What Can You Do About Struggling Students?


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 94. 

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. Let's get started.

Hey Builders,

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagine podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today we're going to continue our series on the difference between bosses, leaders, and builders. And today we're going to talk about what you do about students who are behind. Now before we get into all of that, I just want to give you a couple of quick announcements. The first announcement, we are still waiting with great anticipation for the book release, it was supposed to be out at the beginning of the month, I'm still waiting to hear from the publisher when the exact drop date is, but I can't tell you how excited I am about the book, you can already pre order it wherever books are sold on Amazon, or you can go on the ascd website. And you can also reach out to us here at mind steps if you want to get it directly from us. But I will let you know the moment it drops. And I've got some really cool things planned for the drop of the book. So that's coming up. The second thing is that we have already identified the dates for the next builders lab.

Mark your calendar for June 28 through the 30th, 2021.

We are going to do another builders lab 360 degree experience, which means that we will be doing this virtually so you will not have to travel this summer to get to builders lab. That means that you can do builders lab from the comfort of your own home. What's also really cool about the virtual builders Labs is that a lot of people are finding it a lot easier to bring their entire team to builders lab, because it's virtual because people can can participate from home, you can work with your team. And if you come with your team, we will make sure that your team is together for all of our breakouts and for all of the workshops. So teams are coming and they're just there. They're loving that that environment where they're able to get a lot of stuff done.

The thing about builder's lab is that when you come for three days, you walk out with a plan you you figure out, this is my vision, you figure out what's the biggest obstacle to achieving your vision, you walk out with a 90 day plan so that you can make your first step towards a vision. But here's the other piece, we've added, you also walk out with a three year roadmap for how you can achieve that vision, that bold vision for 100% of your students in the next three years, and how you can do it with the people and resources that you have right now. So you don't have to wait until you get new staff or waiting to get new resources, you can do it right now under the any circumstances that you're facing right now, we'll show you how to do that. 

It just keeps getting better and better and better. 

A lot of people come to builders lab, and then you know, a year ago, they're already making plans to come back because we've added so much new stuff to it. The other thing is that we're going to be opening up enrollment to build or ship University soon. So if you don't want to wait until June, you want to get started right away, you need to kind of build a ship University builders lab is where you get that big picture, you know, kind of understanding of the whole builder ship model, and you start to develop your first plan. builder ship University is where you actually execute. So it builds up University, it's not just training on here, the big ideas, it's training them, okay, so you know, when we're doing our plan, you need to have a teacher dashboard. Here's how you develop a teacher dashboard. And so what we do and build a ship University is we help you execute on the builder ship model. And that's what makes it really powerful is that you're getting real support on actually doing stuff. So we have what we call GSD sprints, which is get stuff done sprints where we take some aspect of the builders ship model that you need, like a teacher dashboard or something else.

We build it together. So you actually go through the process, we give you the template, we give you the tool, we walk you through the process, we share with the examples of what other people have done. We have office hours where if you get stuck, you can come to office hours and bring what you're working on and get real feedback for me on how to turn it into what it needs to be to serve your school. We offer you templates and exemplars we have training modules to show you how to set things up and why you need to set things up a certain way. So there's Buildership University is really about the executions. So if you're ready to get some stuff done, if you're ready to put these tools, these ideas into practice, then you want to join, Buildership University. And I'll let you know the moment we open up enrollment. So we only open up enrollment for Buildership University a few times a year. Because once you get in, we want to make sure that you have the support that you need. And so we're going to be opening up enrollment in a couple of weeks, we'll let you know when that's happening. Look out for that as well. So I think that's it for the announcements. 

Today, I want to talk to you about how Bosses, Leaders and Builders deal with students who are behind.

If you are listening to this podcast in real time, we are right at the point where you have some real information about where everyone is where all of your students are this year. And you know what that gap is between where they are and where they need to be at the big f8 by the end of the year. And we're seeing that a lot with our own clients where they're starting to see that there are these huge gaps. And a lot of the teachers that they're serving are saying, Listen, I am going to do my best I can get a year's worth of growth, maybe this school year, but this child is two years behind. So a year's worth of growth is not letting be enough. Or maybe I can even get a year and a half worth of growth. But it's not going to be enough. And so we're trying to figure out how to deal with that. What do you do when you have students who are far behind? And and how do you get them where they need to be. And so it's a big issue that a lot of people are dealing with, but the way you deal with it determines how successful you're going to be with it. Now, if you deal with it, like a boss, your focus is all on remediation. So you're pulling kids out of classrooms, you're putting them through remedial programs, you're trying to help them get caught up. And the challenge with remediation is that it keeps you and your students always looking backwards, you're focused on the gap. You're trying to reteach what they didn't learn before. And so students are always feeling like they have to catch up, they always they're clearly behind, they recognize that they're behind, and you're looking at what they didn't get, and how do I fill in what they didn't get.

You're not focusing on what they need to be getting now, remediation keeps kids trapped into this cycle of failure where they fail, they get remediation, maybe they get caught up. Most cases they don't and then, but they're so because they spent so much time on remediation, even if they get caught up for the things that they didn't get in the past, they're behind in the present, because they've been so focused on the path. So remediation is the way that bosses deal with it, we buy a remediation program, a boss will, you know, kind of pull kids out and try to get them to catch up. And you know, remediation also works on like bubble kids, I hate that term. But that's what they do, they go find the kids who just kind of slightly below and they nudge and play with a numbers so that they can show enough growth to stay in business. Rather than thinking about what do we need to do to make sure that all of our students are successful. If you have a vision for 100% of your students, remediation is not going to get you there, a focus on remediation will never get you to 100%. And so you don't want to do that you don't want to be like a boss and, and focus on remediation. So what do you do instead?

Leaders know they need more than remediation, they often focus on the intervention. 

So rather than remedial programs, we will have huge intervention programs. And those programs are designed to kind of catch kids, you know, when they're struggling and and intervene quickly and get them back on track. And it's supposed to be more real time. And I'll be honest with you for years, I believed in intervention, I believe that if you have students, if you can catch them struggling early enough, you can intervene, and then you can get them back on track. And so leaders focus on that. And I get that because that seems to make a lot more sense. It's certainly better than remediation. Here's the challenge with intervention. intervention means that kids have struggled, that means that they've already started to fail, you're seeing a sign of struggle, and you come in and you intervene. And even if you move that up, you know, we have a program where we show people how to, you know, catch kids early and intervene early. But even if you intervene early, you still have kids struggling. And we think that's the best we can do. But builders have a different idea about that. So builders don't focus on remediation. They don't spend a whole bunch of time on intervention. What builders do is they spend their time on prevention, right? We want to make it so that kids never struggle in the first place. At least not destructively.

Now, we have a thing here at mindsets, where we talk about the difference between productive struggle and destructive struggle, productive struggle we want because that's how kids learn. That's how they develop that grit and resilience, but destructive struggle, the kind that we feel like we need intervention for, we want to anticipate and prevent. And so as builders we're not looking at Okay, how do we intervene early Enough, you know, intervention is part of our toolkit, we use it when we need to. But what builders are really focused on is okay, where do we need to intervene? And what can we do to prevent needing to intervene at all. In other words, rather than waiting for kids who struggle and then coming in with an intervention, why not prevent the struggle in the first place. And when you start thinking about it this way, it opens up all kinds of possibilities for your students.

You don't have to wait for them to struggle.

You can anticipate that you can understand where kids typically struggle, and you can set them up so that they never struggled in the first place. We love something called acceleration. It's something I learned from a man named Max Thompson years ago when I was a teacher, and it transformed my classroom. Because with acceleration, what you're doing is you think ahead, you think about what it is you're going to be teaching. In the next week or two, you think about where students might struggle with that material. And then what you do is you preview those areas where students might struggle, so that doesn't mean that you're like pre teaching the lesson. But you're previewing the skills or the background knowledge that they're going to need in order to be successful in an upcoming lesson. Let me give you an example. Let's say that you your teachers are teaching a story for their reading lesson. And you know that we have students who struggle with reading some struggle with vocabulary, others struggle with, you know, follow comprehension. And so instead of previewing the story, what you do is you preview the vocabulary, you make sure that before they read the story, they have an understanding of the vocabulary, we typically teach vocabulary during the story or after the story. Kids are trying to learn the vocabulary and follow the story and it makes it harder, what have you pre taught the vocabulary so that you can eliminate that struggle for students all together, when we actually got to the story, they knew the words that they were going to encounter in the story, and they those words, didn't slow them down.

What else can you do? Give students a story map of the story so that you can preview the structure of the story. That means that when students are reading the story, they're not getting hung up on being lost. Instead, they can follow the story from beginning to end. And that increases their comprehension. Just doing those two things ahead of time prevents, you know, 80% 90% of the struggle that students your struggling students might have with the story and helps them be successful the first time so that you don't have to intervene at all, you don't have to do anything during the process. They're learning successfully because you set them up for success. Same thing in math, let's say that, you know that you're going to be doing something. In math, you're teaching a new concept. But in order for kids to get that new concept, they really need to have their math facts down, Pat. So a few days before you introduce a new concept, you're reviewing kids multiplication tables, you're reviewing some of the simple problem solving procedures or the computation for things that their students are going to have to do so that we introduce new concepts, students can jump in right away. Or maybe you are reviewing the the mathematical concepts or the vocabulary ahead of time, so that when you introduce this new concept, students habit, so what you're doing is instead of waiting for kids to struggle, even if you intervene right away, and I believe you should, you should have interventions ready right away. If you focused on preventing struggle in the first place.

If you focus on setting students up for success in the first place, then you don't have to worry about kids struggling. 

Instead, kids can be successful right away. Now, what does this mean for students who are already to grade levels below three grade levels below where they need to be? Well, you realistically, we're not going to be able to fill in all of the gaps. You can't go back and reteach two years of reading in our literacy instruction or two years of math instruction. So again, what you're doing is you're constantly keeping students where they need to be. So you're only backfilling those skills that they need to be able to be successful in the next assignment. So you are preventing struggle by getting kids ready for each assignment. When I first started playing around with this concept, I thought it was almost too good to be true. But I started using it in my classroom with my high school English students who were writing and we were working on the research paper and we had a, you know, just a really huge failure rate for that, that that research paper, the kids had to write a 10 page research paper, a lot of our students would just opt out, they wouldn't write the research paper at all, they would just skip that semester of English, go to summer school for three weeks where they didn't have to write the research paper pass the second semester of 11th grade English and move on with their lives and then hit that research paper again in college if they went to college and struggle in college and often drop out of college.

That research paper became the thing that that that that stood in between students successfully completing freshman composition and therefore being able to progress in college and students who weren't able to do that. So we felt It was really important. And yet we had a huge failure rate, you know, maybe 70% of our kids. were passing that semester of English, maybe sometimes less than that. And so we had to do something about it. Well, for years, we were doing intervention programs, writing intervention programs, you know, tutoring, that was staying after school coming before school helping kids, then we started thinking, Okay, what do we need to do that we know how kids are going to struggle, rather than just beefing up our interventions, so we're ready for them the struggle, what would happen if we decided to do something ahead of time to keep them from struggling in the first place?

We realized there were three things that kids struggled with.

First was that they struggled with staying organized. Secondly, they struggled with the actual writing of the paper, the intimidation of writing 10 pages and staying on track of those 10 pages. And third, they struggled with the pieces of the paper, you know, the research itself, finding the information. So we understood that and so I remember sitting down with my students at the beginning of the next year, we put some things in place. And I said, we're gonna write a 10 page paper, and they were like, Oh, you know, I've just failed me now. You know, there was this huge intimidation. And I said, Okay, what is it? What's going on? And they said, Well, we've never written a 10 page paper before. And I said, Okay, I got it. That makes sense. Have you written a two page paper before? And I'm like, What are you talking about? Yeah, we just wrote a two page paper, but a two page paper is not a 10 page paper. And I said, Okay, I tell you what, we're not going to write a 10 page paper, we're going to write five, two page papers. And that's what we did. We broke that research paper down two pages, two papers at a time two page papers at a time, students would write two pages, and turn it in and get feedback on it. And then it write another two pages, and we broke it down into sections, and each two pages had to accomplish something, it was like its own complete paper. Then we spent one class period, writing transition paragraphs between one paper and the next paper. And by the time we were done with that period, the students had a 10, page paper, all of them, we went from, you know, maybe a 7060 70%, completion rate to 100% completion rate.

We eliminated all of the obstacles and the roadblocks that the students were facing in writing this paper. And once they saw that, once they saw that they were able to accomplish that, they, they they started thinking about college as an option, they started seeing themselves differently, they, they their idea of what they could do, how they could take a big task and break it down and accomplish it, help them develop that grit and resilience that we were helping them we were hoping that they would develop, it was just amazing to see, all of a sudden, instead of accepting, you know, some failures, we got to the point where we just believe that every child could and would write a 10 page paper for us. And that's what happened. That's what happened in our school, we did not have any students who did not turn in a research paper. So we completely eliminated failure by just working on preventing it. And when I saw that in my own classroom, and I started sharing with other people and started kind of brainstorming with them, what are the key points of failure for students? And how do we prevent those key points, people started seeing it differently. I remember some of the first people I shared it with, I gave a talk at a conference early, you know, in the beginning of mind steps.

I shared this with other teachers and some were skeptical, and others were like, let me think about it. 

Then I went to that conference again the next year. And there were two foreign language teachers who said we were, you know, we have a statewide exam that we have to give him foreign language. And at the beginning, we were excited if we got a 70% pass rate for that exam. Since we started looking at and identifying key points of failure and figuring out how to prevent failure. We went from a 70% passing rate on that exam to 100% passing rate on that exam in one year, when they tell me that it blew me away, because, you know, people were expressing so much doubt about my results that I began to think that maybe they were just you know, a fluke that happened in my classroom. When they showed me that it happened in their classroom in just one year, I started teaching this. And the more people who started applying this idea around preventing failure rather than intervening and failure, they started seeing the same results. I'm talking about going from, you know, 50 60% passing rate to an 80 to 100% passing rate in one semester in one year. Test by doing that. So think about this builders as you are working with your own teachers. Is your school focused on remediation? If so, you're always looking backwards. You're always playing catch up, and No wonder you're exhausted. No wonder your teachers are so discouraged right now. It is really demoralizing to think about always playing catch up, always being behind.

If your school is focused on remediation While you don't feel like you're always playing catch up, a lot of times your teachers feel like there just isn't enough time, or there isn't there aren't enough resources available to help your students. So if you're feeling that way, right now, it's probably because your school is focused on remediation. And if you're focused on remediation, frankly, there isn't always enough time, there aren't always enough resources for you to be able to breach every single child. So you have to be careful about that. Now, remediation has a place, but it shouldn't be your focus. Sometimes, as you're working on prevention, while you're working on prevention, there are kids who might need remediation, and so you can be more strategic about it. But your school wide focus isn't on remediation. Because remember, remediation is about I'm sorry, intervention is about intervening at a sign of failure, which means kids are already struggling. So what whenever you have this idea around intervention, your focus is on or your idea is that you're going to accept a certain level of struggle, you're going to accept a certain level of failure, and you're going to use that as a sign that you need to do something about it. That's what that's kind of the the ethos around intervention is that I'm going to intervene when there is struggle.

We have systems that can help you get better at intervention, but that's not your focus. 

As a builder, your focus is on prevention. Your focus is on if we're seeing consistent struggle in the classroom, or if we're seeing consistent struggle outside of the classroom, because the same thing is true. If you're having a lot of disciplinary issues, the same thing is true. If you're having issues around kids showing not showing up for remote learning, the same thing is true. If you are having an issue around struggling teachers, instead of intervening or remediating that problem. You want to think beyond you want to think about what is the root cause of this problem? And how do I prevent this problem from showing up in the future. And when you do that, instead of accepting a certain level of failure or accepting a certain level of struggle in your building, you'll begin to realize that you don't have to accept failure, you don't have to accept struggle, there is something that you can do about it, you can stop it from happening. I think that's really important. Because I think a lot of us in a leadership paradigm, we accept a lot of stuff that we have no business accepting, you know, when you're a builder, you write a vision for 100% of your students. That's the difference between being a builder and a leader, a builder really believes that they can achieve something for 100% of their students, whereas a leader says, I mean, that would be nice, we can get close. But you know, I mean, realistically, if you find yourself saying that stop, that's a leadership mindset, that leadership mindset accepts a certain degree of failure.

As with that leadership mindset, you work on getting close to 100, you work on doing the best you can. And when you do that, there are some kids who just don't make it. When you're a builder, you don't accept that you don't accept that it has to be that way. You know that the school that you have right now is giving you the results It was designed to give you but you can go in, you can build something better, you can build something designed to give you 100% results. When you do that, when you build that you no longer accept that there's going to be a certain level of failure, you no longer accept that there's going to be a certain level of struggle, you go in and you eliminate all destructive struggle, you help kids struggle productively, and you help them reach the goal. So that's a difference. I want you to examine it this week, I want you to think about how you are looking at your school. Do you see problems and say, Oh, you know, I need to do something to remediate that problem. I need to focus on remediation for these failing students. I need to remediate this teacher who's not being successful right now. I need to remediate the system that's not serving us right now. Do you walk in and and say, Oh, I'm not going to remediate. I'm going to try to intervene.

When I see struggle, I'm going to come up with a solution that's going to intervene and and get people back on track. 

If I can do that quickly, maybe then the struggle won't hurt us so much. Or do you see like a builder. When you see a challenge, you're saying, we can't accept that here that that's going to get in the way of our 100% vision. So we're going to figure out what's causing that problem. We're going to get to the root of that problem. And we are going to prevent it from ever stopping us again. We do that. You can reach 100%. When you do that. You don't accept the status quo anymore. You can transform it and you can do it like a Builder. 

Now, if you want our help with that Builders lab is a great place to start. Because that's what we help you do we help you figure out what's the thing that's getting in your way right now, we help you find that the root cause of that. And we show you how to prevent it so that the 90 day plan that you create in builders lab is designed to prevent that problem from ever showing up again, to solve it to eliminate it once and for all. If you're interested in doing that, make sure that you sign up for our next builders lab. And when build a ship University opens up again, you can get started right away. That's the work we're doing inside of builder ship university as well and prevent it from ever happening again. You don't have to accept the status quo. You don't have to accept things as they are, you can change them. And you can do it like a builder. I'll talk to you next time. 

All right, I'll talk to you next time. 

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

I'll see you then!

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.