Whoever Controls Your Narrative Controls Your Culture


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 60

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 season four of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson and today we are going to launch our new season, which is all about Mindsteps isms. Now try to say that three times fast. Now, what's a mindstep? FISM while at the saying that we often say around Mindsteps, I say it a lot in builder's lab, I find myself saying it all time to our private clients and these are sayings that are true and they're really helpful in solving challenges. In fact, a lot of times when people come to me with a challenge, my answer is a mindsteps-isms.

So today, we're going to start season four, and the entire season is going to be dedicated to mindsteps-isms.

The reason why we're doing that is because a few weeks ago I sent out a survey to everybody in the mindsteps community and I asked them one simple question, what is the single biggest challenge you're facing right now?
And I was blown away by your responses. Those of you who responded, thank you so much. I read every single one. And what I noticed from a lot of those responses was this, the same challenges kept showing up over and over and over again. And even as I was reading them, I read the challenge and then I think to myself, Oh well the solution is, and then I think about a mindsteps-isms. So this season we're going to be tackling your challenges with mindsteps-isms.

Do you think I've said that word enough? This episode? I think so. So I'm not gonna say it again for the time being. So today we're going to start with the first challenge. One of the biggest challenges that I saw from your responses, which has to do with culture. A lot of you right now are grappling with toxicity in your culture.
Now, maybe you don't have an entire culture that's toxic, but you do have some people in your culture who feel pretty toxic to you or you have a great culture and you're worried about how to maintain that culture, how to keep toxicity from infecting your culture. And so if you have any struggles with culture or any worries about culture, I have a Mindsteps ism for you. And that's this. Whoever controls your narrative controls your culture. I'll say it again. Whomever controls your narrative really controls your culture. And so if you want to take hold of your culture, take back control of your culture, heal your culture, create, build a new culture, you have to start by controlling the narrative.

You have to start by controlling the narrative. 

So today we're going to talk about how do you do that? How do you take back control over your cultural narrative so that you can heal your culture? But before we do that, you know what I have to do? I want to invite you to builder's lab. We have three dates for 2020 and we have two this summer and tickets are on sale for our two summer dates right now. And so our summer dates are June 29 through July 1st and that's for builders lab East, which will be happening right here, right outside of Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia. And this gorgeous hotel that overlooks the Potomac river. It's absolutely stunning. And again, those dates are June nine I mean, sorry, June 29 through July 1st, 2020 and then we are also doing a builder's lab West and we're going to Vegas and those dates are July 20 through July, 2220 20 and tickets for both the builders labs are on sale right now. Simply go to Mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab. That's Mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab.

Let me tell you something. Summer is the perfect time to come to builders' lab. I was just talking to a principal the other day and she was talking about how stretchy she is right now and how her team was kind of falling apart. And I talked to her about coming to builders' lab over the summer because what happens a lot of times at builder's lab when we have it in the summertime, is that people come and they bring their entire team. One of our huge success stories, I don't know if you've ever heard Kurt's success story, but Kurt is a superintendent of a small school district and he bought every single principal in his district to builders lab. And the work that they got done over those three days is still reverberating throughout the district to this day. It's taking time away during the summer to come together to collaborate, to plan, to, to really design what your success story is going to look like for your school.
This year allows you the opportunity to get away from everything you're not, you know, being interrupted by a whole bunch of phone calls from the school. You're not worried about what's happening at the school. You can get away and bring everybody.

Every administrator on your campus, and even your instructional coaches can join you, and you have time to collaborate.

You also have time to put some things in place to set yourself up for an amazing school year for the 2020 2021 school year. So I'm inviting you if you have been thinking about coming to builder's lab and you've been kind of putting it off and saying, yeah, I'll get to it, I'll get to it. Don't put it off any longer. Come to builder's lab and bring your team because I promise you that when you spend three days working with your team, and I'll be there to support you and your team throughout the entire time.
If you have people in your team who aren't on board, they'll be on board at the end of those three days. If you have people who aren't on the same page, which often happens with a teams that come to build his lab, everybody's on the same page and people are excited to go back and they put things in place and they set themselves up to have an amazing school year and that's what I really want for you. I really want you to start thinking about how can I turn my school into this raving success story? And the where you start is by coming to builder's lab. So I invite you to get your tickets at Mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab.

Okay, let's talk about today's Mindsteps ism, which is whoever controls your narrative controls your culture. And there's a really simple reason why that is. You see, culture is simply a collection of organizational habits and the stories that we tell about those habits. So if people are taking the organizational habits which are neutral, and they start telling their own story about those habits, you can see how it can start to wreak havoc on your culture. Let me give you an example. I was working in this school recently and one of their organizational habits is that every single day the administrative team meets right after the lunch period. So they go in, they cover the lunch period, and then right after the lunch period, they close their door and they meet for half an hour. They eat lunch while they're meeting, but they use that time to connect, reconnect to their purpose, their core values, their vision, their mission to look at the work that they're doing to hold each other accountable for getting that work done every single day.
It's probably one of the single greatest factors leading to their productivity, but a lot of teachers see them in that roam and because of some toxicity that's happening in the culture right now.

They tell their own story about their organizational habits. 

So instead of looking at that and saying, I really love the fact that our admin team touches base with each other every day for half an hour in that room because they are moving us toward our purpose, which is what they're actually doing. The story that started to come out from that is they're in their scheming. They're in there trying to get us there, trying to figure out how to get rid of us or they're in, they're slacking off when they should be working. We have to work and they're in there having lunch and talking and laughing. Can you see how that story, that story becomes the reigning narrative of your school.

It can really destroy your culture and I see this happen all the time. Things that seem benign, things that are happening in the school that are well intentioned in the wrong hands can be turned into a story that feeds toxicity. So you really have to be careful about who is in control of your narrative and what narrative is being told about the work that you are doing in your school. I'll give you another example. I worked in a school once where the reigning narrative of that school was that this was a quote unquote ghetto school. So the students use that narrative as a way to get out of doing anything. Why are you throwing trash in the ground? Well, you know, this school is ghetto.

Guess what else? The teachers began to adopt in that narrative.

They will look at the kids and they would say, well, you know, you can't expect those kids to do their homework every day. Look at their home lives. The school is so ghetto, or you can't expect the kids to be, Hey, these kids are so ghetto, and so all was happening. Unbeknownst, it wasn't deliberate. It wasn't that the teachers were evil people who are looking down on the on the kids, but because that narrative took hold in the school, everybody started to believe that narrative and they began to align their behavior to that narrative. They began to align their belief systems to the reigning narrative. Whoever controls your narrative controls your culture, so if you want to take back control of your culture, if you want to heal your culture, if you want to start building a healthier culture in your school, the first step is that you've got to change the narrative and there are three ways that you can do that. The first is that you need to tell the story of your vision, mission and core values over and over and over again.
The mistake that I see a lot of leaders making is that they talk about vision, mission, and core values. At the beginning of the year, they talk about vision, mission, and core values. Maybe, you know, in their letter home to parents or just students or to teachers. Um, it's printed somewhere on a wall. Um, maybe they revisit it at the staff meeting. They read it out once in a while at the staff meeting. But that's it. That's, that's that it's done. They're not repeating it.

You have to be a broken record about your vision, mission, and core values because if you just mentioned it once and then you go about your business, what you're teaching people to do is to treat your purpose, your vision, mission, and core values as just some thing that's written on the wall but not alive in the halls. That's something that we say a lot.

All the times. Your purpose has to be not just on the walls, it has to be in the halls. And so you've got to make sure that your vision, mission, and core values are something that you are repeating constantly. You need to craft a story about who you are as a school and what you are trying to do with students. You need to talk to parents about, well, when parents say, why are you suspending my child? You need to say because our mission is and remind them of the mission. You have to constantly tell that story. Every time somebody talks to you, I don't care if they're talking to you about, you know, I think we have roaches in the building. You need to say, okay, thank you for letting me know. While you're here though, I want to kind of get us back to focusing on our vision and our mission and our core values.

You have to be almost annoying about it because when you repeat that story over and over and over again, it begins to seep into the consciousness of your staff members, of your students, of everybody involved in your school, and when you do that, that's when that story begins to take hold.

So you need to ask yourself, how often are you repeating the story of your vision? 

Let's say that your vision is every student will be reading by third grade. That's an actual vision of one of our, um, builders, by the way. And she's actually done that. She's actually accomplished that in her school in three years. Every student will be reading at proficient or above by third grade. Well, she just said it once. People just said, Oh, that's cute. So you've, you've, you've now ticked that box. You've expressed a vision. We can go about our business, but she didn't just say it once.

She repeated it every single day. Every time people came to talk to her, she said, yes, that's good. Okay, thank you for telling me that. Now let's talk about how we're going to get every student at proficient. By third grade, she talked about their mission and what their goal and a role was in the community. And by repeating it over and over and over again. Even teachers who didn't believe it was possible or even that it was something that they should be working on right now, they began to hear it and they began to repeat it. We have another builder who has been repeating his core values over and over again. It's on tee shirts. They talk about it every meeting. It's on the wall. They talk about it when they're talking to students, they talk about it when they're talking to parents and just by repeating those core values and living them out every single day, they have transformed their culture.

Their school does not look the same. It is radically and dramatically different. You can't just put your core values, your vision, and your mission out there one time and expect everybody to get the story. You have to repeat the story. You have to provide the narrative. You know the saying nature abhors a vacuum. Well, it's true in nature. Whenever there's a vacuum, something will always come and fill it up and if you don't provide this story, somebody else will. So how often are you repeating the story of what your school should be accomplishing, what you're trying to accomplish through your vision, what your school's mission is and what your core values are. If you're not repeating that daily, then you are leaving room for somebody else to control your narrative. The second step is that you need to align your behavior to the story, and this is where I see a lot of of leaders failing and this is what builders are very deliberate about doing.

A lot of times people get the first part, we need to tell our story. 

They repeat their vision, their mission or core values over and over and over again, but their daily behavior, is it aligned with that vision, mission and core values? Let's say that we have as a core value that we are going to do our best every single day, but then you see people phoning in the staff meeting agenda because I got caught up in something else. We see people who are coming to meetings to administrators who go to team meetings because they're supposed to be a part of the team, but they slide in 20 minutes late and or they don't show up or they allow other things to get in the way of that work in the say at the same time that they're telling people this is the most important work that we need to be doing.

We need to be collaborating about kids. Anytime your behavior contradicts your verbal narrative, that behavior becomes its own narrative. That behavior begins to take over that behavior to control your narrative. So you have to align your behavior to the story. So once you say, this is our vision, you need to make that vision visible. How do you make that visible?

First of all, you start putting that data, the data that relates to the vision out in front of people all the time. You talk about that data all the time. You don't get mired in all this, you know, tertiary data dives that we do that just kind of, you know, basically leave us drowning in data. You focus and highlight the one or two data points that directly relate to your vision. You know how all she do it. You start aligning your master schedule so that it aligns with your vision, mission, and core values. Because if you say your vision, mission, and core values are one thing, but your master schedule is saying something else, guess what? People are going to listen to the master schedule because that's the thing that's controlling their day, not your vision, mission, and core values. You say that you believe in something or that this is your vision, mission, and core values.

You should be hiring people who align with your vision, mission and core values.

You should be treating people with the same consideration that you expect them to treat each other and treat the students. If your behavior is out of alignment with your vision, your mission, and your core values, then guess what? Your behavior creates a narrative and people can't even hear what you're saying because they're too busy watching what you're doing. The other part is that you need to make sure that everybody's behavior aligns with your vision, mission, and core values, which means that you're probably going to have to make some structural changes in your school that support your story.

I've already talked about the master schedule and I'll also put a link to the episode where I talked about how you can start to align your master schedule to your core values. That's one thing, but you also need to think about where the classrooms are range. If you want teachers to collaborate, are there classrooms and near each other? Do they have common planning time? If you want your teachers to spend more time supporting students, are you building support periods into the day? Are you creating space in the day for teachers to be able to support students? You say that you respect is a core value. Then does your discipline policy align with that?

You know, a lot of times when we say respect is our core value, we mean that we want the kids to respect us.

But we're not showing the kids respect. So how are we talking to students in the hallway? How is our discipline policy design to show respect to kids even when they have been disrespectful for us? You see, if you are not living out your vision, your mission, and your core values every single day, then the reigning narrative is you say it but you don't mean it. And that creates space for other more toxic narratives to bubble up. But when you say something and then your behavior aligns with what you say, that leaves no room for other people to create a counter narrative. So what you want to do is start looking at what is the story that you want to tell about your school? What's a story about your vision and how achievable it is? What's the story about your mission and your core values? And then you want to start with you and look at what behavior am I exhibiting that aligns with this every single day.

You also want to look at your physical environment. Does your physical environment support that? I once went into a school where they talked about we respect students and then as soon as I went into the main office, I saw a secretary yelling at kids. I saw the secretaries behind Bulletproof glass. I saw, um, security officers, frisking kids, you know, in a way that felt very disrespectful. So they want it respect to be a core value. And yet they, in the very physical environment, we're sending the message, we not only don't respect you, we don't trust you. We don't feel safe around you. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't have security guards. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have security measures, but you want to make sure that whatever you do in your physical environment actually reinforces your core values. I've also been in schools.There's one school that I've visited and they said that we want, you know, one of our core values is that we want to create a space. Oh well it wasn't their core values, their mission. Actually, our mission is to create a safe place for students.

From the moment I walked into the building, it was clear. 

When I walked into the main office, everybody was very calm. Everybody greeted me. The main office was decorated in a way that was welcoming and that felt like I could be emotionally and psychologically safe there. Uh, one of the rituals is an elementary school that they did before kids went into the classroom, is that they have the kids' cubbies outside of the classroom. And they went through this whole thing where the kids would, you know, take off their coats and leave their backpacks. And what they were communicating to the students was we're leaving the outside outside that our classroom is different. I don't care how chaotic things are at home. I don't care how stressful things are at home right now when we come into the class and we're going to leave all of that behind. And so when students walked into the classroom, even if they were boisterous in the hall at their cubbies, putting things up, when they walked into the classroom, they assume this air of calmness, they assume this air of focus. And that was deliberately built into the the routines and the environment so that they really were living out their core values every single day. It felt tangible.

So let me ask you, how tangible are your core values in your building? If I walked into your building right now, could I in the matter of minutes be able to detect what your core values are, what your vision is, what your mission is? Not because I read it on the wall, but because again, I saw it, I saw it evident.
I could tell the story of your building because everything in the physical environment, everything about your behavior reinforces that.

Now the third thing you need to do in order to regain control over the narrative in your building.

You need to put the past in the past. Because when you're trying to change your organizational narrative, you will always run into people who are going to bring up the way things used to be. So anytime somebody comes up with a counter narrative, you can say something like, look, I know that's how we used to do things, but now we are focusing on this bigger vision, this better mission, these, these, this brighter future for our students, these core values that we want to do. So when people provide a counter narrative just by how you address it, you can actually put that narrative in the past. You want to make a clear line of separation between the way things are and the way things used to be. You see, anytime you try to create a new narrative in your building, there's always going to be someone who's going to come up with a counter narrative.

It can be a teacher, it can be a parent, it could be a colleague, it could be someone from the district coming in and you have to be ready for when they provide their counter narrative by neutralizing that counter narrative right away. And the fastest way to neutralize it is not to deny it, but to say, yeah, that may have been true before, but it is not true now as we go forward. The more you speak of their narrative or any counter narrative in the past tense, the more you put it in the past and you provide your counter narrative as the way going forward and you establish your narrative as the current and future narrative for this school.

Now, this is the ninja tactic, but it's very, very important. 

Anytime anybody comes to you with a counter narrative, you need to talk about it in past tense and you need to always talk about your current narrative and present tense. So let me give you an example. Let's say that your vision for the school is that all of your students will graduate not just career and college ready, but with an acceptance letter to a college or university or an offer letter to a career track job or internship program. So that's your new vision. And then people come up and they say, well, you know, I don't know if we're going to be able to make that because right now our graduation rate is only X percent. And you can say, I know that that's been the challenge in the past, but going forward, we are going to start taking these steps so that we can change that graduation rate, but we don't just want graduation rate that that's something that we used to focus on in the past. Now we're looking not just for kids to graduate, but to graduate with a tangible offer for the next step.

Do you see how you're just taking that narrative and you're putting it in the past? Or people might say, these kids don't care, and you can say, I know that used to be a challenge for us, but as we looked into it, we realized the kids really do care. Oh, we can help them to care if we change the way that we teach or we changed the way that we manage the classroom or the way we choose. We present assignments. So every time somebody comes to you with counter narrative, you don't deny that. You simply put that narrative in the past and the moment you do that, you neutralize it and create a new narrative.

You create and build support for your narrative.

if you are having trouble in your culture or if you see signs of toxicity or if you're meeting a lot of resistance about the cultural changes or shifts that you're trying to make in your school, the answer to that is this.
Whomever controls your narrative controls your culture. And so if you want to take back control of your culture, if you want to wrest control of your culture from people who intend to do it harm and turn it into a healthy, vibrant culture that helps you move towards your school purpose, your vision, your mission, your core values, the way you do it is you've got to take over control over your narrative.

Use these three tips. Number one, making sure that you repeat your story of change over and over and over again until you become a broken record. Number two, aligning your behavior and environment to the story so that the environmental clues and the behavioral cues actually support the story you're trying to tell for your school. And then number three, put the past in the past you do those three things. And you will begin to regain control over your school narrative like a builder.

So that's it for today. 

Next time we are going to talk about another challenge that a lot of you brought up in that survey and that is this. You get started on the path to change and you hit a roadblock and it completely derails everything that's ever happened to you. There's a really simple reason why and there's also a very simple solution. So next time we're going to talk about how you can maintain momentum even when you hit a constraint or a challenge and how you can overcome that challenge and continue to move towards your goals with a new mindstep-isms and I hope you'll join me then.

Now before we go, one more thing.

I just want to make sure that if you haven't gotten your tickets to builder's lab, you know how to get your tickets and you get your tickets very soon.
We have two summer dates coming up and you can find out more about that. Or if you're listening to this sometime in the future, the same website will work in you and find out what are the upcoming dates for the next builders lab.

Guys, you need to be at builders lab. I'm telling you for those three days we keep it very small and intimate. I want to work with you personally. I don't want to just kind of talk to you over the airways. I want to meet you. I want to spend time with you. I want to roll up my sleeves alongside of you and help you tackle some of the big challenges you're facing and transform your school. Ultimately, the role of builder's lab is that we show you a very simple system to help you turn your school into a success story, and here's the most important part with the people and resources you already have. So if nothing changes in your school, we still show you how to turn it into something that is amazing. We still show you how to make it an amazing experience for your students.

So just go to Mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab. That's mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab to get your tickets and I'll talk to you next time.

I'll talk to you 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 https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/

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