New Slide: Decorating the Christmas Tree with Initiatives

There's no one thing that frustrates me more than the constant parade of initiatives that seems to make its way through our schools and our conversations on reform in education. 

Most long-time classroom teachers are simply exhausted by the list of programs that our districts attempt to implement all at once.  While we can see potential in almost every program embraced by the school leaders, we also know that we can't possibly implement every initiative well when they're all heaped on at the same time.

What's more, we haven't got a ton of motivation to really master new initiatives simply because we know they're probably going to be pushed aside in favor of something different before the end of the year. 


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(Original Image Credit: Oh Christmas Tree by laihiu, licensed Creative Commons Attribution)


That's why I was so excited to hear Doug Reeves—one of education's real superheroes—speak at the Learning Forward conference last week.  Reeves—who has done extensive research on school change and who has written a new book on transforming professional development that I'm dying to read—argued that:

  • Focus is the most important factor in the success or failure of schools.  Every school claims to have priorities, but some have dozens of strategic initiatives. That's not prioritizing.
  • If you're not going to implement an initiative deeply, then don't expect great results.  If you've got more than 6 initiatives, you can't monitor them carefully enough.
  • Good practices that are implemented poorly is a leadership issue.  Even the best initiatives will fail without leadership focus.
  • Every school and district needs to take an initiative inventory every year, identifying programs that are worth pursuing and those that can be pitched.

How do your schools measure up against Reeves' statements?  Are you maintaining focus on a small handful of important initiatives that can be easily monitored?  If not, why not?

More importantly: If not, what are you going to do about it?


4 thoughts on “New Slide: Decorating the Christmas Tree with Initiatives

  1. Dona C. Mann

    Guys, you are spot on. I have been in the education field for almost 40 years and am, sadly, continuing to discover that the more things change, the more they stay the same. For whatever reason, education is a see-saw. I have seen programs and strategies totally negate themselves in an incredibly short window of time, only to reappear a few years later to a new audience. My thinking segues to politics. We are on everyone’s platform. Who can’t relate to teaching our young? But how many politicians, who have written laws and policies and end of grade tests, truly know what they are talking about? Let’s let “them” forget buzzwords. Let’s let “them” stop trying so hard. Let’s let “them” stop trying to fix what was not totally broken. And let’s let well-trained teachers, who actually know what they are doing, take a cleansing breath, trying one initiative that makes good sense, test it before we are forced to move to the next seven or more! Is anything in life better when it is rushed?

  2. Bill Ferriter

    What a great analogy—The Boy Who Cried Wolf is exactly how I feel every time that some new initiative is forced on schools.
    I don’t even bother listening anymore even when the initiative makes sense to try.
    Great stuff…

  3. Paul C

    I think that you’ve hit on one of the biggest frustrations of classroom teachers everywhere. In my building, this “acronym burnout” has made it difficult for any professional development efforts to succeed. Teachers react negatively to any new thing, whether it’s simple and research-based or not. We’ve become the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and many teachers just aren’t listening anymore.

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