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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

How About an ‘Un-Resolution’? 10 Low-Value Practices School Leaders Should Abandon

How to rid ourselves of “addition sickness”
By Peter DeWitt — January 31, 2024 4 min read
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January 1 is often when people start acting on their New Year’s resolutions. According to this Forbes Magazine article, it’s about this time when they stop acting on that resolution. Instead of focusing on adding new activities to our plate, we should first consider what to take off of it. The problem is that we often do the opposite. We keep adding and never subtract.

In this Harvard Business Review article, the authors refer to it as “addition sickness.” The authors suggest that addition sickness is the unnecessary rules, procedures, communications, tools, and roles that seem to inexorably grow, stifling productivity and creativity.

Instead, we should be focusing on de-implementation. van Bodegom-Vos et al. defines de-implementation as the abandonment of low-value practices. Farmer et al. defines low value practices as those:

  • that have not been shown to be effective and impactful,
  • that are less effective or impactful than another available practice,
  • that cause harm, or
  • that are no longer necessary.

In De-implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works, I took the topic of de-implementation, which originally appeared in the medical field, and focused on how educators can engage in the practice. Adding to the research, I included ideas such as formal and informal de-implementation and replacement actions versus partial reductions.

10 Areas That Are Low Value for Educators

De-implementation involves letting go of low-value practices that no longer serve a purpose, are less effective, or even harmful. As educators and school leaders, it’s our responsibility to create the space for what truly works.

After surveying over 1,000 educators, I found that there are 10 areas where school leaders can stop doing things that are low value and redirect their efforts toward more impactful strategies. For full disclosure, these came up in workshop sessions and webinars, so they are teacher- and leader-generated. Those 10 areas are:

Micromanaging Teachers: Yes, I know. This is an ouch moment for leaders. As school leaders, we should trust our educators’ expertise and experience. Micromanaging not only undermines their autonomy but also distracts leaders from more significant strategic tasks.

Excessive Standardized Testing: While assessments are important, an overemphasis on standardized tests can hinder a holistic approach to education. School leaders should focus on balanced assessment, which includes formative and summative assessments.

Ignoring Teacher Input: Teachers are on the front lines of education and have valuable insights. School leaders should actively seek their input when making decisions related to curriculum, pedagogy, and school policies.

Inflexible Scheduling: Rigid schedules can limit creativity and adaptability. School leaders should explore flexible scheduling options that allow for personalized learning experiences and teacher collaboration.

Paperwork: Administrative tasks should serve a purpose and not drown educators in paperwork. Streamlining administrative processes can free up valuable time for instructional leadership. Consider the role of AI in streamlining paperwork.

Zero-Tolerance Policies: These policies often lead to punitive measures that may not be effective in promoting positive behavior. School leaders should opt for restorative justice approaches that focus on growth and learning from mistakes.

Excessive Meetings: Meetings can eat up a significant portion of educators’ time. School leaders should reduce unnecessary meetings and prioritize meaningful, focused discussions.

Ignoring Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Neglecting SEL programs can result in students who are academically successful but lack essential life skills. School leaders should prioritize SEL initiatives to foster emotional intelligence and resilience.

One-Size-Fits-All Professional Development: Teachers have diverse needs and interests. School leaders should offer personalized professional development opportunities that align with individual goals and growth areas. This is an area that I have focused on many times in this blog. You can read more about it here or read a post by Mike Nelson here.

Neglecting Teacher Well-Being: Educators often face burnout due to high stress levels. School leaders should prioritize the well-being of their staff by implementing wellness programs, reducing excessive workload, and fostering a supportive environment.

In the End
The process of de-implementation is not about change for the sake of change but rather about making informed decisions to allocate resources, time, and energy to practices that truly benefit students and educators. By letting go of low-value practices, school leaders can create a more dynamic and responsive educational environment.

In the book, and the work I do around de-implementation, I have tried to make the process as easy as possible. Most educators focus on things they do not control, rather than what they do control. Unfortunately, when they only focus on those things they can’t control, they are missing the point because we often engage in low-value practices that we create, such as the ones above. Implementing these changes may not be easy, and resistance will definitely happen. Yes, as much as people say they are too busy, they have many things they will not let go of. However, leaders can reduce this resistance by involving teachers and staff members in the decisionmaking process, providing clear rationale for changes, and offering support and resources for those affected by the transitions.

De-implementation needs to be a part of our everyday thinking as leaders. When adding new actions and initiatives, we must be asking, “What can we stop doing?” School leaders must be willing to let go of practices that no longer serve their school community’s needs and instead focus on what works best for their students and educators. Think of it as an “un-resolution.”

What do you consider low value? Let us know on Instagram.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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