Stop playing whack-a-mole


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 176. 

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 I want to talk about something that kind of got highlighted.

The other week when I was throwing a small party, I was throwing my mom and my sister and I were throwing a birthday party for my dad. And at that birthday party, we spent all this time putting out these trays, I mean, beautiful food trays with, you know, arranging things and trying to think carefully about what goes on each tray and making sure that they were tantalizing making sure that we have the garnishes, right? Yeah, they were just when we finished, they were like Instagram worthy trays. And we put them out in front of people. And we're like, Okay, everybody, the food is ready, help yourself. And everybody just stood there. And we couldn't figure out why. And it wasn't that they weren't hungry, they were very hungry, they came hungry. It wasn't that the food didn't look appetizing, we'd spent all this time making it look appetizing. But they could not get started. Because we'd forgotten to put out the forks. Everybody had made a plate, but they couldn't taste the food, because we didn't put out the forks. And, you know, we scrambled and we got the forks together quickly. But it highlighted a problem that a lot of us face when after we've gotten our visions together.

We're so excited about our visions, we want to do things right away. 

And the problem isn't that we have all these things we want to do those things are important, they're good. The problem is, is that if you do them in the wrong order, if you put out the tray, and spend all your time arranging the tray, but you don't give people forks, so that they can taste the food that you've lovingly arranged, then all of your efforts on the tray were worthless. A lot of us are seeing that in schools right now we're doing all this work. But we are putting the cart before the horse where we're putting the tray before the fork we are. We're doing all this work on things that are important. Yes, but they're not the first step. And so today on this podcast, I thought I'd talk a little bit about how do you figure out what is the first step? How do you make sure that you're not doing things out of order? How do you make sure that you're not putting the tray before the fork.

Now before I jump into that, a couple of really cool reminders. So we have a closed enrollment for the October cohort of builders ship University. So that is the build ship University is no longer open, we are probably going to open up the final cohort for 2022 for builders ship University at the end of this month. And so you know, if you hear that tick tick ticking in the back of your brain, because you've been wanting to join, build a ship University and every time it's open, you're like, hey, I need to join and then you're putting it off and not joining, you'll only have one more opportunity this year. And so you want to start getting ready now. And so what you need to do is go to build your ship and then click on the waitlist so that you can make sure that you're notified as soon as that cohort opens, make sure that you can get in before that cohort closes so that you can get started on the work for your builder ship.

Now what is not closed right now is builders lab. Tickets are now on sale for builders lab. And here's why you may want to consider builders lab. First of all, builders lab is an experience unlike anything you've ever experienced before you may have experienced PD in the past, but people consistently tell us that when they come to builders lab, it is the best PD they've ever experienced. That's not me talking. That's just what we hear over and over again. And that makes us feel really great because that is our goal.

We want this to be the best PD experience you've ever had. 

And the reason we call it a 360 degree experience is because that's our goal. We want to make sure that you're not only learning valuable things, but that you're able to take that learning and apply it back to your school as soon as you get back to your school. In fact, a lot of people in Build your slab, learn something implemented that afternoon, and it's already installed in their school by the time everybody gets back to school the next day, I mean, that's how practical builders lab is. But more than just learning something, we want you to have an amazing experience. You know, one of the things that I love to do is spoil builders, I love that. And so we work hard to make sure that you're not just learning meaningful, valuable information, but that your entire experience is something amazing. So we call it 300, the BL 360. Because you get a 360 degree experience, we take care of, you know what you see, so that you get a box in the mail, and it's visually appealing. And the whole setup for the virtual platform that we have set up. It's it's visually engaging, you're not just staring at slides, we built an entire studio. So there, it's like I'm there, you're right in the room with me. And there's a lot going on, you're not just bored. There's there's shifting things constantly so that you're you're staying engaged. And it's a visual treat for the eyes, we want to make sure that we take care of your hearing, we have the best playlist in education I that's that's my nobody's told me that that's my declaration. Everybody loves our playlists, we get comments all the time that playlist is fire. So what you're hearing is really good, the audio experience is really good. We've created a schedule so that you don't get zoom fatigue, so that everybody always says, Wow, the day went by so quickly, you know, I wasn't ready to end.

And so we make sure that that is that that sense is taken care of, we want to take care of the tactile sense, one of the reasons why we send you a box is so that it doesn't, so that you get that tactile experience, you know, the challenge with a lot of virtual experiences is that, you know, you're just sitting in front of a screen, no big deal, we send you a huge box and have like a little box with like a bookmark and a pin. This is a huge box. And inside of that box are other boxes, we are opening new stuff all the time. So you know, you're not going to open up the whole box and get everything at once that creates that anticipation and surprise. And there are all kinds of goodies and surprises. We love packing the box. It's like one of my favorite things to do. And we're always dreaming up new things to put into the box. So you get that tactile experience, then you also you know, get your tastebuds tantalized. And I won't tell you how but it's really cool. And you get this sense of smell every part of you is engaged when you come to bl 360. And here's the thing that that that really matters is that when you leave below 60, you're ready to tackle all the things that are waiting for you.

You know, people always say I don't have three days to take off. But there's a reason why you don't three days to take off. It's because there's some things that are not working in your school that require you to be there to put out all the fires. One of the things that people say to us over and over again, is that when they leave Bill 360 They feel equipped to take on what's coming, they feel equipped to tackle all the things they feel like they finally have a sense of direction, and a sense of control. You know, they don't feel so, so scattered anymore. So when you leave below 360, you have that you have that that sense of direction, you have that sense of purpose, you don't you feel like all of the things that have felt like problems all year long, you now have a solution to solve them, and you just can't wait to get back into your school to do that. So like I said, tickets are on sale right now. And I would love it. If you come we keep it small because I like getting to know you I like getting to work with you individually. I like understanding your context, so that we can customize things to make sure that you're getting what you need. 

The other thing I love about BLK 360 Is that you can come as an individual and when you come as an individual, you we match you up with other people who are in similar situations. So you meet new colleagues, you learn from people, you create this network, and you work with the same group the entire time. So you can bond and build and you're not like explain, you know, every time we go to break our own, we're not like Hi, I'm Robin, I'm here, you know, you actually get to be with people who get to know you. And people have built bonds around that they stay connected long after it's over. But if you come as a team, it is really an incredible experience because we will put your team together. So as you're learning you and your team are going back and implementing right away. And so whether you come alone or as a team, you're going to have an experience where you're learning not just from me but from each other in ways that are not superficial, they're they're valuable, they're meaningful. I could talk all day about BLK 360. You just need to come if you've been thinking about it, you've heard me talk about it for a long time. It needs to come you need to be here and I want to be able to work with you work with you and your team and help you take this idea of this this builder ship and actually turn it from just being an idea to being something that it's alive in your school you may have read the book you may have been up podcast listener for a while you like the ideas, you've been trying different pieces.

Now it's time to stop dabbling and build a ship, and golf all for just get everything you need when people you know, I was talking to somebody the other day, she's been a Beale 360 twice. And you know what she said, she said, I have two builders manuals, because when you come you get a thick, thick, thick, thick book with tons of resources, we don't even have time to go through all the resources there. But we put them there, so that you have it, you can use that manual long after you leave. She said, I have two builders manuals, I keep one at work, and I keep one in at home. Because it's so valuable, I'm always pulling it off the shelf, I'm always going back to some of the resources there. I mean, it's that valuable, we, we work hard to make it that valuable for you. So if you want to join, go to mind steps That's mindset Alright, now that I've made those announcements, let's get to the heart of what we're talking about today. Because this is really important.

You know, it's not just knowing what to do that matters. You also have to know in what order.

And the mistake I see a lot of people making is they read the book stop leading start building, they say I love builder ship, I want to start building right away. And they just pick a piece of the process. And they the one that appeals to them, the one that seems to solve the problem that they're feeling the most right now. And they jump in and they start trying to implement that part of the process without really understanding that it's not just doing the right thing, it's doing the right thing in the right order. And what I don't want you to do is spend a whole bunch of time working hard at at a part of builder ship that your school is not ready for yet. I don't want you to spend a whole bunch of time with an idea that you fallen in love with that feels really great to do that you think would solve your problems. But that idea depends on some other things being in place first. And and if you forget that part, or you ignore that part, then you you spent all this time building something and then you it doesn't work and you you start to under not understand why you blame the model, you blame yourself, when in fact, it's not that that thing didn't work, it just wasn't the right time for it.

Timing is really important. And I think a lot of people miss that part. They they they get excited about an idea whether it's the builder, ship model or some other model. And they jump in, and they don't consider whether or not this is the right idea for the right time. And so the way the solution to that is something that we call micro slicing. Now, when we first started creating micro slicing, we started out as a way to help you quickly get into classrooms, pinpoint the root cause of a teacher's practice, so that you could give teachers feedback and support that actually move their practice forward. And so the idea around micro slicing is really simple. You spend five to seven minutes in a classroom. And during that time, you're not writing anything down, you just spend that time observing. And when you leave a classroom, you do a debrief with yourself or with your partner, see if you're observing with other people. And the question you're asking is, is very simple. The root question is, of all the things that teacher did well or didn't do well, what's the one thing that if the teacher were to address it would make the biggest impact on that teacher's practice? And so once you get into the habit of micro slicing and going into classrooms with that lens, then you pinpoint so the example that I always use is that when you go into a classroom, and let's say the classroom is a disaster, let's say that the teacher has like 20 Different things that they're not doing it like the the objective is unclear. And they're not checking for understanding. And they're not asking high level questions, and they're classroom management issues that go on and on and on. Of all those things. If you just have the teacher fix, try to fix all those things, then the teacher gets overwhelmed and they give up, they feel demoralized. If you have the teacher just try to fix one thing, your favorite thing, if that one thing doesn't make the meaningful difference. If the if that one thing is not the thing that's going to make the meaningful difference, then they've worked hard to fix something that isn't going to matter because something else is at play.

So let me give you an example. Let's say that it comes down to you know, the teacher the classroom management isn't there. The teacher is asking low level questions. The teacher doesn't have support structures in place, their lack of routines and transitions. Let's say you have the teacher work on routines and transitions, but there's no real learning objective. There's not support for students with the learning objective. The teacher is asking low level questions. The teacher works really hard on routines and transitions, but doesn't address those other issues. Then the teacher is smoothly moving from one disaster to the next disaster in the lesson. So the teachers worked really hard on something thing that doesn't matter. That's that it's important. Yes, you do need smooth transitions. But it's not the most important thing for that teacher to work on right now they put out the tray, you forgot the forks. The same thing is true for school. So not only can you micro slice a classroom, you can also micro slice your school. And let's say that right now, there's several things that aren't working your discipline policy isn't working, you have an increasing number of suspensions. The teachers are not teaching to standard, they're dumbing things down because kids just got back from COVID. They don't feel like the kids can do the work. Attendance is an issue right now. And you're trying to figure out how do we address that because you could try to get attendance back up. You've got staffing issues. So you've got a lot of subs going on. So you keep having to tinker with the master schedule, and on and on and on.

Which one of those things should you be spending your time tackling first? 

Because if you don't know the answer to that, you could just pick the thing that feels the most urgent that that or you could pick the thing that you were you feel the most confident about your own abilities to address, or you can pick the thing that you're getting the most pressure on from your district. But is that the right thing? Do you spend all your time and energy working in this one area when there's something else that that really is the root cause that that you should be working on. And then as a result, you waste your time and energy and effort over here. And then wonder why doesn't work? You see too many leaders right now are already starting to feel a little burned out. Here. The teachers were in many cases often in a summer, but the leaders were in the building, still trying to figure some things out, still trying to recruit teachers still trying to fill vacancies still tinkering at the Masters scheduled doing all the things we need to do over the summer. And now you've now that things have died down now that we're into October and the honeymoon is worn off and and now you're getting the reality of your school, everything can feel a little overwhelming it it is it can feel rough. Because over the summer you thought, Okay, we've got the vision, we know we're going to do this year is going to be a little different. We're walking into this year stronger where we're back to quote unquote, normal. So now that you're in October, and all of these challenges are cropping up, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed, because you feel like you're playing this giant game of Whack a Mole where every time a problem cops crops up, it's your job to try to whack it back down and solve it. So you're wanting in all these different directions, you're working really hard, and you're not seeing the results from your work. And the answer is not you got to work harder?

And the answer is not. I need to to delegate more. And the answer is not self care. And the answer is not. I need to take some things off my plate. The answer is instead of trying to solve everything, focus on the thing that matters, focus on the thing that will make the biggest difference, instead of running in 25 different directions. The answer is to focus on one thing at a time, but the right thing. And if you can determine what the right thing is and focus on that, a lot of the other stuff begins to take care of itself, you actually see progress, you actually achieve momentum you at you actually can can start to solve problems and eliminate them once and for all instead of just managing problems until the next one crops up and hoping that this one that you thought you manage over here doesn't crop back up later on. When you need to take time, step away. And instead of just getting into the day to day and into the weeds and and the habit of just going to work every day and just reacting to everything that crops up. You need to take some time and step back and look at everything and try to figure out okay, what is the root cause of all of this? What's the one thing that if I didn't address any of these other challenges, if I solved this one right here, it would make a tangible difference, and how our school runs, it would be being a tangible improvement in the way that our students experience school, it would mean tangible growth to our vision. And if you narrow it down to that one thing, that root cause that that one thing and that you then focus your energy and your time on that one thing. And then you see the tangible difference. Instead of feeling overwhelmed instead of feeling like you're working really hard and not making any progress instead of feeling like you're on that school improvement hamster wheel.

You'll actually start to gain momentum.

Because then after that, then you say okay, now that that's all what's the next one thing and the next one thing? And the irony is that by focusing on one thing and solving it, you actually make more progress than trying to deal with 12 different things. Because you can put your time you're in Do your focus on the thing that's going to matter the most, that stuff is going to be there. But it's there. Now. I mean, honestly, are you really solving anything? Or are you just spending your whole day managing stuff and trying to keep stuff from getting out of control? Are you really eliminating anything? Or are you just, you know, keeping every pot from boiling over. If you're not solving anything, then all that stuff you think you're doing that you're spending all your time doing, it's not actually resolving anything. So it means you're going to continue to have to work that hard, you're going to continue to have to put out those fires, you're not putting them out, you're just managing the fires until they crop up again. And when you have a flare up, you jump on that fire, and then the next one, and next one, you never actually resolve anything so that you eliminate something so that you have less things to deal with. When you can focus on the one thing and you start resolving the right one thing, you do it in the right order in the right way. It not only solves that issue, but it also reverberates into some of those other issues. Because here's the thing about the root cause the root cause has its tentacles and a lot of other symptoms of problems that are out there, if you can really resolve the root cause you mitigate the other symptoms. So all of a sudden, those other things that felt so urgent, don't feel so bad, because you solve the root cause. 

So what I want to challenge you to do today is stop running around and trying to fix everything, you can't first of all, and it's wearing you out, it's only October, it's wearing you out, it's not sustainable, it doesn't serve your kids doesn't serve you. So stop, instead, take some time to take a step back and look at everything. And, and identify the one thing that if I just worked on this, and everything else stayed the same, this will make the biggest difference. And our ability to achieve our vision this year, this will make the biggest difference in in, in the culture and climate of our school, this will make the biggest difference in terms of moving our school forward. If you could just figure out that one thing and then then focus your energies, your effort, your time on that one thing, not to mitigate it. But to solve it completely. Not only are you a eliminating your biggest headache, but you're also mitigating the symptoms that have been reverberating throughout your school so that they they become less and and you're achieving momentum because you're actually getting something done complete salt, never to be dealt with again. So that's how you kind of take things off your plate, you solve them, so they don't jump back onto your plate when you're not looking. And here's the thing, you're the only person in your building positioned to do this. This is part of what it means to be a builder. Everybody else is implementing. And your role, your job is not to go around running around solving problems, your job is to identify the right problems to solve your job is it's not to go in and just run around and try to make everybody else's life easier by doing their work or by taking on some of their work because they're overwhelmed. Your job is to figure out why is the work so overwhelming to begin with? And how do I make it less so so that everybody benefits? Your job is it's not to run around and do things other people could be doing that's redundant. why don't why do I need you if they're already doing it?

Instead, your job is to take a step back and do something only you can only you have the time and the perspective in the building to be able to do this. And if you neglect it, it does not get done. So as you're looking at your schedule, you're saying, Okay, if I don't do this, is there somebody else who could do it? Is there some other position or role in the building where that can be done, and just about everything else on your plate? That is true, there's somebody else that can do it. The only thing that is there that nobody else can do is identify that root problem. The one thing that you need to be focused on right now, to get your entire organization to focus on that one thing and to do the work it takes to solve it. Your job is not a problem solver, your job is to be a problem finder. Because when you find the right problems and you get everybody focused on solving and eliminating the right problems, then you create this momentum then you start playing this whack a mole and instead you move your institution forward.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that this idea around micro slicing is exactly what we do in builder's lab and in fact, micro slicing you can only get a builder's lab we that's the only place we do it. We spend much of day to a builder's lab microsites and we show you how to micro slice the classroom so that when you go into a classroom within five to seven minutes, you're going Want to develop the ability to be able to pinpoint the root cause so you can get the teacher on the right track very, very quickly. That means that that allows you the opportunity to get into more classrooms, that makes your feedback, more high quality, it makes your support More more targeted to the needs of the teachers. And it makes improvement more consistent in your building. Because you're helping people work on the right problem. We actually show you videos of classrooms, and then we look at a five to seven minute slice of a classroom micro slicing, see the slice, we look at that slice of that instruction, and then we work together to practice it. So it's not just something I'm teaching how to do you actually practice it and experience it, so that when you leave builder's lab, you can go and start doing that in the classrooms in your building.

And the other part is that we show you how to microsites your school, how to take a look at everything that's going on in your school, how to quickly understand the data. So you're not doing these deep, excruciating data does, but how to quickly go through the data and interrogate the data looking for the answer to just one question. Of all the things that are happening in our school right now, where should my attention be focused on at this moment. And so we show you a process for doing that we give you the tools for doing that. So when you leave builder's lab, you'll know what the one thing is for your school. And you'll know how to determine the one thing is for each teacher. So I invite you again to come to build your slap. Because if you realize that you're playing whack a mole, if you realize that, that you're feeling overwhelmed if you realize that you're not actually solving any problems, you're just managing problems. If you realize that you've put the tray before the fork to continue my metaphor from the beginning, then you can figure this out on your own, but you can also let us help you I'd be happy to help you figure that out.

That's what we do at builders lab. That is it. When you walk out a builder's lab, you'll have the skill to micro slice classrooms. And you'll have the skill to be able to microsites your school, and will actually go through the process with your school so that when you walk out, not only will you have the skill you'll know for your school right now, what is the number one thing you need to be working on and you'll be able to focus on that. So mine steps to help you identify your one thing, like a builder. I'll talk to you soon.

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.

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