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Peter DeWitt's

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

You’re an Educator. What Can You Stop Doing This Year?

By Peter DeWitt — August 07, 2022 5 min read
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When people ask us how our jobs as teachers or leaders are going, how school is going, our go-to response is typically, “I’m busy,” or, “Things are busy,” or “It’s just really busy.” You get the idea, right? However, if you do a search online, you will find conflicting information about whether we are truly busier than we have been in the past.

For example, these articles from the Atlantic and BBC suggest we are not as busy (yes, they were published before the pandemic). This article from Psychology Today suggests that during the height of the pandemic, we were busier than ever because of Zoom meetings being scheduled to keep up with the changing nature of the pandemic, and this one from Canadian Business (also before the pandemic) says we are definitely busier than before.

Regardless of what the articles may say, many of us feel busier than we have been in the past, even if we are looking at the past before the pandemic with rose-colored glasses. What we really need to do is not get caught up in debating whether we are busy, but instead, we need to focus on making sure as we move forward to reduce or replace the actions, strategies, or initiatives that are no longer impactful.

A Focus on De-implementation
A few months ago, I published a book called De-implementation: Creating The Space to Focus on What Works (Corwin Press), and from the time I was researching the book to now as I write this post, I have engaged in workshops, coaching sessions, and one-on-one conversations with educators who are looking at engaging in actions in the new school year that are more impactful, at the same time they make space to spend more time at home with loved ones or friends.

De-implementation is the abandonment of low-value practices (van Bodegom-Vos L, et al.). What I suggest in the work I do around de-implementation is that there are two ways to look at the idea of abandonment.

One way to view abandonment is to partially cut back on something. This usually happens because we are required to do it, but we can pull back to meet our needs. The second way to view abandonment is to replace the action because it is just not working for us.

Additionally, to scale down or replace can be slightly complicated, so I am suggesting that there are two methods of de-implementation. One is an informal reduction or replacement, for which we don’t need a team to make the decision and can begin today or tomorrow. The second method is a formal replacement or reduction for which we do need a team and to engage in a process that will take time and some effort.

I have had the opportunity since last year to survey more than a few thousand educators, which includes teachers, leaders, school psychologists, and many others, and I decided to look at the top areas that they would like to partially pare down or replace. The following are the examples of reduction or replacement that came up the most. A few of these are also covered in my book on the topic.

As always with a list, something you would replace or scale back may not be on my list, so connect with me on social media to let me know where you would begin the process.

Partially Cutting Back

Email – This example comes up all the time, and I focused on it in the book as well. People need to set boundaries over when and how often they check email.

Meetings – Just like in a few of the articles above, we seem to find ourselves in meetings for meetings’ sake. It’s time to reduce the number of meetings and make sure we start those meetings by developing success criteria. Here’s a YouTube video that helps describe what that might look like.

Assessments – Teachers have consistently told me that they will reduce the number of assessments they give to their students because they don’t always have time to grade them or learn from those assessments anyway. They want to give fewer assessments so they can build in more time to learn from student responses.

The time spent after school – Many teachers have said that they would like to spend less time in their classrooms after school. Teachers shouldn’t feel that they have to spend countless hours after school, unless of course, they want to or are engaging in deeply meaningful actions while they are there.

Fewer walk-throughs – This has been a huge topic of interest. Walk-throughs can be impactful if we engage in them correctly (check out this YouTube video on the topic). Unfortunately, whether it’s due to a directive or a lack of knowledge of the purpose of walk-throughs, some leaders are doing them just to say they do them. Leaders are reducing the number of walk-throughs so they can be more purposeful with their approach.

What Educators Are Replacing

Zero-tolerance policies – School districts are moving away from zero-tolerance policies that can be harmful and discriminatory and moving toward more equitable approaches such as restorative justice. This would be under the umbrella of formal de-implementation because it takes time.

Traditional grading – As another example of a formal de-implementation due to the time it takes to do it right, schools are replacing traditional grading with standards-based grading.

Traditional meetings – Educators responded on surveys that they are replacing agenda-driven meetings with more of a flipped process in which they can learn from one another around a challenge they are facing in their school or district. The collective leader efficacy process can help with the goal of having more purposeful meetings.

Time in their office – There has always been a struggle for leaders when it comes to leaving their offices. The balance between engaging in management actions as opposed to instructional leadership is often a complicated journey. Leaders, instructional coaches, and teachers on special assignments are scheduling time in their calendars to get into classrooms and learn from students.

In the End
Partially scaling down on or replacing something requires a cultural shift. Regardless of how busy we feel, people do not like to reduce or replace. In fact, in 100 percent of Mentimeter results from workshops and keynotes, educators were more likely to choose to pull back on or replace something they felt was being forced on them, like a district initiative, rather than something they were doing in their own practices that they like even though it might not be working.

The following questions are meant to help with that culture shift. When at PLC, department, building, or district meetings, consider asking the following questions when considering new actions or initiatives.

  • How is this new action going to be more impactful than what we are currently doing?
  • If we engage in this new initiative or program, what is an initiative or program we can take off our plate?
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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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