Are You Tweaking or Transforming?


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 139

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're going to continue to examine the way the difference between the way that leaders do things and the way that builders do things, we're going to talk about the difference between tweaking and true transformation. Now before we do that, a couple of really big announcements to come up. First of all, we have sold out tickets for Builders Lab. So builders lab is happening in a couple of weeks. So excited, we've got, I have completely rewritten two sessions already. There's so good, I'm just really excited about it. And we have something new that I'm hoping we can pull off and introduce at this builders lab, it's going to be something that's going to be a particle builders lab and builder ship University going forward. I'll tell you a little bit more about that later. But what I do want to tell you about right now is that if you want to get a sneak peek inside of builders lab, if you actually want to see the entire opening session of builders lab absolutely free, you need to join builder ship university, because we're going to be posting that first session inside of Buildership University. Now, if you're already a member of Buildership University, it'll be there in your dashboard for you. If you're not a member of builder ship University all you need to do is go to and get a free membership. Once you get that free membership, you're going to get all kinds of things, you won't just be able to see the the opening session of Builders Lab. 

Every single month we load a new resource.

This month we've loaded in our month by month year long master Scheduling Calendar. Which is an amazing tool to help you stay on track to get your master schedule done on time. And to make sure that you're building a master schedule that's truly aligned and truly supported by everybody in your school. So that calendar is there inside of builder ship University, when you join today, you'll get access to that, we also get access to dozens of other practical resources just like that for free. Plus, every single month inside of builder ship University, I do an Ask Me Anything session where you can get on and get some coaching from me absolutely free. And we do some sort of training of some sort. And this month, we're doing a vision training, which is really about getting your vision statement straight. So you can come on bring your vision statement, and I can coach you into creating a builder's vision statement that's happening inside of builder ship University. And then I mentioned that you can join for free, so you need to get into builder ship University. And to do that, go to builder ship And you can sign up. Now some of you are going to want a little bit more intense support. And if you do, then I invite you to join my favorite group of builders, which are the builders ship University insiders. And the BU insiders are where I spend the majority of my time these days I am coaching them I'm working on with them, I'm helping them level up their builder ship, we have some really cool things that we're launching this year, we have bu commons where we can get email support, you know, kind of constant chat support. We have office hours every other week where we come and work on our stuff, our challenges.

The nice thing about having office hours every other week is that you come to one office hours, you get some support, you go back and implement it. And then you come to the next office hours and report how it's going and get additional support. So if this if you want more of a sustained, ongoing support to help you grow as a builder, then I invite you to join bu insiders. And again, you can find that a builder ship Alright, let's talk about our big topic of the day, which is the difference between tweaking which is what you were trained to do as a leader and transformation, which is what you learn to do as a builder. Now, you might think, no, I am a transformational leader. I've done all this work on transformation. But when you really look at the work you're doing, you're not achieving transformation, you're just a better tweaker than everybody else. The challenge is that if you focus on transformational leadership or any other kind of leadership paradigm, you are trapped by the confines of leadership, it is still leadership. It's not transformation. Let me give an example. So I am not going to try to change the situation enough to protect people because I don't I'm not here to tell on people but this I was thinking about it recently situation that happened and it is such it captures so well the difference between tweaking and transformation that I want you to learn from it. So I'm going to try so I was working with a client on help Seeing them transform the way that they ran schools in their district. And by run schools, I don't mean, you know, what time do they start? What time the buses come but really thinking about how do you take those schools and set high goals. So the schools are underperforming in this district there, I mean, pretty low performing schools. And for years, they've been that way the culture is broken in this particular district. The there are some, there's some, there's some legacy cultural baggage that they're still trying to untangle. In the meantime, students are failing at alarming rates, and COVID has not helped things.

They need a transformation, they can't continue to do what they've always done. 

They said they wanted a transformation, when they talk to me, we want real transformation, we are tired of tweaking, we're tired, we want real transformation. And they said they bought into build a ship. And they did conceptually until they actually had to implement builder ship in their buildings. And then all of a sudden, I don't know, Buildership feels very uncomfortable. And they started to regress towards their what they'd always done with leadership. And I see this a lot, I have told you stories about times where districts have called me to come in to help them with that work. And to help them reimagine what school leadership could look like for them and to embrace builder ship. And once we get in, and they actually have to start doing the work. All of a sudden, they start backpedaling, and I see it a lot. And, you know, it's, I wish there I need to do a better job of kind of detecting it at the beginning. But I know that there are some things that I hear that let me know that people are not ready for transformation. And maybe you hear these things too. So when people are saying, hey, we want to get better at and they start talking to you about all the ways they want to tweak or all the things that they are doing already, then those people are invested in what they are already doing. And they are not interested in transformation, what they're interested in doing, it's getting better at doing the things they're already doing. They've already bought into a paradigm and a solution. When people come and say, Listen, we know we're not what we're doing is not working. And they talk more about the challenges and trying to understand the root cause of those challenges so that they can solve those challenges.

Those are the people who are ready for transformation. And so when I talk to people a lot of times, and I start, you know, this is a flaw of mine, right? Like when what I can the you know, one of the things I believe is that your biggest strength is also your biggest liability. One of my biggest strengths is that I can see the potential in something, you give me an idea, and I can see, I see it, I see what it's gonna look like at the end, I see how you can make it work. I'm really good at that. The problem is no, but not everybody is interested in hearing how to transfer they like to dream, they don't actually want to do the work it takes to make the dream come true. And so they'll tell me, you know, I really want to, I don't know, increase my graduation rates and get to the point where everybody who comes in as a freshman graduates as a senior in four years, and they successfully transition to the rest of their lives. We don't have any dropouts, kids stick with it. I really want that. And then we start looking at okay, well, how can we make that happen? And I can see it, I learned a lot about the schools. I'm like, oh, okay, well, you could do this, this and this. And then they start saying, No, I don't really want to do that. And I said, we'll be okay, let's try this this, uh, this? No, I don't want to do that one, either. Okay. Let me understand a bit more about why you don't want to do that. What are the barriers you're seeing? Okay, well, let's remove some of those barriers. No, it just starts to make them uncomfortable. They would rather dream than actually make the dream happen. And as Builders, this is something that you need to be careful of. 

If you've truly embraced Buildership, you're going to start seeing solutions where everybody else sees problems.

There are some people who are really married to their problems. They're in love with their problems. They don't envision a world where the problem goes away. And they spend all their time talking about their problem and tweaking around their problem. But they don't really, really want to eliminate their problem. And so you have to be careful because not everybody who's talking about transformation really wants transformation. And being careful involves two things. One, you have to do a self check. There are things that I will often say I want. And then when it comes down to actually doing it, I realized I don't want it that much. You know, my doctor said I really need to be careful around you know what I eat, I need to make sure that I'm moving more I need to watch my weight. You know I'm getting older so I need to Get more active, make sure that I'm eating whole grains and that sort of thing. And I say that I want to be healthy. But do I still eat a big fat muffin every morning when I should be eating something healthier? Am I dedicating a half an hour a day to moving my body in some way versus, you know, at the end of the day, lying down and you know, opening up something mindless and reading it, because I'm just too exhausted. You know, we all do that, we all say we want a transformation. But when it comes down to doing the work it would take to get to that transformation, we realized we really don't want the transformation more than we want to keep things the way they are.

So as a Builder, you need to look for that. You need to be aware of that. Not everybody who's talking about transformation is willing to do the work. Some people are so in love with their problems that they don't want or so in love with the status quo, that they don't want to change, they don't they, they would rather stay in their problems and do the work it takes to solve their problems. Just like I would rather stay, you know, borderline healthy, need to lose a few pounds, then I would rather work out a couple of times a week and maybe give up the muffin every single day. So once you understand that, it keeps you from wasting your time. You see, you can give teachers some feedback. And the teachers can say, Yeah, I want to get you know, I want to do better, and they can seek out your help. But you have to be careful because not everybody who's looking for your help, is willing to do what it takes to move things forward. You may have colleagues who you know, see what you're doing in your school and and they're there. They're jealous. They want to know, what are you doing at your school? How are you able to continue this work in the middle of a a lasting pandemic? How are you able to get your teachers to still be enthusiastic every day? How are you overcoming teacher burnout? How are you still helping students see progress. But not everybody who's asking you for that advice is willing to do what you are willing to do as a Builder.  

Even though people want your results, they don't want to do the work it takes to get there. 

The sooner you learn that as a builder, the better because one of the things we say all the time is that when you become a builder, it makes you a bit of a weirdo because you're willing to do what other people aren't willing in order to achieve results that other people aren't getting. But the more successful you become as a builder, the more people are going to want to know what you do. And you're going to be excited to share it with them. But not everybody is going to be willing to do the work. And so you have to be careful that you don't get frustrated. When you see the way when when you've made it work in your school and you want to make it work and other schools in your district and you start evangelizing the work that you're doing. And everybody else's Oh, I mean, that's you. I remember when I first started teaching AP. And you know my story I was working to really make AP more equitable, give it more access, continue with the rigor, get more people peep more students passing the AP test. And so after that first year, where I was able to triple the enrollment and increase the number of kids passing the AP test and get kids who weren't traditional AP students to be successful on highly rigorous work, a lot of teachers came to my classroom and they out they wanted to know wow, how did you do that? How How did you get this kid? He won't do any work for me? How do you getting How are you getting that kid to do work? Oh, how are you eliminating failure in your on level classes, so you have no failures? Well, I started showing them the student support system. And I started showing them the way that I mapped out AP.

There was always a point where their eyes start to glaze over. Because what they were really looking for what's a tip or a tactic or strategy. They weren't really looking for true transformation. In order for me to get to the point where I had no student failures. I had to transform everything I did. And I had to try some things that didn't work. And I had to re evaluate and revamp in real time. Not everybody's willing to do that. When when people come to you and ask how are you able to get all of your teachers on board and committed to your vision that every everybody is going to be willing to do what it takes to do that. I even see it with vision statements. You know, we have these vision workshops. And I believe the first step to being a builder is you have to have a builder's vision. So we do these free workshops, because I believe that once you have a vision, then everything changes. And people come to the workshops and they say yeah, I want a new vision and then they read me this paragraph long vision statement that they've crafted and I start giving them feedback about why that's another builder's vision. It does include 100% of their kids. It's not specific about a specific outcome you want for those kids, you can't measure it all the things that we talked about, and they're not particularly passionate about it. And then some people like but I spent, I spent two hours working on this, or my team, this is one my teachers like, or this is the one that I had as a school, or we just spent all this money on a consultant who helped us write this vision. And okay, all of those things may be true, but you still don't have a vision that's going to mobilize your school. So are you more wedded to the vision you crafted and spent two hours on or spent money on a consultant or spent three days working on with your staff? Or are you committed to transformation, which requires a new vision, up to you.

A lot of people would rather feel the pain, stay in their problems, and try to tweak their way towards a solution. 

People would rather do that than step away from their problems and really focusing on true transformation. I don't get it. But there are a lot of people are willing to do that, you need to recognize that and you need to make sure that you don't fall into that category. You see, some people, when they come to you, and they see the success that you're having as a builder, they're gonna want to know what you're doing. But what they're really looking for is a tweak a tip, you know, what, which software package do you use? Well, it doesn't matter, your software package, it's just a tool, or, Oh, I see you're using a teacher dashboard, can you send me that template? Well, the teacher dashboard is just a tool, it doesn't. There's no magic in the dashboard. And then the template, what the magic is in that you are consistently thinking about how you help every teacher grow one level in one domain, and one year or less. And the dashboard helps you stay focused on that and keeps you organized around it. So there's, there's no magic in the dashboard. Or they'll say, oh, I need core values, can you send me your core values, and then they just kind of copy yours or hand those out to the staff and say, We want those core values to you know, I see this all the time. You know, one of our big core values is drama free work environment, people like, oh, yeah, because we have too much drama in our in our school, that's gonna be one of our core values. And they don't really want to do the work it takes to have a truly drama free work environment, they just want to be able to say it, they just want to be able to call people out on their drama without recognizing that they are also bringing drama to the table. And they have to they have to, to remove the drama that they're bringing, as well as call people out on the job that those people are bringing.

So people say they want transformation. What they really want are tactics. I'll be on a coaching call with with a group of people. This is not true for insiders, between people who are be insiders, they get it That's That's why they're insiders, right? They're there. And that's what makes the community so special is that everybody in insiders gets it. But oftentimes, I'll do coaching calls or other calls with people who don't quite get it yet. And they are coming to the call because they're hoping to pick up a new tip or strategy. Sometimes I'm doing a whole workshop, and there are people who are there because they really want to solve their problems. And there are other people who are there who are just looking for another tip, another strategy. And they add that to their tool bag there. And they they keep adding all these tips and strategies, and you end up having a hot mess, not a plan. You end up having a an amalgamation of strategies, but no real focus and no real transformation. So I'll be sitting on these calls. And I'll talk to people about you know, they'll say, Well, hey, do you have? Is there a script I can use for a teacher who is really resisting my feedback? Or what can I do about that teacher? And then I started asking questions, I started asking things like, okay, so what, where's Have you understood? or diagnose the source of their resistance? Now? Do you know the teachers will driver? Know? Do? Does the teacher have a point? So are there? Are there certain things that are barriers that are in the teachers way from being able to perform? And do you understand what those barriers are? No. But can I just get a script? Oh, if you don't understand those things, no script will work. And we have scripts. I mean, one of my mentors gave me a great script, and it works most of the time. But only if you do the thinking that has to happen before you use the script. Will the script work, you can't just grab the script and read it to somebody and then hope that that that it's some sort of magical incantation that transforms a resistant teacher to a cooperative teacher in the space of five minutes, so you can get on with the rest of your day.

People will come inside of Buildership University and say "oh, I need this tool."

And I'm like, Well, why do you need this tool? Well, it's cool. It's it's it's a tool. It's a it's a feedback tool, and I can always upgrade my feedback. But to what end? If you don't have a vision, your feedback is not going to be as powerful because you're not moving people towards the right vision. You know, one of the reasons we talk about helping people grow one domain, one level one domain in one year or less, is not because we just want people, you know, climbing the ladder on the teacher evaluation system. But we're picking out where is the domain that is most important and most critical for that teacher to grow. So that teacher can be a part of your school's achieving its vision for your students. That takes more thought that takes more energy, that takes more effort, but it gives you so much more reward. I see a lot of principals bragging about, oh, look at my new discipline system, and your discipline system has 57 steps, and you're still having kids, we're being referred to the office. So while it's a great split, shiny, flashy discipline system, it hasn't solved your discipline problem. It's a tweak. Meanwhile, Builders are quietly eliminating disciplinary issues altogether. They don't need a fancy disciplinary system, because I don't have that many referrals, because kids are happy to be in class and excited about being in class and engaged in the work. So why do I need a fancy discipline system, because my goal is not to process a kids through my discipline system more efficiently, my goal is to remove disciplinary issues all together, to see the difference between the way that that builders think, and the way we were trained to think as leaders.

If you really, really want to be a Builder, you got to stop looking for tweaks, tactics, strategies, I see people all the time posting online, Anybody got a policy for for the lunch room, and people start sharing? Well, I do this in my lunch room, and I do this in my lunch emanate, that sounds great. Here's the problem. If your policy for the lunchroom is not aligned to your vision, who cares? What works for me may not work for you. Because my vision and my focus is different than yours, my population is different from yours. So just asking somebody to give you a policy rather than sifting that policy through your vision mission and core values is useless, you waste so much time chasing the tactic, and tweaking that you never achieve transformation. And this is why so many of us are tired and burned out. Now now, when you're new, or when you're starting out, you don't feel like you have systems. So you know, you grab the systems that were there, or you look for somebody else who is a in your mind that successful principal, and you see what they're doing, and you hear their success story, and you try to pull what they're doing into your building. And let me tell you, it doesn't work, it's a tweak. If you really want to get your footing as somebody who's new to a building or new to the principalship altogether, it you need to establish things you need to know how to establish things in the school, you have to achieve the vision that you want. That's not a tweak. That's not a quick strategy that I can grab on Friday and you know, change the the names and put my school logo on it and, and and printed out and handed out on Monday. But quite frankly, they'll stuff that stuff doesn't work for you anyway, long term. So think about tweaks, they they make you feel good in the short term, because they make you feel like oh, I have more control, I am more efficient. But are you having more control and being more efficient in the right stuff? And do you really have more controllers that just give me the illusion of more control.

Transformation takes more work. 

And not necessarily more time, more energy, more effort, but more of that mental work of thinking through something before you do it, of playing chess, not checkers. Tweaking is like playing checkers, I just got to focus on the move right in front of me. Transformation is like chess, which you're always considering if I move here, what will happen to my school? And will how will this affect my ultimate goal of achieving my vision for my school? So I know that we were taught to do this, I know that we're even rewarded for tweaking stuff, you know, like I go to schools all the time. And I'm like, Okay, this year, we're really focusing on getting all of our teachers to post learning intentions or getting you know, this year, we're gonna really focus on getting our PBIS every, you know, process in place, and those are great, but those are distractions. If you can't show me how that is going to get you to your vision. Why are you doing it? It makes you feel good. That's why it makes you feel like you're doing something that's why but it isn't moving your school towards transformation. And can we really afford especially as stressed out as everybody is to just keep doing work that isn't actually resulting in the transformation that we want for our students? So yeah, it's hard. It's hard because you have to unlearn the stuff that you were always taught to do as a leader, and you have to reshape your mindset. As a builder, once you do that, I always say that when you become a builder, you can see inside the matrix, you start to actually see how things work out. They say that chess masters, when they're moving, they can see four moves ahead, five moves ahead.

When you become a Builder, that's what happens to you, you're not reacting to every little thing, you're not looking for a new tweak to solve this new problem that shows up. Instead, you're saying you're anticipating how the problems are going to show up, and you're doing the work to eliminate those problems all together. It's a big difference. And it means everything to your students. Because your students don't deserve to be tweaked. If they're failing, helping 5% or 3%, less students fail next year, or helping them feel a little less and be a little left behind. That's not serving your students. Eliminating failure, how we're talking, making sure that they're 100% successful, how we're talking. So this week, here's your challenge. I want you to stop tweaking, I want you to start to just to recognize when you are defaulting to a tweak, and I want you to stop playing checkers and start playing chess, start thinking through what is it that I really want from my students? What is my vision, and if you don't want to what your vision is, and you want to help with that, then join builders ship University, we have vision workshops all the time, where you can come in and get support on your vision statements. So I'll help you with that. But get clear on your vision. And then instead of looking for a tweak, to solve a problem that's cropped up.

Start thinking like a Builder and say, "Wait a minute, how do I eliminate that problem altogether?"

That way I can transform the school so that we can achieve this vision, instead of grabbing something quick, because it feels easy, and it makes you feel good? Like you're more efficient. Start weighing every decision through the lens of your vision, your mission and your core values and say, well, this helped me move there is this, this strategy or this tweak that I'm grabbing aligned with that and if it's not, I don't need it. Instead of feeling like you have to do all the things, you're going to get laser focused, so that you are only doing the things that matter. I challenge you this week is to let go of tweaking it's a crutch to let it go at start thinking in terms of transformation. Because when you do that, you stop thinking like a leader who's reactive and and vulnerable to every new change and stressed out and looking always for a new strategy that maybe this time will work and you start thinking #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 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.