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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

To Have a Bigger Impact, Here’s What You Should Stop Doing in Your Classroom or School

5 changes you can make immediately
By Peter DeWitt — December 01, 2022 6 min read
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“We need to stop putting so much stuff on the plates of teachers and leaders!” is a common rallying cry that we hear these days. The constant concerns over the teacher shortage or the recent study by Learning Policy Institute and the National Association of Secondary School Principals that showed 42 percent of principals have considered leaving the profession are glaring signs that we need to make changes to our daily lives in the classroom and our schools.

What’s hard about all of this talk about taking things off the plates of leaders and teachers is that when teachers and leaders asked what should be removed, the typical answers involve initiatives and activities that they believe are being done to them and not those practices that they engage in themselves that they choose to do every day.

A few months ago, I wrote a book called De-implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works. Anyone who regularly reads this blog is familiar with the book and concept because I have written about it a few times before.

Van Bodegom-Vos L et al. (2017) says that “de-implementation is the abandonment of low value practices.” Farmer et al. (2021) says that low-value practices are those practices that:

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

In the book, and workshops that I facilitate, I noted that de-implementation can be a partial reduction or a replacement action. As I researched the topic for over a year and surveyed well over 1,000 teachers and leaders about what they would de-implement, I was sort of surprised to see that the trend in the answers always focused on de-implementing things they believed were being thrust upon them. In fact, some of the answers were high-stakes testing, faculty meetings, PLC meetings, and districtwide trainings.

For full disclosure, it’s not that I was surprised that these were some of the answers, as much as I was surprised that no one identified some of their own practices in the classroom as those that need to be de-implemented.

What can be taken off the plate?

It’s interesting that a topic can be one that is identified as important, like de-implementation, but so many people have an issue with where to start. Typically, we would start with an idea that doesn’t work or we no longer need like contact tracing (sorry, I know that one stings for people), and then put de-implementation into practice.

So, in an effort to help people find their entry point into de-implementation, I wanted to provide five instances where people can start considering a partial reduction or replacement action of their own practices.

This list is meant for teachers and building or district leaders. These are examples that have come up in my work in the last week, but I would enjoy hearing your ideas about what to de-implement, so please connect with me on social media to share those.

The 5 areas I would suggest de-implementing are:

Common formative assessment, or CFA. (Partial reduction) – I am not suggesting that teachers stop assessing students. What I am suggesting is a partial reduction in the frequency in which teachers assess their students. I recently heard of places that require teachers to use CFAs on a weekly basis, or even several times a week, and teachers feel stressed because they can’t keep up with that frequency.

CFAs are not just meant to help teachers understand where students are in the learning process; they are meant to also provide feedback to teachers when it comes to their own practices.

Multiple walk-through tools (Replacement action) – There are districts that use multiple walk-through tools. Sometimes, it’s because they are working with multiple consultants who bring a tool with them, but other times, districts are using multiple tools because they never got rid of old ones at the same time they brought in new ones. It would be a good idea to choose just one and eliminate those that do not serve leaders and teachers.

Overcoaching (Partial reduction) – Years ago, when I began facilitating workshops on instructional coaching, I remember working with a large district in North Carolina. The district was trying to help teachers improve their practices through coaching, which makes a lot of sense. However, in a conversation with leaders, I found out that some teachers had up to eight coaches. Eight coaches!

Can you imagine having eight coaches who are probably focusing on eight different aspects to your teaching? Or worse, eight coaches who are telling you different things about one aspect of your teaching? This is an extreme example, but last week, I responded to the tweet of a person who is interested in de-implementation and I suggested partially reducing the coaches-to-teacher ratio. Instructional coaching has the potential to be impactful but only if districts scale back the number of coaches working with one teacher.

Activity-based instruction with learning-based activities (Replacement action) – I was engaging in a walk-through last week and observed a teacher using a graphic organizer with students. Graphic organizers can be an important opportunity to teach students about meta-cognition in a developmentally appropriate way. Unfortunately, the graphic organizer was used as an activity, and there was no explanation of the learning that should be involved. Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack (2015) refer to this as the activity trap.

For full disclosure, I have been guilty of the same thing. I used protocols to break up a workshop and give participants the opportunity to process information, but I was never intentional about the learning involved. I have worked hard to replace an activity with a more intentional explanation of the learning involved. I know that doesn’t sound like de-implementation but it is because we are replacing an activity-based mindset with one that focuses solely on the learning that could be involved in the situation.

Thinking about those things you don’t control (Partial reduction. Replacement action) – This is another example of a shift in mindset. Time often comes up as a reason why we cannot accomplish something in our meetings, but we never look at how we use our time, which is often spent talking about those things we can’t control rather than those we can. For example, people get caught up talking about the political context in which the education system is designed (state education system) when they could replace that conversation with things they have influence over like student engagement, teacher-student relationships, or using data to drive instruction.

In the End

People love the idea of taking things off their plates, but they struggle with what to actually remove. De-implementation is the abandonment of low-value practices, and the five that I suggest here can either be replaced or partially reduced.

You can have a formal de-implementation process or an informal one. Formal de-implementation requires a team because the focus of the work is often something big like replacing dysfunctional discipline policies. An informal de-implementation does not require a team because the focus is on smaller items that you can begin doing tomorrow, like reducing the number of times we check email.

These five examples, in most cases, do not require a team. A principal or teacher can make the decision to partially reduce or replace any of those. De-implementing is not as hard as we make it; we just have to take the first step.

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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