Are you tweaking or are you transforming?


Note: School Leadership Reimagined is produced as a podcast and designed to be listened to, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 170. 

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 I'm so happy to be back after our summer hiatus. I've missed you. I hope that you have had some time to listen to some of the summer rewind episodes because they're really good. But I'm so happy to be back with you direct live starting this next season of the podcast. I don't know about you, but the summer went by all too quickly. And now. We're all kind of a meshed in this back to school stuff. And so today on the podcast, I want to talk to you about the secret to your success this year.

And it's really simple, but it's really important. 

But before I do that, I have so many announcements to share with you. So the first announcement is that we have completed beta testing of builders ship University, it is locked and loaded, it's ready to go. And we have opened up the next cohort. And so right now all you need to do is go to builder ship And you can sign up for the next cohort.

Now, here's what that means for you. You see, when you sign up for a cohort and builder ship University, we hit the ground running the first 90 days that you're a part of builder ship University, we're going to help you develop a vision that you are passionate about and mission that your whole staff can kind of agree upon. And that drives your work and a set of core values that your entire staff holds non negotiable. Not only that, but we're going to help you develop a one plan. And I'm actually going to talk about the one plan today's you'll learn a little bit more about that. And we're going to help you develop an alignment architecture to get all of your work aligned. That means that three months from now, not only are you could have a vision, mission and core values, but you're going to have your entire staff and all of your work aligned to that vision mission and core values didn't stop there, though, that's just the first 90 days.

After that, you go on to level two and level two. That is the level where the magic starts happening because you've developed your vision and your mission and your core values on level one. But when you get to level two, then you're going to start putting systems in place to support your vision, mission and core values. And so you're going to develop a system around feedback that helps you get into more classrooms, but the right classroom. So it's not just about getting into X number of classrooms a day, it's about which classrooms getting into the right classrooms, giving teachers feedback that they welcome that they act on, and that improves their practice, you're going to develop a support system so that you can follow up with your feedback to help teachers implement the feedback that you've given them so that they can grow at least one level in one domain in one year or less, then you're going to develop an accountability system, no bill just to accountability differently. So we're not running around chasing, checking, correcting people, we are putting systems in place to help ensure that the right work gets done even when we're not checking. And so you're going to develop that accountability system. And then you're going to develop a culture system that starts with a culture audit. So you can identify where potential areas of toxicity are. And then you'll develop, you'll deliberately re engineer your culture in that area, so that you can eliminate toxicity and everybody can stay focused on the work. That's just the first six months of being inside of builder ship University, and it just keeps getting better.

So again, cohorts are open right now they're going to be closing very quickly, because you're going to be starting that work on September 1. Now, if you're feeling I'm just too overwhelmed right now schools just starting, I need to wake Wait, yes, there'll be another cohort in October. And you can join that cohort too. But let me tell you why you want to start right now.

Because if you're feeling overwhelmed, and if you're feeling like there's just too much going on, we can help with that. 

Not only do we have a curriculum that you're following, so that you're you're developing these things and you're putting these things in place that can make your world feel a lot more calm and organized from the very beginning. But we also have weekly office hours and study halls where you can come and and Add support and feedback and coaching on all of your work, you get individualized feedback. So when you create your vision, you get individualized feedback and coaching around that when you build your feedback system, you get individualized feedback and coaching on that. So if you start now, what you're doing is from the very beginning of the school year, you're putting systems in place that are going to make such a difference as the year progresses, you know, there's an old saying, you know, you want to start how you want to finish. And so if you put this off than what you're starting out, it's like, I'm too overwhelmed, I can't focus, I need to put it off, versus I'm overwhelmed, I need to do something about it. So let me do something about it from the very beginning. So I, so a month from now, or two months from now, I'm not saying that I'm overwhelmed, I feel a sense of calm and peace, and I feel like control Anyway, go to builder ship And go ahead and sign up for this cohort, I would love to work with you, personally, to help you put these systems in place in your school so that you can achieve your vision in the next three years.

All right, that's our most important announcement. Now let's talk about the secret weapon, the thing that's going to make the difference between a school year that feels chaotic, and the school year that feels that you are actually making progress a school year where you actually show progress, and you feel more in control and, and you feel more like you're, you're doing the right work, and that you're seeing results from that work. You know, most of us spend a lot of our time working really hard, and then not having anything to show for that hard work at the end of the day. I mean, how many times have we worked really hard on a school improvement plan during the summer and then the we start the school year, and we're working really hard on that school improvement plan. And then we hit our first snag, and we get thrown off course. And then we battled to get back on course. And then we go on winter break. And we get off course again that we battled to get back on course in the most testing. And by the end of the year, we look at our school improvement plan. And we realized that we haven't made the progress, we thought we would make a call that the school improvement hamster wheel.

And the reason that I call it a hamster wheel is to because when you do that, you spend all of your time and energy completing tasks and doing things. But at the end of the day, you haven't moved anywhere, you're just running as hard as you can. And the harder you run, the more the wheel spins, but it never creates progress. So I want to talk to you today about the secret to that progress. And the secret to that progress is focus. And I know that sounds simplistic, but I love this acronym for focus, which is follow one course until successful FOC U 's follow one course until successful That to me is what focus is really about.

Now the challenge is that a lot of times we don't know what course to follow.

And so we think that we have a course that we want to follow. And we start in that direction, only to realize that that's not the right course for our school, or every year we pick a course a new course to follow. And we never stick with anything until we're successful. One of the things that frustrates me as I'm as I'm working with principals and superintendents is they're always saying what's next. And when you are a builder, you're not so interested in what's an excellent, you know, Bill to ship University, we walk you through everything you need to do to become successful to achieve your vision for your school in three years. But those three years are not new stuff being added every single year, the first year in your bill dish of Journey is really the year where you're getting some key things established, you're getting your vision, mission and core values established, you're putting systems in place and establishing that you're establishing a new rhythm for how you're going to plan and track your progress throughout, and how you're going to execute on your plan throughout your journey to get to that 100% goal. And then you're establishing teams and communication structures to make sure that everybody stays focused on doing the right work.

So the first year of your build dish of Journey is really about getting established. Now, after people go through that first year, they're like, Okay, what's next? So you got another tool, we're so excited, this is some fun, give me something else to do. And they're always disappointed when I say no, because the second year of your builder ship journey is really about execution. So you're not putting new systems in place. You spent an entire year doing that last year this year is really about executing on the systems you put in place. You know, the big mistake that we make as educators is we even when we do something that that is good, that could work. We don't stick with it long enough for it to actually work.

So when you're a builder, that second year of your journey, you're not doing anything new, you are taking what you've already established and you're one you're executing on it and getting better at it and that gives it time to work. And so year two is often the hardest year of your builder ship journey because That's the year that you have to resist the shiny objects, that's the year that you have to really trust the process that it will work.

So that's your to the new year three, you're still not doing anything new. Year three is about embedding and extending. So in year three, by the time you get to your third year builder ship, you've gotten 70 to 80%. towards your 100% call, you seen huge gains, in a lot of those gains come in the year two, when you are, when you're actually executing on your systems they're working, you can see them working, you see those gains. But what it took to get to 70, or 80% is going to be different than what it's going to take to close that last 3020 to 30%.

And so in year three, you are not putting anything new in place. But you are, this is where you're going to take what you've already put in place. And you're going to start adjusting it to make sure that it's working for all kids. This is where you're going to make adaptations to what you've already done. But again, no new strategy, no new, you know, brand new thing that we're rolling out, though, it's just the same work that you established in year one. But now you're going to be adapting it to make sure that it works for everybody so that you can close that last gap and get to 100%.

And that level of focus, giving yourself three years to commit to something and then watching the results happen gets oou Off of the hamster wheel

And get you on what we call that builder ship flywheel the first year you're you're you're you're you're turning the wheel, and it's kind of hard because you're you're priming it, you're getting it going. But the second year, you gain that momentum and it goes faster and faster and faster. And then that third year, sticking with that same wheel, that's when you start to see things really take off and you achieve your goal. So people say, you know, when should I do a new vision? After you've achieved the vision you've had? When do we need a new mission? Once you have a new vision? When do we need a new set of core values? Maybe never, when will I implement this new thing probably not going to happen. If it didn't happen that first year, you are staying focused follow one course until successful. So that's the way that builder ship works. You're not trying all these new things, you're committing to something, the challenge becomes what are you committing to. And that's where the hard part happens. 

Because a lot of times, the problem isn't that we aren't focused, the problem is that we're focused on the wrong thing. And one of the tools that we're using now and build a ship University is something that we call the one plan. And we created the one plan, because we found that a lot of times the principles we were serving, were trying to do too much. And it's really hard to get good at and be successful with 25 different programs.

I remember, early in my consulting career, I went to one school, and it was a high school. And we looked at we did an initiative audit. And we found that they had I want to say 11 or 14 new initiatives. And they were not little initiatives. They were trying to start an avid program, they were establishing two or three new AP courses, they were trying to get IB certification, they were trying to establish a ninth grade academy. And the list went on and on and on. It's really hard to be good at 11 things at once. And so I kept the question that I kept asking them and the question that I continue to ask to this day is of all these activities, which one will have the highest impact on achieving your goal?

It's that micro slicing question that we ask when we go into classrooms, you go into a classroom, when you're micro slicing, and you see the instructions all over the place, all these different things are happening, and you're trying to figure out what is, you know you how do we fix this classroom. And so the the impulse, the way we were trained is we try to fix everything. But that doesn't work. And what micro slicing forces you to do is to ask the question, if I change this one thing, but everything else stayed exactly the same, is that one change enough to turn this lesson from ineffective to effective? Well, in the same way that you do that in a classroom, as an administrator, you need to be doing that with your school or your district.

So you want to ask yourself if everything fell apart if it hit the fan, and we can only do one thing? 

What would that one thing be that would still keep our school on the pathway towards 100% success for students? And so the one plan helps you figure that out. And that one plan helps you figure out what's the one most important thing you need to do in seven categories, the seven most important categories for instruction in your school. And those seven categories coincidentally enough are the same seven principles of effective instruction. So just as a reminder, the seven principles of effective instruction come from my book never worked harder than your students. And those principles have stood the test of time. That book is almost 20 years old. And those principles still work. People are still writing me and saying, once I really understood instruction in this way, things got better. And so those seven principles are principle number one start where your students are, how do we recognize the currencies that kids bring to us in bringing to the classroom into our schools? And how do we help them leverage those currencies to be able to access the capital the classroom? What does that mean? And like plain English, it means, what are we doing to make sure that we're meeting all the needs of the kids? How do we recognize what those kids needs? Are?

And and then how do we make sure that we're staying on top of that we're staying in touch with their needs, and we're responding to the needs beyond their academic needs to the other things that they're doing? And so, a lot of times schools say, Yeah, you know, we have a lot of SEL issues right now. And so they, you know, they're doing PBIS, and then they have an SEL initiative, and they're doing a character counts thing. And they're, you know, the five different things, all to address that one problem. And the problem is, all five of those things require a lot of attention and effort and energy. And it's hard to expend it on all five things at once in a way that will actually move the needle. Instead, what if you said, Okay, I can't do these five things. But if I, if I only had to do one of these five things, which one of these five things would best help my students meet their SEL needs, meet the needs that are beyond the academic needs of the classroom, so that they're ready to learn and so that they, they feel supported, they feel engaged, they feel recognized, they feel honored?

What's the one most important thing I can do? 

And when you take time to understand that, first of all, you're often surprised, because it's not what you think all the time. But secondly, when you really hone in and focus on that, then your students get better served. No, it's not five different programs, because you're doing five different programs poorly or five different programs meet with mediocrity, versus one program with excellence, you're going to meet the needs of more kids. So what's that one thing that that your school needs to do that if everything else fell apart, this is the one thing you'd hold on to the with regard to starting where your students are the next one, the next principle, principle two is know your students are going and this is really about how do we understand what the destination looks like? What are our standards? And how are we planning based on those standards so that the work we're doing with students is actually moving them forward. We have all these different things. We have lesson planning templates, we collect lesson plans, we have unit planning templates, we have, you know, unpacking standards exercises, we have curriculum documents, all these different things. If we had to only do one thing, what is the one most important thing we do as a school that ensures that instruction is moving students consistently towards the standards and the goals?

Now, I bet you've never considered that before. Because we've been taught you have to do all the things but we're not doing all the things well, right. So if you really sat down and said, What's the one most important thing that's going to make a difference, you'd stop overwhelming your teachers with these unreasonable and questionable demands, and instead could get teachers focus on the work that's really important. One of the things that breaks my heart is that I see very well meaning principals, go to district workshops and trainings and everybody says, Okay, we need to do X. And so they go back and ask teachers to do X. And then a month later, somebody says, You know what, y is really important to us, we go back, and we ask our teachers to do Y. And we think we are, that's what being a good leader is. But in reality, all you're doing is stacking all these things on on your teachers plates. And then teachers get overwhelmed. You're like, oh, we need to take something off the teachers plates. What? What's one thing? Do we need to take off their plates? That that doesn't, that doesn't make everything fall apart? And I see people pulling things off teacher's plates that are critical, and leaving things on teachers plates that aren't critical. And then we wonder why we're stuck and why teachers are frustrated.

We need to sit down and say what is the one most important thing that we do in this area? That makes a difference where if everything else had the fan, this is the one thing that if we only could do one thing, it would still get us to 100% success for our students. That's thing that you need to focus on and nothing else. 

Alright, So principle number one start with students are .

Principle number two, know where they're going. 

Principle number three, expect to get them that this is really about teacher efficacy. So what is the one thing that you do in your school that helps teachers feel like they can still make a difference in the lives of kids? What's the one thing that you do in your school that empowers teachers to Go the extra mile to make sure that they are moving their students towards 100%. All those stuff can go away. But this can't go away and understanding that can help make sure that you are meeting the needs of your teachers and serving them so that they can serve kids. So, principle number one, start where your students are principle number two, know where they're going. Principle number three, expect to get them there. 

Principle number four, support them along the way. What is the one thing you know, we have all these support programs and remedial programs, and they never work kids, kids are going through these programs. And it doesn't help them become learners, it it drags them through the curriculum. And often the remedial programs have kids backwards facing instead of frontward facing so the kids never feel like they're making progress. It's demoralizing to students. It's It's like pulling teeth for the teachers. Instead of doing all of that what's the one most important thing you can do to make sure that kids get support when they need it not after they fail, when they need it at the time that they need it. And if you just focused on one thing, but did it well, you wouldn't have failures, because you want to look for the thing that keeps kids from failing in the first place, not the thing that picks them up after they fail. So what's the one thing that you know that if everybody focused on doing this one thing, we would not have students failing? All right, start where your students aren't know where they're going, expect them to get there, support them along the way. 

Principle number five, use feedback to help you both get better. And so what is the one thing that you do that helps students understand where they are so that they can continue to grow students and their families, and that you can also use the feedback that you're giving to students to help inform your instructional practices, the way things that you're doing in schools to support students, not 25 different surveys and and all of its what's the one thing that you do that gives people the feedback, they need your students get their feedback, your teachers get their feedback, what's the one thing you do, let's get rid of all the sudden we have too much noise, you know, these data dies, we're, you know, just swimming in numbers. What's the one thing you need to focus on that gives you the best feedback to help you best serve kids and for kids to best be able to, to leverage that feedback to get better?

And then the next principle is that you want to focus on quality versus quantity. So what do you do? How do you prioritize what work is important when work isn't important in your schools? And how do you make sure that you're focusing on the right work, and you're not focusing on the wrong work? Oftentimes, we don't have any system for that at all. But we should, and there should be one thing that we do that we can trust, to keep us focused on the right work. 

And then the last principle, never work harder than your students, that principle is really about student ownership. What's the one thing your school can do to empower students to take ownership over their their learning, and then empowers teachers to take ownership over the work, so they're not sitting passively by and waiting for you to make all the decisions instead, they are actively engaged in building with you.

So those seven things, so seven principles, the challenge for you is to identify one thing in each of those categories that will help you stay focused. And when you do that, when you create that one plan for your school, here's what you're doing, you now have identified the work, this is the most important work.

This is where we focus, anything else we do is extra, but we're going to get these pieces right first. 

And then when you're sitting down, and you're trying to figure out, okay, where do we need to work on first you're not, you know, swimming in the sea of initiatives, you're looking at your one plan, and you're saying, These are the seven areas of our school? How are we doing in each of these seven areas? What needs where do we need to grow? What do we need to tweak so that we get better at it. And if you did that and stuck with it, three things happen. 

First of all, you reduce overwhelm you, you get rid of the chaos, it's not you're working on 25 different things, you're working on seven. And it's one thing in each category, and you've identified, you've been careful and thoughtful about what that one thing is. So you're not overwhelmed. You're not asking people to do all the things. Instead, you've got that focus and that clarity. So every day, you know, when you come to work, you're going to do something that supports one of those seven things. And teachers when they're doing their work, they know that their work, the most important work they do on these seven things. This is what you're holding them accountable for, and it gives everybody clarity and focus and reduces the chaos. 

Secondly, you have a chance to make a real difference. Because what you've identified you spent time thinking about all the things that you do and deciding which one has the biggest impact on students. And when you focus on those, just those things that have the biggest impact, you magnify your impact. When you're doing all the things you blunt your impact because your energy is going in all these different directions and You can't do anything? Well, when you focus on these seven things, you magnify your impact because you get good at the things that matter most. 

And number three, you get a lot more clarity. You see, a lot of us, if we're really honest, we are leading, and I'm using air quotes here, by just throwing a whole bunch of stuff up against the wall and hoping something sticks, or guessing we're hoping we're, you know, we went to a conference or read a book this summer, like, oh, that's what we need to do. And we're trying stuff out, and we're experimenting at the expense of kids. But when you sit down and take time to look at and weigh all the things you're doing and say, if we didn't do Jeff, if we if we couldn't do everything else, and we can only do this, would this be enough to make a difference, you start to realize what has real impact in your school? And where are you wasting your time. And therefore, when you come out of that exercise you have, you have that clarity about what it really is going to take for you to achieve your vision for 100% of your students. And armed with that clarity, you help people do work where they can be successful, you're setting people up for success, because you've already done the thinking to say this thing is the thing that's going to help us get the most success. Let's do that. So when you go in front of people, you have more credibility, because you've been clear because you've done the thinking. And because it works, because you've already thought that through ahead of time. So that's why I would encourage you today to do one plan. 

Now, if you are already a member of builder, ship university, you know, we have the one plan training, and you can also take a look at it, the recording should be up inside of builder ship University by now. And you can take a look at the one plan training and downloads are one plan. So if you're in building up University, we got you covered. But if you're not in builder, ship University, and you want to get started right away, all you need to do is think about what's my vision, mission and core values. And then think about what is the one thing I can do in each of the seven categories, the seven principles that is most likely to move my school towards my vision, mission and core values. And if everything else went away, and we just focus on that, this is what's going to give us the most potent, powerful movement forward. So I want to challenge you this week, to just ask yourself that question of all the things we do, what are the things that really matter most? Can you distill that down to five to seven things?

Do you know what they are? Do you have clarity around that? Or are you just doing all the things and hoping that something will work?

The difference this year for you is really and how well, you focus. Follow one course until successful. So let's stop doing all the things. And let's focus like a builder. Glad to be back with you. I'll talk to you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build master teachers.