Navigating the hidden power dynamics of being an administrator


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 187.

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 something that I don't hear a lot of people talking about when it comes to talking about the challenges of administration, it's, it's one of those things that kind of is under the surface, but people don't usually acknowledge and, and that challenge is this, there's a real power dynamic going on in all of your interactions with teachers. And if you don't understand the power dynamic, and if you don't, if you're not careful about how to navigate it, you can actually hurt relationships that you have in your building, you can actually sow distrust in your building, you can actually add to the toxicity in your in your building, without even realizing it.

So today, we're going to talk about how to navigate the power dynamics that come naturally with your position. But before we do that, a couple of really cool things happening, the first thing is that we are in the final stages of closing down the the free bu in fact this week is the last week you'll be able to access the free bu we are closing it down. And by now you know the reason right because even though we were trying to do something to make resources available for free, we realized that the way we were doing it was actually violating the who we were as as as a as a as an organization builder ship University is a mentorship. And the focus of builder ship University is not to just get resources to people, the focus is to help people implement those resources and see results. And the challenge would be you free is that we made a lot of resources available, but it was up to you to implement it and get the results from them. And you didn't really have our help our support or guidance to be able to do that, which is no different than if we were to like go to some random education conference and stuff aren't your bag full of handouts and PowerPoints and resources. And then you go back to your school and you have the best intentions about implementing it. But without that support, that mentorship that goes along with it, it's really hard to implement. And so we're not going to do that anymore.

But it doesn't mean that we're not going to still make as much as we can available for free, we're just going to do it in a different way. 

So in 2023, we have some really cool things planned, that not only give you access to free resources, but help you implement and use those resources immediately in your school and see immediate results. Because that's what the experience is how to build a ship University is like and so we want you to have a taste of that. And so we're going to be doing something really cool. No, I want to tell you so Beverly can so I'm just gonna just all I'll say for now is you need to look out because you know, the moment 2023 starts, we're going to start, you know, dropping some things that are going to be game changers. And so you can look out for that. And so for those of you who are worried that we're closing down, you know, the free offerings, one of the things that we're very committed to doing as an organization and I've done this from the very beginning, people always say Robin, you give away too much for free. But here's the thing, our mission is that we want to make schools a place where every child can be successful. And as much as we can we want to get this information into your hands so that you can implement it so that you can start achieving your vision for 100% of your students. That has not changed. And so we are just refining the way we do that to make it more powerful, more potent, more more impactful in your schools.

So if you have not You're not ready to invest in builders should be university yet and but you still want to start your builder ship journey. Right now. I got you we're going to continue to do some things for free and you can look for to some of that happening in January. The second cool thing is that we had a win inside of builder ship University this week that I want to highlight. Now listen, every single week, we have wins inside of builder ship university people are, are, you know, experiencing, you know, great big wins like huge test score gains, there's experiencing smaller wins like a teacher who was really struggling has turned things around or have a program in the school that wasn't working. The teachers get involved in adjusting that program and making it work. And now it's working beautifully. Or they're, you know, we have people, we have those kinds of wins all the time, you know, people who are getting kudos from their Accreditation Committee because of how well their school is being run, or, you know, those are the kinds of wins that we experience every single week. And a lot of times, you know, I have to stop myself from talking about those wins, because all I would be doing is bragging about the builders inside of builders university that the things that they are doing are just so incredible to me, and it would make me insufferable. So I don't tell you everything. But every once in a while, I feel like I need to come on and celebrate what builders inside of builder ship University are doing.

And this week, one of our OG builders she's been with us for several years is Adrian Hudson Adrienne started with us. She was a first or second year principal. I mean, it was very early on, she started right before COVID She's doing this amazing work, Adrienne has a heart for for for for mission. And so she's got she's she's she's giving so much back to the community. She's been applying this builder ship model in the work that she's doing. And it's making an incredible difference. And this week, Adrienne Hudson was named district administrator of the year. And so our district is recognizing something that we inside a builder ship University have known for a long time that Adrienne and the work she's doing is really special.

And that's what happens when you become a builder, you make this this ironclad commitment to 100% of your students being successful. And when you do that, and when you start doing the work of of supporting students and pursuing that vision for 100% of your students, things change inside of your school, the test scores go up, the culture shifts, your teachers get better all of those things happen. But it things also change inside of you, you become different. And one of the things that is our goal inside of builder ship University is not just that we help you turn your school into this incredible success story. But we help you become the kind of administrator who can do that over and over and over again. And so one of the reasons why I'm so proud of Adrian and the other builders inside of builder ship University, is that the things that they are learning don't just apply to their school, they become different, they become builders. And when you are a builder, you can walk into any situation and turn it around. And other people begin to see that inside of you, they see that you're different, they see that you're special things that we've known all along things that we celebrate each other for inside of builders ship University. Over time, other people begin to recognize that as well.

So Adrienne, congratulations to you, we're so proud of you. 

And we're proud of I'm really proud of all of the builders and builders ship university, because the work you're doing there is absolutely incredible. And as the more you do this work, the more people outside in your district in your communities begin to see what we've been seeing in you all along. And they begin to acknowledge that and recognize that. And again, it's not because, you know, the builders and builders ship university or you know, a herd of unicorns, you know, these are not people who are just, you know, all the big these these superheroes. I mean, they're superheroes to me, but they're ordinary people who have just committed to, to stop paying lip service to every child and actually start doing the work it takes to actually help every child succeed. And because of that, they become the superheroes they they they become extraordinary. So just a little proud moment there. Just want to brag on the builders inside of builder ship university because I love them so much. I'm so proud of them. And so anyway, well gushing.

Now let's get to our topic of the day and I thought about this actually started recording this this podcast once and got about 15 minutes in and had to stop and start again because this is a tough conversation to have and it really has to do with the fact that the moment you become an administrator, there is a power differential, that changes your relationships with the people you serve, it changes your relationships with your students, right? When you're their teacher, you have a different relationship than when you are the principal. It changes your relationships with your colleagues one day, you're being invited to happy hour, the next day, people kind of leave and they don't make eye contact, they're going to happy hour, but you're in your office still working. It changes your relationship with central office. You know, as a teacher, a lot of times you have very little dealings with central office as a principal, you are now someone who has a lot more dealings with central office, it changes your relationships with parents, as a teacher, you're the person who's directly working with their child. But as the principal, you are the referee between the parent and the teacher, you're the one that I as a parent, I go to to get something and advocate for my child, it changes things. And even if you did nothing, you know, a lot of people say no, that's not me, me and my staff, we're like family, and I get that.

But the very fact that you have the title principle, changes the relationship. 

And I wish we would talk about this more, I wish we would warn people before they went into administration that this was going to change things because we don't warn people. And when people get into the position, and they now have this new power, they often don't know what to do with it. Many of us don't want it we want to be seen as, as as a part of the team, we still want to be a part of the team. And you are but you are now in a different, you're playing a different position on the team, you're not on the floor all the time, you are on the sidelines coaching, you know, one of the hardest things that I found, when I became an administrator was that in as a teacher in a classroom, everything I did directly impacted student performance. As an administrator, I no longer had the same kind of direct impact on student performance, I had to create those results through other adults. And that is so frustrating because those other adults don't necessarily share your passion, they do things differently than you would they they may not want to do things that you know, they may not be driven by the same, the same passion that you're driven by, they may take longer than you want them to take. And so becomes very frustrating. And I didn't understand that when I became an administrator and dealing with that frustration of how do I get people on the same page? And how do I how do I get people doing what I need them to do is a refrain that I hear across the administrators that I've served over the years.

Because while there is a power differential, that power doesn't, doesn't automatically mean people will do what you say. And so I wish that we were warned about this, I wish that in our admin training, we that people talk to us about this more, we're just kind of thrown in and then expected to navigate it. And it's a very tricky thing to navigate. So what I'd like to do now is just share with you a couple of tips or strategies that you can use to help navigate that power differential. The first strategy is you got to acknowledge and admit that it's there. A lot of people don't want to admit that it's there. You got to acknowledge and admit that is that it's there it exist. No, you are not as much as you all on the same team as much as your school and staff might be like a family as much as you know, you might be going to people's baby showers and weddings and potlucks over the weekend, you are still different.

Because you have the power over their professional lives. You create the master schedule, which determines when they work and when they don't work, what periods they have off how the rhythm of their day is going to flow. You evaluate them so you in many cases determine whether they get a raise or a bonus or whether they keep their job next year you you sent How are how they're seeing that as a professional you, your word is often the final word and that you are the one who determines what happens to a student they send out of the classroom and whether or not that student is going to respect them inside the classroom. Going forward. You are the one who determines whether they have to cede to an unreasonable parent demand or not. You have power over their lives. And you need to recognize that. The second thing is because you have the power with power comes responsibility. And if you ignore that you have that power then you are often irresponsible with that power without even realizing it. Because you have the power to set the tone for their day. You have The power to, to put a stamp on their, what their, what their professionalism, you have the power to determine how they're seen by students and parents, you have to be very careful about your actions because they splashed back on your teachers. And so what that means is that if you don't recognize you have that power, and if you are not carefully navigating the work, you could change how students see your teachers, you could change your parents, your teachers, you could change how teachers feel about their profession. 

So how do you handle that power responsibly? 

Well, if you've been listening to this podcast for a while, you know what I'm going to say next, vision, mission and core values. You see, the decisions you make impact the lives of your teachers, we always talk about how it impacts your kids, but it really impacts your teachers, as well. And their ability to perform their ability to make an impact and the way that they feel about their jobs. They're your decisions impact how other people feel about your teachers. So how do you make decisions that empower your teachers? How do you make decisions that support your teachers? How do you make decisions that help your teachers see themselves differently? How do you make decisions that that help your teachers have the biggest impact? And the answer is, you always sift your decisions through your vision, your mission and your core values. Instead of builder's University, we have a tool called the the alignment architecture. And the way the tool works is that every decision that you have to make, the first thing you do before you before you even you know kind of make a decision or go with something you you you ask yourself three questions, you say, how will this decision affect our ability to achieve our vision? Will this decision keep us on mission or off mission? And third, does this decision in any way violate our core values?

Now, after you've sifted this decision, through your vision, mission and core values, you'll know whether or not the decision the alternatives that you're considering which ones are legitimate or not. And then you'll kind of whittle things down, and maybe you're left with a couple of different alternatives. So the next set of three questions you're gonna ask are this, will this decision help us to have the impact that we want to have in our community? Secondly, will this decision keep us in integrity with what we say we want to do? And then third, will this does this decision align with the identity that we've created as a school community. And so once you've sifted through those six things you're going to come out with in the tool, it's a score, but even if you're not using the tool, you're just sticking it through the clear right decision will will will start to emerge. And if you make the decisions that you have to make as a school using that framework, then not only are you more sure about being responsible to the people you're serving, and using the power that you have responsibly, but you've created a level of transparency and trust in your teachers, that even if they don't agree with your decision, they understand how it was made, they understand that process. And so they can trust your decision. That lets them know that you're not just getting in your office and randomly, you know, using your power without considering all the different ways that can impact your students and your teachers that lets your teachers know that you take your power seriously. And you are making decisions in a way that serves them that serves your kids. And it helps you make hard decisions that that maybe not everybody will agree with but you're making those decisions using that filter in a way that people understand. And people can support those decisions. And people don't feel threatened by your decision making power and they don't feel like they're victims of your power.

They feel like the power that you've used to make those decisions. 

You've done it responsibly. So first, understand that there is a power differential. Secondly, when you are making decisions, use a process that creates that creates that sense of transparency, so that people understand how your decisions are being made so that they can support them. The third thing that you need to do for your power people he's talked about shared decision making, and in most cases I hate to say this, but shared decision making you know what they call shared decision making, is usually a sham. It's a farce. How many times have you had somebody say, Well, we're gonna make this decision together, and I want to hear everybody's input. And then they hear input they disagree with, and they ended up doing what they were going to do to begin with. That's disingenuous. It's an abuse of power. If you really want to create this sense of shared decision making, knowing that there is a power differential, knowing that at any point, you can say, Nope, I don't like this, I'm going to make the decision. And everybody knows that. So there, you're not on equal footing at the very beginning, if you really want to make a sense of shared decision making, then you need to take the decision out of your opinion, your opinion, your opinion, your opinion, and place the decision in on neutral territory. And the neutral territory that you can create is really around that vision and mission and core values. If it's not about what I want, or what you want, or if it's really about which decision best serves our vision, our mission and our core values, that's when you can have genuine shared decision making, because you've taken this decision out of this unequal power dynamic of position. And you've placed the decision in a place where everybody is on equal footing, because the decision is not about your opinion, or my opinion, it's about what best serves our vision, mission and core values. Now you have true shared decision making. And you don't, you don't, you don't have the messiness of the power dynamic involved.

There's a third piece, you know, first, you got to understand that there's a power dynamic. Secondly, you have to make sure that you're using your power responsibly by creating a space where people can truly come to the table on equal footing around the most important decisions that you have in your school. And then the last part about this power dynamic, that I think a lot of people forget, is that you're still human. And a lot of times, our positions put us in a place where our humanity gets lost behind the title. Because when you're the principal, a lot of times you feel like you can't Stroh show vulnerability, a lot of times you feel like, you, you, you have to, you have to play the role, because everybody's looking to you. And you forget sometimes that what people need is to remember that you are human. If you allow yourself to get sucked into the role that everybody expects of you, as the principal or the administrator or the superintendent, then a lot of times you begin to erase the parts of you, that that got you there that made you who you were, who you are, and you begin to assume the persona, that you believe everybody expects of you, I see this a lot. And it is just as much of an abuse of power as going in and arbitrarily making decisions and being vindictive and all the other things, you know, when you begin to be the principal or assistant principal of the administrator, though, Superintendent, when you begin to take on that role and erase who you are, then you that you get sucked into other people's expectations of how you should perform, and you cheat people of the value that you bring to that position. And so you've got to fight hard to make sure that you stay who you are, doesn't mean you can't learn doesn't mean that you can't grow.

But the you the thing that that that that that made people want you in that position in the first place, you can't lose that. And I see a lot of people doing that when they get into the position because they face pushback or they face you know, they face criticism or because it's harder than they expected. Or because because their district is saying no, you have to do things a certain way. And in order to keep the position. They feel like they have to become somebody different. They have to become who other people expect them to be. And oftentimes, other people's expectations of who you need to become are smaller than who you need to be in order to achieve your vision. I want to say that again, because that's really important. If you try to squeeze yourself into other people's expectations, usually they are calling you to become smaller than who you need to become in order to achieve your vision. Other people's expectations are Hey, if you make a 5% income So this year a 3% increase this year, you're doing something? No, you come with a vision of 100%. And, and so in order to meet other people's expectations, because a lot of times as a builder, you're sitting in a room of leaders, and everybody's bragging about their leadership, you know, gains. And you're sitting there saying, Am I weird, because I want something more, my weird because 5% gains are not enough. And over time, you can start to question yourself, and then instead of being the builder, you are called to be you squeeze yourself into becoming the leader, that everyone expects you to be the power differential that that the role creates, can also create a box. Because that power, the the ability to to impact the lives of your students and your teachers, is often constrained by the definition of that role that expectations people have of you in that office.

And so you believe that in order to hold on, to the power, to, to change things, to make things better for kids, you have to start giving up the power of your vision, the power of your mission, the power of your core values, you feel like, oh, I don't want to be a dictator. So I'm going to listen to people and other people are telling you, well, we can't do that. And you feel like you have to take that into consideration. And in doing so you legitimize their complaints, and those complaints start to leak into your psyche, and then you begin to believe you can't do it. And then you think, Oh, I really can't take people faster than they can go. And I'm pushing too hard. And everybody's telling me to do that. And you feel guilty about the power that you have. And so you start ceding that power to the naysayers, so that you can hold on to the power, only to realize that the more you cede it to the naysayers, the less power, you have to make a difference for good. And so you end up with no power, you give it to them, you give it you give over your power to their negativity. You got to fight that. It's a trap. And the way you fall into that trap is that you start out by not recognizing that there is a power difference. You then you because you don't recognize that there is a power difference. You don't understand how to leverage that power difference for the good. You feel guilty about it, you, you or you're trying to hold on to the power at all cost. And in the process, ironically, you lose it. It's a builder. That power that you get from being in your role can be used for so much good. If you understood how to use it, if he if you if you didn't lord it over people and use it to abuse people, if you if you were clear and transparent about the fact that you do in that position, have a degree of power and then begin to leverage that power on the behalf of your staff and your students to to help people see a vision that they can't see, to help people embrace this idea that 100% of your students can be successful, to put things in place to make that possible. Not only possible, but probable, not only probable, but your reality.

Then you're using your power for the good. 

But if you don't acknowledge the power differential, if you try to ignore it, or pretend that it doesn't exist, or you try so hard to hold on to the power that you end up leaking the power to the naysayers, and ceding that power to people who can't see your vision and and want you to become small, you will lose that power. So let's stop playing games. Let's admit that there is a power differential. And instead of hiding from it, or ignoring it or or trying to smooth it over, because you don't want to make people uncomfortable. You need to understand that the power differential exist. But it doesn't mean that you still can't be connected with your staff. Because hearsay and then what happens at the end of the day, when you understand that the power differential exists when you acknowledge it when you use it responsibly. It frees you up to be to have a deeper connection with your staff, right because when you're ignoring it or when you're trying to you know, you're trying to kind of you know, not deal with it and sweep it under the rug. It's just dirty secret that's sitting out there in between you and your staff members, when you acknowledge it And when you can use it for the good and the betterment of your staff, you actually create more connection between you and your staff, and you free yourself up to be more human. you free yourself up for your staff to be able to see you for who you really are, and trust you. Because they know that you're given all of your quirks and your personality and who you are, you are you, they can trust you with the power that you have over their lives. And when they can trust you, then you have deep connection, when when when you are, are both aligned to a vision mission and core values, then you can have that, that that that deep connection, that creates the kind of relationships that keep you from being lonely in the main office. So that power that exists, it's there, but the power is neutral. What you do with that power determines whether or not that power differential is good or bad.

And your job as a builder is to recognize that it exist, and then use it for the good. 

So your challenge this week is pay attention to the power differential and the way it shows up in your day to day interactions with teachers. You got to really pay attention because a lot of times we ignore it but but that power differential will determine whether a teacher says what they really mean or says what you want to hear that power differential determines whether a teacher trust the vision or has distrust for your vision, that power differential determines whether or not the teachers see you as somebody capable of helping them become something better, or whether they don't trust you enough to grow into the kind of teacher they need to become to make that happen. That 100% vision happened for every student at your school. Pay attention, because it's there. And then the next part is once you understand and see where it's there, start looking for ways to build. Using that power to build, build your students, build your teachers, build the school's capacity to achieve your vision, build the place where everybody feels heard and seen. And, and everybody's united around something bigger than any one person, take that power and use it to empower others to achieve that vision for 100% of your students.

Remember, power is neutral. And the way we were trained as leaders is to either hide from that power, ignore that power, or inadvertently abuse that power. So that it becomes more about getting ahead or holding on to the little bit of power we have I mean, it's not much, but it's enough to make a difference. But you know, people act like it's the Holy Grail, it's that usually it's not all of that, but people want to hold on to it so tightly that they end up abusing it and losing the power that they had to make a real difference. So you can do that. Or you can take the power that comes with your position and use it to empower others to do something bigger than then then than they ever conceived of doing. To build a school where every child is successful, to to galvanize an entire staff full of people to to step into something bigger, more heroic, doing something that that matters in this world. That's how you leverage the power that has been entrusted to you. 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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