School Leadership Reimagined - The Problem IS the Solution

The Problem IS the Solution

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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 167. 

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 faith. 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 continuing our summer rewind series by rewinding all the way back to Episode 103.

One of the reasons I wanted to rewind to Episode 103 this summer is because I have been finding myself saying the same thing over and over again. And that is the problem is the solution. So this is something that I have been trying to retrain my own mind to think about. But it's also something that we've been using inside of builder ship University office hours where I'm working with folks or coaching people in other contexts. And that is that if we stop looking at our problems and looking for solutions to our problems, and actually see the solution inside of our problems, then we open ourselves up to solutions we hadn't considered before.

And I know that sounds really kind of esoteric and the you know, philosophical. 

But I promise that when you listen to this episode, it will become a lot more clear. You know, one of the things that we've been using this a lot for, to kind of come up with creative solutions around our thinking about recruiting teachers, so many of you are probably dealing with the same thing. You've got unfilled positions, right now there is a teaching shortage, a lot of people are leaving the profession. And so it feels like the only solution is we got to put warm bodies in the space, we got to start with long term cells, we got to take anybody even if they're unqualified, and not a good cultural fit, because we have to start the school year with bodies in front of kids. But when you think about that problem, like a builder, other options come along. So the problem is a solution. We were working with one builder, and they were saying that they had a department that was running short, because a lot of teacher vacancies in that one department. And we started looking at the problem. Why is that a problem. And we realized very quickly that there was a solution inside that problem. Now, I won't share that with you. Because that's kind of, you know, something that is confidential, something we do inside of Office Hours. But I'm telling you that when you start looking at the problem and understanding why that problem is a problem, you're more likely to find a solution in the problem than you are outside of the problem. So anyway, you'll have to listen to the episode to kind of understand a little bit more about what I mean. And in this episode, I'll give you a couple of really concrete examples.

But one of the things I want to do is challenge you right now to think about a problem that you are currently experiencing. And instead of trying to look for a solution outside of that problem, just do a thought experiment, try to figure out, Is there a solution inside the problem. And when you do, I bet you're gonna come up with all kinds of really creative ways that you hadn't considered before to solve that problem, and to solve it once and for all. And that's really what we're doing as builders, we don't want to keep solving the same problem over and over again. Instead, we want to find a way to make the problem go away, eliminate the problem altogether. And one of the best ways I know to do it is to continue to follow this advice. And it's something I'm trying to focus on doing myself, you know, with varying degrees of success, but the problem is the solution. And the more you think like that, the more you're going to find solutions that other people haven't even considered.

Now, before we jump into the episode, I do want to tell you about our vision workshops, they're still going on. We have been adding them they've been great. I've enjoyed meeting several of you who have come already, but if you haven't come yet because you think I don't have time or vision is something super plus, trust me you want to come to these workshops, it is the only opportunity that you have to be able to get one on one coaching from me. So the way the workshops work is at the beginning I spent about five or 10 minutes kind of explaining why you need a different kind of vision what how a builder's vision is different. And then we get to work we we work with E To person on the call one by one. And we help each person come up with a vision that will better serve you a vision that actually can drive the work for your school. Now, if you want to come and check it out, you don't have to, you know, be coach, you can just come and say, Hey, I'm just here to hang out today, some people do. Sometimes people will come to the first workshop and just kind of hang out, get a gist of it and feel for what it's like. And then they'll come back again, after they've given their own vision, some thought, and then get feedback in real time and support it.

I'm challenging around that helping you kind of create a vision that actually will serve you this year. And the best part, it's absolutely free. So if you want to join an upcoming vision workshop, there are two ways to join. The best way is for you to join bill to ship University free because not only we get access to this workshop for free, but anything we do for free all of our free resources, all of our free trainings are there on your dashboard available to you. But if you're not ready to make that kind of commitment yet, the next best way is to go to build leadership university.com. And there'll be a pop up on the page that will help you see when the next vision workshop is happening. And you can just click a link to join the vision workshop that way. So both of these joining builders ship University for free, or just joining the vision workshop can be found at builder ship university.com. Now let's go back and take another listen to episode 103. The problem is the solution.

let's talk about this idea that the problem IS the solution.

The first time I heard that phrase was actually with regard to gardening. So one of my hobbies that I am really kind of ramping up with now is gardening. The last couple of years, my husband and I have started kind of a garden in the city and, and we've been growing the garden. And I've gotten really fascinated with this idea of permaculture and the more I dug, the more I realized that permaculture is really a collection of strategies that have been around for a long time that indigenous people have used for years as land stewards. It's a way to garden that is an extractive. So in other words, you're not taking stuff away from the earth you are you are working in copper in cooperation with your and I know that sounds woowoo. But one of the things that I really love about this concept is that no matter what problem you face in your garden, you don't say, Oh, I need to go buy this, or I need to go buy that. You look at the problem itself. And you find the solution within the problem. And so, again, but if you're not a gardener, it's not going to make sense. So one of the things that they say is that a lot of times people say well, I have a problem with grasshoppers. And somebody who's in that permaculture space will say no, you don't have a problem with grasshoppers, you have a deficiency of chickens and turkeys. Because if you had chickens and turkeys those grasshoppers would be a boon to you because it's free food for your chickens and turkeys. So the problem is the solution. Okay, so that's farming. But let's talk about what this means for school because I've been seeing this so much happening in schools lately, that it is really, you know, it's almost I'm having this lightbulb moment where I've always kind of thought about what you got to think through and figure out the problem. But now I'm looking for the solution within the problem. And it's changing everything.

So let's talk about the way bosses, leaders and builders do that. So bosses, when they see a problem, what bosses do is they try to make it go away. So they're going to react, they're going to come up with some kind of quick solution that just tries to make the problem go away. And often it doesn't go away, it exacerbates the problem, or it masks the problem. But bosses don't care because they just don't want to have to deal with problems. So when bosses go into work every day, they see themselves as someone who just kind of goes in and says okay, if there's a problem, what's the quickest, fastest way I can make that problem go away. And that's their, that's their whole their whole agenda for looking at problems. And so you don't want to do that you don't want to go into that boss mode. Because as you know, when you do that you cover up problems, you exacerbate them, you give them time to fester, you discount the impact that those problems may be having on your students or your teachers or their families. And so you don't want to be a boss. We know that. leaders, when they see problems, they try to solve problems. So we have a problem with climate and culture. So let's bring in PBS, we have a problem with student engagement. So let's try some research based engagement strategies. Oh, john Hattie says that this strategy really works. And it's important. So let's use this strategy. And so what leaders are always doing is they're out there looking for solutions outside of their school. And the danger with that is a lot of times you fall in love with a solution with out thinking about whether or not that solution actually is going to solve the problem. So we go to conferences, and some school gets up and does a presentation about how they found the solution to solve this problem with their school and how it really worked. And you're there taking notes and you follow up with calls and you do all this stuff. And you try to bring that program into your school only, you didn't consider that that school had some circumstances that were unique to them that don't apply to you.

That solution was perfect for them, but is it perfect for you? 

Maybe you read a book, and you say, Oh, that's really cool. You know what that Listen, I write books for, you know that that's what I do. I've written a lot of books. I want people to read those books, and I want them to be inspired by those books. But I'll be honest with you, I cringe a little bit when people see one part of the book one thing that they want to do and they grab that and they're like, Yeah, I love that. Or you know the same thing with builders. A lot of people come to builders lab and you know, somebody sees microsites and they're like ah, micro Slice it, that's it, I'm going to do micro slicing. Well, microsourcing is wonderful. I love micro slicing. And for those of you don't know what I mean, micro slicing is where we show you how to go into a classroom. And within five to seven minutes of observation of instruction, you have figured out the root cause for why that teacher's practice is either working or not working. And when you follow up with the feedback that you're giving that teacher, that teacher has one thing that they're working on that it's the one thing that's going to make the biggest difference in their practice. And so micro slicing is the process by which you figure out that one thing. So people love that they're like, oh, my goodness, we could do so much. I'm in classrooms, 3040 minutes, I still don't know what and I can go into a classroom and a five to seven minutes, figure it out, give teachers the right one thing feedback, and then I should see that growth for one, you know, from one visit to the next visit. And yet the right but if you don't micro slice within the bigger context of a builder ship approach, the micro slicing is just another strategy, another technique another trick, you read something in a book that I've written, and you're like, oh, man, that's so cool. I'm going to try that. But if you don't use it within the larger context of an approach, if you just focus on those strategies, it's not going to work.

I mean, even my first book never worked harder than your students at talk about I caution teachers against grabbing strategies, and instead thinking about things in terms of principles, rather than strategies. Well, the challenge with the way that leaders approach problem solving, if they don't do that, they are so enamored with a solution that they fail to see whether or not that solution is the right fit for the problem that they're having. So I see people all the time they go by a program, and maybe you've done this, maybe you said, Okay, we're going to do this new program, we're going to do this new initiative, or we're going to grab this new curriculum, or we're going to, you know, focus on morning meetings, where we're going to have the first five minutes of class be a warm up, and you know, we're going to do acceleration, we're going to grab this new remediation program. And we get so enamored with the solution that we fail to consider whether or not that's the right solution for us. You know, I heard someone say the other day, and it struck me, they said, We need to stop falling in love with solutions and start falling in love with our problems. Because a lot of times, people will grab a solution and try to force it into a situation that that solution was never designed to handle. But we're so in love with the solution, we're so hopeful that that solution will work that somehow that solution will solve things for us. We fall in love with the solution. And we should, instead we missed the point. But if you fell in love with your problems, if you looked at the problem and really spent time understanding that problem at its at its core, often, the solution becomes pretty obvious.

That's the big difference between the way that Leaders deal with problems and the way Builders deal with problems.

Leaders were so into the solution, we're so busy chasing solutions, and we're so enamored with our solutions, that we often miss the point of the solution, because we never spent that same energy, that same amount of time, really understanding a problem. And if this is you, if you if you've done that in the past, I don't blame you. Because that's kind of how school administration is often set up. You know, every year, you're told to go dig through your data, find your problem, and then come up with a solution. And we're rarely taught how to fall in love with our problems, how to really understand our problems that they're at, they're at the root issue, we do root cause analyses, but most of those exercises, quite frankly, are pretty useless. And, you know, I used to be a big proponent of some of these things. But what I found is that when I sat down with clients, and I started working through some of these so called root cause analyses, you can make them say whatever you wanted them to say they didn't help us discover anything new, you could, you could literally go through the process, and come out with no better understanding of your problem than before.

You could just comply with the process, write a couple of things down and then move on with your life. If you don't really understand your problems, if you're not taking time to get to the true root cause you don't come up with an answer. And so you don't want to do things like a boss and avoid problems or try to make them go away. But you also don't want to do how many of us were trained to do which is to quickly grab a solution and fall more in love with the solution than we do with the problem. Instead, what builders do is we don't look for solutions outside of our problems. We look for solutions within our problems. And we start to realize that the thing that we are trying to solve is often right in front of us one of the reasons that my latest book is you know the The title after the colon is how to turn your school into a success story with the people and resources you already have is because I've seen too often, people trying to achieve something really important for students, but feeling like they can't do it with their current staff are with their current set of resources or with their current set of students in some cases.

That's not true, it's fundamentally not true. And if it is true, then we're all doomed!

There has to be a way for us to achieve what we want to achieve for our students with the resources we already have with the people we already have. So if you have a problem, you should find the solution right there. If the problem is there, the solution is right there. So I know that sounds really you know, woowoo and aspirational. But let me give me a couple of real examples of some of the things that we've been doing is that a buildup University over the last few weeks that have actually demonstrated this point, so we had a principal who came, and the district had asked her to do another schedule to go back to kind of a hybrid model. And the challenge was that, in that hybrid model, the students were going to be in school a couple of days a week. And then you have these different cohorts, cohort a might come Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday, everybody was online. And then on Thursday, Friday, cohort a was home doing work asynchronously online, and cohort B came in. So the challenge was that students would have a, you know, be in school for two days, and then be out for five days, and then in school for two days and out for five days. And on the days that they were in school, they were, they were showing up, they were doing their work. But on the days the students were out of school, they weren't doing anything.

So we're working with this team, we're trying to figure this out. And then I started saying to them, the problem is the solution. So let's understand the problem is the problem that students aren't doing their work because they are not getting adult supervision is the problem that students are not doing the work because the work in school is more interesting than the work out of school is the problem that students aren't doing their work because they don't really understand the work when they have to complete it on their own. So we started digging more. And they we realized that some students who had adult supervision, were doing the work. But other students who didn't have that consistent adult at home, making them do the work, or not making them do the work. But you know, having them sit down and do the work without that supervision, the students weren't doing the work. And so we said, okay, so if the problem is that we need the students who need adults, where can we find the adults? And at first they didn't want to talk about they said, Well, you know, our contract says that we can't give our extra time to work with students, our our contract, you know, kind of delineates when we are working and when we're not working. So we can't go above and beyond the way we might want to without our teacher contract, being able to do that. Okay. All right. Where else can we find adults? And so we we brainstormed everything I said, Are their parents who are doing a good job. And just like you have parents who come to school and kind of our teacher's assistants in school, can you have parents, we don't create, you know, do reading groups, they're doing it with their students anyway, could we include a couple of other students in there are their community partners, we can do that.

We kept looking at everything. 

Then the principal said, Well, we have another problem. We have a lot of teaching assistants, and we don't have enough work for them to do, because we have smaller groups of students already in school. So we don't necessarily need them to run small groups in the same way. So we're giving them all these other tasks to do. But what if we had our teaching assistants working with students at home while our teachers were working with students in the building? Bingo, the problem is the solution. Once we understood that the problem was we need adult supervision, then the solution was okay, let's find adult supervision. And we had another problem in the building, which is we had adults with nothing to do. And now we are connecting those adults with those students and their running groups, not with all students, but with the students that are consistently not turning in their work there. They are now charged with helping those students work through those packets at home, so they can continue to practice and continue to thrive in the building. The problem is solution.

Now, here's the challenge that I see. A lot of times when I say that people are so you know, committed to a solution looking a particular way or they're so invested in and bemoaning the problem that they don't want to find a solution within the problem. And that's where my biggest challenge is. There is no problem is insurmountable and we start seeing Okay, alright, let's make sure we understand the problem. Okay. So the real problem is we need this. Oh, we can do that. Instead people are just they don't want to do that. They are so invested in the problem being too big and too insurmountable. They don't want to find the solution. And so that's where I struggle is not with helping you find the solution, we understand the problem, we can always find a solution. You know, a lot of times in builders University, we have office hours, people bring a problem, they say I can't, I'm looking, I'm too close to this Can I need another set of eyes on it. And during those office hours, we brainstorm and they walk out with a solution, but they have to be willing to fight to see a solution. If you're not willing to see the solution, there's nothing we can do. 

If you are willing and you're really invested in solving the problem, then the rest is easy. 

We can we can figure it out. I'll give you another example. We were working with another principal inside of Belgium University. And she her vision for her school is that all of her students will be reading at or above grade level level by grade three, which is the first year that the students take a reading assessment. And the problem was that the district was giving, requiring that they do what new schedule, you know, again, everybody's doing these real funky hybrid schedules right now are trying to figure out ways to accommodate CDC guidelines about how many kids are in school, but also make sure that kids are getting the right kind of face time. Anyway, the district schedule felt insurmountable, we were looking at it not even I was scratching my head, but I kept reminding myself the problem is a solution. And the problem with the schedule was that you only had students in school for a certain amount of time. And then they were supposed to be doing asynchronous learning outside of school. Now, the good thing was that the district had a lot of asynchronous resources available. We started looking at it and we said, you know, okay, your your vision is that you want your kids reading at above grade level by grade three, and also performing at or above grade level of math by grade three, when the kids were being tested.

So if you only have a small amount of time with students in the building every single week, then you should only be teaching reading and math in the building. And they can do social studies. And they can do science, and they can do some of the other things that that you would normally do during the school day, they can do that asynchronously. And we can mind the district resources for that now that that solution solved a couple of problems. First of all, teachers were trying to figure out how to plan for three different cohorts of kids. Because of the way the schedule worked out that kids were in school, like on this rotating three cohort basis. It's crazy. But the teacher is trying to figure out a plan. Well, now they don't have to plan all of these activities for students, they're going to focus on reading and math for the kids in the building every single day. So they're teaching those same lessons. And then they're providing follow up support asynchronous learning opportunities for science and social studies that were already being provided, in some cases mandated by the district. So this problem of this onerous schedule by the district, when we really dug into it, we found a solution that helped her, not only calm her teachers and take some things off of her teachers plates, but still move our school towards the vision, the problem is the solution.

We're doing a lot of work inside of Builders University right now around master schedules. 

I'm also working with some of our clients on thinking about aligning your master schedule to your vision, mission and core values. And every time we had a problem in our master schedule, we'd say the same thing, the problem is the solution, the better we understand the problem, the better, we're going to be able to find a solution that works. So I was working with one principal, and he was working on his master schedule. And one of the things he noticed was that if given his vision and mission and core values for the school, his master schedule was not aligned, especially for his student, his special education students. And the problem was that a lot of his special educators were so overwhelmed because they were really invested in kind of a pullout model with students, and that combined with a pushin model, he just didn't have enough bodies to do that work. But then when you start looking at that problem, we realized, well, the problem is that you're trying to cover everything with your special educators, by their being the only ones who provide direct services for your students. But you have other adults in the building who are also pursuing that vision. And so let's start thinking about your, your special educators as resources for teachers, rather than as the only teacher for students. And if you do that, not only do you get a more focused support for your special education students, your teachers can also leverage those resources to work with students who may be struggling who are not identified as special educators as in special education, but they still need those supports. And so he's completely revamping his master schedule to allow his special ed educators to do the thing that they really want to do the most, which is to can't create these resources for students and then share them with teachers. He's aligning his planning time so that the special educators and the teachers are working together. We have another principal who said, you know, said I love that idea.

But the challenge for us is that our teachers are not required to submit lesson plans. So how can the special educators invest in acceleration, and when they don't have the lesson plans ahead of time. So we're revamping his schedule to make sure that the special educators are planning with the the grade level educators so that the grade level educators don't have to submit lesson plans because a special educators are in the room, as they're thinking about what they're going to be doing. That's they're having those conversations. So the problem is the solution, whether your problem is your master schedule, whether your problem is a personality, you know, I'll give you another example, we had a teacher who was underperforming. This is back when I was an assistant principal in charge of the master schedule, she was a mediocre at best English teacher, and really underperforming as an English teacher. And she just didn't have it wasn't that she didn't have the skill, I could tell she didn't have the will to do much better than she was doing. And so I remember walking into her classroom one day, and the students were supposed to be studying Shakespeare. But what she was doing was she had all the students, each student had a square of fabric, and they were decorating that square fabric with their favorite Shakespearean quote. And then she took those squares home and sewed them together and made a Shakespeare quote, and that was the culmination of their Shakespeare unit.

Now, that is not what the curriculum was designed to do.

My argument was not with a quote, my argument was why we spent in two weeks selling when we should be spending that time reading and understanding that language. And so that problem of her, you know, disconnect that problem of her doing projects that weren't really rigorous enough for where we want to see our students became the solution. Because when I sat down to the master schedule, our Family and Consumer Sciences teacher was leaving. And so I had a vacancy for Family and Consumer Sciences. And I was looking for teachers and interviewing teachers, but no one felt right. And then I remembered that quilt that the problem was her kids were selling instead of doing Shakespeare, but the solution was, let's put her in a place if she likes to have kids selling let's put her in a place where she can sell all the time. So I approached her and I said, how would you like to be our Family and Consumer Sciences teacher next year. And initially, she was reticent because it felt like a demotion. But when I started talking to her about high school vision, and how Family and Consumer Sciences fit into our overall Middle School vision, she got excited, she went home and thought about it. She says, I'll try it. I said, let's try it for a year. If you don't like it, we'll move you back to English next year. And she said, okay, she became the best Family and Consumer Sciences teacher I have ever seen. I mean, her program was so tight, where she was so kind of disconnected as an English teacher, she was so inspired as a family and consumer sciences teacher, the problem became the solution.

I'll give you another example. I was working with a principal and he was talking to me about how disconnected and overwhelmed his staff was. And we started trying to figure out why were they disconnected? Why were they overwhelmed? And a lot of it was that they felt like they were just doing work, but it was never resulting in anything. They they weren't getting any results. And so we started looking at, okay, what are the, instead of just taking stuff off their plates, we started realizing, let's look at the things that we're asking them to do that are not delivering results. Those are the things that we need to take off their plates. So rather than is rushing in and giving them extra time or rushing and saying, okay, let will won't, we're going to delay our vision for a year because you're too overwhelmed. So we're not going to ask you to work towards our vision, we're going to take that off your plates, we started finding all kinds of things that they were doing. That didn't matter that were artifacts of old initiatives. You know, we do that all the time, right? We started initiative, we abandon the initiative, but we don't go clean up and get all the crumbs of that initiative out the way and so people were still doing stuff that that we weren't even realizing they were doing that they were doing because at one point it had been required or it was a part of another initiative. So their overwhelm became the problem. But when we understood the source of their overwhelm, we found the solution. And by cleaning up all the stuff that they were doing that that no longer was connected to our vision, mission and core values. That was indeed art an artifact of an old initiative. The overwhelm went away, the staff was more satisfied there were more focused. They were appreciative. Not because we gave them extra time or not because we took work off their plate, but because we took the right work off their plate over and over and over again. See that if you really take time to understand your problem, the solution is right there in your problem. But most of us don't take time to do that.

So this week, that's what I want to challenge you to do. 

I want you to take all the problems, the things that are headaches, the people, you know, if it's a teacher who's underperforming, and you're sick of it, if it's if it's a parent who is just out of control, and you don't know what to do about that parent, if it's a district initiative that you feel is onerous. And and you're trying to figure out how do I do this with my teachers, if it's a roadblock that you've been hitting time and time again, instead of looking for a solution, take time and fall in love with the problem a little bit, take time to understand the problem at its fundamental core. And I bet if you do that, you'll find a solution, you'll find a possibility. And if you're if you're if you don't think you can do that on your own, if you're too close to your problems where you not, you're not sure you can really see it objectively, then I would encourage you to to find another builder, to to trade problems to sit down and have somebody else take a look at that with a fresh set of eyes. If you're a builder, ship University, we have office hours, you can do that there. If you are coming to builders lab, then you should bring that to builders lab because we can figure it out there. But if you are not defined as somebody else who can bring an objective set of eyes to your problem, and don't ask that person for solution, just ask that person to help you really understand the problem because the more you understand the problem, the more obvious the solution will be. And the more that solution will actually solve the problem because you took the time to understand the problem in the first place. So don't be a boss and avoid problems.

Don't be a leader and fall more in love with the solution than you do with a problem you just grabbing for solutions. Instead, take time to understand your problems. Because inside of your problem is always the solution. Examine your problems, like a builder. That's it for this time. 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 that you need to join, build a ship University. Just go to build your ship university.com and get started writing your school success story today.

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 offers. 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.

I'll see you then!

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