How to Keep Your BEST Teachers #LikeABuilder


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You’re listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 39.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders.

Welcome to another episode of school leadership reimagined. I'm your host Robyn Jackson, and today I'm coming to you from the road, so I'm going to apologize in advance for the audio quality, which may not be as solid as when I'm in the studio recording, but I'm on the road building builders all throughout the country. And so I am recording this from a hotel room, but that does not mean that we aren't going to have great content today because today we are going to be talking about how to keep your best teachers like a builder. But I could also call this episode how to be the kind of builder master teachers want to work for. Either one is fine.

So we're going to talk about how to hold onto your best teachers. Just like a builder. And the reason we're going to talk about this, it's because our best teachers are often our most neglected teachers.

So you know, a lot of times the teachers who are struggling the most or who are causing the most problems in our culture or who are the most resistant, those are the teachers who get all of our attention. Meanwhile, our best teachers, you know, they, they toil away in their classrooms every single day. They do the right thing for kids. They have amazing results for kids and the most they get is good job or worse because they're doing such a good job. We give them even more work to do.

So our master teachers are the teachers we go to and we say, listen, I know you already have 32 kids in your classroom, but we have a new kid coming in next week and he has some special challenges and I need somebody really good to work with them. Will you take him? And the master teacher says, sure, you know, bring them in a classroom, I'll, I'll work with them, I'll do my best.

Meanwhile that teachers looking down the hall at her great alike or subject to like colleague with 10 kids in the classroom and they're wondering what's going on. You know, it's almost like no good deed goes unpunished. So master teachers don't get great feedback. They don't get a lot of attention. They get some praise, good job, good job, good job. We reward them with a lot of extra work and they're doing, they're working hard, they're doing a great job. But down the hall, someone who's not working as hard as getting away with it, someone else is, is, is, is sliding through their job. And the master teacher is just shouldering the burden.

So we kind of take our best teachers for granted and they gladly take on the extra work, but they often wonder about the person down the hall is not pulling his weight or the person who is causing the trouble and seemingly getting all of your attention, other struggling teacher where you're in that classroom every single week. But you never seem to have time to come by their classroom and give them good feedback.

So I have this saying: good teachers don't usually leave schools. They leave principals. 

And here's what I mean by that. Good teachers often don't leave the job because the work is too hard or too challenging, or they're struggling in the work. They're fine. They often leave a job because they have a principal who is not giving them the support or the inspiration that they need to in order to be satisfied in their job.

The question is, how can you be the type of builder who attracts and keeps the best teachers? How can you build a school what everybody is on their journey to becoming a master teacher and where master teachers thrive? Well, the answer is what we're going to talk about today's episode and you're going to be a little surprised because I actually got this answer from an unusual place.

I got it from Chick-fil-A. That's right. The fast food restaurant, because Chick-fil-A has a lot to teach us about how to keep your best teachers like a builder.

Before we dive in,

I want to talk to you about builder's lab because time is getting short. 

Tickets are starting to sell out. You know, it's the, it's the it people are starting to kind of set their budgets for the summer and so we only have a few tickets left to Builder's Lab in Palm Springs, California on July 15 through 17. And so you need to go ahead and go to and get your tickets right away. Those dates are coming very quickly. We're filling up. We just opened up a new room block because we'd sold out with the first roadblock, because we have a few more people than we expected. So make sure that you get your tickets if you're going to that one.

We also have a second builder's lab happening in Washington DC, the Washington DC area. It's actually in Arlington, Virginia, right outside, right across the bridge from Washington DC. And that's happening July 15 through 17. And again, go to

Now, here's why you need to come to one or both builder’s labs this year. This is the perfect time. We're going to be having builder's lab in the summer and during builder's lab we're going to help you figure out your vision, your mission, and your core values and how to create them in a way that's going to get your whole teaching staff inspired, motivated, passionate about doing their work and getting them focused on doing the right work. And then we're going to show you the four disciplines of buildership, how you can adjust your feedback, support, accountability and culture so that you can maintain the momentum of your core values, vision and mission for the year.

And we're going to do it in the intimate but luxurious setting. We're feed you lots of food. We spoil you out there, but we also work with you too.

It's an intense session. This is not like a conference where you sit in a conference room and sit and get no, you have a builder's manual and we will be working through that over 200 page builder's manual to build your own program. It all culminates in a builder's blueprint and a builder's blueprint is your step by step roadmap to achieving the changes that you want to see in your school. In fact, on day three of builder's lab we have what's called an implementation lab where you actually sit down and get to work. You know a lot of conferences you go and then you have to go back to school and try to figure out how to apply what you've learned.

At builder's lab you don't have to do that because during the implementation lab I work with you to develop your own personal application of what you've learned at builder's lab. So you build your builder's blueprint, you create your 90 day plan, you go back to your school already having accomplished something towards your vision, mission, and core values for the year. So if you are ready to turn this school year, it's just something amazing. If you're ready to stop fooling around with incremental improvements and new initiatives that flop halfway through or writing, you know, sip plans that don't matter, don't mean anything, don't inspire you, then you need to come to builder's lab. Because at builder's lab you are going to develop a bigger vision than you've ever imagined.

You're going to crystallize what your mission is for your school and you're going to start developing those core values that really shape your culture. And then you're going to learn how to take those things and make sure that they come alive in your building, in your school. So again, to get your tickets to builder's lab, you want to go to

All right, now let's talk about our topic today, which is how to hold onto your best teachers. Like a builder. 

And remember I warned you that our advice today, it's actually coming to us from Chick-fil-A. So why Chick-fil-A? I don't know. You know, I'm not a big fast food eater, but I travel a lot on the road and sometimes I go places where there's nothing to eat but fast food. And when I walked into most fast food establishment, usually I'm tired or I'm in an airport and there's no other option there. And when I'm standing in line and looking at the menu and looking at the way they're just throwing the food on your tray or stuffing it into a bag, I say to myself, it's come to this. That's actually how I feel eating. 

So that's why I don't eat fast food. A lot of times I will travel now with my own food just to avoid having to have that feeling. It's come to this but not so for Chick-fil-A because when you walk into Chick-fil-A, people are happy to see you. They feel like they, it seems like they actually care about your food. If you go into a Chick-fil-A drive through rather than make you talk into a box, there are people outside in the hot sun ready to take your order and they get your order right. You don't have to worry about, you know, kind of pulling aside and check in a bag because they didn't put the ketchup in there. And also by the way, that ketchup Chick-fil-A has fancy ketchup. But the thing I love the most about Chick-fil-a are the people who work there.

I often say to my husband, where do they find these people? Everybody seems so committed to making your experience and amazing one. Everybody seems so happy to serve you. They're so polite. They're so sweet. Most of the time when you go to a fast food restaurant, the people who work there, they are also, it seems like they're also thinking, Yep, it's come to this, but we've got a Chick-fil-A. They make you think that, you know what? I have personally handcrafted these nuggets and place them specifically in the bag just for you. I cut out the little squares in your waffle fries by hand, just so that you would have the increase of crunchy texture and these little ketchup packets. They're not the ones that squeeze all over the place. These have two options. You can squeeze or you can dip and it's totally up to Ubu because we're here to make you happy.

That's what chick-fil-a does, and I'm wondering how do they do that? So I was trying to figure out, you know, kind of how to retain top talent at schools and I came across a study that was done by Chick-fil-A that explains exactly how they do that. Chick filet a few years ago, commissioned a big study. There will be a huge employer that thousands of employees and they commissioned this extensive study to figure out what do we need to do to maintain our top talent? What do we need to do to attract the right people to work at Chick-fil-a so we can make sure that we give people and amazing experience every single time. And as a result of that study, if they found it wasn't more money, it wasn't title or position.

If you really want to retain the top talent, you only need to do three things.

You need to make sure you give people a better boss. You need to make sure that you give them a brighter future and you need to give them a bigger vision. I love that. I mean it's alliterative and you know I love and Alliteration, but I also love that because it really distills for me what it takes to also retain top talent in schools. Now, chick-fil-a did this study and they weren't just looking at Chick-fil-a, they were looking at all kinds of businesses and when they looked at it, the only three things that you need in order to retain your top talent are you need a better boss. And I'm going to revise that a bit because we know here in, in at mindsteps we don't say bosses, bosses are bad, right? We don't want you to be a boss. So we're changing that to they need a better builder like that.

It's still better boss. It's still a little literative better builder, but it's more accurate to what you need. You did a better builder, you need a brighter future and you need a bigger vision. So let's break that down a little bit and talk about what that would look like in a school. So let's start with a better builder. Here's the thing, just like we expect teachers to differentiate their instruction for students. We've got a differentiate are the way that we deal with our teachers. And so if you want to give your teachers a better builder this year, then you have to differentiate. It cannot be one size fits all leadership. It doesn't work. And you will lose your teachers. Why? Because when we do one size fits all leadership, we tend to focus on the lowest common denominator. So we tend to focus our leadership not on the people who are doing the job right?

We focus our leadership on all the people who are doing the job wrong. All of our policies tend to be created to deal with people who won't do their jobs unless there's a rule around it. So we're worried because a couple of teachers are coming in late every day. And so what do we do? We make everybody sign in the main office when they come into work. We're worried that people aren't giving enough to assessments. So what do we do? We stipulate the number of assessments or the number of homework assignments. Oh, how much homework assignments should be worth on people's grade books instead of letting people make those decisions themselves. Most of the roles in school are not designed to support our best teachers. They're designed to control our worst teachers. And so if you want to give your best teachers a better builder than you have to differentiate, you have to understand that not every teacher needs the same set of, of of rules are the same type of guidance or the same type of support.

As a matter of fact, and if you want to differentiate, there are four key areas where you need to differentiate and those are, you need to differentiate the four disciplines of Buildship. So those disciplines are feedback, support, accountability and culture. And when it comes to feedback, our best teachers get our worst feedback. We go into their classroom, we see an amazing job and we're like, wow, great job. Really enjoyed that lesson and that's cute and that's nice. But that's not the feedback that your best teachers are looking for. They are looking for feedback about how they can get better. And quite frankly, a lot of us feel insecure and our ability to give people feedback on how they can get better, especially when they're such amazing teachers. And I really want to be honest, many of us weren't the best teachers, we were good teachers, but these teachers are amazing.

Or maybe they're teaching in a subject area or at a great level where we feel like we don't have expertise. And so we feel like we can't give our best teachers the best feedback. One of the things that I teach at builder's lab is I teach something called micro feedback and micro feedback is the way that you give your best teachers feedback and it's not just good job that the job, good job.

What you do with micro feedback is you talk about all the things that worked in their classroom and then you do some digging. 

You look for that root cause and you share the records. You did all these things great. But the thing that held it all together as this, and every time I give a master teacher micro feedback, they, I mean it's almost like the one fall into tears. They are so grateful that somebody finally get the work. They see what the teacher is doing, they understand it. They've given time and energy. Great job is a lazy feedback and our best teachers deserve really good feedback. So it takes a certain way that you have to go into a really great teachers classroom and you have to look not for the root cause of why the class was about working, not for something that you can knit, pick about. So you can feel better about having been in the classroom and giving them some advice and feedback. Your feedback, the feedback that your best teachers need has to really pinpoint. You know, a lot of times with master teachers they, they are unconsciously competent. They're so good and it feels so natural to them. They don't even know why they're good. But if you can come in and help them understand this is what makes your class work so well, this is the root cause.

You are giving them insight that's often unavailable to them, they will appreciate it and you don't have to be an expert at their subject area or an expert at their grade level to give them that kind of feedback. You do have to be an expert at building teachers at noticing things about teachers and when you take the time and put the energy into giving master teachers your best teachers, really high quality feedback, they will want to work for you because you are helping them grow because you are challenging them, not nitpicking so that you can feel like you have something to say but you are legitimately challenging them and helping them be better at their jobs. Not only do you need to differentiate feedback, you need to differentiate their support. You know how we make all teachers go to the same training. We should probably stop that if we can help it.

You know we get a PD day and we bring somebody in and everybody goes to the training on the same day and a lot of times the training again is directed towards fixing something and our worst teachers rather than supporting the master teachers. So the master teachers endure and a lot of times master teachers find a way to get something out of the training anyway, but we don't design professional development for master teachers. So builders side, we do something called sure fire support and all time to go through word here, but it's a whole cheat sheet and it shows you eight different ways that you can support teachers, but it also shows you how to differentiate each of those supports based on the skill level of the teacher. That way you can give your master teachers support that's directly designed for them. Stop making your best teachers sit through workshops that were designed for your novice teachers.

Give them the support that helps them where they are rather than giving them a one size fits all support about something they've already figured out. 

You want to make sure that you are continually challenging and helping your best teachers grow. So you need to differentiate your feedback. You need to differentiate your support. And the third thing you need to differentiate is your accountability. This one's a hard one. You see a lot of times what we do when we're trying to hold everybody accountable, it's we set up rules that, again, like I said earlier, are designed for our worst teachers rather than rewarding our best teachers. Or here's the other thing we do. We give our best teachers more responsibility rather than accountability. In other words, if a teacher does something really well, we give them more things to be responsible for doing. You know what, where our grade level wants to do a field trip and we know that everybody at a grade level is Triflin, but we have a great teacher over here, so guess what?

She gets to be in charge of the field trip and a lot of times she'll take it on because she wants a good experience for the kids. But really, why are we making her do it? It says, does she say she wanted to take on the field trip or she just doing it to compensate for the incompetence of everybody else? In routine? We have a teacher who does a great lesson plan and we make that teachers share the lesson plan with everybody else. Now, in a perfect world should be willing to share it, but she knows that when she shares her lesson plan, everybody else is going to take it. They're going to do a poor job at executing it and they don't have to do any work. That's not accountability. You know what we should be doing? Instead of giving our best teachers more responsibility, we should be giving them more accountability from us.

That's different than what we normally think of and setting the, holding them more accountable. We owe it to our best teachers to be more accountable to them, which means that if I say I'm going to do something, I need to do it. If I commit to a core set of core values and vision and mission, I need to live it out. I need to design a culture where that behavior that I'm looking for is more, more likely to happen. And I need to stop breaking my own word. Here's how we break our words. We have a staff meeting. We don't start on time. We expect everybody to be there on time or we skip a staff meeting. Rather than using our staff meetings as a, as a viable time to work towards our vision, mission, and core values, we have to be more accountable for our master teachers.

We owe it to them. Stop asking of them, give them something, help up, help them stay inspired and stay committed because they see how inspired and committed you are. So we have to differentiate our feedback. We have to differentiate our support. We have to differentiate our accountability. And finally we'll have to differentiate our culture. Here's what we do. We say we want a certain culture. And what we do instead is we unintentionally reward those who are causing trouble in our culture. We give those people our attention, our energy, and our time instead of investing in shining a light on the people who uphold the culture. So if we want to differentiate for our master teachers, they are exhibiting the culture. Why are we not rewarding it? And by rewarding it, I don't mean you know, clapping for the Metta staff meeting or giving them a Starbucks gift cards. Although those are nice. I'm not saying don't do that.

What I mean by rewarding it is the more they exemplify the culture, the more time and attention we spend on them. 

You know, we have a mistake. We think we have to fix everything that's broken before we can build a better school. Builders don't do that. Leaders do that. Leaders go and pick this improvement initiative, that approvement initiative, and then they try to find a more improved improvement process to help them with their improvement initiatives. Builders don't focus on that builder's fine. What's working in the school? They find the bright spots, they doubled down on what's working and if there's a teacher in the school who is exemplifying the culture, the builder starts shaping the culture to support that because they want more of that because that's exactly what we're building. So we have to, if you want to give people a better boss or a better builder, you need to differentiate how you deal with people.

You need to make sure that you are building people based on what they need and not offering them a one size fits all boss. And instead you want to differentiate how you support them and how you give them feedback and how you do accountability and how you build a culture so that they can grow and they can thrive. So that's a better builder. The next thing you need to do is you need to give them a brighter future. You know, when I was a teacher, I got pretty good at teaching and the better I got at teaching, the more people wanted to take me out of the classroom. And so just because I was a good teacher didn't mean that I want it to be an administrator or that I would be a good administrator. But after a while, come on, the administrators make way more money.

The administrators get way more flexibility and autonomy. They have opportunities for influence. And so if that's the only way that I can make more money, that's the only way that I can better provide for my family. If that's the only way that I can have more autonomy and influence after a while, what I look at a future, it may not even be the future I want, but it's the only one that's available to me. And so a lot of times with our best teachers, the only bright future available to them is for them to leave the place where they thrive the most, where they're having the biggest impact and put them in a place they may not want to go or they may not be good at. Just because I'm a great teacher doesn't mean I'm going to be a great leader and leadership isn't even the only reward.

We have to stop that instead. He needed to talk to the, but you don't. You don't want to have the most reckless things you can do is say to a great teacher, wow, you're really good at this. You should take on more leadership. Now I have nothing against teacher leadership for the teachers who want it, but there are a lot of master teachers who just want to teach and there's nothing wrong with that. Why aren't we rewarding that? Why aren't we paying those people bonuses? Why are, why does the salary tracks stop after a certain level? Why can't master teachers make the same as a principal? Because they have just as much responsibility and impact. Now, I mean the same as the principal in the 10 months scale. There were only working 10 months, but you get my point. Why is it that the only bright future available to a master teacher is to leave a classroom and be a leader?

So what I suggest instead, if you want to give people a brighter future, sit down with them and understand what is a brighter future look like for them. 

In some cases it's, I want to run my own school one day. Great. You support the heck out of that dream. You give that person leadership opportunity. You allow that person to shadow you, you nurture them. Because when you do that, not only are they going to give you more in the classroom, but you are also building a tribe of other builders. And if they don't want to be an administrator and they don't want to leave the classroom, you find ways to make their work in a classroom feel more rewarding. You find ways to reward them for what their dreams are. And if they decide their dream is they want to leave teaching one day and you know, drive a rollercoaster d drive roller coaster, okay, I don't know.

Hit the button for a roller coaster. Nurture that dream. That's your job as a builder. You build other people, you build them up. So find out what their dreams are. Figure out how you can support them. If you do that, you know people are worried, well if I do that, they'll leave. They're gonna leave anyway. But if you support them and you help nurture them, you are contributing to the profession. They won't forget you and they may come back. They may decide not to leave. They may be one of your best colleagues. They may be your boss who knows. Find out what they want. Don't push people into a future. Give them the brighter future they want. So better builder, brighter future. Last one is bigger vision. People are looking to be a part of something bigger than themselves and it's really hard to sustain my motivation when the best vision you can offer me is that we want to increase our test scores or we want to institute PV, project based learning in our schools, or we want to institute restorative justice practices in our school.

Those are programs. That's what a vision, a vision says. What are we building? And if you can't give your master teachers a compelling vision, then they have to rely solely on entirely on their own passion for kids. And sometimes that's enough. But should it be, you want to give people master teachers a place where they feel like they could be a part of something bigger, that their talents are not going to waste. They are in the service of a vision that's bigger than they could have imagined. And that's why I teach you how to do the 100% vision because when you write the vision, write master teachers flock to you because they want to be a part of that. And the teachers who don't want to work, they leave on their own. You don't have to get rid of them. They're like, no, this is too much work for me. Everybody hears all excited about it. I can't be excited about it. So they leave. Master teachers come to you. They want to be a part of a bigger vision. 

If your vision is a big enough and compelling enough, you can inspire people to be their very best. 

You have to have a big vision, a compelling vision, something that calls for out of people every single bay day, their very, very best. So you need to be a better builder. You need to give people, offer people a brighter future and you need a bigger vision. In other words, you basically have to be the kind of, if you want to be the kind of person who attracts and keeps the best and the top talent, you have to be a builder. That's the bottom line. A builder does this. This is all a part of buildership.

You know bosses, well forget it. I was going to tell you what bosses do, but nobody wants to work for our boss. The best teachers are fleeing bosses all the time, but here's the difference between a leader and a builder. A leader tries to use rewards, Kudos, praise, or they leverage their own personal relationships in order to get the best out of people or in order to keep people working for them. And unfortunately that's not enough because after a while, some of your best teachers are going to want something more.

They may like you, they may have a relationship with you. They may shed tears as they're packing up their classroom and going to work in a different school, but it's not enough to keep them there. Do you know what keeps your best teachers excited year after year wanting to work with you? You've got to be a builder.

You have to give people something to aspire to by giving a bigger vision and you've got to understand what they need, nurture their dreams and give them a brighter future. When you do that, you will have no trouble attracting and holding onto people because you're doing it like a builder.

Now, before we go, 

don't forget, you've got to get your tickets a builder's lab. 

If you want to learn how to be that kind of person, the kind of person who attracts and retains the best talents he needs to come to builder’s lab because of builder's lab, you're going to learn exactly that. 

You're going to learn how to be a better builder by learning the four disciplines of Buildership. You're going to learn how to understand people and give them a brighter future because we're going to teach you not just how to nurture people skill. We're going to teach you how to nurture their will.

I'm going to show you some amazing things that help you really break through to people and connect with people and inspire people. And finally, we're going to show you how to create a bigger vision because first day of builders lab, we're going to be sitting down and working on calling forth that bigger vision that's inside of you that you don't even know what's inside of you. And then we're going to show you how to reach that vision by developing your own builder's blueprint.

So your vision doesn't have to be some, you know, pie in the sky dream. No, there's a pathway to your vision and we're going to help you find it. So go to and get your ticket to the next upcoming builder's lab. 

All right. As I do every week, don't forget to connect on linkedin.

That's where you can ask me questions or follow up with a message on Twitter

Find me at Robyn Jackson on Linkedin and @Robyn_mindsteps on Twitter and let's connect. 

And then I would love for you to share this podcast with at least one other person this week. Especially if you've got something valuable out of it. So would you mind sharing this podcast with at least one other person? Would you do me that favor to share?

Find somebody who's not already listening to this podcast and share it with them. And then if you're so inclined, I'd love it if you could give me a review on iTunes just because it gives me feedback and helps other people find the podcast.

It's spreads the fire about this buildership movement that we're all a part of, not only because our kids deserve it, but because we deserve to be something better than leaders. We deserve to be builders. That's how we reignite our own passion for this work. And that's how we make a bigger difference.

All right.

Next week

Now, next week we are going to be ending this season of the school leadership reimagined podcast and we're ending it with one of my favorite features. 

Every year we do a summer reading list and this year is no different. Now here's the thing about our summer reading list that's a little different because our summer reading list looks at books outside of education.

So, yeah, there are all these great reading list about, you know, books you should be reading and education, but what we do every year is we try to find some of the best books outside of education that really have something to say about how we do our jobs and how we can be better builders.

And next week I'm going to be sharing with you my top five picks on an episode that I've tentatively titled how to build a summer reading list like a builder.

I hope you'll join me next time.

Bye for now. See you next time. 

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build master teachers.