Is your school stuck in the “comfort zone?”


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 207.

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 continue our new series that looks at different types of school cultures. And, and so we've kind of identified three that are pretty typical. There's that toxic school culture, and then there's a good enough school culture. And then there's what we call the 100% school culture. And I'm going through these differences so that you can not only see what your current school culture looks like, but you can understand what needs to happen so that you can turn your school into 100% school culture.

Today, I want to talk about the difference between the way that you approach the work ahead of you the feeling that you have in your school, around the work that you are doing. And I want to talk about the difference between a school that has a a underlying feeling of panic about reaching their goals, versus a school that has an underlying feeling of tension around reaching their goals, versus what happens in a 100% culture where there is a true sense of urgency. Now, before I jump into that, I just want to remind you that doors to build a ship University are now closed, we won't be doing another intake for the next cohort until sometime this summer. However, there are times when people graduate out a bill to ship University. And we have openings in between intakes. And if you want one of those slots, the best thing that you can do is go to builder ship And sign up for the waitlist, we've had a couple of people have gotten in and they get in on the waitlist so they can get started doing the work inside of builder ship university right away. So again, if you want to be on the waitlist, so that you can grab one of those slots when you know if a slot becomes open, that doesn't always happen. But if a slot becomes available, then if you're on the waitlist, we just go right down the waitlist and invite the next person. And it's a way to get into build a ship University in between intakes. It's also a way to get notified early. We take cohorts, we're only going to do four cohorts this year. And we've already done two. So there are only two opportunities left this year to join builder ship University. And we close down registration once the cohorts get full, right. So we're only taking in a small group at a time so we can make sure we nurture you and love on you and get you set up for success before we bring in the next cohort. And then we shut things down. And so if you join the waitlist, we notify the waitlist that another cohort is opening up before we notify everybody else which gives you time to get your purchase order together. And make sure that you secure one of the slots and build a ship University. Before we open it up to the public. So you want to be on the waitlist and all you need to do is go to builder ship And you will see a button there for the waitlist and sign up for the waitlist so that you can no be one of the first people to know when it opens up. And if a slot opens up ahead of time, you can grab those slots, we don't make them public. Just let the people on the waitlist, know it so you can get one of those slots. 

All right, let's talk about this idea. 

Because everybody I know says my staff doesn't have a sense of urgency, we really need to create a sense of urgency. And they're chasing that sense of urgency without doing the work that needs to happen to create true urgency around around the work that you're doing as a school and as a result, they end up with something less than urgency. So in toxic school cultures, what you often have is instead of a sense of urgency, you have a sense of panic, right? Everybody is chasing the numbers the goal When everybody's panicking, because at this point in the school year, you realize you're not making your goals, people are testing or getting ready for testing. And so they're starting to really pressure the kids to do better this year than they did last year. Because everybody's panicking, that they have to show growth this year. There's this feeling underlying feeling of fear, fearing you're, you're scared that you're going to fail again, you're scared that you're not going to make your numbers again. And because of that, there is a lot of of panic decisions being made. So people really kind of create more problems because they're terrified. So in many schools, where they had testing scandals, where the teachers were giving kids the answers, or prompting kids for the answers, underneath that was a sense of panic, people were terrified. And so they were doing things that were unethical things they wouldn't normally do, because of that underlying sense of panic that was driving that culture. And the reason that people feel that sense of panic is because they don't feel like they're, there's any kind of control, they don't feel like they have control over the outcomes, they don't actually believe that they can impact student achievement, they think it's completely out of their control, they think it's the kids fault that the kids are coming to them so far behind, and that they don't have what they what it takes to help kids who are behind get ahead. They're blaming the parents, the parents aren't invested in, in their kids features and in their kids education. And without parents support, they don't think that they can get ahead. So in a toxic culture where there's a real sense of panic, the teachers don't feel like they have any agency, they don't feel that they actually can make a difference. And so what you get accompanying that sense of panic is a lot of blame. 

Everybody is pointing the finger. Have you experienced that in your school where the teachers blame the kids blame their families blame you for their inability to get kids where they need to be. And they almost make you feel guilty about asking them to do what's right for kids about asking them to help kids get at least at the very least on grade level, they make you feel guilty. They say you're putting too much pressure, you're blaming us, what about the kids? What about the families? What are we gonna expect them to do? And then you try to counter it with that typical leadership advice by telling them? Well, you know, we have to focus on things that are within our control what's within our control, that's not going to solve the problem, because the problem isn't their focus, the problem is an underlying sense of feeling like they don't have any control over the outcomes. And you don't change that by talking people out of that you change that, by equipping them with the skills and the strategies that they need to be able to influence outcome, you change that by changing their experience and changing the culture so that they do feel that they have a sense of agency. So when people don't feel like they have control, that they don't have any influence or impact over the outcome, they panic, and when they panic, they make rash, rash decisions, they're driven by fear, and they carry with that panic, an underlying sense of shame. And because they're feeling shame, shame that they're not able to do what, what they came to education to do, which is to help students learn shame that yet again, we're not making our numbers, we're not making our goals were failing, shame that they, everybody believes that they should be doing more, and everybody's looking at them to do more. What people do then is they try to transfer that shame onto somebody else. So you get a lot of finger pointing, you get a lot of people trying to shame the kids into doing their work or shaming the parents into doing what they need to be doing or shaming you into doing what you need to be doing. And that contributes to the toxicity of the culture.

 So it almost becomes a chicken and egg thing, right? Because your culture is toxic and you're not moving kids, you're not making goals, you begin to panic. And the more you begin to panic, the more the toxic behaviors start happening in the school. And we don't help a leadership strategies that we try to use to address the situation. It doesn't fit those strategies don't help. So think about what the leadership strategies tell you to do. Show people the data, create data walls, confront people with the reality, pick a strategy and stick with it. All of those things just create more of a sense of desperation. And that desperation creates more of a sense of panic. So if you're in a school culture right now, where there is this underlying feeling of panic, there is something you can do about it. It's not throw up another data wall. It's not Have another data meeting, it's not grab a strategy out of desperation in hopes that it will change your school. The deeper work comes with taking a step back and getting people invested and empowered around your vision. You see, I talk about vision all the time. And so people hear that and they think, Oh, I just need a vision. And then they just go grab a vision statement, they write a vision, even one that says, All right, 100% of kids will be able to buy whatever. And then they think that's the work. 

That's only the beginning. 

So and build a ship University, the first thing we do is we help you come up with your vision. But then we spend just as much time showing you how to share your vision with other people. And this is really important, right? If you just go in front of a culture, where people are already panicking, and you say, Listen, my vision is 100% of our students will be at or above grade level, in three years, all you're gonna do is feed their panic. There's not there's magic in the vision. But it's also magic and how you share that vision. Because if you share the vision, where you go out, and you say here is our vision, when it really is still your vision, and you announce it to people, and they say so let's get to work. And you think that's going to create urgency, I'm telling you right now, don't don't even waste your time, it's going to create panic. What builders do is when they share their vision, they do so in a way that empowers everybody in their school, to achieve their vision. So builders use what we call the vision story. And when we're sharing the vision story, you are sharing your vision with people in a way that makes them the heroes of your vision. And the very way that you share your vision can begin to help people feel a sense of power and control, they can see how they have the power to achieve your vision. And that quells the panic and starts helping create this sense of urgency that if we do this, you are the heroes, and that we can't do it without you. And so there's a specific strategy, and that we teach inside of build district University. It's not something I can necessarily teach on a podcast, we go through this process, and we show you how to share that story. And that's what helps keep your vision from creating mass hysteria and panic in your school and making people feel worse. Instead, people hear your vision and they feel empowered. And I'm so excited. 

In builders University this week, and we have a thread for winds and friends. Cena was saying that all she's done is her vision. And she shared her vision story with her staff a few months ago. And just sharing that vision story with her staff was enough to galvanize her staff to get to work. And she just got word that her school in just a few short months, has had the highest rate of growth in her entire district. 

So think about that. Think about the power of creating a vision and sharing your vision story with your staff in a way that that takes them out of panic mode, and helps them to to see themselves as empowered. All of a sudden, now instead of doing things out of desperation, everybody really feels like they can take on the work. And they have that sense of urgency. So if you are in panic mode right now, then I want you to stop doing all the things that you were trained to do, because those things are exacerbating the panic. Instead, take some time and craft your vision and your vision story and begin to empower your staff began to help them see that they do have control over the outcome. Do it in a way that that that helps them rise to the occasion rather than making them feel shame that they haven't done so in the past. Do it in a way that that helps them see and focus on the future, rather than on the current reality. Do it in a way that that helps them see that they can make a difference without making them feel shame, because they're not already making a difference. If you do that, you can get your culture out of panic. Now, maybe your culture isn't quite at the level of panic yet, right? It's not gotten toxic. But maybe you have a good enough culture. And so instead of this underlying feeling of panic, you have an underlying feeling of tension. And, unfortunately, people often mistake tension for urgency. They feel like if I don't create this tension between where we are and where we need to be people won't do the work. They won't do the work with urgency. So there are many people who have bought into this leadership idea that you have to intentionally create tension. So that's why again, people do things like make data rooms and data walls So the data is always in front of you. But you know what happens? A lot of times when you have data walls and data rooms, yes, a date is in front of you. But after a certain period of time, you begin to tune out the data is just a part of the day core, it's always up, yes, but people tune it out. And so instead of creating a sense of urgency, what you've created is this underlying tension, it's there, I'm tuning it out, I'm going about my life and doing what I need to do. But I'm not doing the work that really needs to make the change. And the reason for that is often that it's really too much data, and then no people do the red, yellow green. And, you know, once you get like, you know, 100 kids up on the wall, and you don't want to leave any kid out, I get it. But we're looking at too much data, rather than looking at the right data. One of the things that builders do is that we are focused on the right data. So what builders do is we create a scorecard rather than just a data wall. And every week, we're sitting down, and we're looking at our scorecard. And the scorecard is not about the data, right? Because data is lagging indicators. In other words, data is after the fact in a lot of cases, a lot of times you're looking at kids test scores, or benchmark tests. And you know, that stuff that's happened after the fact, what builders are looking at it, yeah, we look at the lagging data, but we believe that the leading data is even more important. 

And that's, are we taking action every single week. 

So we're scoring ourselves, and then we're looking at the RV actions that we're taking every single week, resulting in outcomes for kids. And that's a totally different analysis, which is way more empowering for us. It's not saying, oh, yeah, this kid scores happened. Because what usually happens when you have tension is that the first thing you want to do is you want to alleviate that tension. And so a lot of times in good enough cultures, you don't have shame, like you do in toxic cultures, what you do have is blame, where in order to alleviate the tension, people start subtly blaming the kids or their families, or the lack of resources or not having enough time, they transfer that tension to something else, by blaming, and they don't take ownership and responsibility. And a lot of it has to do with how you're looking at data. So rather than trying to intentionally create tension, you want to be intentional, intentional about keeping people focused on the work. And as a result, there will be urgency. You say builders don't create urgency, the work creates urgency. And so what builders do is keep people focused on the work because in focusing on the work, there will naturally be a sense of urgency. What leadership has taught you how to do is leadership says you have to go and create urgency. And so you go do all this stuff to create urgency when all you're really doing is creating tension. And the thing about tension is it's hard to be productive. When you are feeling tension. One of the things that often happens is that when you create tension over time, the motivation begins to leech out of the work. Because it's hard to sustain motivation in a constant state of tension. If you're always looking at, here's where we are. And here's where we need to be, oh, we're not there yet. Let's create some tension. You lose motivation over time, you you just you're living with tension, and you cannot be your best self as long as you have that tension. And then the other thing is happening is that over time, in a state of constant tension, people begin to get irritable. Have you noticed that a lot of times in cultures especially towards the end of the year, it's like towards the end of the year, people are kind of cranky, because they spent the whole year intention and now we're coming to the end of the year, we're still not where we need to be. There's no relief from that tension. And people realize, wait a minute, I'm just gonna be in a constant state of tension. 

That's not sustainable. And so people get irritable, they get cranky. If you make little gains everybody is like yay a little bit because you know that you are still not where you need to be. That lives a lot of times people grab on to those little gains just because at least it lets it's a it's a pressure relief valve. It lets some of the tension out look, we did something, but in their heart of hearts, they know it's not enough that next year the tension is just going to start up all over again with a next goal and it feels like you're on this treadmill of never ending striving without ever actually reaching where you need to be. And that's what keeps culture stuck. A good enough. Because when you are in a state of tension, you are false, creating false urgency And when you create false urgency, there, there is no, there is no payoff. You're keeping people in the state of tension hoping that you're gonna get some work out of them. But what you're doing is you're grinding them down over time, you're you're siphoning off their will to do the work, because it never lets up. It I was been fascinated by physics. my godson is in college, and he's going to be an engineer. And so, you know, he's studying physics. And so we, you know, his mother and I talk about physics a lot more and, and I'm fascinated by it right now. I never took physics in high school. But one of the things that, that I read recently, when I was looking at some physics lesson, I mean, how, how big of a nerd Am I right? Like, I get my kicks and giggles from looking at like physics, lessons on YouTube and God. But so don't judge me. But this is really cool. 

One of the things that I learned in physics is that tension happens only can only happen when you are pulling on an object, right? So it's not tension unless you are pulling on an object. Okay, so now what does that have to do with with a good enough culture, the only way that you can create and sustain tension is you have to constantly pull on your people. Which means that in order to create this tension, this false sense of urgency, you have to always be pulling. And what that feels like is that every day when you go to work, it feels like you are dragging your entire school towards your goal. Do we Do you ever feel like that, like you feel like you're the only one who cares. And if you don't keep the pressure on and you don't keep pulling, then nothing happens in your school. If you feel that way, then it's likely that you're in a situation where you are creating a culture that feeds on tension, rather than true urgency to what's true urgency, I don't have to keep it up. I don't have to keep hyping up and creating new new scenarios to make people feel a sense of urgency, when the work is right. And when I'm doing my job as a builder, the urgency already exist. Think about that. Think about if you went to work every day. And instead of feeling like you're dragging people towards the goal, that you are instead focusing and refining the work so that everybody stays focused on the goal. And then there they create their own urgency. They bring urgency, when you feel tired, you can feed off of their sense of urgency on some days. Think about the difference. That and how that would feel. Think about the difference in how you would spend your time every day. If instead of trying to create urgency. You did what builders do. 

You see what builders, we create an ambitious goal. Right? 

One of the reasons why I hate visions that are less than 100%. Other than the philosophical argument I have with that, which is that if you write a goal for less than 100%, you're writing a goal that makes it okay for some kids to feel I just know. But the other reason why I think anything less than 100% is wrong. It's a trap is very practical, right? So let's say you say we're going to make 5% improvement this year. And then let's say you actually make 5% improvement. Everybody celebrates you've met your goal, the pressure is off, everybody starts to relax, right? Because gay we did it. There's a party, there's a cake there. There are celebrations next year, what are you going to do to get people excited, because they already hit the goal. But there's still work to be done. Which means that you have to work even harder to get people motivated to seek the next goal, because everybody's kind of relaxed, like what do you what do you Why are you bothering me? We just we just hit our goal. What? What's the big deal? And so when you're a builder, the first thing you do that creates instant urgency is you build a vision for 100% of students. And then you tell that vision story in a way that gets everybody invested in that vision, personally. So now you're not dragging people are trying to kind of re amp up the urgency every single year. The urgency exists until you get to 100%. Does that mean you can't celebrate every 5% you get? Of course not. You know, I told you earlier and build a ship University. We have a wins column. When people make 10% gains, which happens pretty regularly. We celebrate that. But you can celebrate that without fearing that people are going to lose their motivation because it hasn't scratched the itch that you haven't gotten to 100% yet. So you're celebrating the progress without people saying, Okay, I'm tired. Let me sit down. We hit it. We made our fibers sent. And that's what happens when you send anything less than 100 person calls. So the first thing that builders do to create urgency is we set 100% goal. 

The second thing we do is that we get everybody invested in that 100% goal, we help everybody see their part in that 100% goal. So that way people can't dismiss it and say, well, that's your goal. That's that has nothing to do with me. Instead, everybody owns that vision. That's what the vision story helps you do. The third thing that builders do is that we give that vision even more teeth. By following up that vision with a mission, that mission gets our collective taps into our collective why. And that's what creates that that's what puts the flesh and the meat in the skin on that vision and makes it feel more real. It's not just 100% goal there, it's attached to a very personal y. And that y is what drives us every single day. And that creates a sense of urgency. Then, the other thing that builders do is we align everything to that vision and that mission cluding our core values, right? So we create core values that are aligned to our vision and mission, we align everything in our school to our vision, that 100% goal. And because everything is aligned, everything you do every single day should be moving you towards that goal. And that's what sustains a sense of urgency, because we're not switching contexts, we're not saying Okay, today, I'm gonna work on this. Oh, and then I'm gonna go over here and work for a few minutes on the vision, everything you do every single day, if it's aligned to the vision, it's moving towards the vision, which keeps the vision in front center of the work. And also make sure that everything that you're doing every single day, is is is is is work towards that vision, it keeps that focus there keeps it keeps the sense of urgency there, because the work is moving you you see the progress. 

And then the last thing that the builders do is we create that scorecard. And that scorecard is not about outcomes, as much as it's about actions are our actions moving us towards our goal? Do our actions make a difference. And if you have that alignment, if you make sure that your actions are moving towards your goal, if you are intentional about holding yourself accountable to that goal, you don't have to create urgency. And that's what I want you to keep in mind today, get rid of this leadership, false notion that you have to create a sense of urgency. The work, if it's urgent, comes with built in urgency, your job is not to create urgency, your job is to keep people focused on the right work. Because if they are focused on the right work, they will feel the sense of urgency. And that's a difference between 100% culture and a toxic culture, or a good enough culture. That's a difference between somebody who's a boss, or a leader, and somebody who's a builder. So here's my challenge for you this week, I want you to take a look at your culture. And I want you to see if your culture is driven by a sense of panic, a sense of tension, or true sense of urgency. And if it's not driven by that sense of urgency, then I want you to take a good hard look at how you are building that culture, and what behaviors you're doing that may be creating that panic or that tension, and how you can shift those behaviors to a true sense of urgency. So that's what your job is for this week. If you're not, if you're not creating a culture that has its own built in sense of urgency, then you're going to need to shift your behavior so that people can feel true ownership, a sense of control, and people can be focused on the right work. Because you don't have to create urgency if you get people focused on the right work. That's what creates urgency. That's how you quote unquote, create urgency, 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 and get started writing your school success story today.

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