for the announcements. Let's talk about this thing today. Because it's, it's really bothering me when I see people working really hard and praying that it's going to make improvement. If you're going to work that hard, shouldn't you see something for your labor, but we often use the the spaghetti approach to school improvement. So when I was a teenager, someone I don't know who they told me that if you want it to know if spaghetti was fully cooked, then you should take some out the pot and just throw it against the wall. And if it sticks to the wall, it's fully cooked. And if it slides down the wall or doesn't stick off the stick on the wall, then it's not fully cooked yet keep boiling.
Now, that is some dumb advice, right? You use you not only have easier ways, like just pulling a noodle out biting into it to figure out whether or not the spaghetti is cooked, you create a big mess. But as silly as that sounds for something like cooking spaghetti, we do the same thing when we're trying to show improvement during the school year. And it's why so many of our teachers are burned out and overwhelmed. That's why we have initiative fatigue. We are we identify a problem. And we're not even sure why identifying the right problem, right? We just kind of look at our data and say that number looks bad. We should do something about that number. Sometimes we're even told you've got to improve reading, you've got improved math, and you've got to prove like attendance or climate or something like that. So we just grab a number, we pick a random improvement 5% We don't even know what that means. How many kids is that? Why 5% Why not six? Why not? Four? We don't know we just five sounds like a good number. Let's try to improve by 5%. And then in order to get that improvement, we throw everything out the problem. Oh, well, I went into classrooms and they're not differentiating. So we need to differentiate instruction. And you know what, I've been hearing a lot about standards alignment. I bet we're not aligned. Nope. I went to class are not aligned. We did standards alignment. And we do all of this work trying to improve and at the end of the year we're exhausted. We barely got the 5% Assuming we got that five or 8% improvement to even be Get with them, we got to do it all again next year. And as hard as it was to get that five or 8%, how much harder is it going to be to get another five or 8% or 10%, the next year, and then the next year and the next year again. So we're working really hard for very little payoff. And yet, that's what we were trying to do.
That's how we were trained.
We go to Whole trainings on how to write SMART goals. And we write these beautiful, smart goals and we write the CIP plans, and we do these data dives. And and these these root cause analyses, and it's not getting us anywhere. There has to be a better way, right? Shouldn't we were going to work that hard, shouldn't we see bigger gains? Well, I remember hearing someone say once, someone said to me once, and it really stuck with me, he said, It's just as hard to achieve a small goal as it is to achieve a big goal. I thought about that, because I'll be honest with you, my tendency is to dream small. I know that sounds kind of crazy. Given you know, the fact you know, if you've heard my story about how I quit my job, I know that sounds crazy that I would think that way. But it's true. My natural tendency, the thing that I have to fight every day, is I dream pretty small. If I if if I were thinking about school improvement, my dreams only go as big as my capacity by my current capacity. That's as far as my dreams go. And I bet many of you feel the same way. You know, when I talk about 100% vision, people look at me, and they say that's nice. And some people even say, I wish I could do that. But they can't dream beyond their current capacity, their schools current capacity. And right now, if your school is, you know, barely, it's not even above 50% proficient, how is it that you can dream that 100% of your kids can be proficient? We, we can't see, it's hard enough to get to 50%. And we're not there yet.
How are we going to get to 100%. Or maybe you've worked really hard and you've got to 70 or 80% proficiency, and you are being lauded across your school district is one of the best schools in your district. But when you really are honest, you can't figure out how you're going to get from 80 to 100, how you're going to get that last 20% of your kids proficient because you're doing everything that you can, or everything you think you can right now, in order to get there. If I get it, my tendency is to dream, like I always said kind of low goals. Here's the thing, if you set a goal of 10% improvement, then you're only going to do the work that gets you 10% improvement. And so your pass fail line is really only at 10%. You're you're trying so hard to get to 10%, you often ignore the work that could get you beyond 10%. Because that's where your focus is. Now people always say But Robin, shouldn't we break down our dreams, I mean, we're not going to go from zero to 100 in just one year. And you're right, you're probably not. But if you shoot a goal for 10% that year, and then you hit 10%, then you've scratched an itch. Everybody says, Oh, great, we've hit 10%, you have the party, you bring the cake you celebrate. And then people relax, they relax naturally, because 10% was the goal rather than 100%.
Let's contrast that by the way that Builders think about setting goals.
Builders don't ever set a percent 10% goals, because Builders don't have time for eight and 10%. Gains, if they're going to work hard, they want to work hard for something that matters, they, they want to work hard for 100%. Remember, and it's true, it takes the same amount of effort to to hit up a small goal as it does to hit a big goal. Let's take my principle that I talked about just a few minutes ago. I mean, he was doing standards alignment. He was doing data dives, he was increasing rigor. He was doing targeted remediation. While he was doing that to get a 10% gain, he could do that same work, but shift how the work is being done slightly, no more effort, just a different focus, to get to 100% and get more than 10% gains. Think about the work you're doing right now, if you're working really hard to get a 5% 10% 25% increase. That same work, if it's really valuable if it's going to get you an increase, that same amount of energy could be spent pursuing 100%. And here's what happens at the end of the year instead of barely squeaking by with 10% or Whoo, you got 11% Let's let's break out the party. You could do that same amount of effort. And at the end of the year, look up and you've got 1520 30% gains. It is possible. I'll tell you story about me. And then this is a story about a time that I failed. But I remember when I was a high school English teacher and I wanted to increase enrollment in my AP class This was back in the days of gates, you probably have heard me tell that story before. And so I had convinced my principal to give me one year to open up AP to every single child who wants to take AP.
A lot of my kids came, they were unprepared. Some of them had never even had an honors class, we tripled enrollment. We went from one section to three sections of AP Language in one year. And I would say the majority of my kids were not what you would typically consider AP material they they hadn't been groomed since second grade. Many of them like I said, it never had an honors class. Some of them it never made anything higher than a B on their on level class. So not typical AP students. Now, not only did I have to get them in the class, I had to make sure they all took the test, and had to make sure that my passing rate, which was fairly good, slightly above the national average, my passing rate would not drop. If any of those things happen if my passing rate dropped, if I didn't get all the kids to take the test, then I would fail and we keep the gates up. So I set a goal not to maintain my passing rate. Because I wanted to do better, I wanted to prove something more than that. My goal was that I wanted 100. Actually, I'd even said 100%. That's a lie. I wanted 80%, I wanted to get to an 80% passing rate, my passing rate was somewhere around, you know, 69 70%, the national average was in the low 60s 60% passage rate at the time.
I wanted to get to 80% passing rate.
Well, in order to get there, I would have to do better than my cherry picked kids were had been doing on the AP test in years past. And so that summer, everything was on the chopping block, I had to reconsider everything about the way that I was teaching. And I did throughout the year, I was making adjustments because I had an 80% goal in mind. Well, I kids took the test. That summer, we got the scores back, my principal called me and I drove to the school and I'm nervous, you know, did we make it? Do we make it and he handed me the envelope with a poker face, just nothing. And I looked at the envelope, and my passing rate had gone up. But it didn't go up to 80%. So I'm devastated. I feel like I fail. I didn't hit my 80% goal. My principal looked at me and he said, What is wrong with you? This is amazing. Do you know what this means? It means three times as many over three times as many students passed the AP test this year, as last year, we're taking down the gates for everybody. So I started thinking about that when I was planning this episode, and I thought about what I have done something different if my goal was simply to sustain the passing rate that I had in previous years. Now I got higher than the passing rate in previous years. But I didn't get to quite to 80%. And the answer is yeah, I would have done a lot of things differently, I would not have pushed as hard as I pushed, I would not have been as focused as much as I was focused. And I would have been focused on the wrong thing. If my goal hadn't been 80%. And even though I didn't hit my goal of 80%, I did far better than I believe I would have done had I set a lower goal.
I beat the lower goal and blew it out the water. So what does that mean for you? Well, you can waste time setting 10% goals, and you can work really hard to try to get that 10%. Or you can set a goal of 100% work just as hard. And even if you fail, even if you don't get 100% Let's say you fall short, you only get 80% of your kids at proficient, that blows anything else you've ever done out of the water. You see, as long as we stay focused on what's in front of us, what we think we are capable of right now are we might work hard, but our efforts look different, because we're working hard to to eke out a 10% gain. But builders say if we're going to work hard, let's work hard for something that really matters. If I'm if I'm going to work that hard, I should be sure as heck getting more than a 10% gain. So a builder soon as they say, Yeah, we're going to work hard. But we're going to work hard not for 10% gain, we're going to work hard because we want everybody at 100% of our goals. And then people say to me, Well, I can't say 100% What if I fail? What if you do? Even if you fail, you are likely to be far beyond that 10% goal. Let me give you kind of a concrete example. What if you set a goal you normally have say showing an eight to 10% increase every single year in the number of kids who are proficient and every year you hit the goal or you miss it by just a little bit. Maybe some years you surpass it and you go to 12% proficiency, and that's been your ride. And then one year you decide, You know what, I'm gonna work this hard.
Let's work hard for 100% not, let's not just work hard to try to get another 10%.
Let's say you fall short, you don't get to 100%, you you, you only get to 75%. Well, if you looked at that 75% and compared that 75%, where you okay with that 75% To where you would have been with a 10%, you're going to be significantly beyond what you would have set that goal, you would have said at that 10 or 8% improvement. So even though you fail, you still win. And that's the beauty of thinking about the builders way you see, when you set a 10% goal and you don't reach that 10% goal. How bad do you feel? How embarrassed are you, you couldn't even get 10%. And some of you aren't even setting goals that high, you're setting 5% goals 4% goals 2% gains for the year. If you fail at that it feels really bad. You know why it feels bad? Because you weren't shooting that high? To begin with? You were picking a goal that felt doable? How bad do you feel when you pick a goal of 100% still work the same amount of effort, but the effort is different. Because the little strategies that we might play around with like, you know, by now I hate talking about quote unquote, bubble kids, I hate that term. I hate the strategy. You know, that's a strategy designed to get you your 10%. But when you're focused on 100%, you don't even think about bubble kids. Instead, you're thinking not just who are the kids that are the easiest to move, you're thinking about every single child in your building, which means that you're putting in the same amount of effort, but you're directing that effort in a way that's going to get you bigger gains. But when you set 100% goal and you fall short. Even when you lose, you win, if you miss your 100%, you're still probably going to be further along than your little piddly 10% gains that you were thinking about doing your your 8% gain. So your 5% gains when you shoot for 100% That's when you start posting 1520 30% gains every single year. Because you're focusing on the right work, you're not thinking about how do I how do I play with numbers so that I can I can eke out five more kids being successful. Instead, you're thinking, Alright, how many kids are still not successful? And what do we do for every single child? It is just as hard to pursue a tiny goal as it is to pursue a big goal.
So if you're not changing effort, if if it's not any harder to pursue a big goal than it is to pursue a small goal. Why are we wasting time when these little teeny goals? Why aren't we focusing on those big goals? Why aren't we putting our efforts behind achieving 100%? If I'm shooting for 100%, and I fail, it doesn't feel nearly as cruddy is if I was shooting for 5% and I fail, if I can't even get 5% How bad am I. But if I'm shooting for 100%, and I fall short this year, and I only get 15%, closer to that 100%. Then I say okay, let me go back. Let me figure out what works and what doesn't work. Because I'm still pursuing that 100%. And next year, I learned something. So next year, I can get even greater gains because something's working. Stop wasting your time on these little piddly goals. You are going to work hard anyway, work hard for something that matters. I mean, that's one of the things that we do at builders lab is we help you figure out what that 100% goal is, we help you take the complexity because the other reason why people don't like those 100% goals is because you're thinking, I don't know how to get there. Well, of course you don't, you're just starting. But one of the things that we show you builders lab is we show you a process that helps you learn and evolve and grow. And every 90 days you get another victory every 90 days, you get closer and closer to your goals. So you're not waiting till the end of the year, you're hitting a milestone every three months. And you're sitting back and you're learning from that and and you're getting better and you're making tweaks, you know, instead of instead of you know kind of setting 100% goal and making it aspirational, then going back and doing what you've always done a builder's lab, we show you how to do things differently, we show you how to, to first of all set the right goal. And then we show you how to get rid of all the things that are keeping you from your goal.
You start knocking out constraint.
We help you figure out what is the right constraint to knock out this week, this month, this 90 day period so that every single 90 days, not only are you hitting a milestone, but you're removing another obstacle that makes it easier to get to your goal because you're getting rid of the things that are keeping you from your goal. That's the difference between the way that you were taught to do as a leader and the way that you ought to do as a builder. And so this week, my challenge to you is this. I want you to be honest about the goals that you've set for yourself really honest, I want you to think about whether or not you are cheating yourself and your students by aiming too low. What, you know, a lot of times I don't set big goals because I am afraid to fail. If I put it out there that this is my goal. If I, if I say it aloud, If I don't reach it, then I'll feel like a failure. I don't want you to rethink that as well. What if you don't reach that goal this year? The big goal this year? What if you fail at a big goal? Well, you're still better off, I'd much rather fail at a big goal than hit a small goal. But realize that there's still so many kids that I'm not serving. I'd also rather fail at a big goal than fail of a small goal. I mean, how bad do you feel when you can't even hit 5%? Well, it's not you it's not because you are inept and incompetent. The it's because your goal was too small. And your your efforts to achieve your goal are constrained by the size of your goal. If you dream 5% You give 5% effort you do work that will get you 5%. If you dream 100%, you do work that will get you to 100%. Both are work, both take effort, one has a big payoff. One has a piddly little payoff.
So I want you to think about your goals this week. And ask yourself a question. Am I working hard for a goal this too small? Should my goals be bigger, I'm still going to work hard, but why not work hard and pursuing something bigger better than then then anything that you feel like you're capable of right now. Because what I do know is that when you set big goals, you up level your skill set up levels to meet the size of your goals. When you set small goals, your skill level is constrained by the timeliness of your goals. If you're feeling like, but I can't even hit 5% Hell if you're not gonna hit 5% Anyway, you might as well fail at hitting the 100%. Right? If you're going to fail anyway, why not fail big? Why why why go home and say I can't even hit 5% versus going home and saying I should I tried to get 100% I only made 15%. This year, you're still three times better off than if you had stayed with that 5% goal. And when you fail at 100% goal, it just gives you more energy to try harder. When you fail at a little goal you feel defeated, because it was already so small, there is no room to get better. You're just you know how, if I've already set a 5% goal, what am I going to do next year, set a 1% goal? How bad do you feel? Go ahead and pursue the big goal, you're gonna work hard, make it count, make it matter. And here's what I do know to be true. Every time I set a bigger goal, I start rising to the occasion of the goal, the goal pulls the best parts of me out of me as I try to pursue that goal. The same thing will happen for you. And if you need help with that, then I want to encourage you to come to the next builders lab because we part of what we do at builders lab is we work with each and every person at builders lab to help them set a better vision for their school.
We don't play around with 5 and 10% gains, you don't time for that.
What we do is we help you think about what do you really what you want 100% You want all your kids being successful. And that's not unrealistic. It's not unreasonable people will tell you that. But it is not true. You can get there. And then the rest of builder slab we help you figure out how you're going to get there, we show you the way to get there. So that you don't just set a goal and pray and hope you set a goal and get to work. And then you start to get that first big win in the next three months after builders lab you start to see real significant meaningful progress. It works. That's why I really want you to come in January for our builders lab because it's not too late for you to get a big win this school year. And I want to help you figure that out. So this week, my challenge to you ask yourself Are your goals too small. And then take the risk of setting a big goal. You're going to be working hard anyway. And it's just as hard to achieve a little goal as it is to achieve a big goal. So if you're going to have to continue to work hard, you might as well work hard at something that's going to actually feel good. When you actually achieve the goal at the end. You might as well work hard at something that gives you bigger gains than then your little teeny goals are going to give you this one I want you to just up level your goals and then start pursuing those goals. Because you can't lose, you can't lose. If you fail, you win, you're still further along than you would have been for a tiny goal. And if you win, you win, you win, you've hit a big milestone you you've proven that you can actually do it. Either way, you walk off as a winner when you set big goals, #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.
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.