Can Assistant Principals Be Builders?


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 168. 

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Hey Builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson.  And today we are finishing up our summary one series we have this week. And then we have next week. And in two weeks, we're gonna go back to our live podcasts and introduce the next season. And I can't wait I have so much to share with you.

But in the meantime, I wanted to revisit this episode, we're revisiting episode 106 today. And the reason I wanted to revisit this episode is because this is a question that comes up all the time. And that's this.

If you're an assistant principal, can you really be a builder? 

And I know why this question comes up because I usually say that the vision belongs to the builder. And so if you're an assistant principal and and you're trying to come up with your vision, it's hard to think about a vision when you you your your principles vision is the one that's really going to drive the work in the school. But that doesn't mean that you can't have a vision for the areas you supervise. It doesn't mean that you can't practice the skill of developing a vision and pursuing that vision in preparation for principalship someday. And so in this episode, I go into how you can still be a builder, as an assistant principal. And even if you're not an assistant principal, this is a really good episode to listen to. Because what I'm really talking about is how to build from behind. And so whether you're an assistant principal, or an assistant superintendent, or your principal, and you're trying to get stuff done in the midst of all of these district mandates and trying to make sure that your agenda stays on track and that you don't get derailed from the district mandates. This episodes look at listen anyway.

So before we jump into the episode, though, I do want to tell you about something really cool that's happening this summer. You see, one of the things that I love doing is helping helping principals, assistant principals, district folks come to the realization of their own vision. And the reason I love helping people do this is because once you have a vision that that gives you goosebumps, a vision that you're really excited about a vision that's clear a builder's vision, it's hard to unsee it and it unleashes everything for you. I think this is so important. This step is so important that I do vision workshops for free once a month inside of builder, ship, university, anybody can join, they're absolutely free. And during those workshops, I spend the first five or 10 minutes explaining what a builder's vision is and giving you some examples. And then the rest of the time, I'm just working with each of you individually coaching you on coming up with your own vision. And the reason I love doing this so much just because the level of breakthrough that happens in such a very short period of time, that gives me goosebumps, that that that is that's fulfilling to me. So it's a very selfish reason.

 Listen, if you have a vision that you've been working on, or you're you're not satisfied with your school vision, or you don't even know your school vision, then I want you to come to one of these vision workshops so that you can get that goosebump experience with me with with the other people who are on that workshop. I am telling you, once you have your vision, it really energizes your work it gives you such focus and clarity and, and going into a new school year with that kind of focus and clarity is so powerful.

So if you want to join one of these vision workshops, all you need to do is go to builder ship And there'll be a pop up there with a link to join the next vision workshop. We only have a few left. If you're listening to this sometime in the future, you can always join our vision workshops. I don't anticipate we'll stop doing the once a month but because I had a little bit more time this summer we're doing several over the summer so that you can get geared up for the school year. So again, builder ship to find out about our next upcoming vision workshop.

While you're on the page. I encourage you if you're not a member already to join bill to ship University the free version because as not only do you get access to all of our free vision workshops, we do an Ask Me Anything once a month where you can come on and get individual coaching from me absolutely free, we have a ton of free resources there. And so it makes sense that if you're really serious about building a ship to join builders ship University, either in the free tier, or we have a new cohort opening up in a couple of weeks for the builder ship University insider track and and that's great because you join a cohort, and it's a mentorship. So I mentor you through the process of installing builder ship into your school. I'll tell you more about that in the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, builders should is where all the good stuff is. Go there now, and enjoy this revisit of episode 106. All about whether or not assistant principals can really be builders and more importantly, how to lead from behind.

Let's talk to the assistant principals. And we were talking about the difference between bosses, leaders and builders. And that paradigm may not always make sense. If you are in the number two position if you are the assistant principal. A lot of times we talk about how the vision belongs to the builder. But what do you do if you are an assistant principal and the principal with whom you work is not a builder if that principal may be a boss or leader. So today, we're not going to talk about how you can be a boss, a leader builder, what we're going to talk about instead is how do you if your assistant principal handle it if you're working for a boss, a leader or a builder. So let's start with a boss.

If you're an Assistant Principal, and you are working for a boss, the challenges are great, but the opportunities are great as well. 

So if you're working for a boss, the boss is not trying to get involved, they're trying to do the least amount of work for the most amount of money, they are ordering people around, they're making hard decisions, they're doing stuff and they're wanting you to do stuff to the advantage of working for a boss is that a lot of times working for a boss means that they're going to delegate responsibilities to you, and then they're going to just kind of leave you alone and expect you to get stuff done. And that gives you a really good opportunity to practice build your ship in your sphere of influence. So let's say that you are your boss has assigned you the special education department or your boss is assigned to you. Working with pre K through three, you can create a vision for that that group of people that that department that section, and you can work, build your ship towards your vision and build even in that smaller sphere of influence. And then as long as you're showing success, as long as things are working out great, your boss is probably going to be satisfied.

So if you're working for a boss, this is not the time for you to try to go in and try to convert them to Buildership. A lot of times bosses need a different kind of nuance work and they're not going to appreciate hearing from you. Someone who they consider to be someone that they supervise telling them they should be doing things a different way. Instead, listen to the boss hear what it what they want to do, as they give you assignments, as long as they're not Micro-Managing, you have an opportunity to build in your sphere of influence. And so that's what I would tell you to do. And as long as you're producing success, as long as you are showing results, as long as, as you are helping the boss achieve his or her goals, then they're going to be happy and satisfied with how you're doing it. I do want to tell you one story though, we had someone come to builder's lab a couple years ago, she was an assistant principal. And she really, really wanted to practice Buildership in her building. And she before she left, she had set up something trying to create more requirements, help people be more accountable for doing work on behalf of students. But while she was at Builders lab, some of her staff went to the principal and complained about what she was asking them to do.

The Principal reversed her decision... while she was at Builder's Lab.

She got the email while she was at builders lab, and she was devastated. I did remind her that as an assistant principal, when you work for a boss, unfortunately, you have some limitations around what it is you're able to do. But when you think like a builder, you find a way to handle it. So we started talking about her bosses will driver, we started talking about what was going on with the team. And then we sat down together and we compose an email in response to what the boss had done with the teachers reversing her decision that fed his will driver, but and also talked to him made the case for why she wanted to do it and helped him save face for reversing her decision. She sent that email and an hour later, while we were still in session, she just can't she's she's she checked her email, as you just saw, she goes like that. And we stopped, she's, I can't believe this worked. I'm sorry, if we interrupted we stopped builders lab. And she said my boss has already responded, he's apologized, he's going to support me in the new course, and things are working out. So in the matter of a few minutes an hour at the most she was able to keep her head and practice build a ship. And that's what you're gonna have to do when you are dealing with a boss. The frustration about dealing with the bosses and bosses making decisions not based on any kind of principle, or any kind of core values or vision or mission, they're basing their decisions on policy on their own personal goals, which they may or may not have shared with you on what is most expedient on on what do I need to do to get things done without a lot of a lot of cost to me. But once you understand that, and if you can understand the boss's will driver, then you know how to speak to your boss, you know how to manage your boss.

And I don't mean that if we've had those bosses out there who are listening to this and bristle at the idea of being manage. I'm not talking about people running the school. I mean, we you know, as an assistant principal, you got to know your lane and stay in your lane. But in order to get things done on behalf of students, when you're working with a boss, you need to remember what is that bosses will driver? And are you feeding that? Are you do you understand that bosses goals? And are you doing work to help that boss achieve their goals, and then where you can in any sphere of influence that you have begin to practice Buildership. And as long as it's delivering results, your boss should be okay. It gets a little more complicated if you're working for a leader. Because if you're working for a leader, a leader is driven by a different motivation. Whereas a boss is motivated by what's the most expedient. Your leader is motivated by really trying to bring everybody together and move the school towards a goal. So they're not looking for the most expedient choice. And they are operating from a leadership paradigm. They've been trained that this is the way that things are supposed to work, they believe they are doing the right thing on behalf of students. Again, if you're working for a leader, you don't go into there and say, Listen, I know you are subscribing to leadership, but there's this thing called build a ship. And it's gonna blow your leadership little leadership paradigm out the water, don't do that.

Remember, stay in your lane.

So what you do instead is if you're working for a leader, again, if they give you opportunities to run a department or be in charge of a particular area, there are opportunities there to practice. Buildership within your sphere of influence. So we have a couple of builders right now in build a ship University and actually we had a really interesting conversation at our last office hours we have several assistant principals inside of Buildership University, and they were giving advice to someone who was an assistant principal who was concerned because she wanted to practice builder ship but our boss is not a builder. So we were trying to help her kind of think it through and there's some politics going on. If you go in and you try to blow up everything that they've been doing that has been working to some degree as a matter of fact, then you look like a young ops Start, you know, nobody likes a new convert. So what you do instead is you want to get on their program. So if your leader that you work for you're you're the principal who's in a leadership paradigm, if they don't have a vision, or if they have a vision that isn't quite the Builders way, don't say, don't tell them that it's wrong. Ask questions, try to get at what outcome would show that, ask those coaching questions that we asked her in the vision workshop to help them clarify their vision, don't do it in a way like, let me coach you up. Instead, do it in a way of just trying to understand you're going to seek to understand, once you understand your leaders vision, then you can start thinking about the areas where you have influence and how you can you can operationalize that vision.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that you work for a leader and their vision is every child every day. Now, we all know, that's not the right vision for a Builder. But that's the vision that they have. So start asking questions, what every child every day, what like, what would, what would the ideal outcome be for every child in the school every day, and they may say things like, well, we want all of our kids to feel loved, we want our kids to have a challenge. We never want to give up on students or you know, whatever it is, listen to them, then restate. So if this were to happen for every child every day, then you would feel like we're doing the right work. Absolutely. Okay, got it. Now, you're in charge of the English department, or you're in charge of the Physical Education Department, or you're in charge of grades K through two. And now you are going to sit down with your people, you're going to say that now as a school, our vision is every child every day, what does that mean for us? Here's and then you're going to try to figure out how do you help your team or your department over which you are given some sort of authority? How do you help them achieve that for every child every day? How do you make what does that vision look like for that team for that department for that grade level? And how do you operationalize it, and then you can begin to put in practice the Buildership piece. You can use your school vision and mission and try to kind of clarify it, what that means for that department or that team. And then you can set up team core values or departmental core values or grade level core values.

If you can't go school wide, set core values for a team or grade level, you still get that practice, and then "Get to Work".

You want to give people the feedback, the support the accountability and the culture, you want to make sure that you are setting up 90 day goals with those teams. You're sitting down and you're talking to the teams about what do we want to accomplish in the next 90 days, if your leader is trying to move test scores, if your sip plan says we've got to move test scores, What can your area, your department, your team, the place where you are in charge, how can you move those test scores, so you what you're going to do is you're going to use the leaders vision in whatever state that it is, and build on that, because that's what you do as a Builder. And at every turn, you can share what you're doing with your leader so that they know what you're doing. So you haven't gone rogue, and why you're doing it, and then start showing results start showing results right away. Now, the challenges with working with a leader are that if you are not careful, if you're not mindful of the politics, it can come across as if you are trying to take over. So what you want to do is you want to make sure that you're reassuring the leader, I'm working on your vision, your mission, what we're doing here, what I'm practicing is really about your vision, your mission, your core values. And if they tell you, I don't want it done that way, I want it done this way, you're going to have to do it the way that they asked because they are the principal, they're in charge of the school, and you're there in a support role.

Now, I want to say this, because I think it's important, even though you are there as in the support role. And you are let's just let I want to be clear about that, from the very beginning, you have another responsibility to is that if you are an assistant principal, and you are hoping one day to assume a principalship somewhere, then even though you're there in the support role, and even though you are going to have to ultimately do what the principal says, You are also there to hone your own skills so that when you take over your old school one day, or your own district or your own department in the district, that you are ready and that you can begin to build. So as many opportunities as you can find to practice build your ship in a non threatening way. You want to take it so a lot of people get frustrated because the principal is a boss or their principal is a leader. And that's not the builders way. Builders don't get frustrated because other people are builders, builders start building. And in this case, you know how people often say you have to lead from behind. This case you're not leading from behind your building. from behind, you're starting to feed your principles will drivers, you're starting to understand that you're starting to listen to what they really are trying to accomplish, and then help them begin to build the thing that they really want to build, help them accomplish the thing that they're trying to accomplish. That's your role.

You don't have to wait until you're in charge to be a Builder, Buildership is happening every single day.

When I was a teacher, before I even really understood builder ship. I was, shall we say, entrepreneurial about how I taught, we had things that we had to do. I didn't always agree with them. And I wanted to do what was best for my students. And so I remember one time, and maybe you've heard me tell the story before our district had a policy that kept a lot of traditionally underrepresented students out of advanced placement and honors courses. Because in order to get in, you had to have passed a certain tests that they had shown had some cultural bias to it. You also had to get recommendations, you had to know how to work the system, you have to have a certain GPA. And there were all these hurdles and hoops that the students had to jump through in order to get into an honors and AP class. And then once it got into those classes, I can't always say that they were supported. When I wanted to change that on my school. I couldn't do that I couldn't change the policy alone. I was a lowly teacher, I wasn't even in a department at I was saying lowly in quotes, but I was the low person on the totem pole for sure. There were other people who have way more authority and responsibility.

And I did it two ways. The first time I wrote my principal an email and told him that I felt that the what we were doing was wrong. And he wrote me an email back that basically told me, I needed to stay in my lane. And I was livid. I was mad, I was ready to quit. I think I've told you the story before. But instead, I just take a step back and say, Okay, how would I do it? And again, I didn't know Buildership then. But my thinking was, how do I do this, like a builder. I remember going back to him. And I made the case, in the through the lens of his vision for the school. I started by listening started for asking, What did he want to accomplish. And then I made the case for opening up the gates. Based on his vision, I listened to his objections, I listened to why he was so concerned with with doing it, because he was worried that our scores were going to go down when he was trying to get our passing rate up. And so because I saw that as once I listened and heard that as his key concern, I said, Okay, let's try it for one year, if at the end of the year, the scores go down, I'll go away. But if the scores maintain or go up, then we'd need to have the conversation to reconsider for all kids. And that's what we did. And at the end of the year, the scores went up. And he kept his word and he opened it up for everybody.

That whole school changed. 

Because I have the idea because an idea is only worth that you know whether or not you'd implement it. So the whole school changed not because I had that idea, the whole school change, because I was able to go to my principal who at the time was being a boss, and not get deterred by his bossiness, understand his will driver, speak the lead in his terms, stay in my lane, be respectful, but bring help him achieve something that he was trying to achieve anyway. And it's not your ideas. It's how you sell your ideas. If you can't sell your ideas, if you get frustrated and mad every time somebody else chooses to go a different direction than what you think is best for children, you're never going to get anywhere. So the beautiful part about what you are learning right now as an assistant principal, is you're learning how to sell your ideas, you're learning how to understand the people around you, and to invite them to start building with you. So what are your principal, whether you're a department head, whether you're a teacher who aspires to to to an administrative position someday, whether you are your principal, in a district trying to sell to your area superintendent, whether you're an area superintendent, trying to get the superintendent and the other area superintendents on board, you could be a cabinet member trying to get the superintendent to do something district wide, wherever it is, the lesson is the same.

If you're working for a boss, you're going to have to understand that you're working for a boss, understand your boss's will drivers and still be able to sell your ideas, but also be respectful and and bloom where your plant it, take the areas of responsibility that you have and begin to build there. If you're working for a leader, things get a little more complex, but you still have to sell your ideas. You still have to make sure that you're doing that in a way that's awesome. backfill in a way that honors their vision. But you have a lot more room to add to their vision because their visions a lot more fully defined. And as you do that, as you begin to show resolve, and as you begin to respectfully make other suggestions, the leader begins to hear it. And then that's how you influence it. Now, if you're working for a builder, then it's pretty simple because builders build other builders. So if you're working for a builder, they're including you and advising you to help them build. But here's the point. Just because you are not in the position of power, you're not the principal, you're not the superintendent, doesn't mean that you can't start building right now. 

So that's a big takeaway I have for assistant principals today. 

The same thing I told the APS inside of build a ship University, Bloom where your plant it, you have an opportunity right now to learn how to sell your ideas. You don't have to sell your ideas in the same way when you're in the principal's ship. But if you don't learn how to sell your ideas, now, if you don't learn how to understand who you're working with, if you don't learn how to build from behind, then you're always going to be frustrated. Think about yourself as a builder. Now, don't wait until you get your own building. Think about yourself as a builder now and bloom where you're planted, build where you are. Don't just sit back and say, well, it's not my show. And I'm just here to support. Don't get so excited about Buildership that you run in and try to take over an Indian date people with this idea builder ship before they're ready, stead find ways to build even where you are. You see, as an assistant principal, as someone who aspires to administration someday. A lot of times, we're so focused on where you want to be that you're not paying attention to all the lessons you're learning now. This is a great opportunity for you to really learn the buildership model, double down on fee giving teachers feedback and support and accountability and shaping the culture where you are. Start thinking in those 90 day cycles for your department or your team or the areas where you're responsible practice and also practice building from buying because that's some of the best builders ship you're going to ever learn how to do.

Don't waste this opportunity that you have recognized the politics, I understand that they're there. But use this as an opportunity to become a better builder so that when you take over Someday, you're not learning on the job, you're ready. You walk in with a vision, you know how to get people excited about the mission, you know how to create core values that drive your work, you already have systems in place for giving people feedback and support and accountability and culture. You already know how to work in those 90 day cycles, you already know how to plan and to recognize that every time you play a new level new devil and get ready for those new levels and those new devils and you know how to build people. You know how to sell your ideas. You know how to help people get excited about buildership. So don't waste this opportunity, take advantage of it. Because someday you are going to be in charge. And then you're going to recognize all of the lessons that you learned on the way how they're going to come in handy. And if you if you take advantage of the time that you have now when you do walk into that next position, you'll start off day one. #LikeABuilder. 

That's all 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 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.

I'll talk to you again next time.

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