5 Lessons I’m taking into 2024


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 242

Hey builders. Before we begin, I have a quick question for you. Are We Connected on social media? The reason I'm asking is because as much as I love giving you the podcast episode every single week, I'd love to take our relationship deeper. So if we're not connected on on social media, let's connect. I'm on LinkedIn at Robyn, underscore mind steps. I'm on Twitter at Robyn underscore mind step someone's on Facebook and Robyn Jackson, please, let's connect so we can keep the conversation going. Now on with the show. You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 239?

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 a tough question. Are you the bottleneck of your school. So we're gonna jump into that in just a moment. But before we do, I just want to tell you about something really cool. That's happening tomorrow. If you're listening to this in real time, on Thursday, January 11 2024, at 7pm, I'm going to be making a big announcement. Now I usually don't get so dramatic about things all big announcement. But this one I'm so excited for actually have two really cool things happening this month. 

The first one is the big announcement. And then the second one I'll tell you about later on in the month. If you're round, and you want to see what the big the all the with all the hoopla is about, then join me live, you just go to the school leadership reimagined Facebook group inside of Facebook, if you're a member of that, or you can go to school leadership reimagined.com The webpage for this podcast, there'll be a little banner up there pop up and you can just click on that and get the link for the Zoom meeting where I'm going to make an announcement I'm only gonna keep you a half an hour, and I'm going to be giving something away. So you know, just a cool tool that we've created for you. I think you're really gonna like we'll be giving that away during the announcement as well. You need to jump live, there won't be a recording. But again, go to school leadership reimagined.com Click on the pop up. We'll also post the link inside of the school leadership reimagined Facebook group. And yeah, I can't wait. I'm excited about that. Alright, so now let's dive in.

Are you the bottleneck in your school? 

I'm asking this question because I, this is a time of year where we start getting really stressed out like, you know, winter break is over. We're back in school. And we have to make some results happen. And so this is a time of the era where you start going to work in the dark, and then going home in the dark. And I was talking to we were having a training inside of you the other day, and there was a principal she was there. It's almost nine o'clock at night and she's still at work. And I'm like, why are you still at work go home. It's like I had too much to do. And I don't know if you're feeling that right now, that crunch. And we have always accepted that? Well, this is just a part of the gig. This is this is what we do. And it's one of the big lies that leadership has told us, which is that at the end of the day, it all comes down to us. All right there. I see all the time principals kind of almost wearing it as a badge of honor, that they're at work late, that they're working weekends that they're so busy all the time. But in reality, that ethos of the busy principal, the leader that's there late and and they're all the time at school, the leader that just stays and gets stuff done. That ethos is a trap. And it's trapping many of us into being the bottleneck in our schools.

So here's how you can tell if you are the bottleneck in your school. If you were to leave your school for two weeks, could your school continue to grow and make progress without you? Now, let's break that down. I didn't say Could your school survive and not like burn to the ground without you? I mean, most of you have systems in place where that's not going to happen. Some of you are like, I can't leave for two days without a crisis. Right? But could you leave? No, no, you'd have no phone contact, no email contact, nothing. You are gone and completely out of contact and when you get back two weeks later, you're School is thriving, and it's growing. And it's almost like you weren't even there? If the answer is no, then you are the bottleneck of your school. Now, I know that stings a little bit, right? Because you're saying, Well, I mean, how can I leave, I am the principal.

But what builders know is that when you become a builder, when you put systems in place, when you build other builders, you can absolutely walk away doesn't mean you're not, you're not necessary and important to the school, it just means that the success or failure of your school isn't all on you. And although that might wound our egos a little bit, it's also very, very freeing, because it means then that the pressure is not on you, it means then that that other people are taking responsibility for the success of your school, it means that you're not the only one pushing. One of the things that I love about being a builder is that when you are a builder, and you build other builders, you are inviting people to come and build with you, as a leader, you're always say, Hey, let's go and you're in the front, by yourself, and everybody else is following you. It's lonely doing that, if there's a lot of pressure on you, you feel it, you've got your back to everybody else, which makes you very vulnerable.

So any teacher who gets mad at you can, can, you know, stab you in the back. 

It's, it's, it's a horrible, an uncomfortable place to be. That's what leadership that's where leadership puts you. But when you're a builder, you're working shoulder to shoulder with other people, other people come and they bring their ideas about how to make what you're building better, we always say NBU, that you can be stubborn on the vision and flexible around the details, which means that yes, you set a vision 100% You are stubborn on that. But everything else you don't to figure it out by yourself. You can build other builders who get your vision, who embrace your vision, who take ownership of your vision, and they begin to help you figure it out. You're never by yourself, there's always somebody else pulling for you. And I'll tell you why this is so important. Because if you are the bottleneck of your school, then you are holding your school back, your school's ability to serve kids rests entirely on your capacity to get things done. That's a horrible amount of pressure, it's more pressure than anybody should have. And it comes with a lot of guilt. It comes with a lot of pressure, it comes with a lot of angst, it comes with a lot of exhaustion, it puts you in the position to be attacked, and it's lonely. It's lonely, when you are the one out front, taking all the arrows in every direction, you've got pressure from your district, you've got pressure from parents, you've got pressure from your teachers, and it's just you by yourself.

When you are a builder, you're not the bottleneck, the success or failure of your school is guided by you, but it's not dependent upon you because you built up other people, which means then that you don't feel the pressure and have to you don't have to carry the pressure by yourself. It also means that you can make decisions that are right for you without feeling like you have to choose between your own health, your own sanity, your own family and the school. I remember a builder will name her here. She got a diagnosis a couple of years ago, cancer diagnosis and so she had to step away for from her school in order to deal with her health. And because she was a part of buildership University and because she had put the systems in place, you know she had already gone through having a vision, mission and core values in place. She had already put in her feedback support accountability culture systems in place, when she stepped away and took care of her health. She didn't. She wasn't sitting in the chair, getting chemo, worried about what's happening at her school. She wasn't sitting in the chair, getting chemo, answering emails, frantic emails from people at her school because things were falling apart without her. Instead, she could go and take care of her health, knowing that our school was going to be okay. And when she walked back into our school, they hadn't missed a beat, they had continued to move forward towards the vision. So when she came back instead of playing catch up and putting out all the fires that erupted while she was gone, she could step back in and immediately get to work moving your school forward and the vision because the school continued to move forward without her.

Do you know the difference that it made? 

Now I don't wish cancer on any of you. I don't hope you ever have a health emergency that takes you away from your school. But isn't it nice to know that if something like that happened, you could step away and your school will be okay. or something else. If you are the bottleneck in your school, then it's hard for you to even pursue your own professional aspirations. Maybe you want to go for a promotion. But you can't do that, because I can't leave you worry about leaving your school. Versus when you're a builder, you know, part of what we do level six of builder a ship University is is that legacy level, it's really about creating your own legacy, being able to pursue other opportunities that have opened up to you, because you're a builder, because you've achieved your 100% that you wouldn't have been able to pursue otherwise. Being able to decide, you know, I'd like to write a book, or I'd like to stay in my role and be a principal because I love it or I'm ready to move to central office, I want to start consulting, whatever that is, you can do it guilt free, because you're not the bottleneck, you know that if you step away, your school is going to continue to make progress, even without you.

So how do you create this mystical environment where you can actually and bottleneck yourself from your school, there are four things you need. And so we're going to talk about those four things today on why they're important. And then the next several episodes, I'm going to go into how you can begin to build those four things in your school. So that you can avoid bottleneck yourself from your school, and not only set your school free to thrive and to grow faster and go farther than they can right now with you being the bottleneck, but also to set yourself free from the guilt and the loneliness and the isolation and the pressure that comes from being the bottleneck. Okay. So the first thing you need, if you're going to really on bottleneck your school is you need to make sure that everybody on your staff feels a sense of ownership. Now, some of you're sitting there like duh, but how intentional Are we being about fostering ownership? I know we talk about it. I know we get frustrated. I've heard several principals say, Huh, I don't know why these teachers can't won't take ownership. I don't know why people won't be more accountable. You're they're working at the end of the day. And there other people are like, Oh, my duty day is over, I'm going home, even though there's still work to be done. You're the one who's working on weekends, and other people are letting stuff fall by the wayside.

You're the one who's going around and chasing, checking and correcting people making sure they make their deadlines, and other people are blowing it off. That's because your, your team, your teachers, your your everybody who's working on your team, if you're experiencing that, it's because they don't feel a sense of ownership. And it's not something you can give people, if I give you ownership, then it means that on some level, I've maintained ownership, it's not mine to give, it's theirs to take. And so if you don't have ownership, you will always ultimately be responsible. And I can hear somebody out there right now I hear you. There's somebody out there who's saying, But Robyn, I'm the principal, I am ultimately responsible. Yeah, you might be ultimately responsible, but doesn't mean that you what you're ultimately accountable. That's what I want to say you're ultimately accountable, but doesn't mean that you're ultimately responsible for everything. You're being held accountable for what happens in your school, but everybody has responsibilities that that that they that they own. And the problem is, we don't trust people to truly own their work. And a lot of that happens, because we've been using leadership strategies, and we've been burned in the past.

And instead of blaming the strategy we use, we blame the people. 

So perfect example, teachers are not teaching with fidelity to the new curriculum, right? So what do we do, we go in there with our checklists, and we start checking and saying, you know, giving them you know, feedback, you're not doing this with fidelity. And then when that doesn't work, we take over the the curriculum for them, we give them curriculum guides, and pacing guides, and we script out the curriculum. And then we get mad when we walk back in the classroom and you see the teacher just reading from the script, you've, you've tried to teach your proof teaching. And as a result, your teachers don't feel a sense of ownership, I can't get mad at a teacher for not for not taking more responsibility for the results if I have robbed them of every opportunity to have true ownership over their practice. So you have to make sure that you are creating an environment of owners, not renters. They've heard me talk about this before. I've done a whole podcast on it, and we'll link to it in the show notes about the difference between renters and owners. But we the leadership strategies that we've been taught have taught us to treat teachers like renters, and not owners. And if you treat a teacher like a renter, somebody's got to own it. And that means it's all on you. And that means that you make yourself responsible for what happens in that teacher's classroom. And that's why you're overworked because you're being the principal and you're teaching every class ultimately and you are The guidance counselor and you are the custodian, and you are taking on the responsibility of all of those roles. So you can't really be the visionary that you need to be in your school. And you can't be the builder that you need to be in your school to move your school forward. If people don't have a sense of true ownership, you will always be the bottleneck.

Hey, Robyn here, and I just want to break in real quick to ask you a huge favor. 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. Now, I'm gonna start driving down somebody's street here. And I'm gonna, I'm gonna roll over a few toll toes, but I'm doing it in love. A lot of us want to be the owners, we really don't want to, to to allow people to take ownership over their work, because we want to control everything, because we don't trust them or because we believe our way is the only way or because we're worried about what happens when we're accountable. Or because we have never been taught to do that. And it's just easier to just do it all ourselves. But every time you assume ownership over the work that other people should be owning, then you make yourself the bottleneck, because you can't be the principal and the teacher and the custodian and the guidance counselor and the main office secretary all at once.

The only way that you can fully thrive in your role and move your school closer to your vision is you've got to allow other people to take ownership, you've got to let go of some of the control and allow people to take ownership. Now, don't forget, in some upcoming episodes, I'm going to talk to you about how you do that. But right now, all I want you to do is think about where are you taking ownership of things that other people should be owning. That's all I want you to think about right now. And you will find that there are a lot of things that you have assumed ownership over that aren't yours to own. And that's the first step if you could recognize that, then when we talk about how you begin to release ownership back to the people who truly should own it, you'll you'll know you'll have a sense of what we're talking about won't be philosophical for you, you will see it it'll be more practical for you.

So right now, I just want you to think about what are you owning? 

What if you assumed ownership over that isn't yours to own? Okay, so that's the first level where you're a bottleneck. Now here's the second place, you're a bottleneck. In order to and bottleneck yourself, your team has to feel empowered to do the work. Now this is different than ownership ownership means that I feel ultimately responsible for the work, I feel like I so I therefore do things and feel because I take ownership of it, I treat it like it's mine, I don't I don't walk away before stuff is done, I don't leave stuff on done. I don't you know, push it off to somebody else. It's mine, I own it. Empowerment is different, because empowerment is really do I feel like I have the ability to do something about the things that I own. And a lot of people you know, we we say all I want people to be, you know, take ownership.

So we just kind of throw things off on people's plates, but we don't set them up to be successful owners, we don't set them up to truly be able to impact the results that we say they own. Sometimes it's because we don't give people the tools that they need and the resources they need. Sometimes it's because we haven't trained people on how to take true ownership. Sometimes it's because when people struggle, there isn't a safety net there to help support them. So if we don't empower people, if people don't truly feel empowered to impact the thing that they are supposed to own, then they begin to abdicate, or they begin to do their best and then you get frustrated because their best isn't what we consider to be the best. And so we get mad at people when they're really doing the best they can but then we don't set them up to be able to produce the best. Sometimes it's because we haven't defined what the best is. Sometimes it's because we throw everything on them before they're ready. Sometimes it's because We we we put them in positions that are untenable, and we don't set them up to be successful, we give them responsibility without giving them the tools and the supplies and the support that they need to truly take responsibility. And because of that, then we say up, see, they didn't do it. And then we take back ownership, because we said, We gave them ownership. And they, they, they they failed. That's why I have to do it. And it makes you the bottleneck again.

So I want you to think about this. 

Do your people have the resources, the support, the training, but onboarding, that they need to be truly successful owners of their work? And if the answer's no, well, that's what we have to fix. And we'll talk about that in a future episode, right now just want you to take a look. Because that's what might be keeping you trapped as the bottleneck in your school. Alright, so the third thing that you need, in addition to ownership and empowerment, is you need alignment. One of the biggest challenges to and bottlenecking yourself is that you understand what your vision is, you understand what it's going to take to get there. But it's all in your head. And so when other people try to take more ownership, and they they try to to, you know, become empowered to do the work, they don't have the information you have, they don't have a true understanding of your vision. So they go off in a direction that they think you want, and it's not the right direction. I mean, how many times have you given somebody something to do and they do it. But then when you get it, you're like, this isn't what I want, why would you think this is what I want, they're giving you what they thought you asked for, but it's not what you really want. And so if you're going to have true alignment, the first the first thing you have to do is make sure that people understand what it is you want. And then that way you can trust them to go do what you ask them to do, or what they need to be doing, which is better. Because if you're asking them to do it, you still own it, right? You they can go do what they need to be doing. Because they and you can trust them to do it. Because you know, they have the same understanding of the vision, they have the same understanding of what success looks like, you know that they have the same understanding of your mission and your core values.

One of the reasons why we teach vision mission and core values first NBU is because that way, if you can get everybody to buy into the vision, mission and core values, then you can trust them to make decisions, right? Because you've given them a framework to do that. Does this move us closer to our vision? Is the work on mission? And is this work in alignment with our core values? The answer is yes, then do it, I trust you, it becomes a framework that we can all stay as long as we stay in alignment with that framework, we're going to be okay. And then you don't have to worry about what someone's doing over here with whether or not you're going to get something that is what you want. Because once you have that alignment, when everybody is focused on doing the right work the right way for the right reasons, then you can trust people, and you don't have to feel like you have to prove everything or you you don't have to feel like you have to be involved in everything. And more importantly, they don't feel like you have to prove or be involved in everything. Because a lot of times you want people to take more ownership.

But every two seconds, somebody sends you an email or BCC and you want to email or something by your office and saying, Can you look at this, and you're frustrated, you're like, it's fine, just do it. But when people don't feel like they don't really understand the vision, mission and core values, they don't understand what good is they don't understand what success is, then you become the arbiter of those things. And they have to come through you in order to get anything done. And you're the bottleneck. So what I want you to think about is, in what situations, have you not made the vision mission and core values clear? Where are the areas of misalignment in your school, because everywhere there's an area of misalignment, you have to step in and fill the gaps and that keeps you being the bottleneck. Alright, the last one, in addition to ownership and empowerment and alignment, you need engagement. People could take ownership, people could be empowered to affect the results and impact the results.

People can do things in alignment. 

But if they don't stay engaged in the community, if they don't stay engaged in the true vision, mission and core values of the work over time, they begin to disconnect from the work and you have to come in and pick up the slack. And if you are the only person who is pushing the vision, mission and core values if other people are not engaged in in moving that work forward if they don't feel engaged in the vision, mission and core values, then at the end of the day, it's going to fall back to you. So think about this. How many times have you had to get people hyped up?

Oh, you know, this is the time of the year. That's a slog for a lot of people, how many times if you have to feel like you have to do something for staff morale, you have to do something to get people excited about things again, or you feel like everybody's kind of disengaging from the work. And it all falls on you. You're the bottleneck. But what if instead, people saw the vision, not just as your vision, but as there's two? What if people believed in that vision so passionately that they pursued it? Whether or not you were pushing it? What if the mission really did drive everybody's work? What if the mission is what got people out of bed every single day? Not the cakes, cupcakes that you put in a staff lounge or, or the hot chocolate station that you set up? Those are nice, I'm not bashing those. But those are not what keeps people engaged. Those are those are those are the frills and the benefits. They're not the fundamentals, which keep people engaged. What if, instead of you going around and enforcing rules, everybody embraced those core values as non negotiables. And use those core values to guide their behavior and govern the decisions that they made in your school. Then instead of you running around, trying to keep everybody motivated, and you running around, trying to get everybody hyped up and you running around and trying to solve the morale issues, everybody else was taking care of themselves. And they were engaged meaningfully in the work, not because you did something, but because the work was meaningful to them.

So again, you don't have to figure it out. We're going to do a couple of podcasts later on to talk about how do you get ownership? And how do you get empowerment and alignment and engagement. We're in the next couple of podcasts going to show you how to do that. But for now, I just want you to ask the question, Where am I the bottleneck in my school? Is it because I have a really, that I'm assuming ownership over things that really aren't mine to own? Is it because my my team does feel disempowered? And the things that the and I'm doing some things to, to disempower them, I'm not giving them what they need the support that they need to be able to truly impact their results and their outcomes. Is it because there's some misalignment because I haven't made the vision mission and core values really clear. And I'm out of alignment with a vision mission and core values. So people don't know if they can trust them or not. Or is it because I don't have my staff meaningfully engaged in the work that I take assume all responsibility for getting people motivated and engaged. And I haven't put structures in place haven't built a culture where people can stay meaningfully engaged, regardless of whether or not I'm pushing as their own. Ask yourself this week. And then I want to ask you this, how exhausting is all of that?

How frustrating is it? 

That everything falls on you? I know that our leadership training has taught us to play the hero, the superhero we fly in every day with our cape, we go when we solve problems. We go in and we rescue people. But not only is that exhausting, it's just it's a lonely. What if instead of being the the superhero, the one who's rescuing everybody, the one who's out front dragging everybody to your goal? What if you could and bottle neck yourself from your school? And everybody was building? What if everybody assumed ownership over their work? Think about what it would feel like if everybody felt empowered to impact the results. And so they were doing things that move the needle for moved your school closer to your vision did work that kept things on mission were aligned with those core values. What if it not only did they take ownership, not only did they feel empowered, but they did work that stay in alignment with the vision mission and core values so you could trust them? And what if people were so meaningfully engaged in the work that sometimes they motivated you? What would it feel like? In other words, if you instead of being a leader, ran your school 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 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 bill to ship University. Just go to build a ship university.com and get started writing your school success story today. Hey, it's Robin here. And I want to thank you for listening to today's episode.

If you have a question about today's episode, you just want to keep the conversation going. Did you know that we had a school leadership reimagined Facebook group, all you need to do is go to Facebook, join the school leadership reimagined Facebook group. Now there are going to be a couple of questions that we asked at the beginning because we want to protect this group and make sure that we don't have any trolls come in and that it really is for people who are principals, assistant principals, district administrators, so make sure you answer those questions or you won't get in but then we can keep the conversation going. Plus we do a lot of great bonus content. I'm in there every single weekday so if you have a question or comment about the episode, let's continue the conversation. 

Join us at the school leadership reimagined Facebook group and I'll talk to you next time.

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