Turning Your Biggest Challenges Into
Your Biggest Opportunities


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 138

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. Today we are going to continue our verses series. And we're going to talk about how builders think differently than leaders about their challenges. And so this one we're going to talk about, are you spending your time talking about challenges? Or are you spending your time turning those challenges into opportunities? Now, before we dive in, we have a couple of announcements. First of all, we had a really good time inside of builder ship University last week, where we did our master scheduling masterclass. Every year and builders ship University somewhere around the beginning of the year, we sit down and we help you take a look at your master schedule and get you set up so that you will have a very easy, painless, profitable, productive master scheduling season. So during that masterclass, we first spent a lot of time looking at our master schedules and, and trying to figure out where are our master schedules still misaligned, to our vision, our mission and our core values.

The fun part starts happening.

We started spending time really dreaming about what that ideal master schedule would look like looking at challenges and problems that you found that your master schedule this year and fixing them and starting to plan for next year. And what I love about the master scheduling, the master class, and the time that we spend together is that we actually get really creative, we become innovative about our master schedule, we realize we're not bound by the schedule we've already had. And we can create a schedule that better serves our students and our teachers. And we can do it within our district guidelines. And that is what makes it really fun. We're also going to be inside of Belgium University spending time, over the next few months doing what we're calling a study halls where we come we bring our master schedules and we work on our master schedules together, we learn from each other, we innovate, we work out challenges together, so that you don't have to like lock yourself in the office and figure it out on your own. You can come to those study halls I'll be in those study halls, we'll be working through challenges and innovating and figuring things out. Now, if you're not a member of builder ship University, well, first of all, what are you waiting for, we have so much value inside of vilja ship University, and we you can even get started for free. And if you join the free builders ship University, one of the things that we're releasing this month is a master Scheduling Calendar. And this calendar is a year long master Scheduling Calendar that breaks it down month by month, what you need to be doing to make sure that you are building a strong and powerful master schedule. Now why is that? Why are we spending so much time on master scheduling? Well, your master schedule is one of the most powerful tools you have to manifest your vision, your mission and your core values in your school. It drives everything. When I work with schools, one of the first things I want to see is I want to see your master schedule because I don't care what you say your vision is or your mission or your core values is your real values, your real vision, your real mission are revealed by your master schedule.

So if you want to grab that master Scheduling Calendar, all you need to do is join builds us up University we automatically load the resources that we release every single month inside of your dashboard. So they're they're waiting for you and you can join any time and you can join for free. So go to builder ship university.com Sign up and you'll get the master Scheduling Calendar. Plus you'll get all of the other resources that we've released inside of build ship university so far, we've got I don't know close to 100 resources inside of builder ship University at this point, things that are very practical that you can use right away to move your school forward. So go to build your ship university.com and sign up today. And if you want more help more support more, you know time with me coaching from me, then I urge you to join I'm building up University at the insider's level. And at that level, we have bi monthly office hours. So every other week we get together with Office Hours you come you hang out, you ask questions, you bring challenges, we help give you solutions. And you come back the next time. And you tell us how it went. And, you know, we work through that and support you. We have monthly master classes, you know, this month was the master schedule. And every single month, we focusing on something that is in alignment with your rhythm of your school year to help you when you go out into your school, you'd look amazing. You know, a lot of people say that the insiders say that being in BU insiders. It's like having a secret weapon, right? So you come to be you insiders, it's private. It's not a Facebook group, you know, we're on a totally separate platform. So it's very private, and confidential. You bring your challenges, you solve them that you go back to your school, you look like a genius, you look, you look so amazing, because you figured it out. And you have this whole tribe of builders behind you helping you figure it out. So if you're not a member of insider, again, builders ship university.com. And that gives you that extra tier of support. The last announcement is that we only have a few days before you will no longer be able to get builder's lab tickets to our January builders lab. 

Our next Builders Lab is virtual, it's happening January 31-February 2.

Last week was the deadline to guarantee your box that you know, we had to cut that off. But if this week is the deadline for cut off for tickets, and we are so close to capacity, it's not even funny, we only have a few tickets left. And we have some people who are working to get POS and that sort of thing done now. So if you if you, if you try to buy a ticket, and it sells you were close, I'm sorry, we'll have a few seats left. But January 14, is the last day to get tickets, and you really want to come to build your slab we are we are kind of revamping it a little bit to make it even more practical, especially for those of you who are in the midst of all this COVID fatigue, you know, giving you some really practical strategies for how you can still turn this year into a success story. But more importantly, when you come to builders lab, you get refocused on the things that matter. It's three days where you get to step away from the chaos, and get refocused on what really matters for your school. And not only that, but come away with a plan to make sure that you get what matters done this school year. So again, if you want to come to builders lab, Friday is your last day, January 14 is the deadline. And you can get your tickets at mine steps inc.com/builders-lab. Okay, you know, every year, we have a mindset, so our team, we have a yearly meeting, and this year is no different. But one of the things that I have been noticing is that, as we've been, you know, working on serving the builders that we serve, who we serve, we have been drifting away from some of the principles that we teach. And so this year, we said, Listen, we have got to eat our own dog food. That's, I don't know, why is that that's such a gross phrase. But I don't even know where I got that. But anyway, you get my point, we need to practice what we preach.

So we did, when we sat down, and we did our yearly meeting this year, we got back to what we teach about how to run a yearly meeting. And I need to tell you that this was probably the best yearly meeting we've ever had. And the reason that it was so good as a we we we adhered very closely to what we teach we that you know, sometimes how you teach something like I know that already know, we followed the format, I followed the format of thinking about the meeting ahead of time, and then we did something else that I've taught in the past, but I want to kind of bring it back up to your consciousness, especially now because so many of you are dealing with so much uncertainty and stress. And everybody's looking to you for answers. And you know, so I wanted to bring this back to your consciousness to help you deal with that. And to tell you how powerful it has been for me. One of my challenges, and I don't know if it's because I'm mastery driven or what but one of my challenges is that I am really hard on myself, I was telling somebody the other day, you can't be harder on me than I am on myself. And because of that I see when I see challenges, they can feel overwhelming. If I can't figure out if I don't immediately know how to solve those challenges. So when we were sitting down and we were using that yearly meeting format that we teach you how to use and builders lab and and build a ship University, we got to the point where we had to look back on 2021. And I hate that part of the meeting because that's the part of the meeting where you have to acknowledge the things that didn't get done.

You have to acknowledge your failures. 

Nobody wants to do that. Especially not me You know, I had some failures in 2021. And so as I was preparing for the meeting, and I started listing these failures, the failures started to reveal what to me felt like character flaws. And the failure started to, to bring out some of the negative thinking that often plagues me, I don't know if you go through this where you try to be positive as much as possible. But after you've worked hard at something for so long, and you don't see results, then you start to think maybe it can never happen. So maybe for years, you've been trying to raise test scores for students, and every year you try a new program or do something different. And every year, you fail to hit the mark. So over time, you start lowering that bar, and you start telling yourself this, this thing that maybe we can't do it, or we can't do it with the teachers we have, or we can't do it with the students we have, or we can't do it, under the circumstances we're facing right now. Also, if we are used to something for so long, we will begin to make it make sense, even if it doesn't make sense. So, you know, we'll say, well, there have to be a number of failures every year, not everybody's gonna pass, or they'll sit or we'll say to ourselves, hey, you know, I mean, discipline problems happen, kids are stressed up out, of course, they're we're going to see more discipline problems. And we begin to accept things that we shouldn't accept. And our leadership training teaches us to do that we were our leadership training tells us that we need to be that naive, we that led me to believe differently to believe otherwise is naive. So yes, I don't care how good you are, there are some kids who are going to fail, there are some kids who you are going to see some discipline problems. And so we work on building systems to deal with things like discipline problems and failures, when we never question whether or not there should be failures to begin with, or there should be discipline problems to begin with.

So one of the things that I did this year, is I took every negative thought in my head, every challenge that I'm facing, that felt insurmountable, and I wrote them all down. And although that sounds like a very depressing few minutes, it really wasn't it felt empowering to just kind of see all those things on paper. And before I got overwhelmed, I did what builders do you see leaders Look at that. And they say, Alright, how do I deal with this challenge? How do I mitigate this? This is coming up, I got to deal with this, you know, so we look at, okay, we're going to have a number of teachers shortages, teachers are going to be out and maybe my school is going to close? And how do I just deal with it, rather than looking at those challenges and turning them on their head. So this year, I did something different. I looked at all the failures from last year, I looked at all the challenges that I'm facing this year. And I took those statements. And then I said, Okay, for each one, I'm going to turn it on its head. So let me give you an example. One example is that I've been trying to hit a goal of, well, that's, I've been trying to hit a goal. And I've been trying to hit the goal for the last four years. And I've never been able to hit the goal. And so the thing that I began to tell myself is maybe I don't have what it takes to hit the goal. Have you ever done that way, where you start to wonder if maybe you don't have what it takes, I started, I started noticing that I was experiencing some imposter syndrome. So I would say, you know, I'm up here playing like, I know what I'm doing. And I really don't, because obviously, if I knew what I was doing, I would hit that goal. And that kind of self talk, even if I wasn't conscious of it, it was governing the actions that I took. So I was starting to shave off the goal a little bit. I was starting to be defensive in my planning, because I didn't want to have to deal with that failure another year. And I bet you do the same thing.

Do you find yourself questioning your ability? 

Wondering if you have what it takes? Do you find yourself starting to shave away at your big goals, your big vision, because you can't figure out how to get it done? And you've tried and you've given it your best and you still haven't hit the mark? So maybe maybe that Mark isn't hittable, maybe that's what you start telling yourself? Well, I was doing that. And one of the things that I realized is that I was making decisions about my future based on my paths. So because I had never been able to hit the goal, I began to plan for 2022 in a way that that acknowledged that I was not going to hit that goal in 2022. either. I was starting to create defensive mechanisms I was already starting to to make excuses. And those excuses started to loom even larger, because I needed those excuses to protect my ego from the fact that I wasn't going to hit this goal again, at least that's what I was telling myself. And we do it unconsciously often. So you know a lot of us come back in January and we're saying okay, we're, you know, we've had the first half of the year. It's been tough, but we figure some things out. And now this is the time that we really need to kind of put our feet to the fire, because testing is coming up, and because, you know, we only have this amount of time left before the end of the school year. And, and and we start to make plans, but are those plans being driven by our negative self talk? So here's what builders do. Because when you're trained to be a leader, you're you're kind of trained to do that you're kind of trained to, to, to start shaving away at goals, if you can't hit them, you're trained to, to give voice to that negative self talk, and create strategies and systems that are defensive. What builders do is, they take those same challenges. And they find the opportunity and the challenges. And so that's what I did this year, I took a goal that I wasn't reaching, I took the negative self talk, I wrote it down, I said, I don't have what it takes to reach this goal. Then I turned it on its head. And I asked, what would it take to reach this goal I'm so busy, worried about I don't have what it takes, I'm not even sure what it will take.

When I sat down to start thinking about what would it actually take to reach the goal, I realized that I did have it. And I just needed to focus on doing those things. So all of a sudden, that that challenged that thing that I was trying to hide from that thing that was making me feel bad and like an imposter. Now, it's an opportunity, because now I know, ah, this is what it will take, I can do that. No doubt, I'm going to hit the goal this year, because it's as long as I stick with that plan, as long as I do what it will take, I'll hit the goal. So now instead of looking at that goal and feeling, you know, like it's an indictment of my inability to get stuff done, I'm looking at that goal. And I feel confident that I'm going to hit that goal. If I stick with the plan. We've been doing this a lot with some of the builders we're working with inside of builders ship university, you know, we're saying, you know, what is it? You know, what is it that you've well, we can't do that, because if we do that it'll create too many discipline problems. Well, what would it look like? What would it have what we have to do? So that that that, how would we have to design this, so it doesn't create disciplinary problems. And when we started having that conversation, we got excited, because now we're looking at the possibilities, that thing that challenged that was holding them back, they were not doing something because they were worried about the discipline problems, because every time they done in the past, they'd experienced discipline problems. When they redesigned it with a builder's mindset, all of a sudden discipline problems, were holding you back. And now you got excited. And it was actually better. The thing that we were designing actually turned out to be even better than the thing that we're thinking about before. Because we thought about it like a builder. People say all the time, you know, when we talk about the vision for 100% of your students? Yeah, I'm never going to get there. That's your right, you're never going to get there with the school that you have. But that's not the right question.

The right question is, what would it take? 

What would our school have to look like, in order for this to be true? And when you when you when you ask that question, and then you answer that question, well, you have a blueprint that helps you design the school that you need to be building. It also shows you where you're wasting time. Now, if you're wasting time trying to mitigate a challenge, rather than eliminate a challenge, well, you're going to work really hard and see very little results, because you're still living with that same challenge. We'll build as soon as we say we don't want to mitigate a challenge. What do we need to do so that this challenge is no longer a factor? So, you know, people say, Well, I mean, there's some challenges, I can't do anything about. You know, for instance, I have a superintendent who is, you know, demanding that I do things this way, or I have a policy that that says I have to do this this way, or I can't do anything about COVID. All right. Well, let's take it let's let's look, what is it that you want? What support do you need from your superintendent? Your see what you think your superintendent is a barrier? Well, a builder would say, Well, what do I really need from the superintendent? And then they ask, is there another way that I can get that support? And if not, how, what do I need to do to get the support that I need from the superintendent? And that starts to open up opportunities where before there are only robots and challenges. Now COVID We've been living with for almost two years and over two years now and and so we may feel like our hands are tied. I mean, what can I do if I don't have teachers there? I don't I don't have enough teachers to teach we we have to close down. Okay. There may be some logistical things you have to do. But your question is, does that mean learning stops? Does that mean that we slow down in pursuit of our vision enhances Of course not. So the question becomes how do we continue to pursue our vision and stay focused on our vision, even in the midst of crisis?

People are telling me while our kids are there, we're seeing so many behavior problems this year. And I have just, I've never seen behavior problems like this before. That's a legitimate challenge. You are seeing more behavior problems, but then the question needs to become, what environment do we have to create, that will mitigate or remove the behavior problems altogether? You might have to go deeper, you might have to ask, what's caused? What do we think the root cause of that behavior? Problem is? And what can we put in place so that the behavior problems are no longer an issue? You might ask? How can we help students learn in spite of their acting out in spite of their behavior problems? Or how can we turn these disciplinary issues into valuable learning experiences that put our kids ahead, even though it rather than behind because we are using and leveraging this opportunity to help students learn how to govern their behavior, and manage the social emotional learning needs that they have? differently? And better? Here's another one, a lot of times people are saying, well, how can I, you know, they try to do this, and they say, here's something I need to get done. Here's a challenge. I'm not able to get this done. And we actually did this in our meeting, I would say, I'm not getting this done. I am not good at this. So I was trying to figure out well, how do I, you know, how do I get it done? How do I be good at it? And my team pointed out, maybe that's the wrong question. Because if I think about it, like a builder, if I'm not getting it done, I'm not good at getting it done. The next question needs to be does it really need to be done, and then does it need to be done by me, what we found is something that I was working really hard trying to get the discipline and the focus to get done was something that I probably shouldn't be doing at all anyway. And maybe that's why I'm not doing it, or having the discipline to do it, because it's something I shouldn't even be doing.

That's the beauty of looking at every challenge that you have, and turning it into an opportunity. 

So here's my challenge for you this week, I want you to take some time, just go someplace quiet, you know. So you're not going to be disturbed. Sit down and be honest with yourself. Write down every negative thought you have about your ability to do your job, you might write down, I don't have what it takes to transform a school, I am too overwhelmed to focus on the work I need to focus on right now. I am so busy subbing for classes that I don't have time to do the work that I need to do, I am so busy working out disciplinary issues, that I can't focus on what I really want to do. My teachers are too burned out to do anything new, anything else new this year, you go through that entire list, write every challenge down. And then instead of thinking about it like a leader and trying to fix those challenges, which creates a lot of stress for I don't know if it does for you, but it does for me, instead of going to a leader and going through it like a leader and trying to fix all those challenges. What I want you to do is to look at those challenges like a builder and find the opportunity. So when you're saying My teachers are too burned out to take on anything new right, now, you're going to ask a couple of questions. Should they be taking on anything new? And what would have to happen to eliminate the burnout? Or you might ask, Why are my teachers burned out? And is it legitimate? Are they legitimately burned out? Is there something that I'm asking them to do? That isn't really helping them do their job? Where are they spending their time right now? What are they focusing on? And is that the right thing to be focused on? Or do we need to get focus back on our vision? And is this new thing that I want them to do? Legit? Is it something that I should be asking them to do? And if not, what is it that I'm really after? It was talking to principal this week, and she was just saying My teachers are just focused on the wrong thing? And I said, Well, what are they she's at the beginning of the year, we had a CIP plan, we had all of these CIP goals that we you know, wanted to do these teaching behaviors that we wanted to do, but my teachers are too burned out to focus on it right now. And I said, Well, the problem is you're focusing on the behaviors. What was the endpoint? What's your vision? What were those behaviors supposed to get you? How were those behaviors aligned with the vision? What do you really want to accomplish? When she told me your vision, I said, well focus on that.

Your teachers may be too burned out to do all of the behaviors that you outlined on your CIP plan, should they be doing them in the first place? Is that the only way to get to your vision or is there another way? And once we have that conversation, it stopped being about getting into the skirmishes with teachers because they don't have a learning intention written on the board or getting into these, you know, tug of war battles with teachers because they didn't use the the five Part warm outside, warm up sequence that you outlined the beginning of the year. And instead, you get teachers focused on the goal, then all of a sudden, instead of fighting with people about getting them to do something that may or may not make a difference, you are involving people in conversations that really matter, which have to do with how do we still achieve our goal in the circumstances, your teachers, instead of being adversaries, who you're trying to drag across some imaginary Finish Line outlined by your CIP plan in June or July, whatever it was, you wrote it. Instead of that they become partners, they become co creators have that learning experience, and they own it. And if you wrote down that, I don't have what it takes. Ask yourself, what does it really take? And once you understand that, if you really don't have it, where can I get it easily? And go get it? And then you don't have to worry about anymore? If you're saying I can't move forward, unless my teachers do x, then you might want to ask, why aren't they doing X? And is there another way to move forward that doesn't involve teachers doing X at all. And you keep going, and you take those problems one by one, and you start interrogating them until you find the opportunity and the problems. Now, if you do that, and I hope you do, two things will happen. Number one, you're going to amaze yourself, with the solutions you come up with, especially two problems that you've been struggling with for years. And number two, you're going to feel a sense of relief, a pressure is going to be gone. Because you will once you do that, you'll realize that all these things that are keeping you up at night, all these things that are stressing you out, are solvable. And that you have right now what you need to do it one of the reasons we say all the time is that we help you turn your school into a success story with the people and resources you already have, is because I honestly believe you already have what you need to be able to accomplish anything you want to accomplish. You already have it. So discover it, find it, leverage it in the right way, and you can achieve your goals. It's not pie in the sky, you know, it's not a fortune cookie, I really believe it.

If you are a Builder, you don't let problems get in your way. 

Instead, what you do is you turn those problems into opportunities, you find the opportunity, the problem, and this exercise will help you do it. And once you find the opportunity in the problem, you go for it confidently, your colleagues are still stressing out, you're not stressing out anymore, because you know how to turn problems and opportunities while everybody else is spinning their wheels wasting time, you know, but say, Well, I can't get to it this year, maybe next year, you're continuing to move your school forward. Well, while everybody else's culture is taking a huge hit, because of all the stresses going on, your culture is getting stronger, while everybody else is is reconsidering whether they want to be in education, you're planning your next move, and you are becoming this superstar principle and other people are trying to figure out what are you doing that's so different. Got to get this, folks. If you really want to be a builder, you can't stay stuck in leadership thinking which is that every problem means more work means another tactic. Another thing No, if you really want to, to, to to to do the things that you came to education to do to make that difference to be a principal or an administrator who actually get stuff done. You can't fool with that leadership thinking anymore. When it comes to your problems. You can't waste your time spinning your wheels, solving problems that may not need to be solved in the first place or mitigating problems. So you don't have to deal with the fallout or being stuck in your challenges. Instead, what you need to do is to start seeing your problems through the lens of build your ship. Start taking your challenges. Instead of letting them stress you out. unravel them a little bit, interrogate them, turn them on their head and find the opportunity in your challenges 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.

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