How to Get Out of the Weeds
and Do Work That Really Matters


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 134

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 are continuing our vs series. And we're going to be talking about the difference between working in your school working on your school and working beyond your school. But before we do that, I do have a couple of really cool announcements.

We are still in the middle of our 12 days of Buildership. 

So during the month of December, every weekday, we are sending out another resource absolutely free. And we have some incredible resources we're sending out right now, we have a resource on the signs of a toxic school culture, we have a whole guide for how you overcome it toxic school culture and build a healthy school culture, we have our failsafe feedback framework, one of our most popular resources. And if you want to get access to these resources, there are a couple of things there a couple of ways you can do it. The first way is that you can sign up for the resource each day. So we're sending if you are a part of our school leadership, reimagined mailing list, you can just when you get the email every single day, you can just click on the resource, every resources live for 24 hours, and then it evaporates and we go to the next resource. So that's one thing so you can do that. And if you're not already a member of the school leadership, reimagined mailing lists, why aren't you we send you the episode every single week, plus all all sorts of other cool things. And to sign up, you can simply go to school leadership reimagined, come and sign up. 

Now if you are a member of the mailing list, you can do it that way. But if you want to hold on to these resources and keep them for as long as you're a member, the easiest way to do that is to join builder ship University, we are going to load all of these resources inside of your account and build a ship university so you have access to them for as long as you're a member. And you can join buildership University absolutely free you don't even have to go you can get all these resources for free. Plus all of the other resources that are inside a bill to ship University absolutely free. And so if you want to do that and keep maintain that access to these resources, plus get access to all of the resources we're uploading every single month plus our live Ask Me Anything sessions where you can get on and ask me anything get help with whatever you're working on. All of that is available to you inside of builder ship University. And to do that to join there just go to and you can sign up there for a free account. Or if you really want an upgraded experience, go ahead and upgrade to VIP the buildership University insider account, we back them in such a cool community of people. They're my favorite people ever. And inside of the Buildership University insiders we get together every other week. We have Live Office Hours we do work Sprint's together where we're building things together. 

We have a party coming up this week, and we are sending out party boxes right now.

Each party kind of has a theme. And during this party, we're going to be sharing some of our favorite hacks, tools, things that we use to to make our work a lot easier. So we're sharing those during the party. We have a book club where we read a book probably once a quarter once every other month or so. And so they kind of say Hey, Robin, do you is there a book we can all read to help me with x and then I go find a book and then we read it together? This month is really cool because the author is going to be joining us to talk about the book and so when I can I try to invite the author to talk about the book and so this month we have the author come in to talk with us exclusively about the book so all of those things are happening inside of bu insider and again to join go to builder ship Now, builders lab we still have I think we have a little bit less than 20 seats left and builders lab that's still plenty for you to grab your seat or from Are you to be to bring a team member to bring several team members. And one of the things we're going to be talking about today is the difference between working in your school on your school and beyond your school. And this is one of the main reasons why I really think you need to bring a team to build a ship University, I'm sorry, to builders lab bring to build a ship University to but I'm specifically talking about builder slab here, because when you come to builders lab, you have three days where you can step away from your school. And if you're having the kind of school year that a lot of the builders that I'm working with are having this year, you need those three days, you you're so in the weeds, it's hard to kind of take a step back and be strategic. And before you know it, the school year is over.

The only thing you'll be able to say about the school years that you survived, I want you to do more than somebody I want you to thrive. And so if you come to build your slab in January, it'll give you an opportunity to take a step back. And strategically think about how you can move the rest of the year forward how you can move your school forward during the rest of the year. So that when you look up at it at the end of June or wherever, whenever your school year ends, you can see progress you you can see that you've built some things that that you can start building upon for the following school year, you would have just survived this year, you'll thrive. So builders lab tickets are still available. And you want to go to mind steps That's mine succinct comm slash builders dash lab. Alright, let's talk about this versus this is something I've been wanting to talk about for a while. But I wasn't, I don't know that I was quite sure how to talk about it. Because this is really a business concept. So there's a book that a lot of entrepreneurs read called the E Myth. And in that book, it makes a distinction between working in your business and on your business. And the trap that a lot of entrepreneurs fall into is they're so they start a business they thought it was they selling pies, and they're so busy making pies and giving pies to customers that there, they never take a step back and and build the real business around making pies. And so they stay stuck and they stay small.

I've noticed a similar phenomenon in schools, there are a lot of principals who stay stuck.

They are so busy working in their schools that they never work on their schools. And then there's even a worse phenomenon because some of them may steal a few moments to work on their schools, but they never work beyond their school. So their school stay stuck. And so this is a marker of a great principle, a great principle doesn't ever stay stuck in the work or on the work of their schools. Great principals look beyond where their school is currently. And they think strategically about where they want to take their schools. That's what makes somebody a great principal, the we've been sold a bill of goods, if we think that we're ever going to become a great principal by just working hard in our schools, and a lot of people right now that's what they're doing. They think that being a great principal means that I come in on the first one in the building every day, I'm the last one to leave, work hard, I'm always stressed out, I sacrifice my weekends, and I sacrifice time with my family, I sacrifice my hobbies, I sacrifice my health, because I need to stay at work. When I was in the principal intern program at my school, the training program, the aspiring principals program. When I was still in the school district, one of our colleagues died at his desk on a Saturday and they didn't find him until I think that the next night or the following day, because he was in the in the building on the weekends. And he is he was working so hard, trying to become a good principal, there was an assistant principal, he's trying to do all of his assistant principal work, and he was trying to build his portfolio to become a principal that he died at his desk.

I remember when that happened and how it how it kind of struck us that you know, I thought to myself, it's no job is worth dying at your desk. Now, I don't know that the job killed him. I'm not saying that. But that's not the story that I want it to be told about my life. She died at our desk. And yet when I looked at how I was working, how I was being trained to work. That story could have been in my future. Because I was always at work. I was always there. I was always at my desk I was in on the nights and on the weekends. I was staying late, you know I would come to to work in the dark. And then I'd go home in the dark. And I was so busy working in the school. So I was in charge of the master schedule and that was there working and getting the master schedule, right. I was doing my observations that I had to do. I was getting into classrooms I was making lunch schedules and then alternative lunch schedules. When those didn't work, I was doing my duty on bus duty, every single day I was even doing things like riding the buses for some of the buses that were having real problems were there with kids, I would ride the bus for you know, a couple of days to get the bus settle down so that that wouldn't be an issue, I am handling all of the teacher problems and handling all of the student issues and, and going to all of the committee meetings and all of the leadership team meetings and creating the agendas, showing up at the teacher. The the the PLC meetings and making sure I'm providing support there, and doing research to make sure that I'm keeping up with best practice and attending conferences, on and on and on.

All of that work was work IN my school. 

It made me a good AP. That's not the work of being a principal. One of the things that I often tell first year principals is that, when you one of the things they don't prepare you for is that as a principal, your your work should be shifting from doing work in the school, to starting to work on and beyond the school. It's a hard shift, a lot of a lot of first and second year principals are really trying to do the work that they were doing as an AP and taking on the principles work. And they've lost sight, they don't have that vision they don't, they're not driving the mission and the core values of the building, they're not thinking beyond, they think that if I'm going to be a great principal, I've got to roll up my sleeves and do the work. That's not your job. That's not the gig. So if you find that you are spending a lot of time working in the school every single day, that will make you a great AP, it will not make you a great principal. Now, what will make you a great principal? Well, great principals are thinking about the bigger vision of the school. And so this is the difference between Chad trying to work in the school and working on the school, a great principal is putting systems in place to make the school operate better that that's what a good principal will do, they will start working on their school so that the school itself is better, because they put systems in place. They're not spending all their day putting out fires and chasing symptoms.

Alright, so if you see a problem that is occurring over and over and over again, you put a system in place to fix it. So you are doing the master schedule, you're not just doing the same master schedule you've done every single year that you've ever done the master schedule, you're looking at the schedule and trying to figure out how do I make the schedule best serve my kids, and you're creating a master schedule that will do that. That's the difference between kind of working in the school doing the day to day duties and tasks, and the and managing all the interruptions versus working on the school. What do you need to do today to make the school better when you hire the right people for the job, you're working on your school, you're making your school better, when you build a master schedule that actually does a better job of serving kids, you're making your school better when you put structures in place that that are designed to make sure that you are optimizing learning for students, you are making your school better you are working on the school. That'll get you pretty far. But here's what builders know.

This is what separates Builders from even people who are considered really good principles. 

When you're a builder, you don't just work in the school, you don't just work on the school, you also work beyond the school. This is where that strategic thinking comes, you're not doing the day to day task, you're not even tweaking some of the systems that are happening to your building to make your building run more smoothly. You have created a vision, a vision that you haven't realized yet something that that involves success for one 100% of your students. And so when you create a master schedule, you're not just working out the kinks and trying to optimize learning, you're creating a master schedule that gets you closer to that 100% vision, when you are are designing a discipline system. You're not just kind of tweaking the system to make it more efficient that's working on your school. You're working beyond the school that you have right now designing a disciplinary system that does the work to eliminate most of your disciplinary issues. That's a different kind of work. You see, we were trained to work in the building. So we get very busy, we work very hard we do that work, or we were trained to work on our school and we start putting systems in place that make our school more efficient and effective. But if you're ever going to be truly great. You can't approach your work the same way that you were trained to approach it.

You've got to think beyond the building you have right now and start putting into place the building blocks of the of the school that that you Dream of the school that you envision the school where all of your students are successful. And that means that you have to re examine some of the systems that you have in place, not tweak them, overhaul them. You know, we did a couple weeks ago inside of Belgium University, we did a sprint, a system sprint. And we did something that we hadn't done before, we were trying a new approach called system mapping. And, by the way, I love system mapping, this is something that you can do yourself where you take, you map out a new system. And what you do is you design the system for the school you want to build, not tweak the system that you already have. Some people are bringing their systems together, and we are mapping them out together and critiquing each other systems and giving each other support around it. And the big challenge that I kept making to the builders who were participating in the sprint was this. Yeah, that is a better version of the system you have.

Have you considered whether or not the system you have is in alignment with your vision, mission and core values?

In most cases, it was not. So I said, let's take it off the table. What would that system look like? And it's amazing that we we never were so in the weeds, we never take time away, to sit down and think about what should the system look like not what does the system look like now? But what should it look like? What is the system we should be designing? Well, that's what we did. And what was amazing is that we realized that a lot of the steps that we have been taking a lot of the things that we thought were sacrosanct about how we did school and every day, were just really artifacts from from somebody else's dream somebody else's vision, and they really didn't match where we were headed, there was a better way to do things. The problem is that so many of us are so far in the weeds that we can't see beyond where we are. So we just put our heads down, and we work and we work and we work and it's like being on a giant treadmill because you work harder. But if you're working harder in the existing system, while the existing system is the system that's making you work hard, so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy prophecy you, you cannot outwork the system that you already live in, because the system is designed to give you the results it's giving you so working harder is not going to change the results. But that's how many of us do we are stuck working in our schools. And we don't realize that there's a better way, we don't think there's a better way we don't think that there's even time to to dream about a better way or imagine a better way, and so we stay stuck.

Now, some of us realize that that is a trap working solely in our schools. So we try to put some thought to put aside some time, you know, on a weekly or monthly basis basis to work on our schools. So we sit down with our leadership team, and we say, hey, our discipline system isn't working, what can we do better, and we design a new detention slip, or we create an alternative to detention, or we say we need PBIS. And we add more work on top of the work we're already doing by trying to incorporate PBIS into a system that already exists. Yeah, that's working on your school. But is it transforming your school isn't making your vision more likely. We often work on our schools when when we sit down and we say hey, I'm going to redesign the master schedule. And so we're going to move to a block schedule or we're going to move to we're going to try to add another period in the day for students to work on things they want to work on. And while those tweaks may give you a few results, they never get you to 100%. Because you didn't you you're just tweaking a system that already exists. You're working on your school, but you're not thinking beyond what already exists.

If you really want to be a great principal, you need to step away from what already exists. 

You need to look at what's coming. You need to pay attention to the way the world is going you need to pay attention to how things are shifting politically in your district. You need to pay attention to some of the trends and patterns that you're noticing in the school. You need to pay attention to your staff and their current capacity and and how they might grow and what they might need in the future. You need to pay attention to how your community is changing what those community demographics are looking like and how that's going to impact the kinds of students you're going to be getting into your school in a few years. You need to be paying attention to the trends in education. I see all this conversation about reading we swing back and forth between phonics and whole reading and something in between. Pay attention to those trends and think about what does that mean for your students. If you've got a vision that 100% of your students are going to be reading at or above grade level by second grade, you really need to pay attention to what the research is telling us. The latest research is telling us about reading and what it's going to take to help students become readers. Whatever it is that that you're trying to build, you need to take a step back and just look at how things are going. Because you know that I was saying this quote the other day inside of bu insiders that you know, this that Wayne Gretzky, quote, which he says, I don't skate to where the puck is, I skate to where the puck is going.

That's what you need to be doing. And can't do that. If you're caught up in the weeds. You can't do that. If you are stuck. Thinking about lunch schedules, or you're spending your whole day addressing discipline problems that are really a symptom of a bigger broken system around relationships with kids, you need to be able to step back so that you can look at the symptoms, notice those patterns, and then start thinking about what is the root cause? And what can I do to address the root cause so that I eliminate problems rather than simply batting at problems and, you know, temporarily solving symptoms, but not really solving the entire problem. If you really want to be a great principal, you've got to get yourself out of the weeds. I know it's hard. I mean, many of you would love to do that. But instead you're spending your day subbing for teachers who are absent covering lunch duty for teachers who are absent, filling out contact tracing information for entire classrooms that may or may not have been exposed at COVID. Gov talking a teacher off the ledge, you're doing that kind of work, and it feels like I don't have time to do it. So you just put it off maybe next year, but you can't afford to do that. So here's what I'm proposing and challenging to do this week, we've got to start shifting from staying in the weeds and doing work in the school. We've had, we even have to start shifting away from doing work on our school, to thinking beyond our current school, and starting to think about what kind of school do we want to build.

So my challenge for you this week is simple. 

I want you to find an hour, an hour, just one hour, where you think about your school beyond where it is to what needs to happen to get your school to where you want it to be based on your vision. Now, I know that an hour might seem like a luxury, I mean, I can tell you that this month has been a really busy month for me inside of blind steps. And I'm doing a little bit more traveling now. And we have a lot of stuff we have to do. And we have a condensed time to do it. Because we will close down mindsets between Christmas and New Year's. So I don't have the whole month to get it done. So I'm trying to condense all of that work so that when I take that time off, I can really take that time off. And so I have been doing a lot of work in mind steps and on mine steps and I haven't had a whole bunch of time to think beyond. And you know what's happening, it's creating this low grade level of stress inside of me, because my subconscious is, is thinking about that vision. My subconscious is working that out. But I never have time to really give myself the space to think about what's happening. And I'm losing sight of what it's for. I remember a couple weeks ago, I had a particularly challenging week, it was crazy. I was getting up early, I was working late. I was you know, normally I try to kind of stop work at a certain time and go to dinner, I try to practice what I preach. But I was finding that I was stopping work, eating dinner and then picking back up work and taking the laptop and sitting in bed and working until 11 or 12 o'clock at night. And you know, it's just isn't a sustainable thing to do. And it goes against everything that I preach here on this podcast. And I talked to our clients about and I found that I was doing that. And because I was so busy working in an on mine stem store, I was not thinking beyond. And it was affecting me it was affecting my satisfaction with my work. I was losing focus, I was just getting caught in the weeds. 

Not only that, but I was absorbing a lot of the stress of the principles that I serve. But on a you know, on a monthly basis, I talked to hundreds of principals I'm working with hundreds of principals directly. So not just talking to them in the podcast. We're working with them directly. I see the stress on their faces, I see the challenges that they're facing. And I was absorbing their stress, because I was so busy in the weeds with them that I couldn't see the other side. And so when you're in the weeds, it feels very stressful and I was absorbing that. And so I forced myself to take an hour just step away for a minute and think beyond. And I was doing it on two levels. I was thinking Beyond for mindset. So there's also thinking beyond for some of the principles on coaching, beyond what was happening right now, getting back to their vision for their schools, thinking about what we needed to be doing next, in order to help them to make that progress this year to show that progress, to move them closer to the vision that they're so passionate about. And I have to tell you that just that one hour, giving myself permission, just one hour, to do that, to step away from everything, and to think has given me such a major breakthrough, you're gonna see some of this next year.

In fact, that one hour away, helps me think about what my next book is going to be about. 

So I'm starting a new book. And I can thank that one hour for giving me the idea, the germ, the book has been kind of percolating, for a while I didn't know it, it was in my subconscious, just stepping away for that one hour, I was able to come up with an idea, let it take shape. And now we have a new book that's going to serve 1000s of principals all over the world, just from that one hour, if you don't give yourself permission, to just step away an hour at a time, to think beyond your current school, to dream to, to let the patterns that you're noticing kind of kind of gel in your mind and start to make sense in your mind to, to, to think about what's working, what's not working to, to analyze the trends that you're seeing around you. So that you can play ahead of where things are, rather than always reacting with to start thinking about what is the root cause and why we keep having the same problem over and over again, so that you can actually solve the problem once and for all. If you don't give yourself time to do that you will constantly stay stuck. So this week, I just want to invite you one hour, and there's no agenda for that hour other than you can't work in the school, you can't work on the school, you think beyond go back to your vision. Think about what vision you started with, what is that vision for 100% of your students. And if you don't have a vision, and you want help with that, then you need to come to our next vision workshop inside of builders University, we do a free vision workshop once a month.

The workshop is where you come in and you get personalized help it's first come first serve basis, but you come in, you bring a germ of an idea, we help you formulate that into a fully articulated vision. So you walk away from that call with your vision, submit it. But to spend some time thinking about your vision revisiting that, what is it that you want? What is that outcome you want for 100% of your kids? And what's standing in your way right now? What what is what is getting in the way, what's keeping you from moving forward, and challenge yourself to go beyond COVID? Challenge yourself to go beyond I'm playing substitute teacher all the time, challenge yourself to go beyond, I'm losing staff members less than right and I can't get a good sub. Challenge yourself to go beyond that. That's in the school stuff. That's what's happening right now. Let's start thinking about what's the bigger systemic issue. That's, that's taking place? Where are the trends? What's holding your teachers back? What's something that you could do right now that could move your school towards that vision. Don't limit yourself to tweaking what exist, think about what you wish you had, what you might build, what what you could create, if only you had the time or resources to do it. Because I find that even if it feels impossible, just by dreaming it you know, there's a thing that if you can conceive it, you can achieve it.

Just by giving yourself time to dream of a solution, you can recognize it when you see it, you can put building blocks in place to build it. 

So you want to give yourself time to do that. All I'm asking for is one hour this week, to dream to to go beyond the school that you have right now and dream of the school that you're building. I promise you that that hour will be well spent. You know people talk about self care and yeah, okay, great. A massage, love a massage, love, you know, foot rubs love a cup of tea, and a lifetime or holiday movie or whatever. I love that stuff. That's great. It gives me a chance to recharge, but that's not moving my school forward. You want some self care this week. Give yourself time to reconnect with your vision. Give yourself time to dream beyond the school that currently exists. Give yourself time to mull over some of the bigger deeper root cause challenges that your school faces and and give yourself time to not don't put pressure on yourself to come up with a with an answer or a solution. Just give yourself time to mull it over without the pressure of having to have a bandaid solution on that problem. Two seconds after you started thinking about it. Give yourself space to dream. You know I've told this before but when one of my first jobs I worked for a band who was an entrepreneur owned a business, and I said to my father at the time, you know, all he does is come into work and he puts his feet up on his desk and he stares out the window. Being a millionaire is easy shoot, I can do that. What I didn't realize he was doing was he was visioning beyond the current business he had, he was thinking about new business opportunities. He was working out challenges that his business was facing in his head. That time was not a waste of time. He wasn't just staring out the window.

He was using that time to do what only He could do. You see your teachers are teaching and your your APs are doing a lot of the management of the school and your guidance counselors are counseling and, you know, the job of the principal is to figure out where are we headed as a school? And how do we get there? That's your job. That's what being a builder is about. You're the only person in the building who for whom that's in their job description that is your role. And yet, how often do you spend time doing that piece. Everybody can cover a classroom. Anybody can do the contact tracing. Only you only you can develop a vision for your school and and figure out how to make that vision work. That is why you're there. So I know their demands that get in the way. I don't want to minimize those. What I'm asking you to do is to be intentional this week, just one hour. Then see, after that hour, try to make it a habit. Not asking for a lot, one hour a week.

Put your feet up on the desk, stare out the window and start thinking beyond the school you have to the school you want to build. 

I promise you, it's gonna pay off in spades because you are not working on your school. You're not working in your school, you are thinking beyond your school. And doing that is going to generate all kinds of ideas and help you solve problems that feel insurmountable because you are reconnecting with your vision. And you are using your resources to do what only you can do, which is to figure out how do I move my school forward and you're doing it like a belter? 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 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

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