New View EDU Episode 3: Full Transcript

New View EDU Episode 3: Schools and the Science of Thriving

Read the full transcript of Episode 3 of the NAIS New View EDU podcast, in which hosts Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon grapple with how weary school leaders, staff, and students can summon resilience and optimism to return to the classroom. The guest is leadership expert, executive coach, and author Caroline Webb, who shares the research behind the science of thriving, and how changing your practices to help everyone have better days can fundamentally improve almost every aspect of education.

Lisa Kay Solomon: It's been a very hard year for leaders. Good days have been hard to come by. We are so excited for today's New View EDU conversation with Caroline Webb, author of the bestselling book, "How to Have a Good Day." Tim, I know that supporting school leaders, both new and veteran leaders this year, has been a particular focus of NAIS. And I'm really excited for school leaders everywhere to learn from Caroline's experience, practice and insights, combining behavioral science and practical application. 

Caroline Webb is an executive coach, author, speaker, and she's known for being one of the world's leading experts in using insights from behavioral science to improve professional life.
Her book, "How to Have a Good Day," has been published in 14 languages and in more than 60 countries. I'm so glad to hear that. In a previous life, she was a partner at McKinsey, co-founder of their leadership practice, and in an even earlier life was an economist working on public policy, which Caroline, I know gives you a systems view of all of this work.

So, so thrilled to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for joining us. 

Caroline Webb: Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to be here.

Tim Fish: Caroline. It is so great to have you here. As Lisa said, it has been hard to find a good day in schools during the last year.  School leaders have been dealing with things that we've never seen before, have been in this reactive innovation posture, having to reimagine and reinvent every day. And your book and your work, I think, really helps them think about how can they take control of their experience and deliberately think about things they can do to engineer a better day.  

You know, one of the things I'm seeing most often right now, is school leaders are talking about how for next year, how do we design for care? How do we take care of our communities? And I think your work around having a good day is a key piece of that. So I'd love to start off with: What advice might you have for school leaders who are thinking about how they help their community, students, teachers, parents, staff, have a better day next year? 

Caroline Webb: Well, first of all, I love the fact that you say have a better day, because I think in a way having a good day can feel like a stretch when you've had the kind of year that, that we've all had. But,  sometimes people say, well, why didn't you write a book called how to have an awesome day? And the reason was actually, because I think, you know, so many of us face ups and downs, even before the kind of year that we've just had, that, you know, there is luck that affects us from day to day, but that there are some things that we control. There are many things that we have more control over than we tend to think. And it tends to come down to understanding just a tiny little bit about how your brain works, and how it functions at its best, so you can be closest to your best self. 

And suppose, I suppose that's where I would start, you know, for school leaders, is to say,  in order to be the best leader you can be, I've seen this time and again, with leaders in very challenging situations, you need to invest in yourself. You need to not see that as a luxury. You need to take the time to get to know yourself and your patterns, to take a step back perhaps, and reflect on the past year and say, okay, now how do I equip myself,  as best I can, for the continued uncertainty that we're all going to face? What do I learn from the past year? And of course, yes, then I have a toolkit that I would  be happy to talk about.  I think it's great to, to have a few go-to tools that are gonna make a huge difference and be easy to reach for in the heat of the moment, but it starts with that reflection and that self-compassion to say it's okay for me to take a moment and think about myself and invest in myself so that I can be the best leader I can be.

Lisa Kay Solomon: One of the things that's so interesting about that, Caroline, is that compassion that school leaders need to have for themselves to take that moment, and to really say, this is probably the best thing I can do for myself and my team or my school community, is to pause and reflect. And as Tim said, how hard that is in the year we've had, where there's been so much reaction.

And this notion of thinking about how to have a better day. As a discipline.  And that's part of what really excites me about your work, Caroline, that this isn't just like Pollyanna optimism. We can all have a good day, context be damned. That there's really something about these learned behaviors that we can treat as seriously as perhaps some of the hard skills that we have learned in, in the past. So I wonder if you could talk about one or two of these learned behaviors,  that really set leaders up to be disciplined about how to go about having a good day. 

Caroline Webb: Yeah, absolutely. And everybody's toolkit is different, but I'll tell you about some of my favorites.

I think it's helpful to have something that is, that is mental, something that is practical, I think is something, something that is emotional and something that is cognitive. If you've got a toolkit like that, that can address moments of feeling worn down, of being way too busy, of being stressed and feeling stuck, then you've got a nice little system of tools. So I'll tell you my top tools for each of those four buckets. One would be, on the question of when you're feeling mentally worn down, and you want to think about how can I reset, is to decide to be deliberate about your intentions for your attention. And that sounds a little snappy and cute, but actually there's some deep science underneath it, which is that we can only notice a certain amount of what's around us, at any given time.

We only perceive consciously part of reality. And if we aren't deliberate about what we notice,  then what we tend to have our attention drawn to is anything that echoes what is already top of mind for us. So. If you're in a difficult spot, if you've, I don't know, if you've just had a trivial thing happen to you in the morning, like you've spilled coffee on yourself and you're in a slightly bad mood as a result, you will then have your brain select, to drive your attention to things that confirm that the world is a challenging place. And you know, it's not that those things aren't real and true, but the risk is that you filter out unconsciously some of the better stuff that, that is around you.

And that's why, you know, we can get out of bed on the wrong side. It's not our imagination. We can get into a negative spiral. So the first most powerful tool is to recognize that if you're deliberate about saying, "I am, today, or in this meeting, or in this call, going to look out for signs of possible collaboration, however annoying or challenging the situation is," you're way more likely to see the positive that you are, that otherwise have filtered out. That is a very deep intervention. It sounds simple, but it's probably the thing that carries me through most days. 

So that's the first one, is intentions for your attention. Single tasking. When it comes to the way that our brain works, when, bombarded with a lot of the priorities and, and competing priorities that you're all surrounded with right now, it's important to know that unless you are genetically extremely unusual, your brain actually delivers slower performance and worse performance if you ask it to do more than one thing at a time.

And that doesn't count for the automatic stuff. You can do things on auto pilot in parallel, but things that actually require conscious attention, you're typically 30% slower.  And you know, that actually ends up being, coming at a huge cost when you think about your day.  So the more that you can bring your attention to one thing at a time, even if it's only for 10 minutes or 15 minutes, you'll get more done and you'll get better thinking done. 

And then, we know that if you're feeling stressed, that getting some distance from the source of stress is a good thing, but you can't always go for a walk. So you can do it mentally by asking yourself a question that puts you at some distance in, perhaps, in terms of time, like saying, okay, well, what will I think about this in a year's time? Or thinking about another person's perspective, so what would my best friends, Lisa and Tim, say about this, to get you that distance perspective, or even just a distanced self, like what would my best self think? And that has been shown to reduce the state of alert, allowing us to think more clearly. 

And then finally getting unstuck. If you're struggling with, with a topic and trying to see a way forward and your usual, fantastically intelligent, cognitively sharp brain, isn't delivering the goods. Then we know that asking ourselves some positive framing questions can help us see a way forward. And by that, I mean, you're bogged down in what's going on, lifting yourself up and saying, okay, setting that aside. What is the ideal situation and what would be one first small step towards that? And there are a number of questions like that, that tap you into a more positive aspect of the situation at hand, which then allow you to think more clearly because you're feeling a little less stressed.

So that's my go-to toolkit. I bet you'd probably have a slightly different one, but that's a, that's a very good place to start for me, on days that are, both those that dawn beautifully and those that,  dawn in a little darker fashion. 

Tim Fish: You know, I absolutely love that, Caroline, because I, what I find about it is that it's this notion of being conscious, for me, about how I am entering a space.

And I think about school leaders as well. And during this time, how so many of the conversations they have, have put them in a defend posture. I love your concept of defend and discover, and being in these two different postures, and how as a school leader, sometimes I have, I'm naturally based on what's coming at me, it's going to force me into a defend posture. And one of the things I'm curious about is how does a school leader get out of that posture, and get into a discover posture, because we've, we've actually never needed our leaders and our teachers to be in a discover posture more than now.

Caroline Webb: Yeah. Well, one thing to understand about this defensive mode or this defend posture is that it's a very normal thing and we all have it. And thank goodness, because, you know, obviously, that defensive response by our brain has kept us safe in the face of threats for millennia. And the issue is only that our brain responds to physical threats very rapidly, and with a very basic fight, flight, or freeze response. And it does the same thing with existential threats, to our sense of self worth, our sense of social standing, our feelings of security. And so we have this slightly trigger happy system that puts us on the defensive without us even knowing it, even if we don't think it makes a lot of sense to respond the way we do.

We're not aware in particular that what's happening is that it's reducing the activity in our prefrontal cortex. And that makes us much less smart and much less nice, because our prefrontal cortex is responsible for all the clever stuff like reasoning and self control. So it really helps to think about an umbrella approach here and saying, okay, well, how can I reduce the threat?

If I can reduce the threat or amplify the feeling of reward, then I'm going to be able to get out of defensive mode. I'm going to be able to think more clearly, because less threat means more activity in the prefrontal cortex. And more activity in the prefrontal cortex means more ability to be at our best. So that's why there are so many different tools and techniques out there, but the underlying idea is to reduce the sense of threat.

So I mentioned distancing earlier. Well, that's a way of reducing the sense of threat because you're getting some distance from the threat. Another way of reducing the sense of threat is actually simply writing it down, labeling it and say, okay, I noticed that this is how I'm feeling. In fact, you don't even have to write it down. You can simply say it to yourself, or even someone else, and just say, okay, this is feeling a bit tense, isn't it? And the sheer fact of acknowledging the threat means that it's blaring less. The alert is blaring less in your brain, because your brain has heard the —that there's an issue. And now it can turn the level of alert down, and then you can think more clearly about what's going on.

Now I'm sort of anthropomorphizing this, this brain of ours a little bit there, but, but the point is that that is what is going on. That if we can acknowledge the threat, we can reduce its hold on us and then move forward. So, you know, labeling and distancing are often my, my go-to, but it also helps to think about rewards, because if we can get our brain to shift its focus from threat to reward, then that is going to help us get out of defensive mode and into more expansive discovery-oriented stance. And rewards are things like feeling competent. So, you know, picking a task that you feel you can do and then doing it and naming it and feeling great.

That's gonna get you out of defensive mode. Or thinking about things that you control, because autonomy is a reward for the brain. You're saying, okay, all of this is really difficult. What do I control? Well, maybe I can control my attitude as I handle this.  And so as you think about coping with a defensive moment, getting into discovery mode, that's the way that I would think about it. How can you reduce the sense of threat? How can you amplify a sense of reward? And when I say reward, I don't necessarily mean go and get a cake, unless that's your particular jam. I'm talking about, you know, this deeper sense of existential reward that comes from a feeling of competence and autonomy.

And, and learning, learning feeds into that as, as you, as educators will know, learning is one of the deepest rewards for an average brain, because it boosts our feelings of competence and autonomy. So simply saying, okay, well, this has been difficult. What do I choose to learn from this? Even if you've got a sort of slightly gritted teeth smile on it, it's, it's been shown to make a difference to say, how fascinating, what can I learn from this? And that can be enough to get you back into discovery mode. 

Lisa Kay Solomon: Caroline, I want to pick up on this just incredible insight. I mean, in some ways it's so simple. How do I reduce threat? And how do I amplify the feeling of reward? What I love about that model is that it can be so powerful for individual leaders and how they go about their day, and also so powerful for how they model how to create productive, abundant learning environments for their students.

And I think one of the tricky parts—I'm so curious, given your extensive work of working with leaders in different industries—Is how to have that discipline when our actual systems right now are not set up to reward those invisible, but absolutely critical rewards. In other words, schools are often set up to reward the quantifiable things, that performance orientation, for some school leaders that also could be around the sustainability of their schools, whether that's enrollment numbers or the financial stability of their schools.

And yet what you're saying, I think, is that it is equally, if not even more important, to make sure we're investing in these more invisible or less quantifiable rewards of how we show up and how we model this behavior. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you've learned from working with leaders that need to, in some ways, I guess have a, both and attitude, really, of leaning into those rewards because they know it's going to help them be the better version of themselves,  knowing that there's no scorecard for that, at least not yet. 

Caroline Webb: Well, the scorecard in a way is in our own minds, isn't it? It's, it's how we feel is how we feel. And it's how that we can pick up that the people around us are feeling. I mean, because we're emotionally very contagious and, you know, we know that when we walk into a room, the way that we come in, the way that we show up transmits itself. And if you're not so sure about that being something that happens when you walk into a room, you know it when someone else does. A good friend, very old friend of mine is head of English at an independent school, as it happens. And she said, you know, when she walks into a classroom, whatever she's bringing with her is, is absolutely immediately transmitted to the students and gets multiplied back at her, many fold. So the scorecard is, is there in this emotional state that we have that, that is, you know, that you and I have right now, that the listeners, our listeners have right now. I think what's—what has come up again and again, in the work that I do with leaders, is to understand that actually the interventions you need for this sort of intrinsic, existential, let's say, let's use that word again, reward, is very small.  I'm very much a fan of things that it takes three seconds to do, because I think, you know, our lives are busy and challenging and if an intervention is complex, then there's an excellent chance that we won't end up doing it. So just simply understanding that giving someone a, a little bolt of appreciation has such disproportionate effects on their state of reward and therefore their state and their ability to think expansively and in discovery mode rather than go on the defensive. And yet leaders often think they're giving plenty of praise, and they're not doing it half as much as they think, and they're not doing it in a way that is as effective as it, it could be.

And what I mean by that is, they'll typically say, oh my goodness, Tim, you're great. That was wonderful.  Or Lisa, that was amazing. Great, good job. Now, here are three things that I think you should do differently. And our brains are attuned to not only pay a bit more attention to things that are negative than things that are positive—cause actually, evolutionarily, that was pretty sensible because it kept us safe—but also they're tuned to be more attentive to things that are concrete and specific than things that are abstract. And so. We hear the three specific negative  pieces of feedback, and we basically don't really hear the positive feedback. So one of the things I do a lot with leaders is basically teaching them to do something which feels so simple, and they uniformly report back saying is remarkable in its impact. Which is to learn to say "What I really liked about that was X, because the impact was Y, and as a result, Z was possible." And what often happens when people start doing this is two things. One, they say, well, I'm not sure I've got anything positive to say. And then of course they realize that they have. So, you know, often the situation is a challenging one. They need to dig a little and then they find it. And then not only does the person who receives this feedback feel great, but actually, so does the person giving it, and that doesn't take very long. But the other thing that sometimes happens with the positive feedback, is that you then think of other things, because once you are seeing those positive  aspects, you then see more because of that, you know, selective attention mechanism, this sort of vicious or virtual circle we talked about right at the beginning.

So that's the sort of thing that doesn't take a lot, honestly. It's just relearning how you give positive praise and—positive praise, as if there's a negative praise. Well, actually what I'm saying is there is negative praise, negative praise is vague, it's unspecific and it's insufficient. And actually if you, if you learn to give praise in a more rewarding way, then you reap so many benefits in the clarity of people's thought, and their willingness to collaborate. 

Tim Fish: Prior to joining the team at NAIS, I was the associate headmaster at McDonough school in Baltimore, which is a pre-K through 12th grade school serving about 1500 students. And our head of school, Charlie Britten, when he started, one of the things he began with the leadership team was something that he had picked up from one of his mentors: This concept called notes of appreciation. And we began every single leadership team meeting, 10 people on a weekly basis sitting around the table, and we would eith--we'll do it one of two ways. One, Charlie would bring in piles of thank you notes. And your job was oh, in the first 15 minutes, to write three notes.

And what I love so much about the approach was that his whole intent was to find the little things. Find the teacher who stuck around after the eighth grade dance for the, with the two students whose parents hadn't yet shown up, and spent 30 minutes making great conversation and really engaging with those kids at 10:30 at night, on a Friday when they had been there since six o'clock in the morning.

And what we also would often do is we would just go around and tell the stories in the room, and Charlie would jot them down. Then he would write the note. And whenever he would write the note on the weekend, he would say, Susan, Tim told me about how you, you stuck around after the eighth grade dance. I just want you to know what a difference that makes in kids' lives and how much I appreciate it. The effect of that was two things. One, they, that those folks got an email, a handwritten note from the head of school. And secondly, Susan knew that I told the head of school and had mentioned her and called her out specifically.

And the impact of that was amazing on the community. It's a simple process that over time just paid incredible dividends because people really recognized. And the last thing I'll say about it is I knew how it was done. And yet, sometimes I would get one of those notes and they still, even though I knew that we had this process, it meant the world to me to get them. Right? And so I just think that I'd love you—I'd love to hear your thoughts on that, even more on this notion of just simple gratitude and appreciation for people. 

Caroline Webb: Yeah. Well, one thing that strikes me is that it was helpful to put a bit of a process around what you, what you're describing there, Tim. I've seen that too. I've seen, I've seen that it can be helpful to know that there's going to be some kind of round of appreciation. Now you have to make people feel like they're not being put on the spot. Of course. And, and you, you want to create a feeling of making this enjoyable rather than an obligation, but it's a very nice thing. If you know that you're going to have a chance to give people some specific appreciation at a particular point, it, it not only is nice in the moment when it happens, but then it changes your experience in however long leads up to this, because then you're looking for these good things. 

Tim Fish: That's right. Yeah. You're walking around for the week trying to see them, because you know you're going to be, you're going to need, you know, and we also started all writing them more often ourselves, even outside the context of that meeting.

Caroline Webb: Yes. Yes, and it, it, you know, as with everything else—and, you know, it's, it's like putting together a lesson plan, like putting together a strategy. You know, all of these things are complicated the first time, but then it becomes easier the more that you do it. And there's no doubt that at this point in my life, it feels quite habitual. So my husband and I have a little process that we use every day. We end each day sitting on the couch and we kind of force ourselves to think back on the day and think about three good things that happened.

And I say force ourselves. Most of the time it comes easily. But honestly, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it has been a challenging day, and we have to look for the things that were, were good. And it does a number of things, knowing that we're going to do that at the end of the day. At the beginning of the day, of course, I am looking out in a different way. I'm thinking about, well, what are the things I'm going to reflect back on, what is the good that I'm going to see in this? So there is some benefit to actually putting a small process around this because it does, it makes it slightly easier to get into the habit, and it makes it slightly easier to expand the benefit beyond the moment of the actual positive appreciation or gratitude.

Lisa Kay Solomon: One of the things that motivated us to do this podcast, Caroline, was this notion of this moment being a real chance to reset, and a reset for school leaders, and to reset priorities for schools, and to go back, what is the job of schools? And in some ways in its most basic form, the job of schools is to allow our youngest learners and leaders to practice what they're going to need to be able to do when they become adults in the world. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about just, you know, aspirationally, what, what you would hope, knowing from the work that you do with leaders that are pretty far into their career, what just even from your work with them, what do you wish they had learned earlier?

Like if we have a chance to reset, for example, minutes and time spent towards these more,  personal and communal practices of appreciation and care and listening. Like what, what are just some of your, your thoughts about, about what we might intentionally bring into schools for them to practice? 

Caroline Webb: That's a great question. I think if there's one thing that my clients, the leaders that I work with say most often, "Oh, my goodness. I wish I'd known that earlier in my career."  I think it's about understanding what we were talking about earlier on, which is how the brain responds to unpleasant stress and, in particular, understanding that this is going on for everybody all the time.
So, a lot of bad behavior that we encounter is not because the person that we're dealing with is a psychopath. It's statistically unlikely that the person we're dealing with is a psychopath. What is highly likely is that their brain is on the defensive. And so you've got that depression and activity in the prefrontal cortex and typically the sorts of things that will cause that trigger, that will be perceived by the brain as a threat, are the things that challenge our self-worth and social standing. So to understand, oh my goodness. Everybody isn't just really annoying. But there are predictable things that are putting people's brains on the defensive, which are making it hard for them to be at their best.

That does not mean that they are not actually annoying. You know, this is not me saying, oh, everybody should just, you know, like everybody and love everybody. I'm a realistic optimist. And I know that while it might be desirable to feel love for every human being, in terms of in the heat of the moment, that's quite hard.  But to understand actually, this behavior that I'm encountering right now is caused by a trigger. And if I can understand what that trigger is, and if I can shift my demeanor, then I can shift that person back towards the arms of their better angels. Well, that's very useful to know. You know, if I know that finding something to say that's appreciative —even if it's look, I know this is difficult, but I do appreciate the effort that you're putting into this. I know that the reason you're raising this complaint is because ultimately you really care about the situation that we're all facing. Just knowing that being able to find that in yourself, and showing that small bit of appreciation, reduces the state of alert in the other person's brain and makes it slightly easier for them to think clearly and be at their best, well, that's very, very useful to know. And I think, you know, this is what we call empathy, right? This is putting yourself in other people's shoes. And understanding that there could be something driving their behavior. And obviously ideally, high functioning empathy is then to have a strategy for what you do, as a result.

And so if we can learn as, as kids, that when we encounter bad behavior, it's probably a good person encountering some kind of bad trigger, some bad circumstances. And that if I can say something appreciative, I'll probably get them off the defensive and get them behaving better. You know, that's a, that's a very deep thing to learn, particularly for teenagers actually. I mean, you know, I think you can learn that very, very young.  But it's, you know, when you start to hear kids say things like bad person or evil, you know, you can start to catch that and you can say, well, you know, what do you think might be causing that? What might be going on for them? You can do that very early. But I think that, you know, the teenage years of course are really, really key in keeping that empathy engine turning. 

Tim Fish: You know, it makes me think, Caroline, that one of the things that I'm looking for, as I'm trying to have more good days in my own life, is a good day partner, a good day—a buddy, someone who can help me progress. Right? And in many ways, I think that time you have with your husband on the couch, you know, is that kind of back and forth. And I know that I share the same thing with my spouse as well. And yet I also know that sometimes she is an incredible person of calling me out when I'm in that spiral that I need to break out of. And, and I, and I really appreciate that. And I'm curious about this idea of a partner to help us be more and more conscious of our thinking and our journey to have more good days. And I know you've done work around coaching and  you've really dug in and thought about what that coaching, versus maybe the work you did at McKinsey around consulting. I've always been curious about the difference between coaching and consulting. I wonder if you might speak to that a little bit, and how as school leaders, we might try to put ourselves a little bit in a coaching disposition. 

Caroline Webb: Hmm, that's a great question. By the time I went to McKinsey, I'd already thought a lot about system change and personal change and what it took to make either an individual or, you know, even at some periods in my career, what it takes to shift a whole region. I was doing a lot of work  in Central and Eastern Europe after the Berlin wall came down. And so when I went to McKinsey, I was very interested in putting some structure around this question of, well, what does it take to change a human? And actually a lot of the work that I did there was to start, start to spread this,  this, I guess we could say in the language of what we've just been talking about, this, this coaching approach to say, let's not assume that consultants have the right answer, let's come in and ask better questions.

And that is, you know, what you see also with great leaders as they rise up, there comes a point where they cannot possibly be a wonderful leader by telling people what to do, because first of all, they don't have time. Secondly, you know, there comes a point where they think they know the right thing to do, but actually they may not, because they don't have all the context on the ground, and then, you know, as they, as they move forward, they realize that actually, if they're trying to build capability in the people around them, then telling people what to do is, is not going to do that. It's a, it's a short-term, it's a short term fix.

And so. For so many of my years, it seemed to be that all I was thinking about was how do I get people to stop telling people what to do and ask great questions instead? And it ran through, you know, the work I was doing with clients. It ran through the work I was doing internally with my colleagues, and it ran through, of course the work that I was doing personally, on myself and also with, you know, with, with the people that I was in a one-to-one coaching relationship with.

And it's, it's not hard to learn it, except it is. It's sort of—it's that moment when you're, when someone comes to you and says, oh, I've got this thing that I'm wrestling with. And there's that instinct in you, which I don't know about you, but I feel it in my chest and I can feel it. It's almost like the Alien movie. You know, where I feel like this answer wants to burst out of my chest and I'm going to tell them what to do. And it's this instinct to say, have you thought about this? Or you should do that, or, oh, you should absolutely talk to that person. I re—I know exactly what you should do, and it's so ingrained in us as a way to be helpful, but actually, you know, if you're a leader, it's incumbent on us to actually take a slightly more sophisticated approach.

In fact, as a spouse, I would say it also works a lot better to say, "So tell me how you're thinking about this. What have you tried so far? What other options do you think you have?" And then you course, you, of course can say "I'm struck by the fact you haven't mentioned X, you know, that could be something to explore." And then you end up in a very different place. The person actually feels, research suggests, way more motivated to actually do the thing that they've come up with, which is quite important. But also they're much more equipped to deal with the thing when it next comes up and, you know, the chances are that by combining your wisdom and their actual experience, you probably got to a better answer than if you just said, oh, you should do X.

Lisa Kay Solomon: Caroline, I so appreciate, and this has been a thread in many of our conversations on the ability of leaders to ask great questions, great generative open-ended and—what I'm hearing from you, capability-building, discovery-oriented questions, and one thing I'm dying for schools to learn how to do, and education systems writ large, is to start rewarding great questions! I mean, we say that we care about great questions, but I've yet to see an AP, or an SAT that rewards the great questions.

And so, again, an opportunity to re-imagine how we honor the actual practices and skills we want to cultivate. So I'm not saying there's easy answers, but I'm, I'm really excited for the new way that we give visual form to practicing this craft and this leadership skill of asking great questions. And by the way, I think the other side of that is also the ability to actually listen, not selectively listen for what you want to hear, but to really be in that open mode and to really be in that learning process together. 

You know, what, what are some things that, that you just, you know, would hope that—that school leaders start to think about as they prepare for this next year? And it's not just a year. I mean, one of the things that, you know, we want to acknowledge is this context, that we haven't had a quote, unquote normal year for 18 months? 20 months? I mean, a very, very long time.  And that the community that we are, we are going to be nourishing is not the same community from when we were last all on campus in a way where we weren't besieged by these external realities that are putting us in that defensive mode. I would love to just hear some of your thoughts on how school leaders can take this time to prepare for how they want to set this, this new intention and attention to their attention. 

Caroline Webb: Well, I, I think, you know, obviously all of the things we've talked about are important.  There's a word that you've just mentioned, which I think is one that's worth amplifying, which is the word community. And thinking about all the things that teachers and staff go through in a year, so much of the groundwork that you can do now, is central to building people's emotional resilience for whatever the year ahead throws at them. And so I think, you know, considering what can you do to build a strong sense of togetherness and community? That is not just, perhaps, going through the normal things that you say about what the school is for, although that's, I'm sure, true and noble. But to say, what is there that we, as a community of educators, what is there that we want to be distinctive about the way we work together and the way we show up for each other this year? How do we want to be together? How do we share more appreciation of each other? How do we give each other the benefit of the doubt when we're feeling stressed, and you know, one of us is in defensive mode? You know, how do we think about reaching for a question rather than a, well, you should absolutely do this, and why don't you just do what I do? 

And you can, as a leader, be a little bit deliberate about that.  You can do some of that, you know, above the table, you can say, I'd like to start all of our staff meetings by reflecting on what's going well. And, you know, thinking about what it is that we learned from that, because I think we talk a lot about, you know, what isn't going well, but actually there's plenty to be learned from the places that things are going well. And I'd like to divert more of our attention towards that in the coming year. Right? You can, you can put a process around that. And then there's of course the stuff which is under the table, which is just your demeanor and how you show up. And that might mean setting your intentions before you go into a conversation and saying, okay, I know this, this person has been challenging in the past. What is there that I can do to direct my attention to where there might be scope for improving the situation? And you just take that moment before going in to the conversation with them. So yes, I do think there's some, some deliberate work that it's possible to do. And it does, you know, when you first do some of this sorts of stuff with your team, it can sometimes feel a bit stagy if you haven't done it before, you know, you're saying we are going to have a process for opening and closing meetings, it is going to, you know, we are going to say, well, what's gone well so far. And, and you know, what do we take from that? We're going to end the meeting by saying, what do we like about the conversation we've just had? And you know, who's going to.... You know, it can feel a little mannered, initially, but it's worth pushing through that slight, " Ooh, is this all right? Does this feel a little, little overly deliberate?" It's worth pushing through that because the payoff is so fast, it's so fast and it's worth experimenting and trying out any of the things that you've heard today that caught your eye or caught your ear,  and just experimenting and noticing what works.

Tim Fish: You know, Caroline, I, I love that notion of, at a high level, it's worth pushing through. Right. It's worth, it's worth pushing through what we've been through this last year. It's worth pushing through, continuing to do work on behalf of the students. And I just want to say thank you so much for spending time with us. There is so much that I am taking away from this conversation. For myself, about how I think about how I show up in the meeting I'm going to be walking into in 15 or 20 minutes. How do I show up in that, in that conversation? How do I practice gratitude? How am I more conscious of my own sense of: Am I in a defensive posture, or am I really in much more of a constructive posture and, and a design orientation for thinking about the future? And your work is so, so important. And I love, Lisa, your comment about how do we design this more into school? How do we make this what students learn how to do in school? So this has been an incredible conversation. Lisa, just thank you so much for connecting us, and Caroline, thank you for so much for spending the time with our community and our leaders. I know they're really going to enjoy it. 

Caroline Webb: It's really been an honor. I mean, you're doing the work that is the most important work to be done, which is shaping future generations. And we should all be immensely grateful to all of you for what you're doing. And so very glad to contribute in any small way I can.