How Builders Achieve Their Vision in 3 Years or Less


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 163 Summer Rewind.

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 we are continuing our summer rewind series this week.

Now, I can't I don't know if it's because of all the work I'm doing inside of builder ship university or not. But when I was thinking about what episodes I wanted to revisit, a lot of them have to do with your vision. And I think the reason that is is because as I'm working with people in our free vision workshops, and and I'm trying to help builders kind of find their vision, I'm seeing a lot of resistance. And I'm seeing a lot of people who they know what they really want to do. They believe it in their hearts that this is the right thing to do for kids. But they get distracted. They, they they they can't seem to get off of what I call that school improvement hamster wheel. And so that's why this week, we're gonna rewind all the way back to Episode 90.

The original title that episode was how builders achieve their vision in three years or less. What this episode is really about is how you can get off of that school improvement hamster wheel and stay focused on what's really important. In this episode, I break down the difference between tactics and strategies. And I think that's really important right now this summer as you were thinking about what you're going to do for the entire school year. But you not get so caught up in the individual tactics, that you lose sight of your vision, it's one of the easiest ways to derail your progress towards your vision. And so hopefully, you as you re listen to this episode, it'll be a good reminder to you to stay focused on what really matters most get off that school improvement hamster wheel and keep moving forward.

And before we dive into the episode, just a quick reminder that if you want some help refining your vision, or if you don't have a vision, and and you want to develop one, or maybe you do have a vision, but it does something about it doesn't feel right. And you want to get some feedback and coaching and support. I do it free inside of builder ship University. So right now bill to ship University the weird, we just started a new cohort so it's closed right now you can get on the waitlist for the next cohort, which will be happening towards the end of the summer. But if you're ready to get started right now, and you just want some help with your vision, we do free vision workshops, and we're going to be doing more than we usually do all summer long. So you'll have an opportunity to start the school year with a solid vision. So if you want that help, just go to build a ship and sign up for the free version of builders ship University. And once you do, we'll be sending you updates on when the next vision workshop is you'll get a special invitation to join us. And then you can come to that workshop. I'll be there I coach everybody who comes one on ones everybody gets a turn. Or you can just come and listen to what other people are doing and get ideas for your own vision. Again, that's builder ship

All right, now let's go back to this episode, Episode 90, where we can find out how to get off the school improvement hamster wheel and how to stay focused on your vision in the midst of distractions.

this is something that I've been wanting to do for a while I keep putting it off. And I don't think we can put it off anymore.

The difference between being a boss, a leader and a builder. 

Today, we're going to talk about the difference between the way a boss, a leader and a builder plans and starts and launches initiatives. And I think this is really important, especially now because a lot of us have been taught a way to do strategic planning or quarterly planning. And it's not yielding fruit. It's we go through all of this rigmarole and these exercises and these root cause analyses and we fill out all these planning sheets. And then we don't actually see the results that the plants were supposed to yield. And I think the reason that that's happening is because we are approaching our planning, like either a boss or like a leader. So let me talk to you first about how bosses, approach planning. Bosses focus on tactics, and tactics are specific individual things that we need to do. So they might write a year long plan or they might write a 90 day plan. But it's focused on an individual tactic without thinking about how that tactic functions in the bigger picture. So a boss will do a plan for all we're going to do PB is or the boss will do a plan, we need to do an equity initiative. And so they're buying programs, they're focusing on a particular tactic This year, we're gonna focus on rigor, this we need more differentiated instruction and so they are choosing those tactics and they're building plans around those tactics and here's why this can hurt you, when you build a plan around a tactic, and the focus is on the tactic itself decontextualize, from your bigger goals from the school, you could fully implement the tactic and still not see the bigger result that you're looking for. I mean, how many times have you bought a program and you've implemented, you rolled it out, everybody, you know, started using it. And everyone got so focused on using that program or that new curriculum, that they lost the bigger picture, I see a lot of leaders who are so frustrated because they have a new curriculum, or they have a new reading program where it's something that they're implementing, and the teachers are going through the motions, but they are while they obeying the letter of the law, they miss the spirit of the program, and they get really frustrated.

The reason that they're so frustrated is not because the program is flawed. The reason they're frustrated is because they were planning as if the program were going to solve the problems, they were focused on the tactic that the program provided, rather than focusing on the big picture. And this happens to us a lot. We, we were in some ways trained to do this, we were taught if you find the right program, or the right curriculum, it'll happen. A lot of districts roll out programs and curricula this way. And so that's the model that's been set. I've worked in many districts where they have rolled out a new curriculum, and they just kind of throw it at people, they don't talk to people about why we've chosen this curriculum, how this curriculum is going to help us achieve our bigger district vision mission and core values. It's kind of unconnected, may be the person who selected the curriculum did that kind of thinking maybe the person who selected the curriculum had that kind of plan in mind, but they haven't shared it with other people. And what I suspect is, most of the time people buy something because they saw it somewhere because a salesperson convinced them, they need to do it because another district is doing it or another school is doing it, they went to a conference, they saw somebody doing it, and they're like, wow, that should work for me too. And whenever you grab a tactic decontextualized, from your vision, your mission, your core values, whenever you roll out a tactic without thinking about the bigger picture, you will always be disappointed, you're going to waste a lot of time, energy and money, trying to implement a tactic without, you know, people will do it, people will abide by it. So don't be a boss.

It won't work unless it's connected to your vision, your mission and your core values. 

Now, leaders say oh, you know, you're right. We don't want to do tactics. So what leaders do is, instead of focusing on tactics, leaders focus on strategies, so leaders work really hard to create a strategic plan every year, everybody's kind of required to do that. So you look down through the year, and you say, you look at your data, you you know, look at a couple of data points that look disappointing, you really need to fix this this year. And so we're gonna move these 51 seventh graders, or we really need to get the reading scores for first and second grade up and you narrow things down, this is the way we were trained to do it, you narrow things down, you find that data point, and this year, we're going to focus on that. And the problem with a strategy that's decontextualized, from a bigger vision, mission and core values, is that you go down the line chasing the strategy. And even if you achieve the strategic objective of your strategic plan, you still have other problems, there are other problems waiting there, that strategy, if it's not connected to your vision, mission and core values, it can help you put out a fire, it can help you, you know, keep a part of your school from disintegrating or drowning, but it doesn't move your entire school forward. And so that's when people get caught up on what I call the the school improvement hamster wheel. Every year, they find their biggest problem they spend the year either they solve that problem, or they don't solve it, they don't really solve the problem, they address the problem. And the moment you take your eye off the ball, that problem starts up again.

I've worked in schools where they were in the you know, in danger of being taken over by the state and they do all this activity for a year and they get out of state takeover. But they can't maintain it because they were focused on strategies to get out of state takeover, rather than thinking about how do we build a school that doesn't ever faces danger again. And so strategies don't work. Because strategies are about avoiding a problem dealing with a pain point or doing something that kind of, you know, can fix something over here. And they're not a part of the bigger context of where you want to take your school to talk to too many school administrators. And when we're doing vision workshops, and I'm trying to help them kind of develop a vision for their school, they can't see beyond their immediate problem. And it's not even their fault. This is how we were trained. We were trained when we look at data, we're trying to find the problem. And then find a strategy to address a data point, rather than thinking about what is the bigger picture? What, what kind of school do we want to build. And a lot of times you go and try to fix a problem that, you know, doesn't even need fixing, because that problem is a symptom of a deeper systemic issue.

When we chase strategies, we don't look at the whole system and how everything works together, we look at the biggest problem. 

What's the biggest pain point? And how do I solve it? And I see so many districts do this, too. They come up with this strategic initiative, and we're going to, you know, deal with literacy. That's, you know, a lot of districts right now are dealing with equity. And I hate to say it, but they are doomed to failure because they are looking at strategies or tactics around equity, rather than interrogating the system itself to figure out why do we have these in this inequality in the system, you are not going to achieve equity by ad hoc strategies. And districts will spend years focusing on equity and never achieve it, because they are going from one strategy to the next. I saw it a couple of years ago, there was this flavor of the month thing where you know, there were these big equity speakers, and they were going into districts and basically what they were doing, they were throwing these white privilege grenades into the room and making everybody feel bad about their white privilege, and they weren't solving anything. So you have this cathartic conversation about race in the room, as if that were the point. And the point is not to have a conversation about race. The point is to make it so that you never have to have those kinds of conversations about race again, I've seen districts do this with literacy, we've got to have this big literacy initiative. And they go in and they grab a literacy tactic, they change the curriculum around literacy.

Everybody adopts a new curriculum, they get a little bump in scores, but they still don't get 100% of their kids reading by second grade. And then they jump to the next tactic. This is why teachers feel like they can await us out because they can. And a lot of our training has us focused on strategies, even the idea of writing a strategic plan every single year, that is completely decontextualize. From the bigger vision mission and core values of our school is a setup for failure, even if you achieve your strategic plan. And let's just be frank about this. Most of us never achieve our strategic plan. And we even write strategic plans that that, you know, feel doable, and probably would happen anyway. Because most of us have experience with, you know, getting all excited at the beginning of the year with a strategic plan and halfway through the year realizing there's no way we're going to achieve it. That's because we're focusing on strategy. The whole strategic planning process is a setup for failure. And I see districts requiring schools to write these strategic plans that the moment that they're written on paper, they are just dead, dead in the water. It's, you know, a few years ago, I wrote an article is your strategic plan Do, you go through all of this work in the summertime to create a strategic plan. And by the time you commit that thing to paper, it's all ready dead?

Why do we keep doing that to ourselves? 

That's kind of how leaders approach planning, we think the solution is strategic planning, we are very good at creating plans, we are horrible at actually achieving those plans. And even if we achieve those plans. So what it doesn't make this huge difference, we get a little bit of bump, and then we're on to the next problem. It's a hamster wheel, we we work harder and faster, and we never reach our goals. So you don't want to be a boss and focus on tactics that's just going to have you chasing your tail and running after the newest greatest thing and chasing squirrels. You don't want to be a leader and chase strategy or strategic plans because those are setups for failure the works of fiction and we were great at writing plans. We're terrible about executing and evaluating those plans. Because the process is a setup. Our training around that is a setup for failure. What you want is you want to be a builder. And builders don't focus on tactics. They don't focus on strategies. They focus on creating a concrete, blueprint and masterplan. So, when you are a builder, before you even write a plan, you start out with your vision, your mission and your core values. Because if you create a plan without a clear vision, mission and core values, your plan is doomed to fail. And your plan has to be anchored in your vision, mission and core values. So the first step that we do when we're working with people before we help you create a plan, we first say what is your vision, what's your mission? What are your core values, and if you don't have that, that's where we do the work because if you can have a clear Vision then the plan makes sense. If you have clear core values and how you execute on the plan makes sense. If you have a clear mission, though, the tactics and the strategies that you use are going to become a lot more apparent because they are contextualized. By your vision, mission and core values, your vision and mission and core values, create parameters around your plan, and they make your plan unique to your school.

There are no generic plans. Every plan is unique based on your specific combination of your vision, your mission and your core values. And that's also what makes the plan so, so powerful, because it's personal. It's not just a generic plan, it comes out of the things that mean the most to you, it comes out of here's what we're trying to build, here's how we go about building it. Here's how we treat each other in the process. And that's what's really important. So the first thing is, builders focus on a plan that is anchored in your vision, mission and core values. The second thing they do is they don't create strategic plans in the same way. So what we're teaching now is that builders have a vision, that's a three year vision. So you may have a vision that you want all your kids reading at or above grade level by grade two, you may have a vision that you want all of your students to show mastery on the standards not proficiency you want every student to master grade level standards, you may have a vision that all of your students graduate with a viable post secondary option college, to a four year college university, an apprenticeship or a commission to the military, whatever your vision is, we're saying that you need to focus on how do I accomplish that in three years or less. So what builders do is they think about what do I want to happen? And what's my vision, and they kind of, they kind of look forward three years, they look at how am I going to achieve this vision in three years. And then they chip away at the progress towards their vision in 90 state 90 day cycles. So you have a vision we work with you have the vision, you create a vision and the vision has to include all students.

What do you want to see for 100% of your students, in the next three years?

A lot of people say wow, and then they start writing these little limp visions, because they don't actually believe that they can do it in three years. We don't know, you're going to have a bold vision for three years, and it's going to include all of your students. And then builders have a process for achieving that vision. It's not just a pipe dream, there are systems that you put in place, there is a process you follow, and you can achieve your vision. In fact, our builders are achieving their vision in between 18 months and three years. That's the process. So that's what builders are thinking about. They're always thinking about, okay, we're gonna plan in three year cycles. And then we're going to execute in 90 day sprints. And so that's how builders Think about it. This is our vision, this is our mission, this is our core values. And then what they do, the way that they do it is they're not making plans, we're going to do this, we're going to do that we're going to do that, then they stop and they say, What's keeping us from achieving our vision, mission and core values right now? What's in the way, what's the biggest obstacle? And then what they do is they go and they say, Okay, this is our biggest obstacle. So we're going to spend 90 days removing an obstacle.

So rather than adding to their work, every 90 days, their work gets easier, it gets more clear, it gets more focused, because they're removing an obstacle. Let me show you what I mean. So let's say that you have a vision that all of your students are going to demonstrate mastery over the reading and math standards in the next three years, not just proficient. We're not trying to get them to proficient, everybody's going to be at the mastery level. Okay? So then you say, all right, why aren't our kids all at the mastery level right? Now you go do the work, you, you use the builders blueprint to help you figure it out. And what you realize is that teachers are not teaching to mastery. Okay, so how do we get everybody teaching to mastery? What's the first step? Well, the first step is that teachers don't even understand what mastery looks like, and they don't understand how to get to mastery. So we're going to spend 90 days helping teachers understand what does mastery look like? And what is the progression to mastery. So we're going to do some interrogating of the standards to understand what does mastery of these standards look like? And at the end of 90 days, the teachers are not only going to have an understanding of their standards and what mastery looks like for those standards. They are also going to break those standards down so they know what are the steps to mastery. In order to get to mastery first kids have to know or be able to do this, then these are the skills are going to have to develop and then this is the process the thinking processes that they're going to have to have. In order to master these standards. We're going to spend 90 days removing our biggest obstacle to mastery.

Now contrast that approach to the way that bosses do it. 

Bosses aren't even thinking about ever getting 100% of their kids towards mastery, they don't even believe it's possible. And so instead, they may force everyone to go through some sort of unpacking the standards exercise. Because it's a tactic because they heard about it. And at the end of the time period, they have all these unpacked standards, but no improvement and teaching or learning in their schools. Now imagine how leaders might approach it, they're not going to just grab the tactic, their strategic plan for the year is that we've got to have more rigor in our classrooms. And so unpacking the standards may be part of it, and they may focus on it for an entire year. But next year, they have another focus. And so the teachers have all these unpacked standards. But at the beginning of the following year, when there's a new new strategy in place, the teachers abandon the unpack standards, and they do something else. And every single year, we're lurching from one initiative to the next. Rather than having this, this, this clear focus towards a tangible and desirable goal. So the builder looks at this and says, You know what, I want everybody to mastery. So we're going to spend 90 days unpacking the standards at the end of 90 days, we are going to have clarity around what our standards are. And we're going to have clarity around the steps for to achieve mastery. The next 90 days, we're going to take those standards that we've we've interrogated, we're going to take those steps towards mastery, and we're going to start implementing implementing them in the classroom. And every 90 days, they are making steady, consistent progress towards the goal. And when you apply the tools of builder ship to that that keeps you focused that help you track and monitor along the way, you achieve a success every 90 days. And that success leads into the next 90 day cycle into the next 90 day cycle. And you look up 18 months to three years from now. And it doesn't seem like such an unachievable goal once you have the process.

Every child achieving mastery feels not only doable, but necessary. That's a difference. That's a difference between the way that bosses and leaders focus and the way that builders focus. So if you are tired of chasing tactics that don't pay off, or if you are just frustrated, because every year it seems like you're doing a new initiative, you're trying to get people geared up. And then at the end of the year, you you work really hard, you may see a few incremental gains. And the next year, you're on to the next thing, if you do want to get off that school improvement hamster will start planning like a boss, stop planning like a leader. Start planning like a builder. Start thinking about what is your three year target. That's your vision. And it's something for all students. So your three year target can't be in three years. We want to you know, increase reading scores so that we have 10% more kids that proficient stop doing that nonsense. What do you want to see happen for 100% of your kids in three years, think about that, create that kind of powerful vision. And then every 90 days, you're making progress, you are going to implement the work to achieving that vision every 90 days, you're not going to write a year long strategic plan, you're going to write 90 day plans. You're not going to pick a tactic and say we're going to focus on that for the year. No, every 90 days, you're coming back, you're saying okay, this is what we've done. What's next, what's our next big obstacle? We always say here at mind steps new level new devil. When you write a year long plan, you can't anticipate all the challenges you're going to face along the way.

It's why so many of our strategic plans get derailed. 

Who could have anticipated COVID? Who can anticipate a teacher going on maternity leave one of the key teachers who was a, you know, critical part of your plan or all the other things that happened during the school year, we can't anticipate that when you plan a 90 day cycles, you have time to recover. And as you get closer and closer to your goals, there are going to be new challenges that you can't even imagine having right now because you're too busy, you know, kind of mired in where you are You don't even know how to predict what those challenges are going to be. But when you plan and you execute in 90 day cycles, then every time there's a new challenge, you can come back and and say okay, how do we adjust our plan, the vision doesn't change. But your your tactics and your strategies will necessarily change the closer and closer you get to your vision. So stop setting yourself up for failure. Come on over. Join us. As builders, you don't go from one frustration to the next you go from one success to the next success. You have a plan and a process that makes a vision that feels kind of uncomfortable right now because you've never done anything like that before. We will help you get a process that will make that vision for 100% of your students doable. You'll be able To see how it all maps out how how you can get there and how you can get there in the next 18 months to three years. So, stop thinking like a boss, stop thinking like a leader, and shift your mindset. Start thinking about what vision you want for your students think about how you might achieve that and the next three years, and then execute on that vision in 90 day cycles. You'll save yourself a lot of frustration, you'll have a lot more success stories to tell. And in three years, you'll achieve your vision, like a builder.

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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