5 Tips for Engaging Parents
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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 82.
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Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today we're going to talk about five tips for engaging parents. I don't know if I've told you this. But my first call with a parent as a brand new teacher was pretty much a disaster. I have a student he was misbehaving in class, I taught 11th grade. And I called his mother like I thought I was supposed to do. And I remember calling her at work. And I had to wait about four or five minutes for them to go find her and bring her to the to the phone. And then when she got to the phone, I started telling her about how her child was misbehaving and asking for her support, you know, kind of using the scripts that they had taught me at school, and the mother started cussing me out. She said that every time she gets a personal phone call at work, they dock her pay, they pull her off the line, she worked at a factory. And unless her child was bleeding or dying, never call her again.
That was my first experience and I have to tell you that it was pretty demoralizing to me as a teacher.
In hindsight, I made a couple of crucial mistakes. On today's episode, I want to talk to you about some of the mistakes we make when we're trying to engage parents, and five tips that I think can help you and help your teachers really develop strong relationships with parents this school year. Now, before we do that, I have a couple of announcements. We just finished our last private builders lab for 2020. 2020 has just been a whirlwind for a lot of reasons. But for us, it's been a wild one because we have been doing a lot of private builders labs, where we work with a school system and do a customized version of builders lab for their principals and their instructional leaders, coaches, things like that.
It has been just an amazing experience the the things that we're building with these builders and the success stories that are already starting to come out of builders labs have been just phenomenal. And we have builders lab down pat now. And so now that we're kind of done with our private builders labs for the year, my focus is really on builders lab for 2021. And we are having our next public builders lab where you can come regardless of whether your school district is sponsoring the builders lab, you can come on your own, we're having that January 25 through 27 2021. And again, it's going to be a virtual experience. But we have it down pat.
We did Builders Lab 360 for the first time this summer.
There were a few technical glitches. We had amazing people that rode with us, especially that first day when we had a few tech glitches. But we've got it down pat now. And it is just every time we do it, it just gets better and better and better. The reason this is such an amazing experience, it's because we design it to be a full 360 degree experience. It's not a zoom meeting, you're not sitting at a computer for three days and watching me marched through my slides, we have built out an entire studio so that we can be as interactive as possible. And part of that studio build out is that I'm up I'm moving around I am writing on the screen so that you can see it. We have it set up so that I can write on my device. And you can see what I'm writing directly on the screen. I have a bank of monitors set up in front of me so that I can see each and every person who's there with us. You can stop me You can ask questions. We have time for you. We give you serious time, not like five minutes turn and talk, you know, foolishness. What we're doing is we're giving you serious time to work on your builders blueprint with other builders. There are a lot of people who come to builders lab and they bring their entire admin team so that they can take those three days to sit together as an admin team and map out their roadmap for turning their school into a success story.
We have breakout rooms and we give you generous amounts of time in your breakout rooms. Also, we just got a comment From our last builders lab that someone's saying that your breaks are amazing, we have music during our breaks, we send you a really cool surprise so that we're feeding you even though we're doing that remotely. And we give you a long break. So we're not talking about a 10 minute break or a 15 minute break. No, no, no, we don't do that. We give you generous breaks half an hour or more for breaks in between, so that you can take care of the other stuff in life that's going on, and that you can show up for builders lab fully focused. And while all those things are great, those are bells and whistles, those make it an amazing, fun experience. The real value that you get at builders lab is that when you come to builders lab, you spend three days with us, and you map out your pathway for turning your school into a success story. You think we're really good about creating plans and you know, really good about doing those, you know, root cause analysis and all those things know, at builders lab, we do something different, we take care of that missing step. So when you map out your pathway, what you're doing is you're trying to figure out what is the most important work that my school needs to be doing right now, in order for us to achieve our vision, live out our mission and our core values every single day.
We take you through a whole process.
In fact, we've upgraded some things in builder's lab from some of the things that we've learned from our clients over the last few months. And instead of having just one session on micro slicing, we have an entire day dedicated to micro slicing, not just Microsoft in classrooms, but thinking about how do you micro slice your entire school. And so by the time you leave builders lab, you have a blueprint that helps you map out exactly how you're going to achieve your success story. And what's funny is that a lot of times when people see their blueprint, they're like, oh, my goodness, this is all I have to do. They're still surprised, or they feel intimidated, because they're saying, Are you saying that I can actually see this growth in 90 days? And we're saying yes, you can. But we don't just leave you at the end of builders lab, you get three months of follow up support so that we can make sure that you have everything you need to take the map and the pathway that you created in builder's lab and actually see it through actually see it through until you get to that success story.
So if you want to join us for builder's club, and I really hope you do because I mean, I just it gets better and better. And it's just such a powerful three days and the transformations that happen over those three days are just did it give me goosebumps. So I really hope you'll join us. And in order to do so all you need to do is get your ticket at mine steps inc.com slash builder's dash lab. Okay, second announcement, buildership University, we have just a few more seats left for the founding members level. And once we reach that goal for our founding members, we're going to close things out. Now, you'll still have a chance to join BU in January. Builders University will be officially open in January. But there's something special about being a founding member. Because as a founding member, where it's a small group of people, these are the most dedicated builders on the planet. And you get to have input about what goes into Buildership University. So right now basically the founding members are saying we need this tool, I go make the tool, we need this training, I go give them the training. So they just their personal concierge into buildership.
Founding Members are shaping what's happening in Buildership University.
Plus it's where we're bonding that it's a community, we're looking out for each other. And they are contributing to BU because they're taking the tools they're playing with them. They're, they're making them better. And if that's you if you are that kind of person where you want to be a part of a close knit community, and of people who are like minded and you also are really thinking about being a builder and that journey on being a builder and you want to be on that journey with other people who are as committed as you are. You want to benefit from the the bonding that we're doing and our founders here, and you want to get in early and have some input on what builders should be University looks like. Then we have just a few slots left. And all you need to do is go to buildership university.com.
You can fill out an application to become a founding member. Now I'll have some more announcements later on the year about how you can join buildership University when it opens January 2021. But if you want to get in ahead of time, if you want to get that extra access to me and two other founders, then I urge you to hurry because we only have a few slots left and then We're shutting things down to go to buildership university.com and fill out an application. Okay, so those are my announcements.
Now let's talk about parental relationships.
I told you the beginning that my first time calling a mom got shut down, she she cussed me out and the mistake that I made was that I didn't take into consideration Her situation, I didn't realize that she was working on a factory floor and that every if she got a personal phone call during the work day, then that could hurt her in terms of her remuneration, I should have been more careful and more systematic about understanding when is the best time to contact that mother. And quite frankly, I was calling the mom because I didn't know what else to do with her son. So I was calling her with a problem, not a solution. And that's, that's the last thing she needed in the middle of her workday was for me to call her and say, can you please make your son behave in my classroom? It's no wonder she said, Listen, my job is I have to be here on this factory floor, your job was to teach my son, don't bother me with this, you do your job. And don't ask me to do your job. Now a lot of our teachers are experiencing the same thing, especially now remote learning where parents are starting to actually say this a lot. You know, you're the teacher do your job. I'm not a teacher, you're expecting me to teach my child.
I know that these are unusual circumstances. But that line of reasoning of, of our calling parents to ask them for help, can often come across as if we're asking parents to do our job. I know that's not true. We're, we're sometimes we're asking parents to do their jobs. But that can if we're not careful about how we navigate those relationships, that's the way it can come across. You know, I remember figuring this out late in my career as a teacher, and I'm so glad I did. Because when I became an administrator, I spent a lot of time calling parents talking to parents. Usually I'm calling with bad news. I mean, I tried to set it up so that I'd also be calling them with good news. But, you know, in most cases, as an assistant principal, I'm calling parents about discipline issues. I'm calling parents because there is a problem. And I've worked with a range of parents. And not only that, but I've also been working with a lot of builders, who are also grappling with this issue of establishing really positive, productive parental relationships.
I have a few tips that I want to share with you today to help you.
Ways to engage parents in a way that actually serves you and serves the families and the students. So the first thing that you need to do is you have to stop before you even begin and ask yourself, why do you want relationships with parents? What is the point of establishing this relationship and we don't think about this, we just say, Oh, we need to have parents, you know, relationships with parents, we need to do parental outreach. And we do this scattershot approach to engaging and involving parents without really having a goal in mind. I remember figuring this out as a teacher, you know, I was always told you need to have relationships with parents, I tried to send positive notes, you know, welcome back to school night, I tried to do my best for my back to school night presentation, parent conferences. I tried to be positive. But I didn't really have a goal other than this was something I thought I should do. And then later in my teaching career, I started thinking, why is it that I do want relationships with parents? Now for me, I was teaching 11th graders. And so at that point, my students were barely independent. So the relationship that I wanted with a parents was more of a partnership, how do we help their students, you know, go this last leg of their academic journey and make sure that they're set up to be successful in college.
I remember reading some research that looked at the eight non cognitive factors that were most predictive of student's college success. And if I can find a link to that, I'll put it in the show notes. But it was a study done by William Setelahsec. He looked at eight non cognitive factors. So non cognitive factors would be something like, you know, having leadership experience or having a strong support system, or preference for long term goals or short term goals, those were three of the eight. And these were a better predictor of whether or not students were going to be successful in college, then grades, LSAT scores, parental education, income, all these other things. And I remember reading that study and saying, Wow, if, if this is what it takes to be successful in college, truly, and I'm preparing my students, so that college is at least a viable option for them, that I need to help them to develop these eight, non cognitive skills. problem was, a lot of them were really things that I couldn't I couldn't see how I could develop in school.
I really needed the parents to do that, or so I thought.
When I really sat down and thought about it, I kept saying, Okay, well, you know, I can't give them a strong support system. And if they don't have one in home, my kids are in trouble, because where are they going to get it? And so when I started thinking about those eight non cognitive factors, I started thinking that the relationship that I wanted to have with parents was really about equipping parents to provide students with those eight non cognitive factors to to have a relationship so that I can be a resource for parents to help them navigate the college application process and navigate the scholar worship and financial aid process and navigate these last two years of high school for their students that I wanted a resource type relationship with parents. And once I understood that once I understood that I wanted to be a resource to parents, and that I wanted parents to see me as a partner in their child's success as they navigate this final leg of high school, it changed my parental outreach efforts.
Now I'm not so concerned about the discipline stuff, and I'm not so concerned about you know, your, I just need to let you know your child isn't turning in homework. Now I'm trying to see myself as a resource. And so I have to re- negotiate what the relationship with parents is going to look like. Now, some of my clients, their relationship with parents is going to look different, especially as we're teaching in a remote learning environment. I have several clients who are elementary school principals, and so they really need parents to get students in front of the computer every single day, they really need parents to be supervising students at home, so that the students are keeping up with their work because their students are so young. So that relationship looks very different than the relationship I was trying to have with parents. And that relationship requires some different resources and the relationship, the resources that I was using for the relationship I was looking for. And so what you have to do is first figure out what kind of relationship do I need to have with parents, so that you're not just doing all the things to try to get parents engaged, you're not just using random parental engagement strategies, no one has time for that parents are busy, you're busy.
Let's be very clear, what kind of relationship do we want to have with parents.
What relationship do we need to have with parents, for students to be successful, and figure that out. And once you understand that, then you can start thinking about the resources and the strategies and the tools and tricks and all the things that you can do to make a positive relationship with parents. First, you've got to understand your wife. So that's number one. So number two, is you need to put yourself in parents shoes, I learned this, you know, I kind of learned it as a teacher, but I really, you know, kind of double down on this as an administrator, when I call a parent, and I tell a parent that their child is being suspended, or I call a parent, tell the parent tell the parent that their child has misbehaved in class or has an issue, I'm doing my job. But for that parent, and that student, that's one of the worst days of their week. And hearing that your child is acting up, oftentimes in ways that echo the challenges that you're facing at home, or hearing that your child isn't showing up every day. And so your child is going to fail, when you're grappling with all kinds of things at home that keeps you from being able to get your child in front of the camera every single day for remote learning can feel so intimidating.
Some parents had a horrible experience with school. And so they bring that trauma back to school when they're interacting with the school as a parent of a child. And so what we don't do enough of is we don't put ourselves in the shoes of our parents, we don't think about we thinking so much about what we need to get accomplished and what we need parents to do that we're not thinking about what parents are going through. And so we need to do more work around understanding where our parents are. If I had asked my student about his mother, before I called her on the factory, he might have told me she works on the factory. And he might have told me that a better time to call would be six o'clock in the morning when she's on her way to work, or better time to call me in the evening when she's home. And she gets off work. But I didn't do that. I just assumed that every parent had the same kind of job that maybe my parents had or that I had where they could take a call in the middle of the day to talk about their child's misbehavior.
I was totally unprepared for that conversation.
I didn't take even one second, to put myself in that parents shoes. You need to do some intel. If you want a relationship with parents, you need to understand what your parents are dealing with. Some of my clients right now, they are working with parents who are facing job loss, or they're working with parents who are essential personnel are considered essential personnel. And so they're working extra hours. But sometimes those parents are terrified when they come home that are they bringing the coronavirus into their home. Other people are facing job losses and the stress that comes from that sometimes parents are caring for other family members. And so if you're not understanding that if you don't have a clear sense of what your parents need or want, if you don't have a clear sense of what they're going through right now, it's going to be hard to have a relationship and what kind of relationship is that anyway? If you're not thinking about the other person if you're not considering what they need.
You've got to put yourself in parents shoes. How do you do that? Well, in our sprint this spring, we designed a parental survey that that helped us to get a sense of where the parents were in a lot of the people who went through that sprint or a part of that free pop up group actually took that survey to template and send it on to parents. Now from what I'm hearing from a lot of my clients parents are like surveyed out by now because the school districts in survey every month and they're surveyed out by now. So maybe a survey might not be the best thing. But you can talk to students, you can spend some time checking in with some parents, you can talk to the parents who with whom you do have a relationship to ask them about what their fellow parents are experiencing, you can go and take a look at what their social media profiles are saying, you can do that Intel so that you understand where your parents are. So first, you've got to understand the relationship that you want to have with parents. Secondly, you have to put yourself in parents shoes.
The next thing you need to do is be proactive, and I cannot stress this enough.
You need to be there with a solution before parents realize that they have a problem. So a lot of us are, you know, kind of, you know, paddling as fast as we can ourselves. And, and so we're not thinking about this. But now that we've been doing this for a few weeks or a few months, even, we really need to stop and think about what is the end user, how is the end user going to receive what we're doing. And I'm saying the end user and I know that's kind of really sterile language. But I'm using it intentionally because everything that you put out is you're putting out so that somebody else can use it. Every assignment you design, every classroom, you set up every tool that you create your you have to think about, okay, I am making this assignment. But what is it going to feel like on the other end, when someone actually has to go through this assignment or has to go through my google classroom or has to create this Google doc or has to log in to my session or has to watch this asynchronous learning opportunity or has to come in two days a week and what's happening to be every three days a week, or whatever it is, you have to think about how other people are going to experience what you're designing.
You have to anticipate the challenges and have the solution before they experience it. Do you know what parents are telling me and several of my clients is their biggest frustration. They they get on they do the things that they're being asked to do something doesn't work, or they hit a roadblock, and there's no help for them, or they get stuck somewhere and nobody is there to help them. And half the time the school doesn't even know that that's a problem or an issue for parents until it becomes a problem or an issue.
What we need to do is spend time thinking about the whole process.
The process that parents have to engage in the whole process that our students have to engage in. And then we have to anticipate where they may get stuck and be proactive about the solution. I want to give you a really simple example of this. When I was a teacher, I started using proactive supports, I felt like it was wrong to wait for students to fail before they got support. I wanted to give students support so they never failed in the first place I wanted to give students supports they didn't struggle in the first place. And so I set up this proactive support plan. And once I set it up, I had all these red flags. So the moment you see the student at the first sign of struggle, the student is getting support right away. And it's pre programmed. It's, you know, automated so that everybody's getting what they need.
Not only that, when I'm planning lessons, I'm thinking through each part of the lesson, how might a student struggle here, what support needs to come in place for that student, and I build that into the lesson to keep students from struggling? Well, after I did that, and I started implementing it, I realized there was a parent component that needed to tap into. And so I put this up at the beginning of the school year started this system at the beginning of the school year and a few weeks in parents were coming from back to school night and usually back to school night. For me it's a dog and pony show, I want to make sure that parents and other students are in good hands. I didn't get a lot of parents to begin with. And, you know, I just kind of went through the motions and got through it as quickly as possible and just was like, Okay, good. Let's go home. But what I did differently that year is I talked parents to the system, I said, if you see this red flag at home, then you need to give me a call. If you see this at home happening. That's okay.
I talked to parents about the difference between productive and destructive struggle.
I said, if you see your student struggling this way, that's good. That's exactly what they should do. And here are the tools you can point them to and hear the ways you can support them at home. But don't panic. It's supposed to look like this. But if you see students struggling this way, well, that's not that's that's something something's wrong. So here's how you can reach out to me, here's how you can let me know just giving parents those red flags those tools before they were watching their children do the homework before they're watching their children struggle, equip them to better support their students. So how many of us have set up proactive supports, the parents can engage in how many of us have taken the time to help them understand the difference between productive struggle and destructive struggle? How many of us have taken the time to preview for parents what's coming up so that they can anticipate things how many of us have taken the time to anticipate where our parents may get stuck in supporting their students and putting supports in place To help them, I'll give you a couple of examples of some things that people are doing.
You know, a lot of parents will say, jokingly, I need to go back and get another degree in math. So I can teach this math because this math doesn't look the same as it did when I was a kid. Well, if you recognize that, and and you know that you're going to be relying on parents to help students with math, then why aren't you setting up a resource bank, the parents can look at so they can see what instruction looks like so they can see what students are supposed to be doing? Why aren't you setting up tools so that parents can feel smart and confident when they're helping their students with a math homework, instead of saying, you know, I don't know what this you just talking about either. And now the parents frustrated, and now the students frustrated, why not set the parent up to be successful in helping their student? How many of us have really taken the time to identify what productive struggle looks like?
We want students to struggle, that's how they learn. But we want them to do it productively.
How many of us have taken the time to distinguish between productive struggle and destructive struggle, and how many of us have shared that with our parents, you say, if you really want a relationship with a parents, then you need some transparency, you need to be able to set them up for success. Parents need to know that you're on their side, you're not the enemy. And if you're not setting parents up to be successful with their children, you become the enemy at some point. So how can you set parents up so that they are successful in supporting their children? What supports Can you put in place? What resources can you make available? What what what insight Can you give parents so that they know how to be helpful, if you don't do that, you're going to get calls for all kinds of ridiculous things. But if you can say if you see this, that's not a that's not a problem, that's what it's supposed to look like. But if you see this, you should call me right away. When I did that, I stopped getting crazy parental phone calls, I started getting phone calls that sounded like this. Hey, Dr. Jackson, I was looking at the productive versus destructive list that you gave us for struggling. And I have been noticing that my son is starting to struggle and things that are destructive. So I thought I'd give you a call. And this will tell me what you're seeing.
They told me what they were seeing. And I'm like, yep, that looks like it. Okay, here's the intervention I'm going to do. And you should be able to see these results at home, and the parents thinking me versus My child is struggling, you're not doing anything about it. And now I want to conference with the principal. So you need to be proactive. The next thing is that you need to go where parents are one of the things that just is doesn't make a lot of sense to me is that at school, we get mad when parents don't come to us, when they don't show up for back to school night without considering the fact that they've worked all day, and they're coming home and they're making dinner and they have other things to do, or they may not get off work in time, or they may have other children, we just expect them to come into school on on our schedule, and we expect them to come on our turf. Well, in a virtual environment that may or may not happen.
The principles that I've seen who've done the best job of engaging parents have figured out where the parents are.
So in some cases, that means they're doing Instagram, post all the time about the school, they're putting resources on Instagram, because their parents are an Instagram. In some cases, it means that they're going into the neighborhoods, and they are looking at the Rec Center is at various neighborhoods and putting resources there, they're doing laptop distributions in the neighborhoods, rather than asking people to come up to the school. In some cases, it means that they are going to the churches. So I've seen this in several of our clients, where they are serving of community where there's a dominant church in the community where most of the community attends. And they will go and reach out to the priests of the pastor of that church, and ask for that, their help and helping them reach out to parents. So the pastor will say at the end of the service, okay, the service is done. But if you have students who go to Xyz High School, the principal is here, they're going to be doing laptop distribution, we're going to make sure that you're in the database. And here's how you're going to be able to help so the parents is day after service, and they're serving them that the principal is serving the parents then, instead of asking parents to come to us, how about we go to them?
How about we understand where the parents are already hanging out. And we go to them, the principals who are doing that. They're they're not having the parental engagement challenges or the student engagement challenges that other principals are having. In fact, those principals who are doing this, they're seeing on average, 85-95% attendance, even in a virtual learning environment. So are we sitting back and waiting for parents to come to us? Or are we being proactive? And we're going to them? Now the last thing is that once you have figured out what kind of relationship you want to have with parents, and once you've understood what your parents are you taking some time to to sit and rest in their shoes so that you understand what they're coming where they're coming from. Once you've decided that you're going to be proactive. If you are anticipating parental needs, and so that you can serve them better, once you are figuring out what the parents are already hanging out and going to them rather than expecting them to come to you, the last step is making it real.
You have to create a system.
A lot of times we say we're going to do parental engagement and we make it an ad hoc thing. So Oh, you know, I need to send a positive notes, we spend all this time creating positive notes and we send them home and, and it's great, but then we don't do it in another month or another two months, because we get caught up. And it's, it's not that we don't want to it's not that we're neglectful. But life gets in the way if you don't have a system. And so my last advice is that once you've figured out what kind of relationship you're going to have with parents and what they need and where they are, and you've set up some ideas around parental engagement, you need to systemize it, so it's automatic. For some people, it means creating a set of autoresponder emails that you can send out at certain intervals with good news with parents about their children, or what's upcoming. For others of you, it's going to be some sort of weekly newsletter, or news blast that keeps parents informed of what's going on. For some of you, it's going to be a spreadsheet. And that's connected to your calendar with reminders for when you need to send information home to parents. For some of you, it's going to be that you have a list of parents and you have so many calls you're going to make each day to parents, and you have a script of what you're going to say so that you're sharing the information, and it's consistent across the board.
I don't know what it looks like for you because everybody's system is unique. But I do know you need to have a system, this can't be something that you're doing ad hoc, when you have time, when you have the bandwidth. This has to be something that you create, that's automatic. And so I'll go through those five tips again. First of all, if you really want to build relationship with parents, you first have to figure out what is the kind of relationship that works here, what what kind of relationship do we need. Secondly, you need to put yourself in their shoes so you can understand what they need and where they're coming from. And then that leads us to number three, where you need to be proactive, you need to anticipate where they're going to have challenges navigating your classroom or your school, and make sure that you are putting things in place to anticipate their challenges so that the solution is there before they experience the problem. Number four, you need to go where they are stop asking parents would come to you and waiting for them to show up, find out where they're hanging out and go there. And then number five, make sure that once you have determined all of this and you have a process, what can you do to make it automated so that it happens whether you feel like it or not.
We need parents now more than ever.
There was never time we didn't need parents, but we need those relationships with parents now more than ever. And I've seen too many examples of those relationships going south, because we're not taking these steps. If you don't want to be like me, if you you'd like to avoid getting cussed out, but more importantly, you'd like to avoid doing things that are not helping parents adding to their stress, making their their work harder, instead of lightening the load. Really, if you want to create that partnership with parents, then you need to go ahead and start putting these tips into practice figuring out what it's going to look like for you. Because when you do, you can have a strong, powerful, meaningful relationship with parents, because you did it like a builder.
That's it for this time. I hope you'll join me next time where we're going to tackle another topic around how to go from leadership to buildership. 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 builder ship University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside you'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live offers. 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.
I'll see you then!
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