What they didn’t tell us about “High Expectations”
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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 227
Hey builders before we jump into today's show, I need to know something are you in are connected on the socials because if we're not we need to be so connect with me. I'm on Facebook at Robyn Jackson, I am on Twitter at Robyn underscore mine steps. I'm on LinkedIn at Robyn Jackson. Let's connect and let's keep the conversation going. Now, onto the show. You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 227.
How do builders like us make a dramatic difference in the lives of our students? In spite of all the obstacles we face? How can you keep your vision for your school from being held hostage by resistant teachers, uncooperative parents, ridiculous district policies or lack of time, money or resources. If you're facing those challenges right now, here's where you'll find the answers strategies, and actionable tips you need to overcome any obstacle you face. You don't have to wait to make a difference in the lives of the people you serve. You can turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Let's get started.
Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast.
I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today, I want to ask you if any of this sounds familiar, you started this school year, you have new initiatives that you've rolled out, you spent pre service we're giving people training and resources, maybe you've been trained them this summer, you have kicked off the school year with some excitement. People are, you know, kind of gung ho, you have some pockets of resistance, but for the most part, your staff is willing to at least comply with what you're asking them to do. But now you've completed your first round of observations. And to your chagrin, you're realizing that people aren't implementing things the way that you were hoping that they would. Some people are trying but they're not getting it. Other people have stopped doing it. Other people think they're doing it, but they're really not doing it, you have a few people who are doing exactly what you've asked them to do with fidelity and they're doing a great job. But you're not saying that fidelity across the board, and now you're frustrated.
Now, if you go back to how you were trained as a leader, your frustration is going to lead to doubling down, you're gonna say I'm frustrated, I need to go back to people, I need to reiterate my expectations. Maybe I need to ratchet up my observations and and write some things up so that people see that it's serious. Maybe I need to repeat the training, maybe I'll even talk to a couple of people and ask them, why aren't you doing this? And they're gonna give you answers like, Well, I haven't had time to do it, or I don't understand this. So I'm really struggling to keep up or I have too much on my plate. And then you try to address those issues by giving them more time by randomly taking something off their plate, so they'll have time to do it. And he spent a lot of time going back and reiterating this is important. We need to do this. Everybody needs to be on board and tightening things up in the hopes that may be may be the log get on board. Well, here are the flaws with that. First of all, it doesn't work, right. But you do all of that. And still you don't get everybody on board. And you know this, you've had this experience before. It's exhausting. Because now you're running around and you're tasting and checking and correcting teachers, instead of doing the work you really need to be doing. Three, it's frustrating for teachers, they begin to resent the initiative. And then four students aren't getting the support they need because you're not while you're doing all of that people are implementing halfway half heartedly without fidelity. So you'd never get to see whether or not it actually has an impact on kids.
Because you don't have full fledge implementation.
Now, the reason that that's happening, it's not because you're a bad leader, you're very good leader, you're doing everything that leadership is telling you to do. The reason that's not working is because that kind of stuff doesn't work. I mean, it just becomes that simple, chasing, checking, correcting and doubling down. That doesn't work. And here's why. There's an old expression, and I've heard it a couple of different ways. But basically, it goes like this, we don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our habits and training. So if your teachers are not rising to the level of your new expectations for the school year, it's because that's not how it works. They are falling right now to the level of their training and habits. And the reason it's not working is not because you haven't gotten into enough classrooms or not because you haven't offered enough training. The reason is not working is because you haven't offered the right training. The reason it's not working is because you haven't done the work to turn this new initiative from being an initiative outside of teachers into a habit that inhabits how they do their work. And so let's talk about the way builders handle this.
So first things first, builders are not pushing initiatives that don't align with their vision, vision and core values. They're just not doing it. So the first thing is that when builders ask teachers to do something, they're asking them to do it, because they know, they believe that this is the most important work that teachers need to be doing. Right now, if you're not doing that, if you haven't done that kind of thinking ahead of time, then your initiative is not going to ever get full bodied ownership by teachers and implementation, because it's not connected to anything, it's just the latest thing. And they already know they can ride out the school year, and they don't even have to wait that long, you're going to get distracted, you're going to come up with the new latest thing. So don't commit to anything, right.
So you have to make sure that before you ask teachers to do anything that you have, you can see that it is a has a clear connection to the vision, mission and core values. And here's what I mean by clear connection. Because a lot of people can make the case for everything. Like let's say my vision is 100% of my kids are going to master fractions by fifth grade. So somebody could say, well, I want everybody to use this new math textbook. Well, the math textbook may be great. Maybe it will help kids master fractions by fifth grade. But if I don't make the case for that, then why am I using it? I could say Oh, well, you need this textbook because it's focusing on fractions. But that has not convinced me that this textbook needs to be the one thing that I focus on in order to help 100% of our kids master fractions by fifth grade. So you have to make sure that it's not just connected to your vision, but that you honestly believe that the thing that you're asking people to do is the one most important thing that everybody needs to do in order to achieve your vision. If not, why are you asking people to do it? And I don't want to hear you tell me? Well, the district's making us, right, because there are ways around that I've done podcasts in the past about how to turn any district initiative into something that serves your vision, mission and core values. So builders do not see that as an excuse. Instead, whatever they're asking teachers to do, if it is not moving your school, towards your vision, mission and core values. If it's not the most important thing that teachers need to be focused on right now.
You should not be doing that.
Okay. Now that aside, let's say you do believe that let's say you do believe this is the most important work that you need to be doing right now to achieve your vision, mission and core values. So the next step is, what kind of training are you giving people? And this boggles me, it really boggles me because the way that we implement training is so antithetical to the way that we ask teachers to teach that I just don't even understand why we do it. If I want teachers to use this new math textbook, in a way that helps every student master fractions by fifth grade, then I'm not going to sit them in a room for two hours in the cafeteria on those really uncomfortable toadstools that we call cafeteria benches in an unventilated room, with the cafeteria workers cleaning out the refrigerator in the background, and an LCD projector that is projecting on a screen the size of a postage stamp, while while the hum of the air conditioning is coming on and off, and the lighting is in conducive to people even being able to see the screen. I'm not going to do that. And then expect everybody to implement this new math curriculum or this new math textbook with fidelity. Right? I got to make sure that I am rolling this out in a way that builds the mastery of the teachers. So I'm not going to spend two hours walking them through the textbook and showing them how the textbook is organized.
Why would I waste people's time doing that they can see how the textbook is organized. I could send them an email or I could get make create a cheat sheet one sheeter that shows them how the textbook is organized, is showing them how the textbook is organized, going to help them teach better from that textbook. That's debatable if I only have two hours with them that I'm going to spend time working with them to show them how to take that textbook and turn it into meaningful learning experiences for kids. So there's no magic in the textbook. I've seen great teachers use horrible textbooks and create learning from it. I've seen really mediocre teachers use the best textbook and materials and completely massacre it and turn it into something that is not useful at all. So what I want to do if I only have two hours with those math teachers is I want to design a learning experience that sets them up to be effective in the using that textbook to help all students master fractions by fifth grade. So I'm going to design the learning experience with the same care. And with the same focus as I expect teachers to design the learning experiences for kids. I'm modeling that. So I'm giving them that kind of training. And then because I want mastery, I know it's not one and done. So I'm also thinking about what are the follow up experiences, what do what happens in their PLCs, that that helps build their capacity, what kind of feedback and support and accountability and culture do I need to build to set teachers up for success, so that when teachers, flounder, they fall to the level of their training, but because I know that I've given them amazing, excellent training and support that's ongoing, when they fall back on a fall, they don't have far to fall from excellence.
The mistake we make is that we assume that the little piddly training we give teachers is enough to set them up for success.
We don't even design our training and support to be able to set people up for success. We just kind of run through the motions, and they get mad when people don't implement. So we have to make sure that the training process is intentional. And it's designed to build mastery. And the best way I know to do it is I use the same training process that I advocate teachers using for kids, right? What do they need to acquire, apply, assimilate and adapt? And I backwards map? I'd say, if every teacher did this, I believe this creates success. What does that look like? I have that image in my head and I backwards design, the training from that image of mastery. Problem is that we don't ever really believe that our teachers are gonna get to master we think that mastery is innate and inherent. They come as master teachers, or they aren't master teachers. And we're not intentional about building mastery. And the same way we expect teachers to to design backwards from the standard. Why aren't we doing that? Why aren't we designing our training backwards from the level of mastery we expect teachers to exhibit in the classroom? It's so unfair, that, you know, we don't design training to build that mastery. But then we come in with our checklist expecting to see mastery in the classroom. That's bonkers to me, how are we supposed to expect mastery when we have not set teachers up for mastery.
So number one, we have to make sure we're choosing the right work for teachers to do. It has to be in alignment with our vision, mission and core values. And we and our teachers have to be able to see the connection between the work we're asking them to do, and ultimately achieving our vision mission and core values. If we don't do that work, it's not going to you're not going to see fidelity in a classroom. Secondly, we have to design our training for mastery, we have to backwards map from where we want teachers to be and make sure that our training, and a follow up training is designed to help teachers get there. I can't ask teachers to demonstrate something in the classroom that I did not set up that I did not set them up to be able to do. Okay. The third thing is that we have to give teachers time to practice the new skill or the new strategy before we run in and start evaluating them on it. I think we've forgotten how intimidating it is to have somebody come into our classroom and watch us try something new. When we still are feeling uncomfortable. We're still intimidated by the process, and know that we're going to be judged by that tiny snapshot when we're not ready to truly demonstrate mastery. And so what we the mistake we make is that we figure there's training and then there's going to be mastery on the first visit. And we come up with that checklist. And we ignore the power dynamics at play. And we put teachers in a position where they are uncomfortable and they really don't feel comfortable making mistakes, trying things and learning because we expect them to perform to the standard immediately.
So when we're rolling out a new one initiative, we need to create a protected period of time window of time, where we say even if I come in the classroom, it is non evaluative feedback. I'm not writing anything down, I'm not keeping any records. It's not going in the paperwork. In fact, when I'm coming in during that time, this is your opportunity to get unvarnished feedback that helps you know, what would happen if I came into the classroom, and I was checking. So you have time to, to learn to grow to make mistakes. And we you and I are working together because I want you to be masterful at this. I want you to invest the time and energy it takes to be masterful. And so as a result, I'm willing to invest the time and energy it takes to help you be masterful.
Hey, Robyn here, and I just want to break in real quick to ask you a huge favor. You say I want to get the word out to everybody about builder ship, and I could use your help. If you're really enjoying this episode, would you mind just going to your podcast platform and leaving a quick review? You see the reviews get the word out, they tell other people this is a great show other people who have never heard of school leadership reimagined before can hear about it, and you'd be sharing the word about builder ships. So would you mind just leaving a quick review, it would mean the world to me. Okay, now back to the show.
So this is what it sounds like.
Alright, I know that you're learning this new math curriculum, and you're working with a new math textbook. And so I'm going to give you some time, a period of time to start designing lessons in the way that is going to help kids master the fractions and the way that you were trained. And I'm gonna give you a period of time to do that, and implement those lessons and learn from it and make adjustments. And during that time, I will be in classrooms a lot. But the feedback that I'm giving you is non evaluative. And it's designed to help you because at this date, after that, that two or three week period, then I'm going to start coming in. And at that point, I'm going to be giving you more formal feedback, I'll be writing it up, it'll be a part of our ongoing feedback conversation. And so I want to make sure that you're ready for that. So when I come in, even if I give you feedback, and a lot of times I won't. But even if I do give you feedback, that feedback is non evaluative. And that feedback is almost like giving you answers to the test I'm showing you if I were to come in today with a checklist, this is what the feedback would look like. So let's give you time to work on these things.
So when I do come in with a checklist with a rubric, you're ready for it. Imagine what a sigh of relief your teachers will have if they knew they had some time to get it right. And they knew that you are rolling up your sleeves and working with them to get it right. So that you're setting them up for success, when you actually do come in with a rubric. Not only that the rubric is not some mysterious thing. It's not some checklist. I'm sitting down with them and helping them understand the rubric because again, I have this picture of mastery. And the rubric is that picture of mastery in rubric form. And so helping them understand what mastery looks like so that when I come in, and I'm giving them feedback, using the rubric, all I'm doing is saying here's mastery, here's where you are today. And this is what we need to do to fill the gaps so that you can achieve mastery because I believe in you, I believe in your ability to do this. And I believe in the importance of this work in order to achieve our vision, mission and core values.
So now, you have made clear why this work is important. So teachers are operating not not in the blind, but with a clear sense of how this connects to your vision, mission and core values. You're giving them training that sets them up to be masterful, and you're giving them a period of time where they can practice in a non evaluative environment, so they have time to get good at it before you come back in and start evaluating. And then finally, when you do come and evaluate they understand the evaluation instrument they understand the process the process doesn't feel punitive the process is a part of an ongoing conversation to help them be excellent so that that your it doesn't feel intimidating. It's not a gotcha it's really about this is important work I want you to be excellent at it. So let's create a more formal environment where I can give you some feedback and then the provide the follow up support you need so you can truly be excellent at it.
Now let's go back and compare the leadership way and the builder ship way.
The leadership way. Good, you know makes an announcement does it make the connection to the vision mission and core values clear? rolls out some training that is one size fits all, not differentiated and not designed to get to excellence runs in with a checklist or rubric, putting teachers in a position of having to be good right away. So that teachers begin to focus on compliance rather than truly incorporating and integrating this work into their practice. And then once a teacher flounders blames the teacher for not caring for not trying, and leaves the teacher kind of dangling out there. I know that's harsh, but that really is what leadership teaches us to do. And then we get mad and frustrated. And we abandon the the initiative, or we have half hearted implementation, or we have a lot of compliance, or we end up with something that doesn't work. Build a ship, on the other hand, creates an environment that sets teachers up for success. So that if teachers struggle, if they fall, there's so much training, there's so many new habits, there's so much support, they don't fall far.
Remember, we fall to the level of our training and habits, we don't rise to the level of expectations, expectations all day long. I expect this from my staff, I expect that from my staff, we do, that's what leadership has told us how to do. But when we put things in place to build people up. First of all, they're not likely to fall. But if they do so much support around them, they don't fall far. And instead, they fall forward. Because even if they fall, the training and support is there so much to support them, that if they learn from it, they're better off, they're further ahead than they were before they fell. If you are frustrated, because you have something that you're rolling out, and you're not seeing full implementation, and you're not seeing fidelity, then instead of getting frustrated with your teachers, get frustrated with the process, the process you are using, is clearly not working. And then make the decision to do it the builder ship way. Go back to square one, sit down with your teachers, sit down with them in large groups in small groups and make sure they understand why we're doing this.
If you don't have a vision, you need to go back and get a vision you need to create that vision and make sure people buy into the vision so that the initiative makes sense. Spend time making sure that you can people can see why that initiative is so important. And by the way, if you have an initiative that isn't important, you may want to drop it. I'm just saying. Then after you do that, go back and give people the training that helps them focus on mastery, you might decide to co create a rubric, what does masterful implementation look like and get the teachers involved in that come together and say, This is what it looks like. This is the behavior we need in order to achieve this vision for our kids. This is how we need to use this curriculum. This this this this textbook, this teaching technique, this warm up the support system, whatever it is you're trying to get implemented. This is what mastery looks like make sure you have agreement on that. Then give people time to build mastery and give them non evaluative feedback. Follow that up with some support, get them ready because there's a deadline for when we want everybody to be at mastery. And then when that deadline comes, go back in, give them the evaluative feedback. But then keep that feedback conversation going the support ongoing until every teacher gets to mastery.
It is possible to get every teacher in your building masterful at the work that matters most.
To you gotta be willing to invest in it. But if you do, if you do invest in it, then not only are you setting your teachers up for success and changing the culture and environment of your school, you're actually seeing the results and the kids learning. Isn't that the point? Isn't that why we're here. And success breeds success. So as teachers become successful, they become more motivated to do the work that's paying off. And so you create momentum, you create a different culture and your kids benefit. We don't rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training and our habits So you need to have really strong training and strong habits. 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, than you need to join bill to ship University. Just go to build a ship university.com and get started writing your school success story today. Hey, real quick before you go.
If you enjoyed today's episode, and you know someone who would really benefit from what you heard here today, maybe they're struggling with a thing that we talked about in today's episode. Would you take a moment and share this episode with them?
You see, not only will it help us get the word about build your ship out to more people, but you're gonna look like a rockstar because you're gonna give people something they can really use to help them get unstuck and be better at building their schools. Plus, it would mean the world to me.
Thanks so much, and I'll see you next time.