Is Your Team “Flunking Unsuccessful Practices” Together?

Over the summer, I had the chance to hear Eric Twadell — the Superintendent of Stevenson High School District 125 in Illinois — deliver a keynote at a Solution Tree PLC Institute.

While his whole keynote was amazing, Eric shared a quote from a book called How Children Fail — which was written in 1964 by John Holt.  Holt’s goal was to study the characteristics of highly effective schools.

His main finding about exceptional schools is as relevant today as it was when first written over 50 years ago:

“The researchers then examined these schools to find what qualities they had in common.

Of the five they found, two struck me as crucial: 1) if the students did not learn, the schools did not blame them, or their families, backgrounds neighborhoods, attitudes, nervous systems, or whatever. They did not alibi. They took full responsibility for the results or non-results of their work.

2) When something they were doing in the class did not work, they stopped doing it, and tried to do something else. They flunked unsuccessful methods, not the children.”

Those are two really easy filters to evaluate the work that you are doing together, y’all. 

If you catch yourself coming up with alibis to explain away the struggles of your students, change is necessary.

And what change is the most important to embrace?  Start studying your practices in a systematic way.

Put evidence behind the impact that those practices are having on students — and then amplify those that work the best and give up on those that are doing little to move your kids forward.

The good news is that there’s nothing difficult about any of this.

Studying practices in service of student learning should already be a regular part of the way that you are doing business.



Related Radical Reads:

What Role Do Hunches Play in Professional Learning Communities?

Interventions are NOT Optional.

Our Compulsive Obsession with the Impossible Sexy. 


2 thoughts on “Is Your Team “Flunking Unsuccessful Practices” Together?

  1. Robert T Schuetz

    Hello Bill,
    Do you think unsuccessful practices are locally controllable? I think I know how you will answer this question, but here ‘t goes; What are the more universal practices in schools proving to be unsuccessful, and should be stopped? My list would include inauthentic assessment, grades, school calendar, homework, and on. Our current forced curriculum needs a relevance overhaul – I would start with student inquiry and locally generated learning projects. This post serves as a worthwhile kickstart to a larger, deeper conversation.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Absolutely, Bob!

      Many of the larger, structural features of education are equally unsuccessful and likely to hold schools back.

      I hate all of them — and have become pretty damn pessimistic about whether or not they will ever change. Bare minimum: I know that I have little real chance to change them myself.

      What I am most excited about, though, is the fact that if I am deliberate about working with my peers, I can make some change to the practices that I’m using in my own classroom and on my own hallway.

      It’s the “Change what you can change” theory of change! ; )


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