School Leadership Reimagined - 5 Things you should be thinking about now

5 Things you should be thinking about now to set yourself up for a strong second half of the school year

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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 184.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hello there, and welcome back to another episode of School Leadership Reimagined. I'm your host Robyn Jackson, And today, we're going to talk about next year now, I know that right now, a lot of you are just trying to hold on until winter break, you need uh, you're you're tired, you're exhausted, your staff is exhausted, everybody is just kind of slogging through the month of December. So that we can just get to winter break. And then maybe we can get a break and then take some rest. And then we'll start thinking about next year in January. Or maybe you're like some administrators, and you're saying, I'm not even thinking about next school year right now I need to get through this school year.

So I'll think about next school year in the summer. 

But I want to tell you why today, that's a mistake. You see, you have a huge opportunity right now to not only in this school year strong, but the things that you do in the next couple of months will determine whether or not you have a strong school year, next school year. And as builders, we're not just reacting to how we feel today, we're putting things in place that are going to set us up for huge success later on. That's the difference between being a builder and a leader as a builder, you're you're going out ahead, you everyone else is kind of just in December, but as a builder, you're already thinking about January and February and March and, and the end of the school year. And you're also thinking about August and September of next school year. That's what builders do. We go out ahead, we build something amazing. And then we invite people to come into that to step into that future. And if you really want to do that, the time to do that is now so we're going to talk about that today. But before we do that, a couple of quick things I want to talk to you about the first one has to do with be basic.

So if you've been in our universe for any time, you know that builder ship University is our mentorship program. And that's the program where you once you come into that program, we work with you to help you achieve your 100% vision for students in the next three years or so. And to do it with the resources that you already have. So you don't have to do you know you don't have to like buy something new or have new money or funding, we will show you how to get there with the school you have right now. And because of that mentorship, because it's a mentorship, we are walking with you step by step, we are giving you individual feedback, individual support, you know it's a it's a it's a program where once you come in, you become a part of, of our universe, and you're never alone, you always have that kind of support there. And we created bu basic because people were saying that not everybody was ready to make the investment and build a ship University and we wanted to have something there. For people who weren't ready yet, you know, it's so that you could at least get started.

So we created a space where you could get access to all kinds of free resources, we had a couple of mini courses in there. And many of you joined V basic and took advantage of some of those resources. But here's the problem. Those resources are there. And it's just kind of up to you to find your way through those resources. And what we realize is that we're not really doing a service to you, you know, build a ship University. Because it's a mentorship, we really work with you intensely we, we understand your situation, we help you work at your pace, we help you think about what you're dealing with and how to take that situation, whatever it is, and turn it into a success story. And we realized that the BU basic experience wasn't mirroring that we were just kind of giving you a whole bunch of resources and it was up to you to figure it out that that's not fair to you. And it doesn't actually help you get started on your builder ship journey. Because builder ship is not just about finding the latest resources. It's really about this idea of building a school where 100% of your students can be successful. And we find the best way to do that is through that mentorship through that support through that hands on personalized individualized support and be basic wasn't providing that experience. And so we've made the the difficult decision to close down bu basic, where it's not serving you and the way that we serve our, our, our clients. And so we, we don't want to just give you another, you know, thing to do another pool of resources, there are great resources, and we have tons of them. But without guidance through those resources, I'm not sure how much they're really serving you.

So for those of you who are members of be basic, you're going to be getting an email, if you haven't gotten it already telling you how we're going to be closing things down, you're going to have a month so that if there are resources that you really love, you can go grab those resources and have access to them. And then at the end of the year, we're closing down the basic, and we're putting those resources in the vault. Now. That's the bad news. Here's the good news.

The good news is that in 2023, we are creating new ways to serve you that are more reflective of how we serve our clients and build a ship University. So we're not just going to give you resources and then leave you leave it up to you to figure out how to use them. When we release a resource out of the vault, we're also going to be releasing training and support to help you use that resource. We have some really incredible master classes that we're going to be releasing next year, where we can walk you through that and they're all going to be free.

So we are not going to stop providing free support for you. 

We're just going to use an another way to do it something that is more reflective of the experience that you have inside a builder ship University, something that is more reflective of the mentorship that we're providing clients. So I want to let you know that if you are in bu basic right now, and you have some resources that you've been meaning to check out, we're giving you a month to do that. If you're in be basic, and you haven't taken the mini course yet, you know, we're gonna give you some time to do that. But at the end of the year, we're going to close down that platform and devote our energies to providing the mentorship that we become known for. And to be able to do that for our folks inside of builder ship University and help them build schools where 100% of their students can be successful. And then providing many mentorships for those of you who are not quite ready to invest and build a ship university, but you do want to get started in your builder ship journey. We're very committed to helping you become builders wherever you are. And so we're going to continue that commitment. But we're just not going to do it through be basic because that experience is not reflective of the quality of experiences that we want to provide for you.

So you'll look for an email, if you're not a member of B basic, then you can just ignore everything I said it's but it doesn't, it doesn't apply to you. But if you are a member, be basic, just look for that email, it outlines exactly how we're going to close things down and gives you some opportunities to grab some things and make sure that you have everything you need. So that when we close it down, you don't, we don't leave you bereft. But then also look forward to some really incredible free opportunities that are going to be happening in the coming year. I mean, we have already started mapping it out, I get goosebumps thinking about just the quality of experience that we are going to be providing next year, and I can't wait for you to experience it. And so look out for that. And we'll be making some announcements in the beginning of January. Okay, so that's the first thing.

The second thing is, from time to time, I, I think we're going to start a new feature on the podcast. And that is I want to call it B winds inside of builder ship University. And we have a private online community forum where we you know, post things for feedback and ask questions and get support. But we also have a dedicated thread just for winds. And some there's some really incredible winds happening inside of builder ship University, I did a an episode about some of those winds a little while ago. But I think it would be encouraging from time to time to share with you some of the cool things that are happening. So that as you are on your builder ship journey, you can see the benefits you can see what other people are doing. And that can encourage you especially when you're having a tough day.

So we're going to try this and I want to share a couple of wins. 

So the the the start this out there a couple of things that happened this week in office hours that I am so proud of. We have someone and I won't use her name, but we have someone inside of builder ship University who has who's who came to a new school this school year. And she's really really been struggling to to to kind of acclimate ourselves to the school to figure out what it is they want to build trust and rapport with the staff. You know all the things that happen when you when you when you started a new school in a new position. And it's been a source of a lot of stress. And this week, she came into office hours and she said I have my vision and now Oh, that she has her vision. Everything else is clear. Like before she's thinking, Okay, so where do I start? And what do I address? And these are the challenges that people are having? And how do I address these challenges? And which one do I do first? And should I do this? Or should I do that?

The moment she had her vision, all those questions went away. And instead, she's now like, Okay, so first, we're going to do this. And then we're going to do this. And this is what I'm going to announce it. And this is what I'm sharing my vision story. And this is how we're going to move forward. And this is what we're going to do in January. The power of having your vision and having clarity around your vision is incredible. Because before when you don't have a vision, everything feels like another challenge you have to solve. Once you have your vision, no matter what the challenge is, you're like, oh, okay, based on our vision, this is how we need to move forward. So I want to encourage you, those of you who may be think, you know, struggling right now, because there's so many challenges you're facing, and you're scrolling and not sure where to start. And you think I'll do my vision later on. Because right now I need to do all these other challenges. That's, that's, that's out of order. The moment you get a vision that is powerful, that is urgent, and that is unset assignable and, and that's meaningful. The moment you have a vision like that, all of your challenges get put into their proper perspective. And you stop putting out fires and appeasing everybody, and, and surviving. And it gives you this new sense of direction. When you go to work every day, you're not, you know, sitting in your car outside of the school saying, you know, girding your loins and saying, Okay, let me get myself together and go in here and see what's going to what I'm going to face today. Instead, you walk into the school with purpose, and the things that used to distract, you no longer distract you, because they're put into the proper perspective, the challenges that used to stress you out, no longer stress you out, because you have this bigger vision. So the challenges are put into their proper perspective. It's not that they go away. It's not that having a vision magically makes challenges disappear. But what it does is it diminishes the challenges impact on your ability to get work done every day.

And so I just want to share that with you to encourage you that, that we are seeing in real time insight to build a ship University, people who come in, overwhelmed, bogged down, exhausted, tired, frustrated, and feeling like they're just overwhelmed. And that the work is no, there's no joy in the work anymore, right? They start out that way. But when they get a vision, all of a sudden, those same things that used to distract them and bog them down and frustrate them and overwhelm them now get put into their proper perspective. And the vision gives them a new sense of purpose, it creates momentum in the school, it helps you feel confident that about the work that you're doing, it helps you focus on the right work. That's the value of having a vision. So if you're feeling overwhelmed this week, I just want to encourage you that, that it doesn't have to be that way. And we've seen it happen over and over again. Instead of build a ship University,

Having that vision makes all the difference. 

All right, let's jump into thinking now about what's coming ahead. I'm gonna do this in a series, there's a lot to cover. But today, I want you to just get a perspective that now is the time to be thinking about how to finish the school year strong. You see, this is a lull in our year, right? We're, you know, this point, everybody's kind of just holding on until, you know, the holidays come. And so you're doing programs and you know, holiday parties and all those things. And it seems like everybody's just kind of, you know, chillin and that they're, you know, the, the intensity of the work has kind of slacked off. This is the perfect time for you to get ready for reigniting that intensity in January. A lot of people think I'll deal with it in January, or they try to kind of make up stuff to do when they're on break. Well, when you're on break, you should be on break.

Wouldn't it be great if when you went into break this year, you already have things set up so that when you walked into the building in January, it was already done. You didn't have to deal with anything, you'd have to come up with anything. Things were already in motion so that you could go back to school day one the first day back in January, and you already have stuff there. You're not trying to scramble and create momentum, the momentum is already there. If you're a builder, you are thinking about that. Now you're thinking about what do I need to do now so that when we come back after break, we're ready you're not thinking about how do I hold on and survive until break? You're already beyond that you're thinking about after break. So what I wanted to talk about today is it's how do you start thinking about what are some of the things that you need to be considering now so that when you come back in January, school is just moving you've created about momentum.

And so this is not a complete list. But these are some ideas of some things to start thinking about. 

So the first thing I want you to think about is I want you to think about your vision and your mission and your core values. This is the time that if you don't have a vision already, you need to start creating a vision. Because everybody's, you know, January, everybody talks about New Year's resolutions, and you know, people are primed to think about, okay, this is new, this is a new beginning. So if you do not have a vision in place, you want to start thinking about and get your vision together now, so that when people come back in January, you can start sharing your vision with your staff. And it's a great way to kick off this new calendar year, but also to kick off a renewed sense of energy for your school year. Okay, so that's the first thing.

Now, let's say you already have a vision, January is a great time to start thinking about realigning your work so that it is more in line with your vision. And I'm seeing a lot of posts online now about what can we take teach off teachers plates? I've done podcasts about that. But instead of just randomly taking things off people's plates, you should start thinking now about What work are you doing that is out of alignment with your vision? And how can you eliminate that work? What work are you doing that is in alignment with your vision? And how can you double down on that work. So, you know, I've done some podcasts and some recent podcasts about looking for bright spots and, and and thinking about your vision and checking out to see if things are in alignment. This is the time now for you to be thinking about that. And to start putting things in place so that when you return in January, the work is more aligned. Because we all know, January, February starts and then we get into testing season and everybody's overwhelmed and cranky, because it's you know, weeks before the next break, which is spring break. And you want to put things in in place now so that when you come back, you're not doing work that is out of alignment with your vision, that work is gone, people come back and they can really focus on the work that is in alignment with your vision, and they can start seeing results so that it doesn't feel like we're on this constant treadmill, just continually working hard, and not seeing results from our work, we can actually start seeing results. 

So now's the time to start thinking about that. 

Third thing I want you to start thinking about is your master schedule your I think we underestimate the power of the master schedule. And in the new year, I'll be doing some some episodes to kind of talk about Master scheduling and some things you can think about and start start considering as you get ready for Master scheduling season. But I would always start master scheduling November, December, right? I know people are I can't think about that right now people aren't people are still doing their master schedules in June and July know, your master schedule is one of the best ways to to build your vision, your mission, your core values into the DNA of your school. And so if you have a vision and mission and core values now, you should this is the time to start looking at your master schedule and figuring out what parts of our master schedule are out of alignment with our vision, mission and core values. And what are some things that we need to consider as we go into master scheduling season in the new year, now's a great time to reflect on what's working and not working your master schedule.

Now is a great time to take the master scheduling calendar that we have inside of be basic, and pull that out and start putting things in place scheduling things, what are you going to do your articulation? When are you going to have counselors come in and work with kids to think about schedules for next year? What are some missing courses? And one of the things that we don't consider is that we're like, oh, okay, we want to add this course. But is are your teachers trained? Are they ready to teach that course. Now's the time to start thinking if I want to add a new program or a new course so that I can start getting teachers training. So I can start think helping teachers think about the work now so that when we launch the course next fall, the teachers are ready, they're prepared. The first year isn't a wash because teachers are figuring it out. I've given them time to to think it through to get the training to get the supplies that they need, so that those new courses or those new programs will actually work.

When I first started mine steps one of my first clients was the College Board and the College Board hired us to go into schools that did not have AP programs and help them build AP programs. And so we would go in a year before the course started and go in and help them figure out what courses they needed to add. How do we get teachers training? How do we make sure that teachers are resource How do we prepare students so They will be successful in those upcoming AP courses. And we will take an entire year just setting things up. So if you're thinking about new programs, now's not the waiting until till the spring to start thinking about that it's too late. Now's the time to start thinking about what can what enhancements to our programs can we do? If you're thinking about a different schedule? Now's the time to start playing around with those ideas, now's the time to start preparing teachers. And also now is a time to start preparing students.

Let me give you a concrete example. Let's say that you want to launch a new AP course. And you need to think about the kids who are going to be taking that course next year. What could they be doing in their current coursework now that prepares them with a mindset and the skills and the soft skills that they need to be successful in that course next year? Next year? You're thinking about revamping your reading program? What do you need to be doing now to prepare students to think differently about reading and be ready to step into this new reading program next year? Next year? You're thinking about? We need to increase the rigor in our coursework? What do you need to be doing now? What soft skills you need to be doing what what you need to be experimenting with in terms of teaching techniques, so that you can figure this out? So next year, when you start the new program, you don't have the bumps and starts of the people normally experienced during the school year? It's a seamless transition. So now's the time to start dreaming about next year, where do you want to see your school next year? What are some of the things that you need to put in place and give people an opportunity to practice now, so that when you have the full program next year, everybody's ready to step into that program and be successful in that program? So the big question you want to ask is what I want to do next year? And how do I begin setting up the school to be successful in the thing I want to do next year, now's the time to start thinking about that.

Another thing you need to start thinking about in addition to kind of your master schedule and big programmatic changes, is now's a good time to check in with your staff. 

Now you've heard me advocate that you should be doing regular focus groups, with your students, with your staff and with your parents. If you're not doing regular focus groups, then now's the time during December when everybody's kind of had half a school year under their belts. Now's the time to start focus groups before people leave for the holiday. Focus groups with your teachers, focus groups with your students and focus groups with your parents. What a great idea would it be to have a holiday coffee and folk chat with parents have at the beginning of the school day, you know, half an hour before school starts, invite parents in have coffee, serious, some cookies, or some donuts, and talk to parents about what's going on. Don't wait for the PTSA meeting, catch parents when they're dropping kids off, then do another one at the end of the school day to catch parents when they're picking kids up and have an opportunity for parents to sit down and share with you their experiences. Because you can take that feedback that you gather in December and adjust things so that in January, people see tangible, you know, improvements in your school based on their feedback. Same thing is true true for your staff don't have, don't just ask the entire faculty to give you feedback. Take teachers in small groups and focus groups, ask questions. And listen, listen, there's going to be yes, there's going to be some complaints. We're overwhelmed with this. But really dig as what is so overwhelming what parts understand what is really at the source of teachers frustration, rather than just reacting to their complaints. That insight can help you make really good decisions when it comes time to return to school in January.

And then finally focus groups with kids. Now, if I had my way, you'd be doing this once a month minimum. But if you haven't done it so far, this is a great time to start. Small groups of kids, we did a whole podcast episode, take a look back in the in the podcast feed and look for the episode we did on focus groups. We'll also link to that episode in the show notes. But you need to be doing focus groups with kids. Well, how is it working out for kids? How are they experiencing the school year? What are their frustrations? What are the things that they believe are working because that should more than anything else guide the work? How are we serving kids? Are they are they benefiting from these programs? If not, why are we doing up? So when we're starting to think about what do we take off teacher's plates and how do we focus for the new year, the students should be giving you that guidance and if you're not talking to them if you're not listening to your students and then and what they need, then you're missing a huge source of information, which will determine the success or failure of any new initiatives you create in the new year, two, you definitely need to be checking in with kids. And then the last thing you want to start thinking about as you're going through the month of December and you're getting ready for the new year, is you want to start really doubling down on systems.

Now I'll do a whole episode on the systems that you need to be creating. But in this time period where you know, the everybody's just kind of holding on, and there just isn't all bunch of new stuff happening. This lull and the lull in between, if you're working at all between Christmas and New Year's, if you're coming in, this is a great time to create systems that are going to make your life so much easier. When you return to school in January, if you don't have a system around how to give teachers feedback and support, you need one, right? A lot of us are just you know, kind of every year doing catches catch, can trying to get our evaluations in. And this baffles me how so many leaders every single year, you know, you have to evaluate teachers, you know, you have to get into classrooms. And if they don't have a real system for getting into classrooms, they have no system for evaluations, they're just every year, it just feels so random. Why would you do that? Why wouldn't you have a system that allows you to give teachers really meaningful feedback and support that actually helps them grow. If you don't have systems around that, now's the time to create those systems. As you go into evaluation season, so that you don't drive yourself crazy, trying to scramble at the end of the year to get into classrooms to complete your evaluations, you get them done, you get them done ahead of time.

One of the things that I was really proud of when I was an administrator, the first year, I was figuring it out that you know, I did my best. But after that I said, this is ridiculous. I need a system for doing that. And the second year, I created a system. And then every year afterwards, I just refined that system. I got into classrooms, I got my evaluations done, I believe I give teachers feedback that really supported them and help them grow as teachers. And I was never stressed out about knocking out my evaluations, you know, my colleagues were coming in on the weekends catching up taking work home in the evenings, I could sit at work, get my evaluations done, get things back to the teachers, my stuff was in same thing is true for the master schedule, we were always, you know, in first, second third in our district to have a completed master scheduling, my master schedule wasn't finished somewhere, you know, mid to end of May before the school year was out, I felt like I'd failed. I wanted to get this stuff in. Because the once we got it in, then we could send people into the summer knowing what they're going to teach next year, we could prepare people for it, we could make sure that the kids were being served. And I wasn't drugged during crazy.

So if you don't have systems around that if you don't have a system around cultivating a healthy school culture, then you know when that that that then those winter months when we're just holding on for spring break, that's when toxicity really begins to fester in your school. And you'd need a system around that if you don't have a system that helps teachers become more accountable to the most important work in your school, not because you're chasing and checking and correcting them. But because you're setting teachers up to be successful in doing the work that matters most. If you don't have a system around that, you're going to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off come the new school year. So now's the time to really take a good look at the systems that you have. And ask yourself, are they working and if not, now's the time to put things in place. So that when you return to work in January, you have a system you can rely on, you can hit the ground running, you are doing work and being efficient and effective. You're leaving work earlier, you're not taking work home nights and weekends. And you are making a bigger difference. When you're at work every single day. You don't have systems, you just start thinking about now I'll probably end up doing an entire episode on creating those systems. And I know we have some, some really, you know, some really cool resources that I can't tell you about right now. Dr. I'm trying my best to hold it. But we have some really cool things happening in January to help you create those systems if you don't have the systems already, but you need to start thinking about your systems.

Here's the thing. I know everybody's tired. Everybody wants to kind of just chill. 

I used to love December at schools because you know, they're just bunches of parties and programs and it just felt like a really good way to kind of, you know, like coast into the new year. But you don't want to coast into the new year. You want to do some things now while there's time while while the pressure doesn't seem to be there, because the pressure is coming in the new year. And if you set yourself up now when the new year comes arms, you don't feel the pressure, you don't experience the pressure the same way everybody else does. Because you, you, you, you were ahead of the game, you put things in place now, for what you know is coming. I mean, that's the thing that I just don't get. Every year, it's the same thing. We know what's gonna come in January and February and March, we know it's coming. Why wouldn't we do things now to prepare for that when we have this time, so that when that pressure comes, it's not affecting us the way it's affecting everybody else. It's not creating stress and overwhelm in our lives. We're ready for it. So when it comes, we're just like, okay, great, well handle it.

That's the difference between being a leader and a builder, a leader is, is, you know, you're out in front, but you're just a little bit ahead of everybody else. And so you're experiencing things with everybody else, when it comes, a builder goes out ahead of everybody else, they chart their path, they start putting things in place, preparing the way so that when they invite other people to join them, those people are not stepping into chaos, those people are stepping into to something that that is organized, and something that is that has set them up to be successful in the new place. So I challenge for you this week, to start thinking about it started thinking about, if you don't have a vision, you need to have one, so use the month of December to create a vision for your school. So you can share it in January, when people are receptive to hearing that sort of thing anyway. So get ready to be to launch your vision in January. If you do have a vision, he'd be thinking about a couple of things.

First of all, now's the time to get feedback from your students, from your teachers from your parents, focus groups, right, this is a great time to do it. You can you know, have holiday cookies and donuts and candy canes and coffee and tea and hot chocolate and bring people together and collect their feedback because their feedback is going to help you in the year strong. Second thing, you don't have a master schedule, and you're not planning for that already. Now's the time to do that. Don't wait, we have a master Scheduling Calendar instead of instead of be basic, get the calendar, it starts you it's a year long calendar but pull up the December stuff that and start putting things in place based on what the checklist is for December, so that when you return to school in January, the master scheduling process is going smoothly. And you have the opportunity to really build some things into the DNA of your school that are truly aligned with your vision. If you have a vision, you want to start looking at where are we misaligned with our vision, because that gives you the direction for what you need to be addressing and fixing in the new year. And then finally, if you already have your vision, you should be thinking about your systems. And the four systems that I really want encourage you to think about systems around feedback, supporting teachers, accountability, and setting teachers up for success, and transforming your culture and making it a healthier school culture.

If you don't have systems around that, now's the time to start putting those systems in place.

So that when you come back to school in January, you've created momentum, when people come back, they're not just saying, hey, oh, yeah, okay, now we're back. Where did I put that thing? And where are we going to know they come back, and there's a focus. And that focus is going to carry you through what I believe is the most difficult time of the year, which is that those winter months that law between winter break and spring break, where everybody is feeling a lot of pressure and the half the year is gone. And we need to be making progress, we need to get ready for testing and everybody's already feeling overwhelmed and pressure anyway, why not put some things in place to make that that that that time period more productive to make that time period not feel so overwhelming to make that time period actually pay off for your students and your teachers. So that's my challenge for you this week, just start thinking about it. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share with you a little bit more detail about how to do those things, how you should be building the systems, how you should be thinking about your mascot. All those things? Well, we'll support you here in the podcast. But right now I just want you to start thinking about that you have a huge opportunity this month to really position your school to be to have a really strong second half of the year. So the choice is up to you. Do you just say I'm tired? I can think about that right now think about that next year, or are you proactive? And are you starting to think about that now, so that you actually look forward to next year you get excited about next year because, you know, you put things in place to make it an incredible second half of the school year. Every year, we go through the same thing, but I just want you to know it doesn't have to be that way. And the work you do right now can make all the difference between whether you just survive the rest of the school year, whether your second half becomes even stronger than your first half. But only if you think ahead, like a builder. 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, then you need to Join builders ship University. Just go to build a ship university.com and get started writing your school success story today

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