3 Questions You Should Be Asking Right Now If You Want A Successful School Year


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast, episode 74.

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 faith. 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.

Hey, builders.

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today is so full of so many things to tell you, because we are starting the next season of the school leadership reimagined podcast. And can I just say this, I have missed you so much over the summer. And it's so good to be back with you as we face this really challenging school year and take advantage of a lot of the opportunities that are in front of us. So a lots been going on. So you may know or not, but I finished the book. So the book is with the editor. In fact, the editor has gone through the book and sent it back to me and I am working on the editing of the book right now. And it is scheduled for a February 2021 release. So just a few months from now.

It's so cool to have the book written and edited. 

You know, this is my least favorite part. So right now the editor has sent back queries and I'm going through them one One places where I may not have been clear enough places where I needed another, you know, diagram or a more fully fleshed out example. And as much as I believe that the editing process is important, I have to be honest, it is my least favorite part because I have to sit down I have to discipline myself to reread my book, you know, once I write the book and go through it, I'm done in my head, but I have to go back revisit it and I need to tell you, it's been really fun rereading this book, it my editor is pushing. So you know, it's still like my least favorite part. And, you know, there's just a lot of things that I need to kind of tighten up. But I cannot wait for you to get this book into your hands. I think this book could really, you know, be a game changer for you this year as I break down the builder ship process, you know, just the very nitty gritty of each part of the entire bill to ship model in ways that I've never done before.

I think it can be a really important tool for you. in your toolbox, so, you know, pray for me as I go through this editing process. And then in just a few months, the book will be out. And I have so much more to say about some of the really cool things we're going to do around the release of this book. I can't tell you all of it right now. But throughout the season, I'll share more and more. And if you are interested in following this book writing journey with me, then go ahead and friend me on Facebook. So on Facebook, I'm just Robin Jackson, but you'll see my picture there. And you can friend me on Facebook. And that's where I usually kind of post my you know, daily or weekly book updates. So if you're interested in that, go ahead and friend me there. And if you could just make sure that you let me know that you are coming from the podcast. A lot of times your Facebook profile may not match your professional persona and no judgment and that's fine. But if you if it's not clear in your Facebook profile that you are an educator, I may ignore it. So just let me know that you're an educator Your friend of the podcast if you reach out, and your profile may be more of a personal profile than the professional persona that you might normally use.

Okay, so that's the first update. Second, we just had an amazing builder's lab. 

So when the pandemic and the quarantine kind of struck at March, you know, we were wondering whether or not we were going to actually do builders lab this summer, we had two planned we decided to consolidate those two into one and we had an amazing virtual builders lap this summer. It was phenomenal. I mean, if I say so myself, we call it the blk 360 experience. And the feedback that we've gotten from that experience has just been so heartening. People were saying, you know, it really, you know, it moved in wasn't like a three day long zoom meeting. There was so much interactivity and engagement. We built Have an entirely new studio so that as I am presenting, you know, I'm presenting from stage so it's you're still watching me, you're not just kind of watching my face floating on a zoom square. But we've actually set it up so that you can see me presenting from stage. It's really interactive, we set up a bank of monitors in front of me so that I can see everybody's face. People are talking to me, and I'm talking back to them. And so it's not just me marching you through some PowerPoint slides. I'm doing a lot of doodling on my iPad, there is a lot of opportunity for you to work with your team and breakout groups or if you come without your team, for you to work with other colleagues who have similar situation so that you can learn from each other.

It just was a really amazing experience. Even our videographer who came in to help shoot the three days he said, You know, I think this may have been the best builder's lab you've ever had. It's the best one I've ever seen. It just was incredible. And the builder box. Can I tell you about the builders box, people were so excited to get that box and we had so much fun putting those together. So we're going to do it again. We're going to do it again in January. So our next opportunity for a public builders lab are January 25 through 27 2021. And ticket sales are open right now, you do not want to miss this.

I just can't say enough about how much fun we had. 

In fact, we have had such success with that builders lab that we've actually been doing a lot of private builder's labs this fall for different district partners with whom we work. So we don't publicize this a lot. But one of the things that we do is if a district has a large group of principals or assistant principals or instructional coaches, and they want to take them through builders lab, instead of sending all of those people to builders lab, we We will create a customized builder's lab for that district. And so we have several of those going on right now. It's been a very busy fall. And if this is something that you're interested in doing in your district, just give us a call at the office at 1888565881. Or you can send an email to info Info at mine steps inc.com to inquire about bringing builders lab to your district. Okay, the third big announcement, and this has been a long time coming is that we have created a new platform called builder ship University.

You may remember last spring when I was telling you that we were working on a big project and I was planning on taking some time off in March coincidentally right after COVID hit right before COVID head and so instead of kind of taking that time off and just kind of focusing on the buildership university we started the pop up group, we did some other things. So it's taken us a little bit longer than we originally anticipated. But we have created builder ship University, and build a ship University is a place where builders like you can come together and have community. It's a place where you can learn from other builders just like you from all over the world. Not only that, you get access to all of our online courses, you get access to any live workshops that we're doing, and we do some monthly or bi monthly. You have access to all of the resources that we've created for builders and we're talking about nitty gritty resources like you know, five ideas for what you could do during a staff meeting five activities that you need to be doing in your school every single month. We call them quick wins. We also have templates we have exemplars, you know, just everything that you need to be a builder and the other thing that we have that people really love, and I have to be honest, I love it, too. Is that we do office hours, several times a month, and during office hours, you can just drop in with any challenge that you're facing. And I can coach you through that challenge. So it's just like getting coaching one on one coaching with me. Or if you don't have a challenge, and you just want to listen in on those office hours, feel free to drop in, because there's so much learning going on that a lot of times people will come to office hours just to hang out because they want to learn from each other, we have a really good time on office hours.

We also have a private group where we can communicate and talk with each other. 

I jump in, you know, at least once a week, if not more, and other people are interacting and learning from each other and sharing resources. So what we're doing is we're building this community of builders now we're still in the beta stage of builder ship University right now. And so if you go to builder ship university.com you can just go there learn more about build a ship University and also So join us. Okay. I told you that we had a lot of announcements going on. But I really do want to jump into today's episode, because many of you are facing so much uncertainty right now. I mean, that's the thing that I'm hearing the most from the principals and assistant principals and coaches and, you know, district superintendents, and, you know, that I'm hearing from most of the people that we're supporting right now. It's, it's the uncertainty, it's, it's, we don't know what's going to happen. And we're being asked to make decisions in this uncertain environment.

Every single day, there's a different, you know, announcement from the CDC or, or from the governor or from the State Superintendent or from the, you know, Secretary of Education and every other week, there's another new development and parents and teachers and students are coming to us and they're asking us what's going on and they want answers, and we don't Have any answers? Well, today, I want to reassure you that you don't need to have any answers. That's what leaders do leaders look for answers. They are trying to find the answer. And I have to tell you, it's a fool's errand. These are unprecedented times. It's become such a cliche now to say that, but it's still true. These times are unprecedented. So you're not going to have all the answers right now. And builders know that. So instead of trying to find the right answers, builders, ask the right questions. And so, on this episode, I want to talk to you about three questions that builders are asking right now and will continue to ask especially as we embark upon a new school year that helped them navigate this, these uncertain times that that help builders figure out what works and what doesn't work that help builders come to the table with with more clarity about what needs to happen next, that help builders drown out all of the demands that are outside of the school and help them focus on what really will serve their students right now, these questions also serve you in times when you're not in crisis.

Maybe you're listening to this episode sometime into the future where all is calm, and all is bright.

 So you're not dealing with a crisis. That doesn't mean that these questions still won't serve you. In fact, builders are constantly asking themselves these three questions, and it helps them figure out what's working, what's not working, where do I need to invest my time and energy and where am I wasting my time and energy? And it really helps builders continually evolve in their organization so that they can meet the needs of their students. So let's dive into these questions. The first question that builders are constantly paying attention to is they are trying to figure out what are the crucial moments? What are the The moments where, where if they had acted differently, they could have avoided a negative consequence. This is really important because it helps you learn from your organizational mistakes. It also helps you learn from your personal mistakes. But here I want to focus on the organizational mistakes.

You see, as we've been working through the pandemic and the quarantine, and the the questions and debates around whether or not we should open up school. There have been several mistakes. And one of the things that builders are looking at right now is they're figuring out when those mistakes happen, what was the exact point of failure? What was the point where if they had acted differently, they may not have made, the mistakes that they made. And this is really, really important, and it's not just their mistakes that they're examining, they're also examining the mistakes of others because there have been several big mistakes as we've handled this crisis. And builders are looking not to repeat those mistakes, they don't want to repeat history, they want to get better, you want to get better. So, as you're thinking about some of the big mistakes that you've seen happen over the last few months, I want you to ask yourself, at what point had we made a different decision? Would things have worked out differently? If you can pinpoint it down to that point, the point of failure, that that crucial moment, then you can look out for those crucial moments. Because you can start asking yourself, what are the other crucial moments that we're going to be facing coming up? And and how do we prepare for those moments so that we can respond differently next time. And that sounds very theoretical.

So let me give you a more concrete example. 

I'm going to try not to throw anybody under the bus with this example. But I do want to give you an example of a crucial moment. Where had we acted differently, things would have been different. One of them big challenges that a lot of the administrators that I've been working with have faced over the last couple of months. The thing that they go back and kind of rethink is they say, I wish that I had taken this more seriously. When quarantine was first announced. A lot of people thought we were only going to be in quarantine for a couple of weeks. And so the administrators who bought into that narrative, did not take steps to prepare for long term quarantine. And so a crucial moment for them was that at the point where there was we were still uncertain, but we knew that we were going home. They didn't take the steps to prepare their staff, their students and their families, for going home. And even if it was only going to be for two weeks, they kind of treat it those two weeks. As a watch. We'll just recover from those two weeks once we get back to school and that created long term problems for those schools throughout the year with a crucial moment was once it looked like we were going to have to take radical steps like go home, even if it was only going to be for two weeks or however long people thought it was going to be at the beginning, are we doing something to make sure that learning continues to happen, even if it means that we're only going to be home for a couple of days or a couple of weeks?

That's a crucial moment. Let's take a look at that, let's, let's commit to making sure that learning happens regardless of whether we are face to face or working remotely. And if it's two days, two weeks, two months, that we are preparing for that seamless transition from school to home, that becomes a crucial moment that can inform our actions and reactions, you know, for the rest of the year and for the rest of our careers as we think about how we respond to crises. The whole idea of this question Question is to take a look backwards at what you have done, the mistakes that you have made or the mistakes that other people have made that you can learn from so that you don't make those same mistakes. Try to find the exact moment when you could have made a different decision or they could have made a different decision and have you are they done that things would have turned out differently?

Go back to that moment, try to understand when those moments happened.

Is there a pattern to those moments? For instance, one of the principals I was coaching was thinking about her particular challenge with giving teachers feedback. And one of the things that she was trying to stop doing was, she was trying to stop taking over a teacher's practice. And so we went back and we asked this question, what is the crucial moment the moment of failure the moment where had you done things differently, that conversation would have looked different with that teacher What we found is that usually she began to take over a teacher's practice in very subtle ways. She was giving feedback that started with, I love when you do that, I'm concerned when you do that. And so the teachers began to try to please her, rather than taking true ownership over their practice. They weren't improving because they could see where they needed to improve. They were trying to improve so that they could get more I love when in the feedback and less I'm concerned when in the feedback. So her crucial moment was something very simple. It was starting her sentences with a love or I'm concerned with. And she found that just by understanding that pattern, she could change her pattern of speech, and it changed how those feedback conversations went. And in her case, it was almost instantaneous.

The moment we discovered that pattern, she went into the very next feedback conversation, and that conversation was so rich, and this is what the teacher who has attempted to please her in the past. And instead, the teacher said, this is the best feedback I've ever gotten, I feel so empowered, I'm excited, I can't wait to go back into the classroom. And so if you can understand that crucial moment, that point of failure, and you can think through that, whether it's in a very personal way in terms of how you're giving feedback, or in a systemic way, in terms of how you respond to crisis, looking back, trying to discover that point of failure can help you figure out how to avoid making those mistakes again, because if you find the pattern if you can figure out when you win, if that crucial moment, when had you decided to make a different decision, the outcome could have been different.

Can you pinpoint where that is?

In the future, when you face those situations, you recognize that this is a crucial moment. And you can choose at that moment to adjust your behavior and get a different outcome in the future than you face in the past. So that's the first question Now, the second question comes from Chip and Dan Heath. And they recommend a lot that you look at the bright spots that when you are trying to change an organization that one of the things that we don't do, we spend a lot of time looking at the problems. But we don't spend enough time looking at the bright spots. And this has been really critical for me, as in my own development. And as I've been coaching other people to really spend some time looking at the bright spots, we always learn something else. My tendency is to go in and find the problems and that's kind of the way we're trained as leaders. But builders are not just looking for problems. They're not just looking for holes. They're also paying attention to the bright spots. So the question is this, who by all rights should be experiencing the same problem that everybody else is experiencing right now, but is it or what sets us apart those who live in the same world but somehow produce much better Results.

I've been thinking about this a lot, especially as people have been asking me for examples of schools who have successfully navigated the crisis now featured one last week with Tasha Lin. And if you haven't listened to that episode with Tasha, Lin, you need to listen to it. It is so inspiring. Her school did an incredible job and in a very short time. And when we were talking, I started thinking about what she was doing, and what were those bright spots? And how can that be translated across everybody? And I learned so much I've been thinking about schools responses to the pandemic and the crisis and trying to come up with, you know, advice to them, but sometimes simply just looking at the bright spots and figuring out what is what is it that makes these schools work, same situation as everybody else, but these schools are shining, you can learn so much from them and doesn't mean that you have to imitate them because everybody's different and Every school is different. I understand that. But what are they doing that you can learn from? It may be that you have a teacher in your school who has been amazingly successful with students during remote learning. While all the other teachers have really struggled, what is that teacher doing that's so different? Why is that teacher succeeding with the same students while other people are struggling? Again, you're not holding that teacher up, as you know, the poster girl for everything we should do.

You can look at that and you can learn from it. 

So spend some time deliberately looking at the bright spot. Spend some time asking yourself who by all right should be experiencing the same problem that I'm experiencing right now. But they aren't experiencing that problem. What sets them apart, especially if they live in the same world that I live in. They're facing the same challenges that I'm facing, and yet they are successful. As you're examining classrooms this year. Look at the classrooms that are working and ask yourself What is the pattern? Why are those classes working? Same students, same working conditions, and yet some teachers are successful and other teachers are not? What are the commonalities among the successful teachers? And how can I scale that? How can I make that something that happens school wide? Be careful here? Because you don't want to just go in and say, Well, this teacher sings to the students. So I think everybody should start their class singing to the students. I mean, that would be ridiculous. But what is it about her singing to the students that creates a connection? Is it that she found a unique way to connect with students to arrest their attention and to get them immediately engaged? Is that something that every teacher can find their own unique way to do? Of course it is. So don't just go in and grab the surface thing and say, Well, this teacher does that. And that's what makes her successful. Dig, figure out what is it? What are the commonalities, what is what's underlying it, and is that something that we can scale school wide?

Okay, so that's the second question. The third question is, what is producing the best results for the least amount of effort? This question is really important because there are a lot of things that may produce great results. But they also may require a huge expenditure of time and energy and resources and money. And so while it may give you great results, it may not be right for your school because of the expensive ness of it. I just make up a word expensiveness. It just takes too much time, energy and resources. What you want to look for right now are the things that give you the greatest bang for the least amount of effort. And this is really important because I've been watching several administrators pour a lot of time and effort and energy into something that is, you know, it works. It's great, but they could have achieved those same results and perhaps greater results was something that didn't take as much time energy. An effort. So you want to ask yourself, do we need this new program? It may be a fantastic program, it may be something that a lot of people are excited about maybe something that you saw another school do and you thought, wow, they're having so much success with it. Maybe we should do it at our school. But do your teachers have the same kind of tech savvy as the teachers in that school? Will it require your teachers to unlearn something that they've already been comfortable learning and using and learn something new right at the beginning of the year when they're also trying to figure out how to improve in the remote teaching and do things better this year and engage with students and meet new students? They haven't met before or manage both remote and in person students or, or manage students who are here two days and then home three days.

There's a lot going on right now, so not everything is right.

We have a saying and there's an old episode podcast episode where we talk about it all money ain't good money. And so just because something works, may not, it may not mean that it's the right thing for you, you want to look for things that work that require the least amount of effort on your part and on your teachers part right now, because, frankly, everybody's stressed out. Everybody's overwhelmed right now. You want to get the cheap quick wins, and often say that, and if somebody finds this episode later on and plays just that part, you know, it can be misconstrued. It can be taken out of context. I'm not looking for quick fixes. I'm not looking for band aids. What I'm saying is that if something is going to demand a lot of energy from folks right now, they just don't have a lot of energy to give it. So what you want to do is figure out what is producing the best results for the least amount of effort and you want to double down on those things. And if it's not producing good results, and it's expending a lot of effort, those are the things you don't want to deal with right now. Take that off of your teachers plates.

Here's the point to all of this. The reason that builders ask themselves these three questions is because builders are learners. They are constantly looking and learning and and gleaning from their experience things that they can use in the future. There is no way that you're going to get this perfect right now you're going to make mistakes, be gentle with yourself. But this is an opportunity for you to model for your staff, for your students, for their families, for your colleagues, what learning looks like, you know, we say it all the time and rather glibly in education that, you know, learning is messy. Well, folks, this is a messy as it gets, we hope. So, this is the time for you to model that grit and that resilience and that lifelong learning. We say we want to engender in our students, this is the time to do that. And the way you do that is not by having all the answers. It's by asking the right questions.

So just to recap those questions. 

The first question is, what is the moment of failure? What is the moment where if you had acted differently, you could have avoided a negative consequence? So that's the first question. You're constantly going back and thinking about what those moments of failures are for you, for for your teachers, for your district, for other people. And you're looking at those those crucial moments. Because if you can see a pattern in those moments, then you can anticipate them in the future and avoid that failure in the future.

The second thing you're asking is this, who by all rights should be experiencing the same problem but isn't what sets us apart those who live in the same world but somehow produce better results. And this is so that you can learn from what's working. You're not just focusing on problems, you're also highlighting what, what is working and you are learning valuable lessons from that, that you can't learn from any other failure. So look for those bright spots. And then the third question, what is producing the best results for the least amount of effort right now for us, because that's where you want to put your energy. You don't want to put your energy and those expensive results right now right now, you really want to figure out what's producing the best results for the least amount of effort. As you try to navigate the next couple of weeks. Try to keep these questions in mind. Don't beat yourself up for every mistake that you make. Learn from it. Don't overly focus on all the things that aren't working right now. Look for the things that are working and learn from them. And then don't kill yourself to try to get great results. Look for the things that are working with the least that require the least amount of effort from you. You do those three things, and you're going to retain a lot of your sanity. But more than just retaining your sanity, you are also modeling for your students, for your staff, for the families you serve, what real learning looks like and how to navigate the messiness of learning and come out better for it on the other side.

We don't have all the answers, and we're not out of the woods yet.

There's still so many challenges ahead. So don't be like leaders who are trying to find answers. I know everybody wants answers from you. But you have to resist the temptation to look for answers. Instead be a builder. ask the right questions. And when you do, you'll be able to navigate Your school safely through the crisis. But you're also going to set your school up to be a better organization on the other side, and you'll do it like a builder.

That's it for this time.
Join me next time where we're going to be talking about five things that you should be doing right now to sustain your school culture.

I'll see you then!

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside you'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me, tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything, and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now,then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to buildershipuniversity.com and get started writing your school success story today.

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