Jason P. Dropik (Babaamii-Bines / Eagle Clan) is the School Administrator for the Indian Community School (ics-edu.org), in Franklin, WI, which serves Native students in the metro Milwaukee area. A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (BadRiver-nsn.gov), Jason is committed to supporting students, families, staff, and the community both near and far. Having recently completed a two-year term as President of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA.org), he advocated for and spoke on the importance of tribal sovereignty, policy, appropriations, and student support across the country. As a Board Member of NIEA, Jason continues with that work, championing training and providing information for schools and community organizations, while creating visibility and understanding of Indigenous perspectives. He is involved in many organizations throughout the state, doing his best to ensure that Native voices are present in diverse groups. He has served as a Board Member for the Wisconsin Association of Environmental Education (WAEE.org), an Advisory Council Member for the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MidwestAdvocates.org), and many other community organizations. He is a graduate of the Urban Indian American Indian Teacher Training Program from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2004). He holds a Master’s Degree in Administrative Leadership from Concordia University (2017), and recently completed his Superintendent’s License from UW-Milwaukee (2023). His greatest passion is creating spaces for Native students to develop their identity, take pride in their language and culture, and to celebrate the rich legacy and the promising future of Indigenous communities. Jason, along with his wife and children, share a home in Franklin, WI.
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“I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything possible to be the best leader that I could. It wasn’t so much that I did want to learn and grow. That’s something I’ve always been interested in, but I really wanted to be the leader that my community deserved and I wasn’t sure what that looked like..”
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So last episode, we talked about what it’s like to be a leader of color in education, and we were excited to announce that we now have a Mastermind cohort specific to leaders of color. And you can learn more at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com/bipoc. Now, today we’re going to hear from that cohort’s head coach Jason Drop and he’s here to talk about his Mastermind experience. He is one of the original members who helped start this idea of how we’re changing the game and making a much more relevant, responsive and results-oriented professional development experience for school leaders. He’s gonna talk about that experience and how he’s grown, and I’m excited to share this episode, not only because you get to hear what that Mastermind experience is like, but you get to hear from your head coach if you’re joining this BIPOC cohort of the Ruckus Maker Mastermind. Hey, it’s Danny. I’m a principal of development and retention expert, a bestselling author I host, not one, but two of the world’s most downloaded. And this shows for you a Ruckus Maker, which means you’ve made three commitments, you’ve committed to investing in your continuous growth, challenging the status quo, and designing the future of school right now. And we’ll be here with the main content of today’s conversation. After a few messages from the show.
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Well, hey there, Ruckus Maker. We are joined again by my friend Jason Dropik, and he was on the episode last well the last one. And if you caught it, we had a super exciting announcement, which is you betcha we now have a Mastermind cohort specific for leaders of color. And if you go to BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/bipoc, you could read all about the experience, fill out the application, and Jason is your new head coach. Now, we introduced the idea and of course, if you’ve been a long listener of the podcast, you’ve probably heard of this Mastermind idea before, but maybe you’re still wondering what is that experience truly like? And a lot of times people say, well, the Ruckus Maker Mastermind, you just have to experience it to understand it. And I thought, yeah, that is true, but there’s gotta be some better ways to explain it. And we’ve started doing these episodes where we specifically just talk about a member’s experience. So here we are with Jason to just laugh. Jason, so what would you say life and leadership was like before you joined the Ruckus Maker Master?
What would be an appropriate way to describe it? So it was like running around with your pants on fire, literally wondering if I was ever gonna catch up and if anything I was doing was working. A lot of it just felt as if I was just being more reactive less less proactive. And so for me it was a little bit super isolated, really challenging as leadership can be. I was often wondering just in a constant state of confusion, like is this what it’s supposed to be Like? Am I really meant for this? And so prior to the Mastermind, I had just gotten into leadership and I was just really feeling like am I making a difference? Am I doing the best that I can for my community?
Am I right to be leading ’em and supporting them? Prior to the Mastermind it was a lot of wanting to have answers and to bounce questions off people. But in leadership you just don’t have all those people to be able to do that. I was constantly wanting more, but not knowing how to get it. Reading books and being able to stay connected was a good first step. But to have that reciprocal relationship, being able to bounce ideas off other people to be able to share, I just didn’t have those experiences. And then when you go to a conference, you get all fired up, you’re around other like-minded people, and then boom, you’re right back in your community, kind of on your island. It was not sustaining the day-to-day, week to week, month to month challenges that exist in leadership. I felt alone and scared. I felt a little bit chaotic. So that would be my general feelings prior to the Mastermind.
And then you joined. Was there a catalyst, some kind of moment or like, oh, I hit this challenge and I gotta do something? Or was it just sick of the wondering and all of that?
Yeah, I think that the biggest thing for me was, is you had framed it in one of your podcasts just really well, this idea of like, if you want to continue to learn and grow, like in some ways you were facing that and you were sharing really authentic experiences about yourself in the podcast and about what it meant to be able to go out and to to be around others, to be able to continue to expand your knowledge and share your ideas, but also to get from other people as well. And so that appealed to me. I wanted to continue to learn and grow. I wanted to be able to have people that I could bounce ideas off of. I wanted to have that sense of understanding and collective strength together with others. And so it wasn’t one, one event or one item, it was just really that like, that’s what I want.
I want to be able to do that. I want to be able to connect with others, I want to be able to learn and grow. And so that is what prompted me. It started from a phone call. And so if you’re at all interested, call, fill out this form. And,then you called me. I was actually, I was up north at that time with some other school and some native leaders. And I remember just stepping out of the dinner for a minute because I’m like, who is calling me. And then we just started talking. I’m like, yep, that’s exactly what I want. And I want to continue to do that and I’m thankful that I did.
I am thankful too as well. Was that number one goal for you to continue to grow and learn? Or did you have another number one goal that you wanted to achieve when you said yes?
Yeah, I think that for me it was that I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything possible to be the best leader that I could. It wasn’t so much that I did wanna learn in growth. That’s something I’ve always been interested in, but I really wanted to be the leader that my community deserved and I wasn’t sure what that looked like.
Why did that matter though?
Matters because our kids deserve it, quite honestly. And I know that coming from a situation and my schooling when I was of school age, which is a little while ago quite a bit of a while ago, I didn’t necessarily, I didn’t know if my leaders cared about me as a learner. I just didn’t have the greatest experience and I wanted to make sure that every single one of the students and staff members and family members by coming in contact with, they’re like, yep, he cares a lot about what he does and he’s doing his best to make sure that we have the best experience possible. I wanted to do everything that I could for them because they deserved it. And I remember hearing at a really young age, that idea of when I was a beginning teacher is that just imagine that those people in front of you, that’s someone’s most favorite person, you need to treat them that way and that stuck with me forever. Like, and so it doesn’t stop at teaching like that’s, our teachers deserve that of their leaders. Our students deserve that, of their leaders as well in the communities that they serve and our families. And so it was really important to me because just knowing what people fought forI come from, a background of boarding school eras, thinking about where language and culture and educational experiences were forced upon families and communities were ripped apart. I wanted to be a catalyst for that, a different way of looking at education, a different way of looking at how we support one another. And so that’s a lot of reasons why it was important to me.
Yeah, that makes sense. And talk about a strong “why”, in terms of my community deserves this version of me. Me being at my personal best as a leader.
And real quick, Danny, I don’t mean to interrupt you and the other part is what’s interesting about that. And so when you have something to say, you gotta say it. I think the other thing about that is that I’ve noticed it is the community deserving. And it’s really what I’ve experienced too is that when I have been continuing to be able to give selfishly, I receive them. You just feel better about the things that you’re doing. So though you don’t do it for those selfish reasons, none of us do. We don’t get into it for any sort of accolades, any sort of appreciation. We do it because it’s important and we, but we also do get things out of it. Like seeing, seeing the smile on a kid’s face when they’ve just know that they’ve been heard and they’ve been listened to or supporting a staff member through a difficult time because they give everything they can to the kids in front of you like, and to be there for families when they’re going through their most challenging times, that’s internally rewarding.
It helps to just make every day, even though they’re challenging and they’re tough, it’s those moments that make all of it worth it. And so is also to give, but in giving we do tend to receive and I truly have experienced and felt that too.
Prior to Mastermind, was there anything else that you could recollect trying in order to optimize that leadership or be that leader right, your community deserved? I’m just curious.
Yeah, no, nothing that’s sustained long term.I’ve read some really great books. I’ve listened to some awesome podcasts. We’re in an age now where there’s so much information out there and people are really taking their experiences and they’re putting it out in formats that you can really gain a lot from their experiences in short periods of time. But it just didn’t sustain. It’s like these moments, these blips, these pieces of time. But being able to consistently build on that and because I generally just value relationships in general, there was no connection to it. Like it was these experiences and really valuable teachings and information that were really important, but that relationship piece, that kind of reciprocity, that was the part that was missing in all the different types of opportunities that I had experienced.
Gotcha. So the relationship piece, the fact that you’re learning and growing with a cohort of peers of like-minded leaders who also wanna be best for their community, that was important for you. It is. What makes it sustainable? You’ve been in the Mastermind as far as long as I can remember, probably like 2016.
It must be those relationships and your growth why you keep coming back.
Absolutely, without a doubt it was definitely at a time, pivotal in my journey to become the leader and I’m still trying to be the leader that I want to be. We’re always growing and continuing to learn, but it is building that relationship and quite honestly its education is constantly evolving and changing. And so being able to be with a group, I can’t predict what next week’s gonna look like with any sort sort of certainty, but what I can predict is like I have a group that I can go to if all heck breaks loose, if the whole nation shuts down, like I’m gonna have a group that I’m gonna be able to bounce ideas off of. Like yeah, what are you doing to open up your school? Like who would’ve predicted that prior to those experiences. It’s very comforting to know that you have that and you’re able to continue with it.
So I know you listen to the podcast forever and still do, so I’m guessing that’s how you found out about the group, is that right?
That is, yes.
Okay. And then I called you, you stepped outta the meeting and you’re like, okay, this is for me. Did you have a fear or reservation about joining?
It was described and we talked about what it’s gonna look like, but you really don’t know until you experience it. And so the biggest fear was money, if I take money to spend this on investing in myself what is that really gonna mean long term? And so there was some gotta take care of my family, make sure that one of my primary responsibilities is being a good husband and father and making sure that I take care of the things that I need to for my family. And so if we take money away from those kinds of situations what is that gonna mean? And so that was really my biggest reservation. Is it gonna work? Am I gonna get the value out of this, that investment? Is it truly gonna be an investment?
And you know this because you know, I got in early. And so there was a good rate at those times and people invested in it. I need to invest more on this because what I’m getting out of it, I’m not paying enough. And when do you ever go to a place and say, no, I need to pay a little bit more. Just like that just doesn’t happen. But it happened to me. That was my experience. I’ve reaped so many benefits, not just in growth but also in just opportunities which has led to greater financial increases within my career and my journey. Like all of those things are a direct reflection. It truly was an investment that has paid more than I could have possibly even invested just in providing my family opportunities and then for me to be able to have opportunities to serve so many diverse communities and have experiences, it’s created those for me as well. Awesome.
That’s great to hear. And I will say even at the current rate, it’s still an incredible investment, that ROI that you’ll get. Jason was lucky because as I started this, it went from side hustle to a passion project, an interesting hobby. Because I was still in school when you joined, it didn’t have to feed the family or pay the mortgage and that kind of thing. So it was just fun. Anybody that starts a business and there’s a leadership, school leadership connection, you don’t often underestimate the value you can bring. Absolutely. The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast is proudly sponsored by Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership. I know many Mastermind members and many Ruckus Makers who listen to this show that have gone through the program and have loved the experience. But don’t just take it from me. Let’s hear how some of the Harvard faculty describe the impact and their heart for this program. I want Ruckus Makers to remember that leaders have so much power in enabling other leaders and adults and students in their building. They are the levers. They are the levers that allow greatness to happen in all corners of their schools.
Learn more about the program and apply at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/harvard. Hey, Ruckus Maker Teach FX has been an incredible sponsor over the years and they do great work helping educators be mindful and reflective about how their talk right and how much talk they have in a classroom impacts student learning. Now don’t just take it from me that Teach FX is awesome and it surely is, but check out what some real educators have to say about using Teach FX in the classroom. When you have the ability to see the question you asked and hear the responses and it’s that immediate feedback right there from Teach FX, it allows for teachers to really dive into their instruction. What I love about Teach FX is it lets me see how myself and my students are interacting. Who’s doing all the talking? Is it me or are they interacting with each other? It lets me see a snapshot of what’s happening in my classroom so that I can improve what I’m doing.
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And so asking people, okay, there’s this Mastermind thing and it is’ gonna cost there’s an investment of your time if you’re gonna have to work if you wanna get results. And then there’s a financial investment too. And it was just scary back then to ask for money. So I’ve evolved in that, but thankfully, I mean it’s not crazy and you certainly get the return on investment. You will grow like crazy as a leader if you show up. If you develop the relationships and put in the work. That says a lot about you too. So I thought about contacting every member? Because I said once you sign up, that’s the rate. And do I contact say hey, I mean you’re getting away with like a steal here. Like, you know what I mean? And yeah you said, Hey, I’d like to pay more and I just, I so appreciate that. Thank you so, so much.
You didn’t wanna let me at first you’re like no, you’re like, I’m like no truly I feel like it is stealing from you because Yeah, I know it’s exactly. You get so much more than you can possibly imagine that investment comes about so much in so many different areas, not just financial, which obviously is important. In today’s day and age with oh things costing more and everything else like yeah, like that is important. But you get it back on the other end and then you are better for your family, your community, your, it is literally the greatest investment that I’ve ever made in my professional life And personal life.
Thank you. Thank you. Follow up today, it sounds like you invest using your personal funds versus the school paid for it. Is that correct?
No. You’re gonna have to edit that one out. That is not correct. My school does pay for it, but if they didn’t pay for it, I absolutely would continue with it and pay for it myself. I don’t think you have to put in there unless you wanna rephrase the question in regards to Don’t school currently does.
No, no. I was just, we’ll keep in it’s an honest answer. The reason I ask is this Jason , I should like to know this and then have oh X percent, but there’s a number of leaders who actually use personal funds even at the new, the current rates. And then there’s a lot that you school. So I’m glad that you figured that out because obviously that’s easier to work with if your school’s covering it. And the one thing I do wanna over communicate to the Ruckus Maker listening to this is that it’s super appropriate depending on what your school has access to, but you could use Title one, title two or Title four funding to pay for ma Mastermind, Ruckus Maker Mastermind membership and just go to your state, let’s say Wisconsin Title I appropriate use Title ii, title iv. I have not found a state where it says, oh, I can’t actually grow myself as a leader using this funding. I think a lot of people don’t realize that they have access to actually some pretty big dollars that could easily take care of Mastermind membership For sure.
Yeah, no, that’s a really great point. And that’s the biggest thing is that I’ve been able to talk with my board of directors who ultimately are the ones that approve my budget and when I build that budget in, right, this is how I’m growing and this is the value that I’m having. And what’s really interesting is that my board members are actually interested in the books that we read. So like, what are you reading this month? Like they know that we’ve engaged in that and then it’s like, oh, what did you get from that? And they wanna just get some quick insights and things around the different books and items that we’ve had. Because they see a difference in Me Too, in terms of what it’s provided me in terms of leadership development. because they want strong leaders for their community. And so the fact that they’ve committed to that and have said yep, it is valuable has been quite a testament to the process.
They’re continuing to support and then the unexpected secondary or tertiary benefit is that like, oh my board, like I’m actually leveling up my board and teaching them and growing them by sharing what I’m learning within the Ruckus Maker Mastermind experience. So alright, you decide to join, you first start becoming a member. What was it like to first join? And this is an interesting question for you because many people joining an established group, but you were really one of the first
I’ve had two groups, so that’s the interesting part though too. And to be able to be around other leaders. And so when I first joined it was not sure what to expect, but really going into it with an open mind and just willingness to be present, that was really important. And then it happened pretty quickly where it was just immediate feelings of connection and understanding. And though we came from different regions in my second group, different countries and so on a completely different day of the week, big shout out to Clayton in Australia always wishing me happy birthday a day earlier. But there was this opportunity to be able to just connect with other individuals that really were having similar experiences that I was having, being able to really share what was working for them, challenges that they’re having, really looking forward to seeing the groups.
And I’ve been fortunate to be a part of two groups just based on my availability and what happened. And in both groups, just the authenticity and the vulnerability that exists was, you can’t put words to it. It’s that powerful. And so the fact that we’re able to connect and to share. Many of them I’ve actually seen at different times in different ways. One of my group members from my current group, no- Pocket, Chevron, I got to go visit him when I was at a national conference. because it was in his home city and we got to hang out and have lunch together and he took me on a tour of school and put my name up in lights on his school building. Welcome Mr. Dropik. man, you just don’t get that from other pd. It’s truly a family, it’s a connection and we’re in it for the right reasons. We’re in it to support one another to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be to really be continuous learners and sharers. And so it was nerve wracking at first, a little bit anxious and like, oh man, what is it? But then real shortly after, man, these are my people. I’m so thankful that I’m able to be a part of this.
What surprised you about the Ruckus Maker Mastermind?
I think that I was surprised. We come from these sometimes our spaces and our context and our situations and how is someone gonna be able to relate to that? I serve the American Indian student population, what is Jessica and Ohio gonna be able to relate to me like man so much more than you could possibly imagine. Middle schoolers are middle schoolers everywhere. And so just being able to have those connections and people to have similar experiences, I didn’t anticipate that it was gonna be, even though it was gonna, we’re gonna come from different experiences. We’re gonna have different perspectives on occasion, but to be able to have some common ground that we all come on and to be able to learn so much from, I really underestimated that at the beginning.
What has been the hardest part about using or being a member of the Mastermind?
Missing meetings. Every once in a while I’ll have something that comes up, either a family vacation or a board meeting or something that gets called and if I have to miss, like I miss not being there. It’s almost like when you’re not feeling well and you just need some rest and to feel better and, but you gotta keep pushing through things. The Mastermind experience, for me, is my, like medicine. It helps me feel good and able to be ready to be the best version of myself. So when you miss that, it definitely has an impact. And I notice it like, oh man, I missed that meeting and that is making today harder because I just didn’t have that opportunity to rejuvenate, to refresh, to really have that kind of collective power of the group. And so that’s probably the biggest thing is it’s not the time to commit to doing it. Like it, it’s really not, you’re gonna commit that time anyway. You’re gonna commit that time in one way, shape, or form. This one is just the most meaningful benefit of spending my time, but it’s when I miss, I think that is the biggest part that is hard. because you know, I miss my group. I missed that learning, I missed that opportunity. And that would be, that probably would be the biggest.
Do you remember a big win that you’ve experienced or, you know maybe a moment where you thought, oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is really working for me.
Yeah, it was when I started and I was assistant principal at that time and it was a real turbulent kind of change within my school community where I was thrust in the leadership position abruptly by the leader that believed in me and helped support me the most. And I was freaking out. I was scared, I wasn’t sure. And so that being a part of the Mastermind, being able to walk through that with others, it was pretty early on, probably within the first year of that experience that then became the leader of the school that I’m at. And that was just one case. But then there’s been so many to be president of the National Indian Education Association, that’s a reflection of the work and the Mastermind recently received a recognition for the Kohl’s Foundation for leader in the state of Wisconsin.
See your wife posting about you
One of four private school principals in the entire state of Wisconsin be recognized. And that, that’s a reflection of the Mastermind. We
Say Makoto Coto in Shauna, that means congratulations. Thank
You so very much. Yeah, it’s named one of the most 30, I think it was 39 influential Native Americans in the state of Wisconsin. That was, wow. All of these area testament to the work of the Mastermind, the leaders that continue to inspire me and that support me at different times and including, and of course the community that I serve. It’s really, there’s so many, and it is, I often tease people like the being the Native American Forrest Gump, and if you’ve watched Forrest Gump, you’ve seen him in like all these amazing situations and places, I almost feel like I’m him. Like, I don’t know how I end up in these places, buttruly believes that it just show up all of a sudden I’m Getting to meet the Secretary of the Interior for the United States. Like I know these are opportunities that come from putting yourself around amazing leaders and individuals that continue to inspire you to be the best version of yourself. So too many to name. That’s just a handful of them. Yeah,
The common thread is you, Jason. Like you’re doing these things, creating these results, and I love that you just kind of mentioned the thing about the Mastermind. It creates this incubator, it creates this environment where you can’t evolve. That’s what we do and help you figure out the best version of yourself, but you still have to go out there and do it, which you are, but you reap the benefits so consistently. You’re a hero to so many of us. So way to go man.
Force multiplier, the Mastermind is a force multiplier. It just, it, man, it multiplies to your point, that incubation, that multiplying the opportunities, the experiences that Knowledge Mastermind absolutely multiplies all of that and, and makes it exponentially better.
How’s life in leadership different now?
It’s still hard. So that’s the constant. Yeah, but you’re not alone. I think that for me it’s that comfort of just knowing that I’m not alone, knowing that I have individuals that I can text, that I’m gonna see each week, that I can bounce ideas off of. Like I’m never alone, so there is no challenge. That is too great because I know I don’t have to take it on alone. And that to me is, provides a lot of peace, especially in uncertainty and challenges and continued ways in which education throws items at their communities and lots of different ways. That to me is the greatest, greatest gift that it gives, is that collective knowledge, empathy, understanding, and support.
How would you describe your Mastermind experience in either a word or a phrase?
Oh boy, that’s a good one. I would say word or phrase Mastermind experience would be, there’s no one word that encompasses all of it, but I would say it is the foundation for my professional and personal journey through this world.
Wow. Thank you. Anything else you wanna share that we didn’t discuss today?
No. Just forever grateful thinking about the opportunities the Mastermind has afforded me and that it continues to, I’m just really thankful for that, for what you’ve created and the spaces that you continue to foster and support has changed my life. So for that, I say Chich a very big thank you
Latino Tena 10. So thank you. And you’re very welcome. Here’s the thing, maybe I started it, but you are what makes it special. You’re the reason it works. Leaders like you, and I hope the Ruckus Maker listening today saw or heard themselves within your story. And if you caught the episode that we recorded before this one, we are very excited to announce that there’s a Mastermind cohort specifically for leaders of color. You could go to betterleadersbetterschools.com/bipo to learn more and apply. And if you’re not a leader of color, we have groups for you as well. So you could just go to betterLeadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind to learn more. Thanks again for being on these last two episodes. Jason, any time I get to spend with you is time well invested.
Yes, thank you Danny. Thanks for everything. And I agree, it’s the entire community that makes it so special and amazing, so can’t wait to see more people be a part of it. Everyone deserves it, so hopefully they take that chance.
All right, keep making a ruckus.
Thanks for listening to The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @Alienearbud. If the Better Leaders, better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud, and using the hashtag #blbs.Level Up your leadership at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”
Transform how you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard’s online Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Grow your professional network with a global cohort of fellow school leaders as you collaborate in case studies bridging the fields of education and business. Apply today at http://hgse.me/leader.
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Why do students struggle? I’d argue that they lack access to quality instruction, but think about it. That’s totally out of their control. What if there was something we could teach kids there was something within their control that would help them be successful in every class? It’s not a magic pill or a figment of your imagination.
When students internalize Executive Functioning Skills they succeed.
Check out the new self-paced online course brought to you by OB that shows teachers how to equip their students with executive functioning skills.
Learn more at organizedbinder.com/go
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