Summer Rewinde: TOLO?


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 160.

How do builders like us make a dramatic difference in the lives of our students in spite of all the obstacles we face? How do you keep your vision for your school from being held hostage by resistant teachers, uncooperative parents, ridiculous district policies or lack of time, money or resources. If you're facing those challenges right now, here's where you'll find the answers, strategies, and actionable tips you need to overcome any obstacle you face. You don't have to wait to make a difference in the lives of the people you serve. You can turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Let's get started.

Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson.

And today we are launching our summer rewind series. Every summer we spend some time taking a look back at some of our most popular episodes episodes that that remain timeless and share with you strategies that you should be thinking about over the summer. And that gives you a chance to revisit some of the concepts that have mattered most to you. And today is no exception. Today, we're going to revisit episode 122. And in that episode, I introduced a term that I'd heard recently at a conference Tolo.

Now we've all heard of the term yellow before you only live once. But in this case, this episode talks about how, as builders, our approach to our work really is less about YOLO you only live once and really more about Tolo, they only live once. And because every year is the is the is the one shot that we get to help our students have a good year for that year of school, that it's really important for us that we are building schools, where every year is a good year for our students. There are only going to be third graders once Hopefully, they're only going to be sixth graders, once they're only going to be eighth graders once they're only going to be 11th graders once. So are we doing everything that we should be doing to make sure that our students are having a successful year, and an amazing experience in school, which means that we can't settle for tiny little incremental gains. We can't settle for little tweaks here and there. We have to make sure that we are building schools where 100% of our students are successful because they only live ones.

Now the reason that we were rewinding to this episode is because many of you are entering into your summer planning season. And a lot of times when we sit down and we plan for the summer, we are so intent on filling out the CIP plan documents the way that our district mandates or you know, implementing some new thing that we want to try or grappling with last minute master schedule changes or trying to fill vacancies. That a lot of times we lose sight of the opportunity we have every summer to make sure that we are planning an amazing experience for our students. If your summer plans don't guarantee success for more and more of your students every single year until you get to 100% you might want to rethink how you're doing your summer plans. So enjoy this episode rewind where we talk about Tolo and the original episode is episode 122. And we're rewinding to it again today, and I hope you enjoyed the episode.

Let's talk about YOLO, TOLO and TANY. 

So the other day I was in a conference, I think it's really important for me to kind of make sure that I am growing professionally. So I go to a lot of professional development workshops myself, I attend conferences. And then to be honest, this conference was a disappointment. It wasn't what I was expecting, I was attending it virtually. And the virtual experience just was really not good. One of the reasons we work hard with the builders lab to make that virtual experience good is because I've been to a lot of virtual conferences, and they're kind of bad. But anyway, so I was not happy. But I believe in bringing the builders mindset to conferences. So I was in a session and I was listening and just trying to extract whatever value that I could from the session. And the speaker said something that just stuck with me. He said that instead of YOLO we should be more thinking about tola now background for those of you who don't speak millennial acronyms. YOLO is an acronym for you only live once. And usually people use it as an excuse to do hedonistic things, you know, I'm going to treat myself to a fabulous vacation because hey, you only live once, I'm gonna do this risky thing that that that may seem kind of risky to you. But hey, you only live once.

It's this idea that you only have one life. And so you need to do what you can to make the best of it. And he was talking about how in life, we go through life with this kind of yellow attitude, you know, I'm going to treat myself to something ridiculously expensive, because hey, you only live once and and we're doing all of these things to kind of indulge ourselves because we only have one life, let's make the best of it. But he introduced this idea of tolo and what would happen if our perspective shifted from YOLO? You only live once to TOLO they only live once? How would we treat people differently? If we recognize that they only have this one life? in it? The speaker used an example. He said, What if you had a really good friend, and your good friend only had six months to live? And you knew it, but you couldn't tell your friends? So your friend didn't know it? How would you treat that friend differently if you knew that that friend only had six months to live? And he challenged everybody in the audience, that we should be treating each other that way every single day? And when I walked away from that I started asking myself the question, how would we treat our students? If we knew that our students only had nine months to live nine months to learn? What would we do differently if we knew that that was all they got? And even though that's a thought exercise to help us develop more compassion, and more of a sense of presence. It's not far from the truth is it? I mean, after all, every year, our students come to us and we've got that nine months to make an impact. We've got that nine months and for for us, it may be just another year of school, but for our students, it's the only time they will ever be a first grader. We hope it's the only time they'll ever be a ninth grader. We hope it's the only time that they will ever experience It's that grade level that subject that level of learning in their lives.

They Only Live Once. 

So, rather than running around and treating ourselves you only live once, what would happen if instead, we came to work every day with a tolo attitude that we only have this year, that that we, if we're going to make an impact, we only have this nine months, or 10 months of the school year to do it? What will you do differently? Well, I tell you what we wouldn't do, we wouldn't be putting things off, we wouldn't be settling for these tiny little incremental gains. And can I go on a rant for just a moment I was working with a client couple weeks ago. And I want to try to be careful, because I don't want to kind of reveal the details. But I had to have a hard conversation with the client, because the client hat was working on a vision, and was really resisting this 100% vision. And so the client was writing a vision that the client had been taught to write by somebody else that they had hired to help them. And the vision that they had paid a lot of money to get developed, was something like, you know, we're going to increase reading proficiency from 30% to 35%, in the next five years, and I said, Really, you you don't think you're going to be able to increase by 1% a year for the next five years. And the client said, we haven't been able to do that. So this feels aggressive. Up, it's going to take you five years to go from 30% to 35%. If that's true, then there's something remarkably wrong. And again, you've heard me say this, when you set a vision that doesn't include 100% of your kids, what you're saying is that, you know, in five years, we'll only be failing 65% of our kids instead of the 70% that we're failing right now, that's not a vision.

Now, what would happen? If that client took a TOLO perspective into that vision? Well, all of a sudden, that vision doesn't seem silly, it seems criminal. Because if our students only have this one shot, if we only have this one shot to make an impact on our students, then what you're saying is that they only live once, and I'm going to fail them. There are 65 to 70% of the students right now that I am planning on not doing anything about. Let that sink in. Yeah, I see a lot of people offering vision workshops. And, you know, it drives me nuts, believe me, because most of what we're taught about writing visions, you know, they don't mean anything, either. The workshops are very aspirational, and they sound great without any kind of heft around them. There's no accountability to the vision. So, you know, we see visions come out of those workshops that look like, you know, every child every day, whatever it takes, I have no idea what that means. And it doesn't hold me accountable every child every day, no matter what it takes. What, right, or we see visions like, you know, striving for excellence, whose opinion of excellence? And what is the tangible impact of that striving for excellence on kids totally up to interpretation. So there those workshops, and then have people recognize those workshops, kind of create these, you know, flimsy vision, so they try to go the other extreme and, and they create these vision statements that are driven by, you know, SMART goal criteria. So, you know, they'll say things like, we're going to go from 30 to 35%, reading proficiency in the next five years, which is, you know, again, you've already heard me kind of rant about that. But there's nothing in the middle. But if you took a TOLO perspective to things then then a TOLO perspective would say, all right, if they only live once, I don't have time to write these flimsy vision statements that don't mean anything. 

I have to help them produce something, I have to have an impact on their lives because they only live once. 

If you took a total perspective of your vision, you wouldn't be writing the SMART goals that didn't include 100% of your students. Because if you write a goal that leaves out kids, then you're saying they only live once, and so they're doomed to failure. When you go into work every day and you remind yourself this is it. This is my one shot. It changes how you think about your vision. It changes how how committed you are to making every day aligned with your mission and your core values when you choose TOLO. Then you can't sit back and And have what I call a TANY perspective. Look at me, I'm making up my own acronyms TANY T-A-N-Y, for there's always next year. You see a lot of us if we're really, really honest, we're bringing a TANY perspective into our work every day. Now, sometimes it's for good reasons. I mean, right now, things feel really overwhelming for a lot of us. And so we feel like, we have to put off our vision work, our mission work, our core values work, because there's just so much health going on that's demanding our time and our attention. And so we comfort ourselves by saying, well, maybe I'll get to that next year. We, we know that we are not doing everything that we can for kids. But we tell ourselves, well, I'm doing the best I can. And you probably are. So there's always next year. And you look up five years later, two years later, you haven't done anything, you haven't accomplished anything. You're there's so many kids who are still slipping through the cracks. And if you really believe in total, they only live once those kids slipped through the cracks. And those years where they could have been learning and thriving and growing are lost to them. Can't make it up.

That's the hard truth about it. There's some things you can make up Yeah, I can. I can make up learning gaps and things like that. But there are experiences that you can't make up. The experience of being a feeling successful at the beginning of my school career changes how I approach my work throughout the career, there's the experience of failing and feeling like a failure changes how I approach my work going forward. If we really believe that they only live once, then it's incumbent upon us to provide them with such a meaningful, powerful learning experience, that we're making the best of every single year they have. When you really come to work every day with a total perspective, there's a lot of junk, you're just not doing. Good. I was sometimes not always. But sometimes I asked myself, if I only had six months left to live, what I'd be doing this. And, again, it sounds morbid, but it's a thought exercise that helps me really tap into my priorities. Because I really do believe you only live once. And so if that's true, then I have to make sure that I'm filling my life with experiences that that create a rich, meaningful life. And if this is something that I wouldn't necessarily be doing, if I only had six months to live, then why am I doing it now? because, frankly, I don't know how long I have to live, maybe I don't have but six months left to live in? Is this how I want to spend it?

Well, we're good at doing that for ourselves. A lot of times we're terrible at doing that for students. 

If this was their only year in your school, if this was all they had? Are you building an experience? That is going to add meaning and purpose and to their lives? Or are you wasting your kids time? If you only have this year to make a difference? What are some of the things that you probably would not be doing? And then ask yourself if I wouldn't do it under those circumstances should I be doing it now? And in most cases, the answer is absolutely not. Now I hear but yes buts out in the ether. So I'll answer some of those. Yes, buts now, but yes, but my district is making me do it. Well, I mean, here's the thing. There are a lot of things that your district ask of you. But when you approach those district mandates like a builder, you take that work and you continue to make it meaningful because they only live once tolo. Yes. But you know, they're just there. This is a huge in an unusual year. Yeah. But if you're thinking like a builder, and you're using that Hello approach, how can you make sure that this unusual year has meaning for your kids? Yes, but I'm just so overwhelmed right now. Well, you're probably overwhelmed because you're doing a lot of stuff. That doesn't matter. But when when you kind of look at your work through the lens of they only live once tolo, a lot of stuff you're doing seems a lot less important, and you really ought to stop. So I've been thinking about this a lot. I've been thinking about a lot when it comes to schools, but I don't want to just preach at you because I'm not currently in a school. I want to think about it too. And so one of the things that my team and I got together at our weekly meeting and dinner As we said, right, our clients only live once. So how can we serve them better?

What was really interesting about that conversation and about that exercise was that we realized that there were a lot of things we were doing that really were more for our convenience rather than for our clients. Good. So we had to stop. It was a hard conversation. There were some things that, you know, felt sacrosanct to me, you know, sacred cows that I had in our business, but when you really look at it through the lens of TOLO, you realize, not necessarily the right thing to be doing, I gotta let it go. And then here's where the meeting went from hard to a lot more fun was when we started thinking, if our clients only live once, if this is the year that the only if this were the only year that they had to make an impact. How might we serve them better? Oh, my goodness. That's where the fun began. We started coming up with all kinds of ideas for how to make that builders lab experience, a life altering experience. We start things that we've been doing for years, and we've thought we're good now have become great. When when we started thinking about the redesign for build a ship University, we started thinking about it through the lens of our clients, and and this tolo perspective for our clients. Oh, my goodness, the idea started flowing. And I'm so excited about that work again. I'll be honest with you, this has been a tough year, it's been a tough year for you. And, and because I, I walk alongside of you, it's been a tough year for me to watching what you're going through. But when we took time as a team to have that tolo conversation about you, I got excited again, I got more energy again. Because that's the perspective that allows you to make the biggest difference. If you have a Tandy perspective, or if you don't have a perspective at all, because you're just so overwhelmed that you don't take time to be reflective about your work and about what's really important. This year is gonna feel like a slog. But if you sat down with, with your teachers with your admin team, and you said for a moment, let's think tolo they only live once.

Let's look at this year, as if it's the only year we've got to make an impact on kids. What would we do differently?

 What would we stop doing right now? What would we start doing? And then enjoy that conversation? be reflective, start thinking if this were the only year I had to make an impact on these kids lives? If there was no next year? What would I do differently? I promise you, you if you really sit down and be reflective about that and have that conversation, you're going to start coming up with some ideas that are going to be Earth shaking. It frees you up to focus on what's really important, rather than being distracted by all the other things that are happening in the world right now. And helps you serve your kids at their most fundamental level. This is why we became educators to begin with, this is why we are here, because we wanted to make a difference. And and we've allowed circumstances and policies and politics and drama to distract us from why we came here. But when you sit down and you say no, no, no, no. tolo they only live once. What if I only had this year and there was no Tandy? There was no there was no, there's always next year, there's just now. These are the circumstances I have, how do I make a difference? That's, that's when you're thinking like a builder. Because what builders do is we don't wait for ideal circumstances to get started, you know, the whole promise we make.

How do you turn your school into a success story with the people and resources you have right now? Because they only live once. And if you're waiting for the perfect time, or the perfect opportunity, or the perfect set of circumstances of the perfect staff. You're missing the chance to make an impact right now. So I get it. A lot going on. I get it. These are not ideal circumstances. So what they only live once. So what are you going to do today to make sure that you make the best of the year your students have right now. That's how you walk into a year and deal with the circumstances and still find ways to make a difference. 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 builder ship 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. Inside 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 buildership and get started writing your school success story today.

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