This week I had the opportunity to attend a professional conference with other educational leaders across our state. One of the sessions I attended focused on implementing the Common Core State Standards within the context of 21st Century education. Ken Kay (@kenkay21) from EdLeader21 facilitated a thought provoking discussion.
The discussion featured a panel of superintendents engaged in initiatives to implement 21st Century Learning within their districts. The panelists shared their experiences working with staff as they began to develop a vision for student success. The conversation invariably turned toward how do we keep a focus on the essentials and not get bogged down in piling on yet another initiative.
The Law of Initiative Fatigue states that when the number of initiatives increases while time, resources, and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative—no matter how well conceived or well intentioned—will receive fewer minutes, dollars, and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.
Today, as I was getting caught up on my reading, I came across David Culberhouse’s (@dculberhouse) insightful piece, “The Elegant and The Dump Truck” that resonated with these ideas. In his post, Culberhouse notes that “we live in a time where the information pipeline comes at full blast.”
He’s right. Grappling with the sheer volume of information can feel like taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant. The challenge is to distill the essential elements into a manageable flow so that we can engage in purposeful action toward a common vision.
Without a clear vision of the important outcomes for students, it would be easy to get overwhelmed by the blast of initiatives. Culberhouse offers this critical observation:
In all that we do. Especially in transforming from your current reality to the vision. Creating and leading change is more than just implementing new initiatives, ideas, technology…it requires a deep understanding of what is being implemented and how. Which is the elegance. Whittling the complex down to its essence, its core.
Sometimes in our effort to make sense of the complex, we simplify without gaining a deep understanding of the change involved. In these instances, the initiative aimed at transforming our teaching and students’ learning gets reduced to checking items off of a to-do list. The problem with this approach is that there is always something else to add to the list. As Reeves warns, if we fall prey to the list, we run the risk of not focusing our energies on the right things.
So I think we need to proceed with the elegant simplicity, to which Culberhouse refers. His thoughtful reminder calls upon us to develop a depth of understanding so that we can create meaningful change that will have a lasting impact.
By clarifying a common vision, maintaining a laser like focus on the essential outcomes, and creating the conditions for deep professional learning for all of us engaged in the work, we can begin to truly transform our schools into the kinds of learning spaces our students need to prepare them for their future, as active learners and engaged citizens.
How do you maintain the delicate balance between the torrent of initiatives and a focus on the right things?