The advice I turn to time and time again


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 199.

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.

Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson.

And today I want to talk about probably one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given this advice has served me so well over the years. And I believe it can serve you too. In fact, this advice is one of the cornerstones of what it really means to be a builder. And it's one of the reasons why builders can be so calm and confident and relaxed. And so I want to share this with you today, because I think it could really serve you.

But before I get into that advice, I do want to talk to you for a bit about builder ship university because builder ship University is the place where not only do you get this kind of advice, but you get one on one support and feedback to help you achieve your vision for your school in the next three years. And the thing I love the most about builder ship university is that it's not just the curriculum, the curriculum is amazing, you are working through the process of implementing builder ship into your school. So, you know we the curriculum is mapped out step by step once you join builders ship university, you know, people always say they it's hard for them to get used to the idea that once you join, you can relax because we tell you the next step, and then they're like, Well, what about this, and I'm like it's coming. But you know, you have to do each step in order. And when people really give in to that and relax into that. It just takes away a lot of the stress of you having to figure it out on your own. Because now, it's already been figured out for you someone was saying the other day, all I have to do is do what, you know what, what the next step is and build a ship University. And then everything works out, I can just, I can just take it I can implement in my school, and then I don't have to worry about anything else. And I love that about builders ship university. But the thing I love the most is that we have deliberately engineered builders ship university so that you go from one win to the next win one victory to the next victory. And the success stories that are coming out a builder ship University, even for the people who just joined, you know, people have been in there for a month, they're starting to just go in our wins thread and saying I did this today. And it worked. I can't believe it worked. And so people are starting to experience those big wins. And it's just you go from one win to the next one to the next one. Until you achieve success for 100% of your students. That is what makes Bill distrib university so special. It's unlike anything that you've ever experienced before someone wrote to me the other day and they said I've never felt so supported in my entire career. And that's what we want we want when you come into builder, ship university, you can relax, you know, right now all the weight is on you, you have to figure it out. You have to try to make your school into a success. And you're doing it on your own you're doing it without the community and without the support. 

When you come in to build a ship university, you you meet your second family, you meet people who are going to be there to support you one of our members called build a ship University, her professional church, she comes she gets a support she's around other people who who understand what it is that she's trying to do. Because once you set that 100% vision, a lot of people think you're a weirdo, they they what they say that's, that's naive, you'll never achieve it. But in Boulder ship University, not only you're around people who believe that, but you're around people who are actually achieving it, who are who are making it work who are experiencing these huge gains. And it just becomes this place where you're safe, where you can calm down and just relaxing and know that you're going to be taken care of. And more importantly, it's a place where you can start seeing results. Now, we only do intakes a couple of times a year. But if you join the waitlist, then not only will you be notified early for the next intake so You have time to get things together. And so you can make sure that you secure your spot before they're all gone. But there are times during, you know, when builders should universities closed to the public where we have an open spot. And anytime we have an open spot, we go to people on the waitlist and they get their spots. So if you want to be at the front of the line and make sure that you get your spot and build a ship University, go to builder ship, and join the waitlist. And then every time we do an intake, you'll get an email that says, hey, we're about to do it, you'll get in first, if there's an open spot, you'll get that as well. Again, that's build worship And you can join the waitlist there. Alright, so let's talk about this advice. I don't know if you're like me at all, but I have a creative side. And there is a tendency in me to want to do all the things. 

So I go to a conference, I hear about something cool that somebody's doing. And I come back and I want to do it right away, I read a book that inspires me. And I really say, Yeah, we need this for school. And then I would go back to my school and want to implement it right away. And so over time, in my school at any one time, there might be 567 different initiatives. And what's worse is that if you feel any kind of sense of urgency around student success, then you feel like it's almost professional malpractice, not to do all the things not to create a new program for this group of students. And oh, these kids aren't being served. So we need to do this for that group of students. And these teachers need this help and, and so over time, all of these good ideas, you're trying to implement them all at once, and all at the same time. And there's an old saying, jack of all trades, master of none. And I know there's another part and people always say, Yeah, but the rest of it is, but here's the thing, when you try to do all the things, it's really hard to get good at any one of them. Not only that, but when you try to do all the things and you make all these changes, if you do see results, you're not sure to what you can attribute those results, right. So if I'm trying five different things, and I see movement, is it because I did all five is one of those things pulling all the weight. And so I really don't need the other four things. 

It's hard to tell when you try to do all the things at once. 

And so the advice that I was given years ago was to focus on one thing at a time, get good at one thing at a time. And it's hard for me, right? Because one thing, but there's so many other things, what about these kids? What about these teachers? What about this program? What about this need, not only that your district is coming at you with you need to be doing this Oh, and on top of that, you need to be doing that. And on top of that, you need to be doing this. And it just feels like it's really hard to do one thing. But I have found the most success. Whenever I focus on one thing at a time, over and over again, I can look back at my career. And I can see that when I focused, that's when I started seeing results. So the advice that I got is to focus on one thing, and because it works so well, that one thing is a foundation to build a ship. So let me talk to you about the different ways that builders only focus on one thing. The first thing is that builders have one vision. So a lot of people are like, Well, my vision is I want to do this, I want to do that I want to do the other. And I'm saying Okay, which one's the most important if everything else blew up, which one would be the one you wanted to pursue the most? And it's funny because whenever I asked that question, people are really stuck. Because we're not asked to think that way in education, we're thinking where we've been taught to think we have to do all the things all the time. But when I asked that, and people really narrow in on their their, their, their their priority, and they focus their vision around that. It creates not only this focus and efficiency in their school, but they start seeing results because they're taking all their energy, and they're pouring it into the thing that matters most. And that's how they create that momentum. That's how come they start seeing these huge gains over and over again, because instead of of being diffused and trying to do everything, they spend all of their energy time and focus on that one thing, and that creates this sense of calm in the chaos. That's what gives everybody the direction and the focus. That's what creates the momentum in the school because you're focused on one thing. 

The second way that builders focus on one thing is that once you have that one vision that you're going to focus on, then they create a one plan so inside of builder ship University, we call it the one plan and it it takes everything But you're doing your school and it helps you look at it and say, what are the things that are most important? What are the things that we're doing that are going to get us to our vision? And everything else is secondary, or we don't do it. And that one, you create that one plan. It's scary on one hand, right? Because you're like, but what about this? What about that, what about the other, but then it becomes so freeing because you start to realize that you're doing a lot of stuff, to make yourself feel good to make yourself feel like you're doing something, but that stuff you're doing doesn't really move the needle, it doesn't matter. And the reason that so many of your teachers are overwhelmed right now, it's because you haven't taken the time to really identify what is the one plan that matters. So the schools inside of builders University who are using that one plan, now they know what to take off teacher's plates, now they know what's the most critical work that they need to be doing. And when they just focus on that your teachers have an opportunity to get really good at the work that matters. Your teachers have an opportunity to repeat things over and over and over again, so that they get better and better and better rather than ricocheting from one initiative to the next initiative. And that level of focus allows people not only to get good, but get comfortable, to feel more confident, to iterate to improve, rather than reinventing their whole instructional practice every single year. So the first way is we have one vision. 

The second thing is we have a one plan that focuses on how do we achieve that vision. And then the third thing is that anything that's not in alignment with that you get rid of. So you're focusing on one thing. Now, that part is hard. One of the things that I struggle with is that I I am I'm a I'm an initiative hoarder, right. So I don't want to get rid of these initiatives, because this one's really working here. And this one's working here and feels like if I do that, and I strip things away, and I focus on just a few things that I'm not doing enough. So that's a struggle that I have that that's that's that, that comes from that leadership training that always had, which is that a good leader is doing a lot. You know, like when you think about the image of a good leader, you go into their school, and like we have this program, we have this program with this program. And when you think about getting rid of that and stripping it down to what's only elemental, then what happens is, you know, you feel like you're slacking because we're just doing these things over and over and over again. But as you've heard me say before, success is boring. And big success is big, boring. And so the idea of being boring, the idea of focusing on just the things that matter most rather than having all the sexy, flashy programs all over the place, is hard. It's hard for me, I still struggle with it even now, in our company in mind steps. You know, this year, we made the decision to really focus in on one thing, and we got rid of a lot of programs that we'd had in the past. It was so hard. I mean, my team had to have this, you know, come to Jesus moment with me in a meeting, where they said, These things have got to go if we're really going to be able to serve people that we really need to focus on what we know will make the biggest difference builders ship University, and everything else is going to have to go. And what about this? What are these are things, these are my babies, these are things I invented, these are things that I created. And they said, What do you want to do? Do you want to keep maintaining these programs at the set and sacrificing the ability to really help people get results? Or do you want to help people get results? 

At the end of the day, I said I want to help people get results. 

And we let those things go. And I was so worried. I said, Well what about this and so and so loves that, and we're gonna lose this person because this program is gone. And you know what, people are gonna get bored with just only one thing, we're gonna get bored with one thing, but you know what happened instead? Once we let those things go and really poured our energy to the thing that gets the most results, we got even more results. We're not bored. The work is exciting in a way that it's never been before. Because we're getting results. We're seeing the power of this work. And because we spent time focusing on the work, that it's going to make the biggest difference. We're making a bigger difference. Not only that, but my team instead of coming to me for everything. They are taking more and more ownership over the work because we're not reinventing ourselves every year so they have time to learn things and get good at things. And they're learning the process and they're making the point process better because they have ownership over it. And the same thing will happen in your school, when you have that one vision, and then that one plan, and you get people focused on that, and you remove everything else, take away everything that's out of alignment with that, then people have the opportunity to get good, then people have the opportunity to take ownership, then people have the opportunity to really move things forward. Because their energy is not being scattered all over the place, their energy is now pouring into the thing that you already know is going to make the biggest difference. 

Now, when it comes to one thing, it's not just about the overall bigger structure of your school. It even impacts how you give feedback, how you give support, how you help people be accountable, how you create a culture. So here's the thing we've been teaching for years that when you're giving teachers feedback, you need to focus on one thing, we have a technique that we use called micro slicing, that helps you to go into the classroom and take a look at all the things that are happening in the classroom, and narrow it down to the one thing that makes the biggest difference the root cause for why that classroom is either working or not working, and then give teachers feedback around that one thing, follow up with support only on that one thing. And that's hard, right? Because we're taught to go in and you know, we have domains and subdomains and then sub sub sub domains. And we're taught to give teachers feedback with 20 Different things you did this, you did that you did the other. That's the way we're taught to give feedback. But that kind of feedback does not move the needle. And here's why. When you give teachers a laundry list of feedback, one of three things happens, the first thing that can happen is that teachers get so overwhelmed that they just shut down and they don't deal with it at all. Right? That you've seen that a lot, you give people a laundry list, you go back and they haven't done anything the next time. And it's because they don't know where to start, everything feels like it's wrong, they become demoralized, they shut down, and they just don't do anything, they become paralyzed. 

The second thing that can happen is that the teacher tries to address everything. 

And in addressing everything, they don't get good at any one thing. So they everything gets tweaked, everything gets adjusted. And you end up breaking new stuff in their practice when they do that. And it's no better. But now they're frustrated because they work so hard. And it's no better. The third thing that can happen is that the teacher picks and chooses okay, that, you know, I'm going to do that I'm not going to work on that right now. And as they're picking and choosing, they may pick and choose to do something or work on something that isn't the right thing that isn't going to change the the game and the practice isn't going to make their practice any better. So they work hard on this one thing, they they they the next time you go into the classroom, they're there they they've done the you know, at least some of the parts of the things you've asked them to do. But there's no real tangible change in the quality of instruction happening in the classroom. Now you feel guilty, because you know, they worked hard. So you feel like you have to give them some concession and say, Okay, well, you know, I see improvement here. Now you need to work on here, but you don't see the changes that you really wanted to see in the classroom. 

So the way that builders do feedback, is that instead of doing all the things, we just focus on one thing. So just just recently, inside of builder ship University, we did a micro slicing bootcamp where we actually practice looking for one thing, and we looked at classroom videos, and then stopped them and talked about what is the one thing and debated about that. And we're really working on honing our instructional lens to focus on just that one thing. And when people started to realize, you know, the first people were like, well, you know, no, because there's so many things that are wrong in the classroom. But we kept asking if they fix this, but everything else stays the same. Will that change? Make that lesson go from ineffective to effective? And that's a tough question. And when you ask that question over and over again of everything, you start to realize that a lot of the things that you want to give feedback on a lot of things you were trained to give feedback on. They don't really move the needle, they don't matter. And there's usually one thing that if they just did this, that lesson will go from any factor to effective, don't we owe it to teachers to give them that feedback versus the laundry list that's not going to change things, it's not going to make them any better. And so what builders recognize is that we need to focus on the thing that matters most. And so micro slicing is a technique that we use, but the idea is that if we can narrow things down and focus on what matters most, we can help teachers make tangible improvement from one visit to the next. And then if we follow that one thing feedback up with that targeted support only around that one thing and just focus on building that one skill at a time. You can see a tangible difference.

Every teacher can grow at least one level in one domain. In one year or less, and then you follow up by holding people accountable to their one thing. And building a culture where everybody is focused on what is most important, you really change the will and skill of your staff by just focusing on one thing. So not only to build, just focus on one vision, one plan for achieving that vision, one thing at a time to help people grow and make tangible improvements. But builders are focusing their initiatives on one initiative at a time. What builders do is we take a look at, here's where we are. And here's where we want to be for our vision, what's the obstacle that's standing right in front of us. And then what builders do is instead of trying to fix everything in their school, at one time, we focus on the obstacle that is the biggest obstacle obstacle getting in our way. And we focus on removing that obstacle. And that's why builders do that 90 Day planning cycle, because every 90 days, we're focused on removing one obstacle at a time. Now, here's what happens, the better you get at that 90 Day planning cycle and removing obstacles, the faster the cycle goes. So a lot of people the first time it takes them 90 days, and you know, they get it done. The second time, they do a next 90 Day planning cycle, and it may not take 90 days. So what's what's really cool for me right now, is we're coming up on the end of our of our 90 Day planning cycle. So we do, we in build a ship University, we have in our 90 Day planning sessions, where we will get together every 90 days, we'll plant will go through we use a process to kind of identify what's our biggest obstacle? And then we figure out how do we remove that obstacle in the next 90 days. 

And then we work on that just on that. 

And what's interesting is that we're coming up on the end of our 90 days that we started in January, and people are starting to post in a wins thread. You know, like someone posted the other day, this 90 Day planning thing really works. At the beginning of the 90 day, she wanted to focus just on reading for her kids, because that's where they needed the work the most and really upgrading the reading instruction, especially as they were heading into testing. And she just posted that her kids have had a 60 a 168 point gain in the last 90 days. And now all of our kids are reading on grade level. That happened in 90 days, someone else was like, you know, we have a big problem with cell phones in our school. And you know, it's really, they're distracting. And I don't know how many of you are dealing with that and have been for years, he made it the focus of his 90 Day planning cycle. Now they don't have an issue with cell phones, it's just not even an issue anymore. It's not like while we've mitigated it, we've come to know it's not an issue. Someone else was saying you know what discipline is getting out of control, we really need to focus on discipline over the next 90 days, 90 days later, office referrals cut almost, you know, to nothing, you hardly have any office referrals anymore. So now they have more time to get in the classrooms. Now they have more time to do the work they're doing because they focused on one problem, one obstacle, and then focus on removing it not not, you know, mitigating it, not calming it down, but solving it in 90 days. And that's the power of one thing. But it's not just that it's not just one vision, one plan, one focus for teachers at a time to improve one focus for every 90 days. But builders are also thinking about one, one goal, right. 

So even a person as a builder, as you're building your skills as a builder, you are building your skills one thing at a time. You know, I talked to recently in our last episode, I talked about how we just need to calm down. You can't do all the things as a builder. But you personally you want to think about what you want to do. So I do this even now like, you know, I'm very hard on myself. So I want to get better. And when I see what better looks like I want to be that right away. And what I've learned is that I need to be more gentle with myself. So right now I have one thing I'm working on. And this is the focus. And so I'm working on this thing over the next couple of months getting better at this one thing. And then once I hit the goal for that one thing, then I'm going to focus on what's the next skill that's going to be most critical for me, and I'm building that skill. And then when I focus on that, then I'm going to focus on the next thing. And so this idea of just one thing pervades everything you would do as a builder. When you have your vision and your vision story. You're thinking about messaging and communication. You have one message, you just keep repeating it over and over again. When you're thinking about, you know, like you're working with parents and what you want parents to do you have one thing that you want parents to focus on. When you're thinking about everything that you do like your CIP plan, you're not having 25 different initiatives next year. One thing that is getting you closer to your vision, and I promise you that if you Start to adopt that one thing, Mantra, just one thing and focus, you know, like I have in my office a sign that says, focus, follow one course, until successful, follow one course until successful. And if you just focus on one thing, and just focus on that, and stop trying to do all the things, you will get farther than you think you could, and you'll get there faster than you thought you could. 

You will do that in a way that feels calm, that builds confidence. 

You know, I was talking to a builder the other day, and he was saying, you know, I had to make a tough decision the other day. And normally, this is a decision that I would agonize over. And even after I made the decision, I would be unsure if I made the right decision. So because I have my vision, and I'm focused on my vision, and just that one thing, when it came time to make this decision, the decision was clear and obvious. And although it was an unpopular decision, I didn't lose any sleep about it. I made the decision quickly, we got to work implementing on that decision. When I got pushed back, I had an answer for people. And I was unshakeable, I knew that I was doing the right thing, because I had that focus. When people say to me all the time, you know, when whenever we do like a panel, and we you know, where other builders are talking about their experience and, and how they're building their school. The one thing that they people say to us is that even though everybody is so different, you know, we have roll schools and private schools and parochial schools and public schools in the cities and public schools in the suburbs, and, you know, veteran principals and new the range is male, female, older, younger, it's, you know, there's so different. But the unifying thread for every builder that they talk to is this, they're so calm, and they're so confident. That's what it means to be a builder, the more that you begin to focus on just one thing, and really focus, the more calm and the more confident you're going to feel. Because rather than running around scattered, and an energy just running all over the place, you really focus on one thing. 

So I don't know if you know this about me, but I have taken up gardening. And last year, my husband and I planted some fruit trees, and I'm going to try to grow fruit trees. Now. I'm a city girl. I've never grown fruit trees before. I you know, I don't know that I've ever, you know, until recently have even seen a fruit tree in real life, you know. And so, we bought these fruit trees, we worked hard to plant them. And the thing about fruit trees is they don't grow right away. You have to wait like it's, it's a lot, you're playing the long game, kind of like your school, it takes about three years before you are ready to actually get fruit. And so we planted these fruit trees and I thought, okay, they're in the ground, they're done. I just have to wait my three years for the fruit. And then I realized that no, this work you have to do. And the work you'd have to do to really get good fruit trees is you have to prune the fruit trees. Okay. Now I thought, oh, you know, just get some clippers. And what do I do? sort of off the tips? Is that it? They're like, Nope, you have to prune them. And there is it's you have to be very intentional. So we bought these fruit trees, they were like six feet tall. And we just went out and prune them. And we just prune them down to four feet. And it was really hard because I paid for a six foot tall tree and I just What did I do? I just cut it out. It's like, Did I ruin it? Not only that, but we had to cut back the branches. So in order to help them branch out in order for them to create more branches. If we leave it alone, the tree gets wild, it doesn't get more fruit, you have to really prune back in order to be able to get a fruit crop in three years. And it was hard and I kept thinking, Am I doing the right thing? I show you pictures, right? Like the tree was like way up here, you know, at the what I bought it and that you know started growing. I'm like, Oh good. I'm gonna get some fruit. And then they were like, No, you have to prune it. And when I pruned it from, you know, six, seven feet tall, back down to four feet tall. It looked like a stick. I was just like, wait a minute, I this tree has been growing in my yard for a year. And I'm fine. It's finally starting to look like a tree and I just pruned it back down to its stick. But here's what's happening. We're have pruned it, new buds, new branches are starting to create to grow and and now the tree starting to spread out and I can start to see what I'm doing and what that tree is going to look like and how that tree is going to start giving me fruit. Had I never pruned it, it wouldn't have happened. And the same thing is true for your school. You need to do some pruning. You need to there's some things that you are so busy doing that you don't have time to do the things that are going to really matter. There are some Things that you are creating and spending a lot of energy working on, that are detracting from the work you really need to be doing. 

And so my challenge for you is to take a step back, stop trying to do all the things, prune away the work that isn't serving your school. And I know people are saying, I can hear you, I hear you. But my district doesn't matter. One of the things that you that we do and build a ship University is when your district is asking you to do something that is off your vision, it's taking away from your vision, we find a way to turn that district mandate into something that serves our vision. And the idea that when you have that focus on just that one thing that's easy to do, and just stops becoming hard, doesn't matter what your district says, You take everything your district tells you to do. And you funnel it through your vision, that focus helps you manage those district mandates. But we've got all these programs, and we spent all this money. Well, I mean, the reality is, is are you getting what you you need from that program. And if you're not getting, then you're losing money, no matter what. Just cut your losses now, and focus your energy on what matters so that you can start seeing results. Don't stop, fall in love with the past that you stay stuck there. That thing doesn't serve you focus on what will when you're a builder, and you focus on one thing, that only you're calmer, not only more confident, but you start seeing results. 

So take out those pruning shears, and now's a good time to do it. Take out those pruning shears, prune back, everything that doesn't serve you and get focused on what does because that's how you achieve major results without having a heart attack in the process. Like a builder. Now, if you want some help figuring out the one thing, make sure you go to build a ship University join that waitlist and join the next cohort for builder ship university because that's what we do that we get you focused on that one thing we really do, and the more you do it, the more you start seeing results. 

So have a great, great week, and 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.

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