The elephant in the room


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 246

Hey builders. Before we begin today's episode, I just want to tell you about something really cool. doors for builders ship University are now open, but you have to act fast because doors are closing on Monday, February 1220 24, at 5pm. Eastern, so go to builder ship so that you can secure your spot and the next cohort of builders ship University today. Now onto the show. You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 246. How do builders like us make a dramatic difference in the lives of our students? In spite of all the obstacles we face? How do 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 we're going to have a little bit of a different episode because I got asked a question a couple of weeks ago that I've been asked before, and I thought it'd be a good idea for me to address it on the podcast and talk about a little bit so that if you have the same question, I can answer that question for you, too.

So I was doing a speech recently. 

And after the speech, someone came up and she waited until kind of everybody was gone. And she says I need to ask you a question. And I don't mean it to be a rude question. But I was wondering, have you ever been a principle before? Now from time to time over the course of you know, the work that I've done? I've been asked this question. And usually when people ask this question, they ask it for one of two reasons. Number one, either they ask the question, because I've said something to them that has triggered them that that that's challenged, that some some closely held belief that they have that they don't want to let go of, even though it makes sense. And they know it makes sense that they know they should be doing something differently. So instead of challenging their beliefs, what they do is they say they want to go back and kind of push back at me. So they asked the question, so that they can find a reason to discount what I've said to them. That's the first reason. And quite frankly, it's the one that I encountered the most. But then there are other people who are asking that question for a different reason, not because they don't want to believe what I have to say or what I've shared with them, but because they do, and they're wondering, can I trust her? And so today, I want to answer that question for the second group of people, the first group of people, nothing I can say it's gonna really matter. But the second group of people who are wondering, can you really trust what I'm sharing with you? If based on whether or not I've been a principal? I want to answer that question now. So the short answer to the question is no, I've never been a principal, I've been an assistant principal. I've served in an acting role. 

But I have never been a principal. And if you know my story, you know that the day that I was offered a principalship is the day that I resigned from the district. So I made an intentional choice not to be a principal. Now, here's why that's often considered to be a challenge. A lot of people feel like if you haven't been a principal, how can you tell principals how to run their schools? How can you say to principals, you shouldn't do leadership, you should do builder ship, if you've never been a principal, and the underlying argument is, if you've never been a principal, then you really can't understand what it's like to be a principal. I get it. I have not been a principal. And so it may be hard to believe that I know what it's like when you're a principal because you know, being a principal is a unique position it being an AP is not being a principal, I tell people that all the time, that being an AP prepares you in some ways for being a principal by you know, kind of building your understanding of how organizations work. But being an AP does not prepare you emotionally for being a principal right? When you are a principal you are the only one in the building when you're an AP may be one of several APs. But the most important difference between being an AP and a principal is that when you are a principal, the buck stops with you when you're an AP there's still somebody you can kind of you know, there's somebody There's another position over yours that you can kind of defer to. But when you are the principal, everybody's looking to you to make the decisions. And that is an unimaginable amount of pressure, right parents are looking to you, there are some parents who won't talk to anybody but you in the building, because there is a perception that you are the only one with the authority in the building to get things done. The teachers are all looking at you for the ultimate decision, the kids look at you differently, because you are the principal. But not only that, there's a pressure coming from the community, you know, your name is the one that's in the paper, they don't name your AP, they don't name the teachers most of the time, but they do name you. 

And the rep is reputation of your school hinges are depends upon you. Not only that the district is looking at you. In many cases, people in central office don't know anybody else's name, but yours in your building. And so when those scores don't look a certain way, everybody's looking at you. Not only that, but when you are a principal, a lot of times, you don't get the credit for things when things go well in your school. But you do get the blame when things don't go well in your school. That's an enormous amount of pressure, I remember what I was in was an acting principal for a short periods of very short period of time, I was so exhausted, it wasn't that I was doing so much more work. But the the emotional weight that comes with that work is pretty overwhelming, it can be at times, and unless you've been a principal, it's really hard to understand what principals carry every single day, the amount of emotional labor, the principals are doing every single day. And the second thing is that unless your principal, it's really hard to understand the sense of responsibility that you have, you know, other people can turn things off and go away, we don't on the weekends or, or on the breaks, but you're constantly thinking about your school, you feel a sense of responsibility for everything in the school, every other job in the school has a contained level of responsibility. If I'm a teacher, I'm responsible for my classroom, if I'm an AP, I'm responsible for attendance, ninth grade, the lunch duty, but when I'm a principal I'm responsible for everything I'm responsible for what happens is, with the the physical plant of the building, I'm responsible for teaching and learning, I'm responsible for every single kid. And when stuff goes bad, I'm the one that's going to get blamed. But I'm also the one who ultimately blames myself. And that is heavy. And unless you've been a principal, it's really hard to know what that feels like. So when people see me and they say, Well, you have not been a principal, then they wonder, can I understand that kind of wait? Can I understand that kind of pressure? 

Can I understand that level of emotional labor that comes with a job? 

Sure, I may be able to understand that the pieces of the job the the individual roles of the job, I know what it looks like to put together a master schedule. I know what it looks like to conduct a meeting. Yeah. But do you understand all the stuff that's happening below the surface? When you're putting together the master schedule? And when you're putting together the meeting? Can you read have you and people feel like if I haven't walked in their individual shoes, I can understand that. And I get it. I mean, I think that, that there is some merit to that, because I only have a passing understanding of that as an acting role. And even an acting role here. It's not the full time role. So you know, I get it. But I want to talk today about why there are some advantages to the fact that I've never been a principal. And then what I do to kind of mitigate some of the disadvantages. So the first thing is that, although I've never walked in your shoes, I've worked with hundreds of principals by now who have and what the way that we set up build a ship University, the way that we set up all of our materials and trainings is that it's just that, that I consider myself a partner with principals. So I don't ever go in and tell them what to do, right? 

Because ultimately, it's their school. And they have to be the the final say in everything. What I do is partner with them and listen to them and when they share their concerns and and share their experiences. They bring that to the table, right? So I'm not the expert dictating to other people what to do, they're bringing to the table. This is what it feels like. These are the things I'm worried about. These are my fears. These are the pressures, and I provide a safe place for them to be able to do that. And the fact that I haven't been a principal helps them when they're telling me about it. articulate more fully what they're going through because they realize that I may not know. And then I can ask questions that help them think more deeply about, about their experience and to make sense of it. And so instead of saying, Yeah, I know I get it, you know, because how do you even if I've been a principal, I don't get your situation, you have to talk me through it so that I can get it, I can't make those assumptions, because I haven't been a principal. And so as a result of the fact that I can't make those assumptions, it forces me to listen more closely. It forces me to ask better questions, so that I can understand. And in that way, the principles I work with partner with me to make me serve them. And so it actually works out really well. Because, as they are articulating and and as I'm asking questions, they begin to see their situation differently, they begin to process and understand what they're feeling, why they're feeling a particular way. And then the exchange that I get is, as they begin to articulate it, I understand how they're feeling better, and then I can figure out how to better serve them. So it creates a very powerful partnership, that that that creates greater communication, that creates a deeper understanding, and also better results. The other thing is that, because I've never been a principal, I can ask principals questions, and help them to see perspectives, that they may have a blind spot about that they may not have considered.

There is a perspective that they get from me, because not even though I haven't walked in their shoes, because I've worked with at this point 1000s of principals, and been in this point 1000s of schools over the course of the last 20, something through almost 30 years of working in schools, I can bring that that broader perspective, I'm not bringing the perspective of my school. I mean, how many times if you've been in a workshop, and the presenter talks about when I was a principal, I did this, when I was a principal, I did this when I was a principal, I did this, and they're telling you the things that they did, but they're not making it something that is accessible to everybody. And you wonder, did they come up with something, a model that really works, or they just tried to turn you into a version of themselves because of what they did in their school and the success they had in their school, I don't have that. And so I have to take what I've experienced in the 1000s of schools that I've worked with, and come up with something that will work for every body. And I don't have the blind spot of thinking about, well, this is what I did when I was a principal. Instead, I can bring that level of objectivity to the work because I don't, I don't have I'm not sifting everything through my experience as a principal. And then the last thing I want to say is that the fact that I haven't been a principal, the fact that I intentionally chose not to do that role means that it's forced me to really think through every framework, every theory, every every suggestion that I make, it gives me a degree of humility. Because I'm always thinking, if I give this advice to somebody, I have to really think it through because I can't default to rely on the fact that I was a principal, I have to make sure that the advice that I give is, is strong, it's powerful, it's really going to work. And I'm always cognizant of the fact that having not walked in the in the shoes of a principal, is this something that is going to make sense to their situation. So I think it makes me work a lot harder to serve the principles that I serve because I have to approach it with a degree of humility. I can't rest on those laurels I have to come in and really serve.

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. I'm hoping that that kind of addresses the question for you because I don't want that to be a barrier to what I know will work for your school. You see, those of you who are already in builder ship university, you know, it works. And you also know it works. 

Regardless of the school, we have schools and principals and builders University from all over the world at this point. We have principles in Asia, we have principles in Africa, we have principles in North and South America, the Caribbean, we have Canada, Australia, Canada, North America, but you know, Australia, we have principles from all over the world. And we have principles who have all kinds of schools, schools, where they only have one teacher schools where they have a staff of 200. Plus, we have elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and we have principals with different personalities, we have principals with different backgrounds and experiences, genders, races, ages, and the framework, the build of ship framework has worked for all of them. And not only has it worked, they are creating a consistent stream of success stories, they, they go from one win to the next. And when they have frustrations, we have office hours where you come in, and you you have a safe space, amongst other principals where you can share your frustrations, you know, we during office hours, we don't record it, only the members of builders University are allowed in office hours there live. Because we wanted to create a safe space so that all of the weight that you carry is a principle, you can bring it there. And you can be around other people who believe in you. And I want to make this point because it's really important. Just because somebody else is a principal doesn't mean that they're going to respond with empathy to what you are going through in your school. I mean, how many times have we been in those principal forums and those principal groups, and everybody in the group is, is so busy peacocking and, and showing off and, and trying to show what a great principle they are that, that nobody's responding with empathy when you're saying, but I'm really struggling, in fact, they treat you like there's something wrong with you, because you're admitting that you're struggling, or places where when you admit that you're struggling with something, that people respond with sarcasm or criticism, and you feel worse, because of your struggle. 

Well, we've built a place in builder's University where you have a safe space, to be able to be completely vulnerable, and human, and nobody's competing with you, because everybody is going through the same thing. And, and nobody makes you feel bad for where you are because they they recognize what you're trying to build, and they're there to support you. People have said over and over again that, you know, if they never we have some people embellish ship University who frankly don't engage in the curriculum at all. They're in build a ship University just for the office hours there and build a ship University, just for the space space where they can go to where people get it, but people get what they're trying to do. People believe in their work, they just want to be around people who are doing this, this builders ship work so that they can be encouraged by people. Some people join builders ship University, and, and and and they start out and they feel alone. And they realize that that the reason that they feel alone is because even though they're surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are principals or who have been who have been principals that are now in central office, they don't get what they're trying to build in their school. So the bigger question isn't, have I been a principal? The bigger question that you should be asking yourself is do do I get what you're going through? do I how do I respond to what you're going through with empathy? Am I really listening to you, and then I'm offering you something that works. Something that if you apply it in your school, can help you be a better principal can help you serve more kids can help you earn and sustain the respect of your teachers can help you deal with the challenges of your of working in your district can help you think through what you're doing and be a thought partner with you and a mentor to you to help you achieve the goals that you want to achieve. If the answer is yes, then that's all that matters. 

So I thought long and hard about whether or not I should do this episode because I don't want to come across as being defensive. 

I think there was a time when people asked that question and I felt very defensive, but I don't honestly feel that way anymore. I don't i i In fact, when the the the the the woman asked me the question at the conference, I invited her to sit down and we had a combo sation, first of all, I really think she sincerely wanted to know, because she's trying to figure out this woman she just met just heard do a speech that that moves something in her was is this somebody I can trust. And so I wanted to honor that and have a conversation with her and help her realize that she not only can trust me, but more importantly, she could she could trust that builder ship would work for her. Alright, so this I'm not, I'm not. I almost didn't want to do this episode because I didn't want to come across as defensive because I don't feel that way. But what made me decide to do this episode is there may be somebody else listening? Who has that same question. There may be somebody else listening, who wants to be a builder, and is worried that if they if they choose this process, will it work? Or am I just somebody else that's out here selling a theory that, you know, you invest in and put all your energy in and then realize a year from now or six months from now, that it doesn't work for you. And if that is what's holding you back? The My hope is that today's episode helps you to realize that, that that's not a barrier. So that you will become a builder. 

Because here's what I know, when you become a builder, everything changes. You know, I talked at the beginning about the weight that you feel as a principal. Yeah, I think there's always going to be some of that there. But it's so much less because you have a vision that's driving you forward, you see when you're a principal, without that, that vision, that compelling vision, then the best you can hope for is that you appease the requirements of the district in a way that that the district rewards you. And if too many principals out here right now who are jumping through all the hoops and trying to become what the district says a good principle should be. And that idea of a good principle is in conflict with who they believe they should be, who will they be, who they came to education to become, if that's you, and and you are straddling the fence, and this is the thing that's holding you back, then I want to remove that barrier. So that you can stop trying to appease the district, and start doing the work that you came here to do, which is to help every child be successful. And then for for others of you who have already started to embrace builder ship, I wanted to give you words that you could use when your critics come and they can't find fault with with the builder ship model. So they try to find fault with the person who created the model. I've seen it happen a couple of times that where people have said, you know, I want to do this builder ship model. And a colleague will say to them, I don't even know why you're listening to her. She's never been a principal.

And those colleagues are not interested in the merits of the model. In fact, the model is, is if making them feel some kind of way, it makes them feel like wait a minute, I've gone full in on leadership and leadership is actually rewarded me Look at me, I might be in central office in a couple of years. And a couple of years later, I'm going to be a superintendent. So leadership has rewarded me. And they see that leadership doesn't work. When you look at the builders ship model, it's hard not to see that the way we were trained is not right. Right, it's hard to argue against 100%. And so they can't argue against 100%. And they are not interested in you becoming a builder and proving them wrong. So even if they can't attack the model, sometimes they want to attack the person who built the model to keep you from doing the work that that's going to now expose them and expose everything that they believe in as flawed. And so if that if you're experiencing that and people bring that up for you, I want you to have words, I want to be able to to two, I want you to have something that you can stand on, to demolish that argument, so that they have to deal with and confront the fact that they are investing in a flawed leadership model and, and help them see the power of eldership. Ultimately, I want to do that because I want there to be nothing.

Nothing in the way nothing keeping you from being a builder. 

That's when you become a builder. That that that loneliness and isolation goes away because there's a whole group of builders inside of builders ship University, who will cheer for you who will support you. We're very, very careful about minding the culture, making sure that the right people Polar in build a ship university, that anybody who's bringing negativity, anybody who is, is is, is going to attack other people or shame them. Nope, gotta go right remember one of our core values, drama free work environment. So we don't allow that drama inside to build a ship university because we we want to create a space where you can come and feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Because transitioning from leadership to build a ship is tough, you have to unlearn so much that you've been taught was sacred over the years, in order to be able to learn what it means to be a builder to be a builder. And sometimes it's really hard. And we don't want to make it harder by you worrying about people judging you or bill or, or being snarky when you do that. So we create that space. The second thing that being a builder does for you is that it helps you to embrace the vision that's already inside of you. And I don't want anybody to delegitimize the vision that's inside of you, by trying to bring up these factors that don't matter. And the third thing is that it helps you to trust me, I mean, when you join, build a ship University, then build a ship University isn't a course or program, we keep it small, because I know every single person inside of builder ship University, I know their their school, their situation, I know what's going on, you get personalized outreach. If you can't trust me, then you can't truly benefit from being mentored by me. And so I wouldn't make sure that there's nothing in the way. Because here's what I know that when you make the decision to be a builder, and when you start embracing this model, that's when you begin to make the difference that you came here to make. And you don't want any distractions from being able to do that. Because the work you have to do is important. And what's even more important is that, that you finally, finally, do the work that you came here to do. Nothing should get in the way of that. So not afraid of the question. I want to make sure that we address it here so that you can do what you were meant to do. And do it 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 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 gonna look like a rock star 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.

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