The Culture Cure: What Story is your school currently telling


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 205.

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 have something really cool for you. Many of you know that last week, we did a free behind the scenes filming of our brand new course called the culture cure. Now ultimately, that course is going to go inside of builder ship university. But we invited you all to come join me on the journey as I'm filming it. That way you can keep me company, you get access to the material in the course. And all of that's free. And I get the benefit of having a live audience to talk to so much fun. And so what I thought I would do today is for those of you who couldn't make it live, I thought I would give you a little taste of what you missed.

This is one of the teaching segments inside of the culture cure where I talk about the idea of story. 

So to give you a little background, we believe in builder ship university that your school culture is comprised of two components. It's comprised of the habits, the organizational habits you have, and the story that your school is telling. And so your habits and your story, create your culture. So in this segment, I'm talking about the four core stories that a school can tell. And here's why this is so important. The story that your school tells determines the behaviors that you see inside of your school that determines how people feel about your school, if your school is telling a particular core story that we're failing school that, that that we've tried for years, and we haven't been able to figure it out that our staff is not stellar, then people behave differently in that school than they would behave in the school, the same school. But if that school is telling a story of we're rebuilding, we're moving towards success, we're going to make sure that every child is successful. So today, I thought I would share with you the part where I was teaching about the four core stories. And as you're listening, I want you to think about what story is your school telling. Because if you could understand the core story, then all of a sudden the behaviors make sense. 

So I'll give you an example. I use this example in the course in a different segment. But I think it's really apropos here. So imagine you're driving down the street, and all of a sudden, a rock slams into your windshield, and you swerve and you pull over to the side of the road. And you see a little boy holding a slingshot. And you realize that he is the one that threw the rock at your windshield that made you almost crash. Now, how would you react? Would you be angry? Would you be frustrated? Would you feel compassion for this poor little soul? Again, it depends on the story behind the rock throwing. So let's say that the little boy comes up to you and says, Listen, I'm sorry, I had to hit your car. But I didn't know another way to get you to stop. My mom is very sick. We don't have a ride. Can you help us please, we're over here. We were hiking, she fell out. And I'm terrified. She's not breathing. Now, all of a sudden, you feel differently about that little kid throwing a rock at your car. Now imagine if on the other hand, you stopped the car and got out little boy say ha ha got you. I hit your car with the rock. Again, you feel differently? And what made you feel differently? It wasn't that the fact that the rock hit your car? What made you feel differently? What's the story behind the rocketing? And so if you understand the story that your school is telling, you understand a lot about what is broken in your culture and what needs to be fixed. You understand a lot about why people behave the way that they do. So if you ever find yourself wondering, why are the people in the school behaving this way, a good indication and explanation of their behavior comes down to the core story that your culture is telling right Now, take a listen. 

And then once we're done, we'll come back in and talk about it a little bit more. X section is where you're going to get involved, because in this next section, we're going to talk about the core story that your organization is telling. So if you're at the district level, I want you to think about this from two ways, right? So Shawn, think about this from not only the district story, but if you have a school that has a toxic culture, what story is that school telling versus another school in your district? What story is that school telling? Hey, Audrey, I didn't see you there. And so you're looking at, you're looking at the district wide story. But you're also looking at the individual stories of the schools right? Now, if you are in a school, I want you to think about your school, right? If you're in an organization, nonprofit, church, anything like that, think about your organization. And I want you to think about what story your organization is telling. Now, there are a lot of stories, right? You know, you have the story of how you got founded, you've got, you know, the stories that people pass down, when you first came into your organization, somebody probably had a story, right? They were like, Oh, don't trust her. Why? Oh, because you know, what, one time when I needed the TV, and she an audio video, and I signed it out for the media center, and she stole my TV and showed it to her class. So you can't trust her, you got to watch her. See, that's what we're doing. Instead of saying you can't trust her. I don't like I don't know her. So. But you tell me that story. And now I don't trust her. Do you see how that works. So there are ways so there are all kinds of stories that happen. But all of those stories come from the grow. That's the core story that your school is telling right now. 

And there are four core stories that your school is telling. 

So this section is going to talk about those four core stories. During this section, what I want you to do is think about your organization, and try to figure out what is the core story your organization is telling. Now, I already know there's somebody out there who's gonna say, Well, we're telling all of the stories, you know, there's somebody out there who wants all the stories, right? It's always one at the core. At the core, you might find elements of the other stories in your school, but there's always one at the core. So that's what I want you to look for make sense for everybody. All right, here we go.

So welcome to this module, where we're going to discover the core story that your school is telling. So the first thing you need to know is that every school, every district, every organization, is telling one of four core stories. And so we're going to talk about that. And while we're doing that, I want you to think about your school, your organization, and what story what is the core story your organization is currently telling. All right, the first story that an organization might tell is what we call a cautionary tale. A cautionary tale is a story about what not to do. This is usually an organization that's headed in the wrong direction. Usually, a cautionary tale is a is a school or a district that has had a history of failure, it's going down, and people have almost given up. And because of that the culture is shaped by the story. So here's how you can tell if your school is telling a cautionary tale of a story. The culture is characterized by a lot of avoidance, people are trying to avoid con avoid pain, they're trying to avoid failure, they're trying to avoid things getting worse. And so the conversations around how to stop the bleeding or how to make sure that we don't get worse, and not about how to grow.

Also, there's a palpable lack of safety in a school where that's telling the cautionary tale story. There's also a lack of trust. And that lack of trust creates a lot of back channel communication. So the back channel becomes more effective and more prevalent than the formal lines of communication. There's a lot of parental suspicion, and there's a real lack of parental support in that school. The parents don't trust the school, and that attitude often gets transferred to the kids. Because the kids see themselves as already failed to they see themselves as part of a failing school, and they adopt that identity and themselves. So when you're working in a school that's telling that cautionary tale story, the school feels stuck. And as a result, people have no hope. There's there's almost this feeling, underlying feeling of despair. That's a lot of conflict. And people deal with each other from a place of shame. Either they are shaming other people, or they're feeling shame themselves. Those are some signs that your school might be telling a cautionary tale. Now, the next kind of story that your school organization may be telling, it's a story of history. It's a historical story. And that's a school that's kind of stuck in the past all of your best days. are behind you. It's a school that used to be better. So people say, well, it didn't always look like this around here, we used to have this. And we used to have that. And so it's a school that's kind of stuck in the past. And in that school, you can tell if your school is telling the history by looking at the focus, the focus in a history is on how things have always been done. 

Everybody's looking backwards, not forwards. 

Looking to this is the way we've always done it. This is the way it's always been, they always you'll hear them say things like, oh, man, this school used to be great, this school used to have this, these kids are different from the kids that used to be here, this community is going down, or this community is changing, maybe we don't say it's going down, our demographics are changing. But they're not saying that as information, they're really longing for the way things used to be. And so in this culture, people are more focused on trying to recover or catch up versus gain. Alright, so people are trying to, you know, our test scores went down last year, we gotta get them back up, they're not trying to get better, they're just trying to get back to zero. In a lot of cases, there's a fear of failure in this culture, because they're worried that they're sliding backwards, people are very afraid that they're almost about to fail, which creates another level of stress in a culture. And as a result, people are afraid to take risks, because they don't want to fail because they're afraid of losing more ground. In this culture, people feel like they've lost ground things are not the way they could be or used to be. And so people don't take risks. And so to avoid taking risk, people spend their time enforcing rules, tradition, and conformity. And so sometimes it's the teachers push rules more than people, right. So they want kids to be punished a certain way. 

Because those are the rules, we need the kids to follow the rules. They don't like it when you show grace or mercy because you feel it feels like you're you're letting down the standard, you hear a lot of conversations about the standards, and we need to uphold the standards. In a school that's telling a history, people hold on to their traditions, long after those traditions serve them. So in a school that's telling a histories, their their people are focused on the way things always have been done. This is how we do things. And when you question it, it feels very threatening. People are also focused on conformity. So in a school that's telling a history, that you might have an administrator who goes in and says, I want everybody to do this. And whether or not it's right for that teachers teaching style, they're focused on we got to get everybody back to doing the same thing. And it's about conformity and to the sacrifice of individuality. And that also extends to the kids. There's a lot of resistance to new ideas, new ideas are they feel threatening, right? So when people come in with a different way of doing things, people will dismiss those ideas or make fun of those ideas or shut those ideas down. And there's a lot of blame. Because the school in a culture that's telling the history story history, people feel like we have to we're holding on to what we have before we lose it. And anytime they start losing, they blame somebody they blame. And then they tighten up and get you they make things even tighter because they don't want to let go of what they have. 

Now, the third kind of story core story at that organizations can tell is what I call an anecdote. An anecdote is a it's a culture where there are where there are pockets of excellence where there are some good things happening. And because of that people feel like that, that they feel like well, we're doing something's good. Not everything is good, we recognize that. But we're doing enough good that we're making progress, when in fact, they're taking two steps forward and two steps back. So when your school is telling an anecdote, there's no consistency. You have you have ups and downs. And the reason you have ups and downs, it's because everybody's chasing the next anecdote. Everybody wants that good feeling. Again, we did this last year, and it really worked. We want to have something else that feels like it works. So so we need to, we need to make sure that we do something that is going to feel good again. So there's a lot of shiny object syndrome happening where people are chasing the next best thing. So every year in a school that's telling an anecdote, there's a new program, there's a new approach. There's a new piece of research based strategy that we're using. There's also a false sense of security because enough good is happening, that it helps you to ignore the bad things that are happening. And in a culture that's an anecdote, good becomes the enemy of good rate. And so people are satisfied with good, and they don't pursue greatness, because good feels good enough. And people get really comfortable, right? So in a school that's telling an anecdote, they're not, there's not a lot of conflict. 

People are just comfortable, and even comfortable in their mess, right? 

So people just say, this is the way it's always been, this is as good as it's gonna get. And they're okay with that. Even though there's better out there, it's often harder to get them to move in an anecdote and an anecdotal culture because the, they're just comfortable. They're just, you know, it's hard. It's like leaving a comfortable warm bed and getting out into the cold and trying something new. But because there's no consistency over time, you get a sense of initiative, fatigue and burnout, because you're always chasing the short term win the good feeling the next anecdote, and you're not playing them for the long term. And so in an anecdotal culture, there's a lot of judgment, because remember, there are pockets of excellence. And so the people say, Well, we're doing a great What's wrong with you. And so anytime someone isn't creating that next anecdote, they get judged. Now, the next one, in the last story is a success story. And a culture that has a success story. This is a culture that's making steady and consistent progress towards a 100% goal. And so because of that, the growth mindset pervades this culture, people are focused on the goal, so they're not focused on their own egos. So they're not worried about failing, they are learning and growing and 100% feels audacious at first, but they make progress. And the more they make progress, the more they see that they can do it, and the more they do it, and our success story, you have ownership and accountability, people are not renters. In a success story, people believe and own the outcome, and they feel accountable for their part, the part that they will play in achieving that outcome.

In a success story, there's a lot of innovation, and prudent risk taking people aren't taking wild, crazy risk. But because they're guided by a vision and a mission and core values, the risks that they take, as long as they fall under the umbrella of the vision, mission and core values, those risks are prudent, and they often pay off. In a success story, people are not working harder and harder and harder and a success story, people have learned to leverage resources. So instead of working harder, harder, harder, people are being smarter about their work. And they're leveraging, there's a sense of momentum in the culture, if there's a feeling in that culture, that we're gaining ground every single day. And because of that, the culture becomes closer and closer. As a community we talked about earlier, the difference between feeling like a community and a family, and the culture feels safe enough to form a strong community because they're achieving their goals. And the last piece is that it's this is a culture that feels safe, doesn't mean that everybody is comfortable all the time. The culture is constantly pushing. But people feel safe to take risks, to speak their minds to contribute to learn, people feel safe to fail in this culture without blame, shame or judgment, because the focus is on achieving the goal and not on the individual person.

So what I'd like for you to do now is take a moment and think about your school culture. What story is your culture telling right now. And then the next module, we're going to talk about how you can take the story, whatever story it is your culture is telling right now, and how you can change the story your culture is telling, and turn that story into a success story. Alright, now that you've had a chance to listen to the four types of stories, here's what I want to challenge you to do this week, I want you to take a look at the culture in your current school. And I want you to ask yourself, what story what is the core story that undergirds this culture. If your culture is telling a cautionary tale, then the behaviors in the organization are consistent with that story. And if you want to change the behaviors, you have to change the story. Same thing is true for a history and anecdote. And if you are already telling a success story, the danger around success story is that you can get complacent and so how do you hold on to that success story? How do you keep telling that success story in your culture? 

So I want you to think about that this week. 

And then I want to invite you to join me at builder ship university because in builder ship University, no matter what story your school is telling, we work with you and our goal and build a ship universities to help you turn your school no matter what story is telling into a success story in the next three years. And we do that with a very structured, systematic approach. If that helps you understand the story your school is currently telling, and then put the proper things in place, do the right work for the story, right. So if your school is telling a cautionary tale, you're going to need different tools. And if your school is already telling an anecdote, and so we understand what each kind of story needs, and then we help you build the things that can take whatever story your school is telling and turn that story into a success story. 

Right now, we have cohorts open for builders ship university, but the cohort closes on this coming Monday if you're listening to this in real time, and so you need to hurry up and go ahead and join, all you need to do is go to builder ship, click the button there to join. Now, a lot of you may want to invest in builder ship University using a purchase order. And if that's you, and you need help with gathering all the materials, you need to be able to submit your purchase order, we have a Pio packet as well. And so if you click if you look on that page, you'll see a button that shows you how to download the PIO packet. And it has a lot of what you need, including a justification letter, and a lot of the forms you need to submit in order to get your Pio started. And if you're worried that your Pio won't get submitted on time before the deadline, just reach out to us by giving us a call at 1-888-565-8881. And tell us that you are working on a PIO and you want us to hold your spot. And that allows us to know that you're coming and hold your spot and it gives you time to work through your systems. You know, the paperwork that your system requires in order to get your Pio process so that you can join bill to ship University. You need to move quickly though because if you don't give us a call, you don't register we won't know you're coming and the doors are closing on this coming Monday. All right. I hope I see you with how to build a ship University where you can begin to turn your school into a success story. 


I'll see 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 and get started writing your school success story today.

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