What problem are you trying to solve?


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 247

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 247. 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.

A builder's Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson

And today we are going to talk about one of the hot topics that came up during the staff alignment challenge that we just concluded. It's something that we spent some time on on day one, and we kind of talked about but I kept seeing this topic come up over and over again, it came up during our live q&a, it came up in the Facebook group it came up during the challenge itself. And because it gave us so much I thought it'd be good idea to talk about it here in the podcast. So we're gonna do that. Before I do, I just want to thank everybody for joining us for the staff alignment challenge, you know, we do these free events, because it you know, I'll tell you like the we do it because we have an altruistic reason. And we have a selfish reason. The altruistic reason is that we know that not everybody's ready to invest in builder ship University yet, and we still want to make sure that you're getting access to really high quality training that can help you and your school. And so we really pride ourselves on hosting free events that are better than the events you pay to attend. And so the feedback we're getting is great.

People are saying it's like the best professional development experience I've had ever. That's what I love to hear. And that's what we try to provide for you. So we do these events a couple of times a year, it takes a lot of work, right. So we have to you know, the team has, it's not just me, there's a whole team behind the scenes, you know, it takes months to pull together. But it's it's our way of kind of giving back. Because ultimately, our mission is that every student deserves to be successful in school, that is our mission and weight finding ways to help that happen. And so doing an event like this creates, you know, gives us an opportunity to really walk in our mission of supporting administrators, to help them to build schools where every child can be successful. So that's our altruistic reason. Here's our selfish reason to one is that during these challenges, it's a challenge for me to take material that would normally take me days, you know, entire days to teach and try to distill it down to its most important essence, and an hour. And this challenge was really interesting, because I taught several things that I've never taught publicly before. So it was really cool for me to try some things out. 

We had a slide that I had been struggling with for weeks to try to kind of get this idea of alignment down pat. And it was such a hit, it was so exciting. To kind of see the light bulbs go off for people at the end of the day. That's ultimately like why I became a teacher in the first place was because I loved that light bulb moment. I loved trying to take complex concepts and and make them so that they created epiphanies for people that I did that when I when I taught high school and I miss it so much. So the selfish reason for me is it gives me a chance to really do that and do it live with people who may not be familiar with all the stuff that we do. And so trying to take it and make it as actionable as possible. It's a personal challenge for me. And this challenge was so good, even if I mean look, I'm not bragging but it was so good for me to be able to do that. So much fun for me hard work really stretched my brain. The other selfish reason is that, you know, we want to provide so much value that some people decide, You know what I think I want to continue to work with you guys and gives you an opportunity to kind of try us out for free. And then we can invite you to continue that work inside of builder ship University. And so we kind of are trying to balance both of those, right, we want to make sure that we are providing a lot of value, so that people can take the information right away and use it. But we also want to provide the kind of value that also helps some people decide to make a decision to join the EU. Anyway, I could go on and on and on. And it was such an amazing event. People are already asking us when we're going to do the next one. And because it takes so much work in time, and all of that it probably won't be for you know a while. So we'll keep you posted, keep listening to the podcast. And we'll let you know when the next event happens. You do not want to miss these these. It's just so much fun, and the energy and the breakthroughs that people are having. It's just so inspiring. So thank you, everybody for joining us for that event. 

Alright, so let's get to the topic today. 

So one of the things that we talked about during the challenge that I think really resonated with people is shifting our mindset from a leadership mindset to a builder ship mindset. In this one regard. You see, when you're a leader, you spend a lot of time pushing programs, pushing initiatives pushing things that you want people to do. So the big frustration that you often have as a leader is that you have something you want done in your school. And not every teacher is willing to do it. And it creates a lot of tension on both sides. Now, I started a big fight, unbeknownst to me on Facebook, because I talked about how every administrator has that experience where you go in front of your staff with a new initiative. And then your staff has that meeting after the meeting where they say, Yeah, we're not doing that. And I was just talking about it and talking about that there was a better way. I put that out on Facebook, there must have been 50 comments, administrators and teachers battling it out in the comments about that idea. 

The the administrators are saying, yeah, the teachers won't do X, Y and Z. The teachers were saying, Yeah, we won't do it because it's stupid, because it won't last because you didn't consider us you're just pushing this thing. And so people on both sides, were really adamant about why that happens. And I have an opinion, my opinion is that it happens because we were taught to push initiatives, rather than solve problems. Now, it's a subtle difference, but it's really important. You see, if you were taught that the way to solve problems is to find a program and initiative to do that. And then you get up in front of your staff without really helping people understand the problem itself first, then you already just you just get up and say Okay, so from now on, we are doing project based learning are from now on, we're going to be doing RTI, and people don't understand what problem you're trying to solve, then it just feels like more work. If you're a builder, you're not going to get up and announce we're doing RTI, you're gonna get up and talk about the problem, you're gonna get up and talk about what you're seeing happening. And you're going to talk about the problem in the context of your vision, mission and core values, so that people understand the problem. And then the solution makes a lot more sense. It's a subtle difference, but it is critical. So during the challenge, so many people keep asking me, okay, when are talking about staff alignment? What do I do about this one teacher who won't do this? What do I do about my teachers who won't embrace this program? And the question I kept asking over and over and over again, is, well, what problem are you trying to solve? And if you take nothing away from this podcast today, you should take away that question that has to become your mantra, what problem am I trying to solve? Because you can't come up with a solution until you truly understand the problem. We know this intuitively. 

And so it's not that I'm sharing with you anything groundbreaking. But sometimes we don't need to be taught so much as we need to be reminded. When we teach our students we always say Okay, first of all, before you answer the question, what problem are you trying to solve? We, we drill that into our kids? And then we forget it? When it comes to the way that we run schools? We start thinking about that. We think it's obvious, right? So people come to me all the time, and they're like, you know, my teachers aren't differentiating instruction. How can I get teachers to do more differentiation? And my question is always this, why do you need differentiation? And they say, well, because they're not doing it. Okay. Why is that a problem? Because we need differentiated instruction. Why? Because different students need different things. Like that's the definition of differentiated instruction. Sure. But why do you feel like that? Is the solution? What problem are you trying to solve? And whenever I ask that question, people stop for a second like, what, huh? Because they're not used to being asked that question. I'm not used to asking that question of themselves. But it's the most important question. Before we can talk about a solution, we need to make sure we understand what problem we're trying to solve. So are you trying to solve the problem that not all kids are performing well, okay. All right, then is how do you know that differentiated instruction is the solution? How do you know it's not something else? If that's the problem you're trying to solve, then let's solve that problem don't come to me talking about Well, everybody's not differentiating instruction, because you don't even know if that's the solution. And what's more important, you haven't made that case to your teacher. So they have a right, they're justified in not doing it, because they don't know what problem you're trying to solve. Either. They are trying to solve a different problem. And so they are choosing solutions to help them solve that problem. And the problem is that neither one of you has come to agreement around the problem. 

So how can you help them solve it? 

How can you how can you how can you truly convince somebody to do something when they when you don't even have agreement around the problem. And I see this happening over and over and over again, and staff interactions, and it's why they that everybody was fighting each other in the comments, because the staff had the teachers who were there had their own problems that they were trying to solve. And the administrators there had their own problems that they were trying to solve. And instead of coming together around that, what they ended up doing was blaming each other. And that's how come we get into all of these fights and skirmishes, and we're working around people and doing all this foolishness that wastes a lot of time and energy and provides a lot of stress, when all we really have to do is come to the table, and first get agreement around the problem. And so I almost felt like a broken record, because people were asking me questions like, you know, I have this, I have this one teacher who refuses to do XY and Z. And I said, Okay, what's your vision? What's your mission? What are your core values, they didn't have any I said, well, then there's no wonder you can't get that teacher to do it.

Because once you create a vision, then you say, this is what we're working towards. And then every problem is contextualized in your vision. So if you're working towards all students being at or above grade level, then when you sit down and talk about RTI, or a differentiated instruction or more rigor, or using the first five minutes for a warm up activity, or writing the standard on the board, or sitting in PLCs, and creating common assessment, whatever it is, the first thing you have to do is you have to make sure you understand exactly how that thing is going to get you to your vision. And if you're not clear about that, you shouldn't be asking teachers to do it. So what's powerful about your vision is that when you have a vision, it creates a creates a clear a clear pathway, and your problems all get put into the proper context. And so everybody kind of has bought into that vision and supports that vision. And so when you ask people to do things, it's contextualized. By the vision, it makes sense, and you don't get the same kind of argument. The second thing is, if you have the right mission, then as you're choosing whether it's going to be RTI or differentiated instruction, or whatever it is going to be, the deciding factor is is that thing on mission. Let me give an example. Let's say that everybody is going to be on grade level, that's your vision, everybody on on or above grade level? Well, there are a lot of different ways you can do that. Right. So you can use differentiated instruction, you can use RTI, you can drill and kill kids, you can do standards align instruction, you can do okay, all these things, right? But your mission determine helps you determine which one of those things makes the most sense for you, your school for what you're trying to accomplish. Let me give you two examples. Let's say my mission is to spark creativity and to help students find joy in learning. Okay, the thing that I choose to do, whether it's differentiated instruction, or RTI, or project based learning has to be something that a gets students to the standards, but B does so in a way that sparks your creativity. 

So I might lean towards project based learning in that scenario because I want to spark their creativity and their curiosity right and that helps me Do that. And it helps me get to the standards. What if my mission were to prepare students for the next level? Well, then I might choose something that helps develop not just the academics, but also the non academic skills that students need, either in high school or in college. So that so I might not choose a project based learning strategy, maybe I do. But maybe I choose something that is more focused on rigor and standards, aligned instruction, and building students soft skills, so that they can be prepared for the next level. Let's say it's my mission is to give students more options and help them make better choices around the options they have, I might lean towards differentiated instruction. So my vision and mission help me make decisions about the initiatives. And just as important, they help my teachers understand why I'm making the decisions. In fact, my teachers are invited into the process of making decisions. Because we are looking at alignment we're looking at how do we make sure that the choices we make about instruction and strategies and all these other things align with our vision and mission and and finally, our core values, how we have conversations about things, how we, how we go about doing the work is really defined by our non negotiables our core values.

Hey, it's Robyn here real quick, I just want to interrupt this episode for just a second. Because if you aren't enjoying what you're hearing, then would you mind sharing this episode with somebody else. So all you need to do is just go to your phone, if you're listening to on your phone, or your podcast player, and then click the three dots next to this episode. And it'll give you the option to share the episode that if you do that, three things are going to happen first, the person that you shared with is going to think you're a hero, especially if they're struggling with what we're talking about right now. They're gonna love you. Secondly, you're gonna feel good, because you're gonna get the word out about builder ship, and start building this builder, ship nation. And third, you will get my eternal gratitude, because I really want to get this out to the world, and you'd be helping me out, you'd be doing me a huge favor. So please share this episode with someone right now who's who's dealing with this same issue, someone you think would really benefit. And now back to the show. So if one of our core values is keep it simple, I might not do learning contracts, for instance, because that I have to create too many different assignments, I might just pick that one assignment and spend more time focusing on differentiating around one assignment. Rather than creating a lot of different assignments, I might not do project based instruction, because it takes a lot more planning to do that. So if I'm, if I'm focused on keep it simple, those things may not become options for us. If on the other hand, our core value is find the joy in everything, that maybe I do spend more time jesting assignments to create fun and play in the assignments, because that's one of our core values. But when I go in front of a staff, and I just say, Hey, we're going to focus on RTI at tier one instruction, and I want everybody using these five strategies. And I haven't spent the time and done the work to create a vision, mission and core values that justify those strategies, then I can expect pushback, it's logical for teachers to push back in that moment, because other if it's not aligned with the vision, mission and core values, then it's just a preference. 

It's just your preference over somebody else's preference. 

And if it's just a preference, then there's room for argument and legitimate protest. But if what I'm doing is in direct alignment with a vision, mission and core values, then it's not about preference. It's about something bigger than that, and not going to argue about that. So like I said, I started to feel a little bit like a broken record, when people were talking to me and asking me questions about their individual scenarios, because I just kept saying over and over again, you know, the question, whatever the question was, I was like, Okay, what's your vision, mission and core values? And what problem are you trying to solve? And if you don't have a vision, mission and core values, you can't put a context around what you're asking people to do. And then the second part, if you don't understand what problem you're trying to solve, then you get into the skirmishes that really come down to, I said, Do this, now you need to do it. And it leaves no room for teachers to kind of bring their own minds into the conversation. So a lot of administrators are really frustrated because a teacher is refusing to do X, Y, and Z. And their frustration isn't about what's happening in the classroom. Maybe it starts out that way. I, Soon their frustration becomes this teacher refuses to do what I asked them to do. And if you take your eye off your vision, mission and core values, if you take your eye off of solving problems, everything becomes personal. And when it becomes personal, it gets ugly. 

There's a lot of blame, shame, judgment. You people start taking sides, that creates toxicity in your culture. Because without the context of a vision, mission and core values, and without the focus on what problem are we trying to solve? It has no role is the worst to go but create something personal. Some people will ask me things like, you know, this one teacher and they're refusing to do X. And I'll say, Okay, what problem are you trying to solve here? And I said, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're asking me about this teacher? Are you trying to force this teacher to do something that you believe is important? Or are you trying to help the teacher? Make sure that they reach every kid? It's important question. Now, everybody's gonna say, Well, I just want them to return the kid. And that's it. Okay. That's the way if that's true, then can they reach every kid without doing what you're asking them to do? Hmm. All of a sudden, people stop almost saying, Well, I mean, maybe I said, So then this argument isn't really about having the teacher do things the way that you say, do it? Or is it about helping the teacher reach every kid? Because if it's really about helping the teacher reach every kid, if the teacher doesn't want to do X, and they choose to do why would you be mad? Well, I need everybody. What I need everybody on the same page. And my question is, well, yeah, everybody's on the same page. We all want to make sure every kid is successful. But I need everybody doing X, Y, and Z, because that's what I said, and I will look bad. Ha, ha, ha, now we're getting to the real problem. You see, if we make if we don't have the vision, mission and core values, then every time we ask teachers to do something, it becomes a referendum on our own leadership. If they do it, we're great leaders. If they don't do it, then we have to force them into compliance before anarchy takes over. 

When you're a builder, you don't paint yourself into a corner that way. Listen, this is the vision mission and core values. This is based on this vision, mission and core values. This is where we think this is the right path to go. But builders know we can be stubborn on the vision every kid flexible in the details. You don't want to do di Okay, great. Let's figure out right now, do you have every kid successful? No. All right. So then let's talk about it. Let's take a look at your classroom. Let's figure out how you your teaching style, your experience your level of expertise, let's figure out how you're going to help every kid get there, maybe di maybe it's something else. And if a teacher can make a case, I will get every kid there by doing X, Y and Z as long as it aligns with our vision, mission and core values. Okay, have at it. And let's take a look at the data and see. Now if they don't get the kids there, then we have a different conversation. Yeah, the vision I'm stubborn on 100%. Your Way didn't work. So we gotta try another way. So let's try my way this time. 

Do you see the difference? 

There's no blame. There's no shame. There's no judgment. There's no argument. There's no toxicity 100% successful. People said, Well, you could say 100% successful and a teacher could give the kids the answer's no, they can't. Because not only do we have a vision, but we have a mission. And we have core values that govern how we get kids to 100% success. So no, they can't give because he answers because that violates our mission that violates our core values. No, they can't cheat because that violates our vision, our mission and our core values. So it it you can trust it. And because it's something that was co created vision belongs to you, the missions, co created collaborative, and then the core values will honor your staff. Because that purpose is CO created. People protect it. They don't tear down what they helped build. So you don't have to run around policing people and chasing and checking and correcting people all the time worried that they're not going to do the right thing. 

Because when you have that vision, mission and core values, when you keep the focus on what problem are we trying to solve, rather than what initiative are we trying to push through, you can relax, you can trust people to do the right work the right way for the right reasons right now, because you have put those things in place. If you don't have those things in place, you're gonna spend all your time running around trying to enforce things you're gonna spend all your time running around trying to convince people to do work that that you believe they should be doing, you're gonna spend all of your time fighting and trying to get that last teacher on board. And then you know what else happens? You do all that work. And at the end of the year, you've got these little tiny incremental gains. And it's not the strategies fault. It's how you went about doing the strategy. I've seen school districts that make everybody you know, all the administrators do a walk through and on that walk through there, like five behaviors that they want to see in every single classroom. And you have classrooms that are uniform, but not aligned. And at the end of the year, 3%, gain all of that work, all of that uniformity, and a 3% gain. And I would argue, you probably could have gotten a 3% gain for a lot less effort. Because you did that work, but you weren't clear about what problem you were trying to solve. And you didn't have a vision, mission and core values to guide that work so that that work wasn't uniform, it was aligned. What builders do, is we don't focus on uniformity. Just like every kid is different, every teacher is different. But every teacher can still achieve 100% success. And our job as builders is to figure out how to help that teacher do it and this teacher do it in this teacher do it so that in every classroom is happening. 

As builders, our job is to build an environment where teachers can find a way to help every child to be successful. So we're not as interested in uniformity as we are in alignment. And when we talk about alignment we're talking about teachers are constantly adjusting their behavior, so that their behavior honors our vision, mission and core values. That's alignment. When you think about alignment, when you go to get your wheels aligned, they just adjust it so that the wheels can take you straight in a car. So that's all we're asking for an alignment. And when you have alignment, you might not get uniformity. One classroom, it looks this way, in another classroom, it looks this way, in another classroom, it looks this way. But what you do get is you get every classroom growing, every kid getting better and more successful, every teacher getting more successful. And so you will walk into a school that is run by a builder. And you'll see very different classrooms. But when you look at their data, you see consistent growth. Can I brag a little bit like we were in office hours the other day, and every of those semesters just done. And so builders are coming in and are talking about it, they're putting in the winds column. We have several builders right now, who have been doing this work for one semester. That's it. They started working on this in June or July, August. And they've been in their schools one semester, I've been doing builders ship for one semester. And they've only done vision mission core values at it. Some of them haven't even done core values, but just getting that alignment, just really focusing on what problem are we really solving. And after one semester, they have, I'm thinking about two builders in particular, their goal, their vision is 100%, they have jumped to 98% of the way, which means that in one semester, just by putting a vision and a mission and working on core values, and focusing on problem that you're trying to solve, these builders have come within 2% of 100% success while their colleagues who serve similar kids, similar districts either going down or they're like, Ooh, let's celebrate, we moved 4.7%. 

That's the difference. 

And I wish you I wish I get like lay claim to making it more magical than that. But it really is that simple. And so my challenge for you this week is simply this. Stop trying to get people to do stuff. Instead, focus on the vision, mission and core values, be stubborn on the vision, flexible in the details. And instead of just rushing in with the solution. Have the conversation first about what problem am I really trying to solve think about that first. That gives you the context you need to be able to address the issue. And if you can stay focused on that. It keeps you from getting pulled into all of these personal things. It keeps you from getting pulled into all these these power battles that we're having with teachers and it keeps you from going home every day. Frustrated can't sleep because you're so worried about this teacher, that teacher Let go. Focus on your vision, mission and core values. Focus on what problem you're trying to solve. And stop letting personalities get in the way of the very important work that you are here to do. Because you don't have time for all of that foolishness, especially when you are focused on helping every child be successful, 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, it's Robyn here. And I want to thank you for listening to today's episode. And 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 above 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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