Is your school “on mission?”


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 186.

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 I want to ask you a question is your school or district on mission, you hear me talk a lot about vision and why vision is so important. And it really is.

But if you just have a vision, and there's no compelling why behind that vision, then your vision really doesn't have the meaning and power and impact that it could have. But when you combine a a powerful builder's vision with a powerful builders mission, that's when you can have this amazing impact on the lives of your students, on their families and on your community. So want to talk about what does it mean to be on mission today.

Now before I do that, a couple of reminders first of all, those of you who are in Bu basic, our free version of builder ship University, just a reminder that the basic is closing within a week, we have decided to close down be basic. And the reason we decided to do that is because we realized that the experience you're getting and be basic has no resemblance to the experience that you get inside a builder, ship University, be basic, you get access to a couple of live things every single month and and you get access to a ton of resources. But just giving you access to resources, it's not helping you implement what we do inside of builder ship University is we mentor you. So you not only do you get this, you know vault of resources and trainings and live sessions, but we help you figure out what you should be working on right now. We give you feedback on what you're doing. It's not just you have a resource, there's an expectation that when you get the training and the resource, you immediately install that system into your school. And then once you kind of build the system before you install it into your school, we give you feedback on how you're doing building that system so that when you do go to install it into your school, you know it's right. And be you free wasn't anything close to that.

So we have made the tough decision to close down BU free.

And then you've gotten emails about it if you're already in there. And in 2023, we have I can't I mean, I'm about to spill it, yum, I can't hold anything, right. So I'm trying not to spill it. But in 2023, we have some experiences happening for you that are going to still give you some free access to our resources and our training, but in a way that is much more consistent with the kind of mentorship that you get inside of builder ship University. Now, speaking of builder ship University, it's closed right now we have closed the last cohort we've on boarded our last cohort and we're not opening it up again until sometime in 2023. However, there's a waitlist and if you want to get to the front of the line, if you know you want to join builder ship University and you want to be at the front of the line, you need to go to builder ship and sign up for the waitlist. And if a spot opens between now and the time we do a big cohort opening up in 2023. With you're on the waitlist we will send you a note and let you know that a spot has opened up. If not, then you will get the to the front of the line and get first access when we open up the cohort.

So we have a capsule in our cohorts. And so we'll open up a cohort. But then once the spaces are gone, we close down the cohort. So if you want to be at the front of the line, you know you want to be a part of builders should be University and frankly, why wouldn't you it's an amazing program. If I say so myself, then you just need to go to build a ship and sign up for the waitlist and that puts you at the front of the line. So as soon as a spot opens up and builds up university, you can grab that spot. Okay, I think those are that's it for the announcements today. 

Let's talk about this idea about your school being on mission. 

So You've heard me talk about the power of your purpose and your school, your purpose is comprised of your vision, your mission and your core values. The first step is to have your vision. And so that's really where I spend the most of my time. Because if you don't have a vision, your mission feels really meaningless. Your core values don't have the power and impact they need to have, you really need to start with a vision. But by now many of you have done that and you've gotten your vision 100% of our students are going to be performing at our above grade level, by grade three 100% of our students are going to be are going to successfully complete algebra, one by eighth grade 100% of our students are going to graduate and listed enrolled or employed, you have that 100% vision.

Here's the problem. Your vision loses a lot of its impact if there's no why behind your vision. So why is it that you want all of your kids on grade level? By grade three? Why is it that you want all of your students to have passed algebra one by eighth grade? Why is it that you want all of your students to graduate enlisted, enrolled and employed? And if you don't have that compelling why, then people can weaponize your vision against you? You know, we've heard over the years of school districts that really pushed increased test scores. And so people feeling that pressure said, Oh, the goal is increased test scores will use any means necessary to get there. And they ended up cheating and having this huge cheating scandal about test scores, because they had that vision, we want to raise test scores, but it wasn't supported by compelling why your vision loses momentum over time and meaning our time if it is not accompanied by compelling why. And when you have that compelling why that mission, your mission modifies your vision so that your vision becomes more and more unique to your school. Let me give you an example. Let's say your vision is you want 100% of your students to be at or above grade level, a lot of people have that vision. But what makes that work different in your school, then the other schools that have a similar vision?

Well, your mission is the answer.

Why is it that you even want 100% of your students to be at or above grade level in reading and math? Is it because it sounded like a good thing to do? Is it because you want to you know, gain a higher score on your state's rating system? Is it because you want bragging rights? I mean, those are not compelling wise, those are not things that are going to carry you and your school through a crisis. Those are not things that are going to make people get out of bed every morning come to work and bring them best selves every single day. But what have you said, I want 100% of our students to be reading at or above grade level, because because reading is the first step, and we're laying a foundation for students and we're setting them up for success for the rest of their lives. I want 100% of our students to be at or above grade level in mathematics, because I want students to have that sense of numeracy that allows them to navigate anything that they want to do in the world outside of school, or I want 100% of our students to be at or above grade level. Because I want We exist to to create more opportunities for kids, and to help them make better decisions about the opportunities that they have. I want 100% of our students to be at or above grade level, because we want every student to to feel empowered to do whatever they want to do in their lives. Now notice a difference in those wise.

So now I'm not just working on increasing test scores, when you asked me to do something different in my practice as a teacher that I don't really want to do, because it feels like more work to me. It's not just more work. It's a part of a bigger mission that we all embrace as a staff. Take the example of I want all of the kids to have algebra by eighth grade. Well, one school who has that vision has that vision because they looked at some data released by the College Board that said that the only two reliable predictors of college success are the highest level of math a student has achieved and the number of AP student AP courses a student takes in high school. Now, of course, it's from the College Board. So that data may be a little biased. But this school took that data and said, well, our district's you know, bigger push is for college and career ready. How do we know that a student is college and career ready if we're Middle School? And their answer was if everybody completes algebra by eighth grade, it opens up the opportunity for students to take the highest level of math that this district offers. If they don't get algebra by eighth grade. It limits their ability because in their district students did not algebra one and ninth grade geometry in 10th, grade algebra two and 11th grade. And then they could go to trig or maybe AP statistics, but they really weren't ready for AP Calculus, because you needed that trig component. So the high school is having to do, some are bootcamps to get the trig component and all kinds of other things. And it really limited students opportunities. But if they had algebra, one in eighth grade than a ninth grade, they could take geometry 10th grade, they could take, they could take algebra to 11th grade, they could take trig, or precalc and 12th grade, they could take AP calculus that could take AP Statistics, they could do dual enrollment, math classes, there were just a lot more opportunities available for students in that district. And it helped set students up to meet some of the reliable predictors for college success. So you can see how a mission of setting students up for success in college making college an option for every students giving students the best shot for success in college. That helps explain why we're pushing for algebra one in eighth grade, it's not about bragging rights. It's not about you know, some whim of some principal or superintendent, it's really about something deeper. And as a result of it being about something deeper, people are more committed to doing that kind of work.

And that's what a powerful mission does, it modifies your vision. 

The challenge is that a lot of us get so focused on the vision that we forget the mission, the mission becomes kind of something that we kind of we commit to doing at the beginning, we have this mission, but then we don't check in with ourselves periodically to ask ourselves the question is our work still on a mission? Let me give you an example. One of the schools I'm working with right now, their mission is to foster curiosity and joy and learning, that's what they believe they're here to do. But if you go into a classroom every single day, especially now that we're getting closer to, you know, some testing deadlines, and we're, you know, people are really pushing to try to overcome learning loss from last year, a lot of the joy has left the building, it's no longer available in the classroom. And a lot of the teachers are not approaching their work with joy, they're, they're tired, they're overwhelmed, some of them are getting a little cranky, because of the work that they're doing. And the pressures that they're under, the principal isn't demonstrating joy, because the principal just feels like all they're doing everyday is putting out fires, their work is off mission.

And because it's off mission, they're gonna have a harder time pursuing that vision and having the impact that they want to have. Because in order to have the impact, that your impact is a combination of your vision and your mission. So they need to do a recalibration, they need to do a reset, because it doesn't make any sense to pursue a vision and to keep pursuing a vision, if the way that you are pursuing that vision is off mission. And I say this all the time, your vision, your mission, and your core values should function as one complete sentence. And if you only focus on the first part, the vision, or you only focus on the core values, and you neglect the mission, then your work can drift off mission and it can severely affect your culture, it can severely affect the way that you pursue your vision going forward. And it can affect the integrity with which you, you pursue and protect your core values.

That Miss mission is an important piece. But it is probably the most neglected piece in your purpose triangle. And so I want to challenge you today to ask yourself a simple question. What's our mission? And as the work that we're doing every day on mission, and then I want to challenge you to as you're seeking answers to that question to several things. The first thing is go visit classrooms and instead of of going in with your checklist or going in with your walkthrough instrument, just wander around the building for 30 minutes and an hour. Go in and out of classrooms and ask yourself is does this classroom feel like it is it is on mission is what the teacher is doing in this classroom on mission? Are the students responding to their learning in a way that is consistent with what we say our mission is? So the first thing is, wander around, look at the classrooms and then I want you to look at people in unstructured time. If you have passing time. Look at people in the hallways when they pass. Look at people when they come into the building in the morning your adults and your students look at people when they leave the building at the end of the day. Look at how people behave outside of the building on the playground or in the lunch room or in the pickup line and ask yourself the question. Do Do these experiences this unstructured time? Do they reflect our mission is the way that we are doing this work on mission.

And then I want you to think about your meetings, the staff meetings, your admin team meetings, your PLC meetings, just go and sit in the meetings stay for, you know, three minutes, five minutes or so. And ask yourself the question is this conversation on mission, or the attitudes that are present in the room on mission is the focus of the agenda on mission? And then finally, I want you to take a look at how you spend your time. Are you spending the majority of the day doing things that have nothing to do with your vision or your mission or your core values are is the majority of bulk of your energy and time and attention focused on things that have that have very little to do with your mission of your work? Is the work that you are doing when you are working on your vision and you are working through your core values? Is that work on mission? And if the answer is no, after visiting classrooms, looking at unstructured time, paying attention in meetings and thinking about your own schedule? If the answer is no, we've we've drifted away from our mission, then the next question you want to ask yourself is okay, how do we get back?

How do we get back on mission? 

Let me give you a real concrete example of that. So it's working with the principle. And their mission was really about creating it's a similar mission to one that's my personal mission for students, which is that they wanted to create new opportunities for students, and help students make good decisions about the opportunities that they had. That was their mission. challenge was that their vision was really about helping students all their students be at or above grade level. And what they found was that, in order to make sure that students were at or above grade level, they were starting to tighten up instruction. So they wanted all the teachers to plan a certain way the learning intention had to be on the board, they were using all kinds of research based strategies. They had walkthrough instruments, where they're looking to see that teachers were using these research based strategies in the classroom. And so the more tightly they tried to control what was happening in the classroom, in order to get students on grade level, the fewer options and choices students were allowed to make.

Now, how is it that I'm going to open up more opportunities and help students make better decisions, if every second of their time throughout the day was structured, and programmed. And so while they were doing all the things that the research said they needed to be doing in order to pursue their, their their vision of every child being on grade level, they lost sight of the mission, which was, ultimately the reason that we want students to be on grade level is because when they're on grade level, they have more opportunities. And the other reason we want students to be on grade level is because we don't want to just give them opportunities, we want to make sure we're equipping them to take advantage of those opportunities and make good choices around those opportunities. How can I do that if I don't get me ever any practice, taking advantage of opportunities, making my own decisions, evaluating my decisions to see if they're good decisions, the more they tried to pursue the vision, absent of the mission, the more they drifted off mission. And at the end of the day, there was no joy in that school, the vision became a drudgery, and people lost sight of why they were there, people were getting very compliant, the culture was sinking. And it all happened because they lost sight of their mission. I know I talk a lot about vision. And the reason I do it is because it's your starting point, if you don't have a vision, you can't do anything else. But that doesn't mean that mission and core values are not important. You know, vision is the one that gets us all excited. Core values are sexy, because if we can get the core values, then we can solve a lot of the things that annoy us most about our culture. 

Mission is the is the stepchild of that triangle in a lot of cases. 

It sounds great, it's up, it's aspirational, all of those things. But how often do we stop and just do a pulse check to see is our work on mission. So one of the things I want to challenge you to do especially as many of you are headed into a winter break, those of you who who are in this hemisphere, you're headed into winter break in the next couple of weeks. This is a really good time to take stock and assess what's going on in your school. And ask yourself the question if everything we're doing aligned to our mission are we on mission now if you're in build ship University, your alignment architecture helps keep mission at the forefront your and the the it helps make sure that everything you're doing stays and alive. MIT with your vision, your mission and your core values, that's why you have it. And you also have a system architecture of the system met, that you're doing the accountability architecture, that helps you find opportunities to make sure that your work stays on mission.

So if you're in bill to ship University, and you're listening to this, make sure that you check out those resources, if you are concerned that your work is off mission. But even if you're not in bill to ship University, and you don't have access to those tools, this is a question that I'm hoping that many of you will consider as we go into break. Because if your work has slid off mission, now's the time to get back on January, February, March, sometimes April, are usually the toughest months of the school year. It's they're tough, because it's winter, and it's dark. In this hemisphere, those of you are in the the the Western Hemisphere, it's I mean, the the I don't know, the Western and Eastern. All right, any anybody in this hemisphere, it's dark, I know that some people are experiencing summer right now. But if you're here, this is the tough time, it's tough, because it's the middle of the school year, where, you know, we get a lot of breaks at the beginning of the school year, and then, you know, an occasional long weekend, but it's just a slog, you know, you're also the honeymoon is over, you're trying to accomplish some things, half the school year is gone, you got to get moving, testing is ahead. It's a tough time of the year. And this time of the year can be exponentially tougher. If it's just about the work, and we lose sight of the why. If you want to equip your staff, and your students and your families to not just survive these few months, but to thrive during these months. The answer is you got to make sure that the work is on mission. So now's the time to assess. And if you slit off, now's the time to go back to your mission. And to start thinking about how do we make sure that as we are pursuing these test scores, we're doing it in a way that aligns with our mission. How do we make sure that as we're pursuing these milestones, how we do it, it's aligned with our mission, there are a lot of different ways to get kids on grade level a ton of different ways. And so find a way that is in alignment with your mission that's going to get more commitment from folks, it's going to make sure that that the work has meaning and it feels relevant to everybody involved, when you can make it aligned to your mission. 

People say to me all the time, while I'm doing this, because this is research based. 

So I'm doing this because this is what the data says. I mean, data is neutral, we had our own baggage to data. But the numbers are just the numbers. And the problem is not the numbers. It's how we interpret the numbers. And we grab on these quote unquote, research based strategies without the context of our students, our needs, our goals, and we just, we just thrust them into our building, and we say, oh, yeah, we're doing research based strategies because of the data, as if that justifies why that should work for your students, your staff and your schools. If that work is off mission, I don't care what the data says, I don't care what the research says, it's not going to work. You have a choice. The reason why you are a builder, is because you are not blindly following what the research says what the data says without also sifting it through the lens of your school purpose. Someone once said to me, you know, data can say anything you want it to say if you torture it long enough. And it certainly is true. So when people talk about what we're doing this based on the data, I am so unmoved because you know, the data is only one part of the picture. 

First thing I want to know is what's your vision? What's your mission? What are your core values? And then what does the data say about how well you are moving towards your vision, how well you are sticking and staying on mission, how well your work is in alignment with the core values. That's what I'm more interested in data without context doesn't serve you. Same thing is true for research. Now, I believe in the research, I believe that research based strategies are best. But there are a ton of research based strategies which one is going to be best for you. And the only way you know that is you have to sift those strategies through your vision, your mission, your core values. That's why we don't run schools by robots or artificial intelligence. That's why we need you there. Your job is not to to Grab something because it's quote unquote research base. And by the way, there's so much trash out there claiming to be research based right now that just because it says research base doesn't mean that it's actually going to work for you. Your job is to sift through all of that. And make sure that whatever research based strategy you choose actually serves your vision actually serves your mission actually serves your core values. And if it doesn't, as great as it might be for research, it's not right for your students. So here's the question. Is the work you are doing right now on mission? And if the answer is no, what are you going to do about it? Because I can tell you this. If you allow your school to continue to drift off mission, your work loses meaning and it loses impact. It's not enough to have a vision.

Although a vision is critical. It's not enough to have core values, although they are necessary. The power commas and the combination of your vision, your mission and your core values, and your mission is the great modifier. Your mission, modifies your vision and says, we're not just going to pursue this, but we're going to pursue this in a way that honors this bigger. Why this reason why we're pursuing it, that's what gives your vision meaning. And your core values are great, but your mission is what helps keep your core values and integrity. When your work is aligned to your vision, your mission and your core values. That's when you can have that amazing impact. Because you're not just chasing a vision or you're not just having a mission on paper, but it's not alive in your schools, you're not just don't just have a set of core values that are really more belief statements than values that are non negotiable. Instead, you have created a clear purpose, vision, mission and core values. And you are aligning the work and constantly aligning the work to your purpose, so that you can not only achieve your goals, but you can do it with integrity and have a bigger impact than you can imagine. That's what it means to keep your work on mission. 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 and get started writing your school success story today

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