How Builders Eliminate Problems


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 237

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Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. 

I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today we're going to start a new series of just some really practical things that you can be thinking about right now, as you go through this part of the school year, things that can help you make decisions that are coming up things that can help you manage some of the challenges that crop up this time of the school year. And my hope is that by sharing some of these really practical episodes, you can listen to the episode, take what you're learning and apply it right away in your school. 

So today, I want to talk about something that happens with builders a lot. And it's a big difference between what it takes to be a builder and what you've been taught as a leader. And that is how do we solve problems. Now that sounds like a big topic, but I'm going to be breaking it down in this episode. And helping you understand there are three criteria to a good solution. And if you can start to think in this framework, then when you are working on solving problems, instead of just kind of, you know, solving the surface of the problem and having that problem crop up later on, you can actually solve the problem once and for all and get to the point where you eliminate that problem altogether. And the difference all comes down to how you think about solving problems, and whether or not you use this framework. So let's jump in.

So the framework has three parts, there are three big questions you have to ask yourself when you are looking for a solution to solving a problem. 

So the first question is going to seem kind of obvious, but it is really probably the most important question that you can ask, which is what problem am I really trying to solve. So this came up just the other day inside of Belgium University, we were having a workshop we were working on understanding our vision story and creating our vision story. And one of the first things you have to do is you have to put yourself in the position of the person you're talking to. And so in this case, we're talking about our staff. And we started talking about how so often, when our staff complains, we react to their complaint, instead of actually responding to their complaint. So let me tell you the difference. Let's say that your staff is complaining about the fact that they don't have enough time. When you react, you say you don't have enough time, what do you mean, you have X number of minutes per week in planning. And, you know, last month I cancelled the staff meeting, so you could have more time and you're still not satisfied. You all are just complaining. That's the leadership approach.

Here's what builders do, instead of just kind of reacting to this, this idea that they don't have much time, start looking at what's underneath that. 

For some people, it's that the the allotted time that you're giving them is isolating. They I mean, yes, they have time, but they don't have time in the way they used to. They used to be able to collaborate with our colleagues. And now they don't have opportunities to do that. So it's not that they want time in general, is that they really want more time to collaborate with their colleagues. In other cases, it's not even a matter of more time, it's about how they are expected to use their time. So you know, you can say you get 22 minutes for planning, but if those 22 minutes a day for planning are taking up and planning protocols and creating work that they feel is not important. Then what they're really saying is I don't have time to do the work that I value because I'm too busy doing the work that you value on Understanding the difference makes all the difference. So making sure that when you, you, you, you see a problem that you don't just react to what's on the surface.

But you ask yourself, what problem am I really trying to solve? And in most cases, it's not the problem on the surface. So when your staff complains about needing more time or needing more resources, or they're complaining about not getting enough support, don't just react to the complaint, go deeper, investigate, try to figure out what's the real problem here. Now in build up University, we teach a framework that looks at the external problem, the internal problem and the philosophical problem. And if you can start thinking about problems, that way you can get to the heart of the problem.

So the external problem is a problem that people express it's, it's what they complain about. The internal problem is what they're feeling. 

It's the feeling underneath the complaint. And the philosophical problem is the reason that they feel that way. So it's the should have it all. So let me give you an example that isn't necessarily school related, but could be a really good way of thinking about this, let's say that you have a couple, and one member of a coupleleaves their, their wet towel towel on the floor in the bathroom every day after they get out the shower. And the other member of the couple complains about the wet towel on the floor. And they get no argument about it, I don't know what the big deal is, I'll pick it up, you never pick it up. And that big argument becomes so big, that the couple creates this tension that they're always feeling everyday about something as simple as a wet towel on the floor.

Now let's take a look at it the way that a builder would look at it, because a leader would just say it's the wet towel is the issue. But a builder understands that there's another thing going on. So the external problem is the wet towel. The internal problem, though, could be that one partner feels like the other partner is controlling, and, you know, trying to micromanage every part of their day, like what's the big deal, they're making too big a deal about the wet towel. The other partner who is complaining about the wet towel may say that their internal problem is, I don't feel like I'm being respected. I feel like I am expected to pick up the towel every day, and that they treat me like a maid.

Do you see how the problem expands, it gets bigger when you go to the internal problem. 

Now let's go to the philosophical problem, right. So for the person who's leaving the towel on the floor, the philosophical problem might be, I have a right to do what I want my own home and not catch a whole bunch of flack about it. And the person who is complaining about the wet towel on the floor, that philosophical problem might be that I have a right to be respected, and, and treated with respect and not treated like a maid and treat it like an equal partner, my concerns are valid. So if you don't solve, not just the external problem, that's the wet towel, the internal problem, how it makes each partner feel and the philosophical problem, the thing that's driving the feeling that you haven't solved the problem. And the problem will keep cropping up over and over and over again.

Now let's take it to a school situation. Let's go back to teachers who complain that they never have enough time to plan, the external problem is minutes in a day or a week time to plan for the internal problem could be that I don't have time to plan with my colleagues or that the time that you've given me for planning is bloated in and filled with all these other things. Or they're really saying not that I don't have time to plan but I don't tend to plan the way that I want to plan. And the philosophical problem might be that, that you I have a right as a professional to make my own decisions about how I spend my time or the philosophical problem might be that that that your structure has is isolating, and I have a right as a professional to work with and collaborate with other professionals. But your time isolates me. So do you see the difference when you are, are focused on just the surface problem and you're not asking yourself? What problem am I really trying to solve? What's the real problem here? Then you often come up with solutions that don't address that.

Now I know that was like a two second kind of explanation of internal external and philosophical problems. We go into it a lot deeper and build it up University as we're looking at challenges that this our schools are facing. And it's one of the reasons why builders are able to eliminate problems because instead of just solving the the X terminal problem and just focusing on that builders investigate, they go deeper, they determine the internal problem, the philosophical problem, and they create solutions that address all three problems. Because until you do that until you address all three problems, you haven't really solved anything.

So first question in the framework, what problem am I trying to solve? 

To answer that question, you have to ask yourself, What's the external problem? What's the internal problem? And what's the philosophical problem, and you have to find a solution that addresses all three, or the problem will continue to crop up again. Alright, so the second part of the framework is that when you're looking at a solution, you have to ask yourself the question, Will this solution benefit students and the school? Okay, let me break that down a little bit. Because a lot of people never consider this. And in fact, until a couple of years ago, I didn't consider it either. And then I had a mentor asked me a question, okay, you're coming up with a solution. I can see how it benefits students, but how does it benefit the adults? How does it benefit the school? And I said, Well, it's all about the kids. It shouldn't be about the kids. And they said;Yeah, but if you have a solution that benefits kids, but penalises adults,

If the adults don't see a benefit in it, too, they're not going to sustain it, that solution actually may be draining them. 

While it may benefit the kids at first, it can't continue to benefit the kids. If it drains the adults, you have to find a solution that serves both, or that solution is not sustainable. And ever since I got that advice, I mean, the heavens open, it has changed the way that I look at solutions. You see, we were always taught math to be all about the kids. It's selfish, if you are not thinking about the kids. But isn't it? I mean, I'm starting to challenge that notion, why can't the solution serve both, it doesn't have to be a zero sum game, it doesn't have to be either it serves the kids and drains the adults or it serves the adults, but it penalises the kids, there has to be a solution that that serves both both parties. And if you can find that you have a solution that you can sustain.

So let's take a look at a, for instance, when we're looking at a school, and let's say that students need interventions, so the traditional approach is students need intervention. So we're going to ask adults to give up their planning time to come before school to stay after school to give up their lunch period, in order to serve kids. And a lot of, of the teachers in the building feel like well, that's the only way. And then or we all revere on the other side. And we say, well, you know, I want to respect I have a duty free lunch, I want to respect that. So everything has to happen in the classroom. So we take away classroom time to do interventions. And so we don't get through the curriculum, because we try to load everything in the 45 minutes that kids have in the classroom that day, so that we don't overburden teachers, but the kids who need more time or more exposure to a subject, don't get it, or they get it at the sacrifice of progressing through the curriculum. It doesn't have to be a zero sum game.

So a couple of other alternatives are maybe we should not be looking at interventions. And maybe we should be looking at acceleration instead. 

So rather than waiting for kids to fail, and then jumping in and trying to fill in the gaps, what can we do to make sure that the kids never failed in the first place? So maybe what we need to be doing is instead of focusing on interventions, we need to focus on acceleration. Or if students do need interventions, does the teacher have to be the one to do that? Could we bring in volunteers that work with kids at lunch? So the teachers have a duty free lunch? But the kids get what they need? Or is there another solution. And when you challenge yourself to find a solution that serves both the kids and serves the school, be adults, the other people who are working in the institution, and you can create a win win situation? That's a solution that's going to be more sustainable. Okay, so number one, what problem am I trying to solve? Make sure you're solving the real problem and not the surface. Problem. Number two, how can I make sure that my solution serves both kids and the school and you keep digging for solution that does both? And then the third thing is that you have to think about how sustainable is this over time? So a mentor gave me a different mentor gave me some advice once that I love and they said if you can't do it for five years, don't do it for a day. I love this advice, because so often schools pick solutions that cannot be sustained. They work really, really hard so that you know what happens is a leader as you look at your data, you see a number that's in red, and you're like, Oh, the kids need that. We're not going to make our reading scores Oh, the kids need this or the kids need that or the data says this or they just says that. And then you rush to a short term Band Aid solution where everybody's working really, really hard. But it's not sustainable. 

Hey, Robin here, and I just want to break in real quick to ask you a huge favour. You see, 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.

I remember being in a school one time where they had an influx of money, they got extra money because they were a school that was in trouble. 

So they paid for all of the use of money to put more bodies at kids, we threw, they threw more bodies at the kids. So they use the money to hire all these extra teachers and aides and tutors for the kids. And they did that and the scores got up. But when the money ran out, they had to get rid of all the extra personnel. And the scores went back down because they built their entire solution around something that they could not sustain. If you can't do it for five years, you shouldn't do it for a day, I'll give you another example. I worked with a different school. And what they did is they said, you know, we're gonna go all out, we're gonna get our test scores up this year. And the teachers worked super hard, gave up their lunches worked before school, after school pulling kids out, they worked so hard, and they pulled their scores up. But the teachers were exhausted by the time they were done. And when they they looked at the next year, everybody started falling off. Why? Because they were asking people to do things that were outside of what they were hired to do, they were asking people to, you know, give all of this extra effort. And that extra effort couldn't be sustained over the long term. If you can't do it for five years, don't do it for a day.

So if your solution is is something that requires something from you, your staff, your school, or your kids, that that you can't sustain over the next five years, don't even start it, it's not the right solution for you. It's a band aid at best. And at worst, it sets your your, your touch you and your school up for these these these peaks and valleys, these, these these quick shots in the arm and quick fixes that then go away, and it creates a level of cynicism, it doesn't create sustained success. And that's really what you're going for here. Right? A lot of times we have been what we consider to be a solution is not a solution. It's a band aid. And the way that you can tell that something is a solution is doesn't make the problem go away. If it doesn't make the problem go away. It's not a solution. It's a it's a quick fix. It's it's something that helps you get by, but it doesn't really solve the problem. So you got to look for solutions. And you got to look for things that you can sustain over time.

So let's review the framework. And then I want to challenge you to start thinking about your problems using this framework, so that you can come up with solutions that will last Okay, so number one, what problem are you really trying to solve? Spend some time when it when something crops up? Don't just react to it, spend some time asking yourself? What's the real problem here? What what does what what would a good solution look like? What would make this go away? What does it look like when this is no longer an issue that helps you come up with solutions that actually solve problems? Number two, you want to ask yourself, will this benefit both the kids and the adults in the building? We responsibility for both? And I think we forget that sometimes I think we think we're being altruistic and noble by saying well, it's all about the kids. I don't want to cater to the adults, nobody's telling you to cater to the adults. But the way that you make a difference in the lives of kids is through the adults. And we have a responsibility to serve them both.

It's not selfish to try to find a solution that serves both groups. 

In fact, it's smart. Because if the solution serves the kids and the adults, the adults will continue to pursue the solution and they will continue to serve the kids. If it doesn't, then you've created this fight between the kids needs and the adults needs. And this is a false dichotomy. It doesn't have to be that way. But so often in education, we create He ate those conditions, where people feel like they either have to, to serve kids at the sacrifice of their own health, their own sanity, their own happiness, or they have to protect themselves at the sacrifice of doing what's right for kids. Let's stop putting people in that position. Instead, let's go ahead and make sure that we are serving both. And then finally, number three, is this solution sustainable? Is this something that we can do comfortably for the next five years. If you can't do it for five years, you ought not do it for a day. And when you start using that discipline around your solutions, it keeps you from all of the fits and starts that normally happen. It keeps you from, you know, working really hard, hitting a goal, and then not being able to sustain the goal that keeps you from choosing, quote, unquote, solutions that actually are quick fixes and band aids, and starts teaching you how to think about the long term. Because it's a builder, that's the point you are building for the long term, you are building something that will last long after you leave. 

So if you take the builder ship approach to solving problems, you can eliminate those problems, so that they don't show up again, so that you have more time, more energy to focus on what really matters, instead of solving the same problems every single year. 

I see that a lot, a lot of leaders, every single year, they have the same problem over and over and over again. And they just keep quote unquote, solving the same problems over and over and over again every single year. What a builder does is they say this is so an up this is keeping us from our goal. How do we eliminate this how do we remove this as an obstacle so that we can achieve our vision, our mission and our core values. And when you approach your problems that way, you can truly eliminate them. When when you use this three part framework. You can look at a problem. Solve it once and for all so that it never ever crops up again, because you've chosen to approach your problem, like a belter. 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 tonnes 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 bill to ship University. Just go to build a ship 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 builder ship out to more people. But you're going to look like a rockstar because you're going to give people something that 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.

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